I. Paris

The great mass of a Boeing 777 drifted out of the misty haze on final approach to runway 8L, and floated majestically toward landing. In the terminal, Rene LaPlante checked his watch, saw that it was 9:10 am, and correctly deduced that this would be Delta flight 44 from Cincinnati, but a little late. He made a mark in the small notebook he’d been poring over during his breakfast, and resumed scanning the crowd.

“Just another day at Roissy” Rene thought. Detective Sergeant Rene LaPlante belonged to an arm of the French National Police which, since September 2001, had taken up the task of covertly monitoring passenger traffic at international airports throughout France. To be completely correct, this step had not been taken immediately. Not until one Richard Reid, late of Great Britain by way of Afghanistan and an al Qaeda camp, had got on a Delta flight enroute to Boston and tried to blow himself up with his shoe, had the FNP chosen to get serious. The best counter-terrorist operatives that service could muster were placed into a special unit, and found themselves on rotating duty at De Gaulle, and Orly in Paris, and at all the other major airports of the Republic at which one could arrive or depart on an international flight.

That had been nearly 10 years ago. Rene yawned, ruffled his newspaper and his notebook a little, checked the fake boarding pass in his briefcase as though he was waiting for his own flight, and glanced around the snack bar and the two gate areas immediately outside. He intended to look like any other passenger waiting for his flight, and he succeeded His fake boarding pass was for the 12 o’clock departure for Montreal. At gate 34 he could see a few people who were very early for the Air France flight that would leave for Beirut in 3 hours. Many Middle Eastern types there, he saw, but that was no surprise. Among them some Europeans, a couple who were clearly Bengali and middle aged, and one man who looked like a Gulf Arab. He passed over this one casually, trying to look bored or interested in the movements of the great airliners beyond the glass, but then came back to him for a closer look. Late 20s, early 30s maybe; good haircut, thin, not athletic; mustache but no beard. Clothes, European. Shoes—one could tell so much from shoes—cheap, probably from his own country, flat smooth soles with heels about ¾ inch, loafers. Safe shoes, and they matched the man. The face he did not recognize, which was just as well, for if Rene had, the poor man would likely have missed his flight.

LaPlante was perfect for this job, which was why he was here, but that didn’t always make him happy about it. He was gifted, or cursed, with a photographic memory, and had a catalogue of at least a thousand faces of known terrorists in his head, all of whom had at one time or another been guests at one of bin Laden’s camps. The number grew, it seemed, each month, as new information came to the FNP from sources both French and otherwise. The world had changed, and despite some lingering differences on grand policy, the great nations of the world found they had to cooperate and share at least in this. Rene was also famous among his service for an uncanny power of observation, to judge in an instant nationality, mood, some thought even motive. He had apprehended many criminals in his 12 year career by intuition alone it seemed, including the only two terrorists seized on French soil in the aftermath 9/11.

For all that, it was usually a boring task, and often he found himself drifting away from his tradecraft, daydreaming of either his wife, children, or mistress. To do this job well, and for his intuition to serve him as he wanted it to do, required a kind of forced non-concentration on any one detail, so that he could take in the whole picture of surroundings, movement, and person. Inattention to the task at hand resulted in an unwanted focus on particular details. Such focus prevented the big picture sight that Rene needed to work his magic, which seemed opposite of what one would expect, but there it was. So, as he’d decided to daydream for now about Vivienne, his mistress, Rene lost sight of the Gulf Arab at gate 34, in his particular kind of sight that is. It was only the opening of the door of neighboring gate 33 that drew him back to the here and now, and the first passenger off what had turned out to indeed be Delta 44 from Cincinnati.

Without seeming so, Rene was instantly at work and alert, watching for anything out of the ordinary as the passengers filed by. In truth, he did not expect to see anyone remarkable on a flight coming from the US, and his job was rather more directed at detecting someone bound in the other direction. It was always interesting, though, by way of practice, for him to watch the Americans and returning Frenchmen off US flights, to catalogue them, decide who they were and what they did and why they had come to France. Tourists, mostly, and some businessmen. Here was a software executive and his colleague—you could tell by the glasses, the chic laptop case, invariably the MP3 player at the belt and earphones in the ears, on the telephone already to someone they were to meet today. Young clothes, American, those new American shoes that looked like Dutch clogs, but leather. Software guys.

Rene continued in this way and nearly passed over a man who was so ordinary he was not worthy of comment or catalogue, but something was not quite right, and he took another look. Right, he thought: ordinary guy, about 6 feet, clothes—hmm, not sure, European, maybe British. Ordinary glasses. Hair is short but not too short, medium build. Ordinary. Rene forced himself to work his magic. What is it? The walk, he realized. The man walked very erect, back straight, shoulders back—it was a military walk. Not an enlisted man, but an officer most likely. Well dressed, though, for an American officer, they are usually not so. Probably retired. He is alone, mon dieu, what are you doing here, my friend? Then, the man put his hand on the shoulder of the woman in front of him, an attractive woman about his own age, early 40s, and spoke in her ear and pointed the direction to go. She smiled, turned and looked at him, as a woman does to her husband of many years. Rene had been about to make a note in his book, but he did not. A couple on a lovers’ trip, perhaps a second honeymoon now that the children had gone. Rene looked past the retired American officer to the next group of passengers coming through the door of gate 33.

The shoes had been English, sure, the clothes were American, and he was an American officer, but he was not retired. He did not really care that the watcher at the gate had seen him, that was expected. What mattered was that the watcher did not know he himself had been detected. And he was good, the American had to admit, I nearly missed him. As it was the American was certain of what he saw, and equally certain he had not been remarked in the end by the FNP watcher. “Welcome to Paris,” he thought, and strode easily down the concourse toward immigration, baggage, customs, and the anonymity of the Metro.

The woman was not his wife; he didn’t even know her name. But he knew that there were always watchers, some on the right side and some not so, and so one took precautions. These things were best done at random. About an hour before landing, after the small breakfast had been served and was being cleared away, he had headed for the lavatory to freshen up. Along the way he picked her. Right age, right looks, also traveling alone, a kind face that would react as he required when the time came. On the way back to his seat he bumped her elbow slightly, and took the chance to stop, turn, smile, and apologize. On board still but at the gate, he took his time gathering his briefcase, time enough to let the woman come almost past from the rear of the plane and time enough for him to bump into her again, almost knocking her down into the row of seats. His own briefcase fell, and he apologized profusely again, helped her up, smiled, laughed at his own clumsiness, drew her smile again, and said “Welcome to Paris.” He fell in behind her and walked off the plane.

A man traveling alone was what watchers, well, watch for. Men and their wives are ordinary, especially in Paris. He had seen the watcher as the latter was still looking over the lead elements off flight 44, and he saw him almost pass on to the two elderly women behind him, and then come back for another look. It was easy enough to make a quiet joke just then in the woman’s ear, about not tripping where the carpet turned to stone tile, to smile again, to draw her smile, and to seem what they were not. The simplest tradecraft is the best.

The American walked now just a half step behind her, and he was in that identical full state of un-concentration that made LaPlante so good at what he did. “We do not need any mistakes here, now,” he thought, and so he watched as he walked, occasionally appearing to make a comment to the woman but not actually speaking to her. He could see a reflection in a shop window, back down the concourse, as they turned the corner for the escalator down to immigration; the watcher was not following.

Ten minutes later, with the woman gone and his rolling case in tow, he was on the Metro platform with a week-long pass purchased with American cash. No credit cards, yet. The train came, and he boarded the RER in second class. He bought a paper and coffee from the vendor who wheeled the cart through the aisle, and settled in to watch. With Rene LaPlante’s skill he surveyed his companions in the car, and seeing nothing remarkable, pretended to read in French as the countryside gave way to the shabby northern suburbs of Paris. It was a 35 minute ride into town.

It would have been, at least, if the American had gone directly to his hotel. He’d been taught long ago that the straight way was the dangerous way, a lesson never to be forgotten. At Gare du Nord he got off the RER and walked through the station to the Purple line, which he took to Gare de l’Est. There he changed again to the Pink line, West to the Opera station. Here he left the train, and went up stairs to the street. Consulting his map, he made a show of looking around to get his bearings and at the same time scanned for a watcher in the Place, but saw none. He set off to the south down rue de L’Opera, walking at a moderate pace, slumping his shoulders slightly, concentrated on dropping his weight down toward his navel; he did not want to look military. A block further on he came to the Hotel Gaillon Opera, where he had stayed a year ago on his last time in Paris. He stepped through the door and up to the reception desk and asked the maitre d’hotel for a room.

He was not surprised to learn that there were no vacancies for tonight—he had checked that already. Managing a disappointed look, he turned suddenly back toward the door he'd entered in a movement that was so quick it slightly startled the man behind the desk. Then the American, having seen nobody lurking outside or across the street, turned again to the old man, apologized for his trouble, and left out the door on the south side of the lobby. He turned West now, and two blocks later found the Auber station, where he boarded the Red line for the short trip to Chatelet-Les Halles. He left the train here and climbed up to the street on the south side of the Rue de Rivoli.

Almost there but not quite, he thought. He turned right, not left, and walked to the end of the block to enter the Place du Chatelet, then right again along the west side of the square. He found the bistro he was looking for on the far corner. Here he selected a table commanding a view of the entire Place, and to the South the Palais du Justice, the Conciergerie, and away East another few blocks in the middle of the Seine the tops of the towers of Notre Dame. He ordered coffee and a baguette, adopting the look of a very tired American tourist just arrived from home on the morning flight. When it came he settled in to eat his breakfast and to watch for a while.

In 20 minutes he was sure, but still he waited and sipped on the strong Continental coffee which he missed when he was home and never quite was able to replicate. “Must be the Krups coffee maker” he mused for the hundredth time. Fifteen minutes more and he was satisfied. He paid his bill and left the bistro. This time he went out on the south side of Place du Chatelet, turned and walked a block west, then half a block north, finally entering the quiet street of Rue de Jean Lantier, only a block south of Rue de Rivoli had he come the short way. Fifty yards on he entered the Grand Hotel de Champagne and checked in using a credit card in the name of Paul Cameron. The tiny elevator took him to the third floor, where he entered his room and fell fully clothed onto the bed and was asleep in five minutes..

The American had not been followed, but only just. Rene LaPlante had watched from his seat in the restaurant as the American couple walked away down the concourse, having seen no one else at all interesting among the crowd debarking Delta 44. He had satisfied himself as well that the Gulf Arab was not an interesting case, and now he was aware he would fall into boredom if he did not find something to work on for a while. Making his decision, he got up, collected his things, and left the restaurant to fall in behind his prey but by now nearly 50 meters behind them. He was just on the verge of working out what it was that did not seem right about the man when he saw the latter talking to the woman again, and his spirits fell. “Merde,” Rene cursed to himself, “not interesting at all.” He turned his back on the American and walked toward the opposite end of the terminal, where he knew an Emirates Air flight from Dubai was due to arrive in about 90 minutes.

II. Langley

“Bobbie, see if there’s any decaf in the pot still” he half yelled out of his open office door. From without, he heard her response “There is, but you’ll ruin your afternoon if you have any!” “Nice,” he thought, and was about to say something he’d regret, but thought better of it. Instead he said “take pity on an old man, then, and bring me some anyway. I’ll skip tomorrow morning if you’re still counting then.” There was something that might have been an expletive muttered out there, but then he heard it being poured and the clink-clink of the spoon stirring in the cream and sugar. “Good woman, Bobbie” he yelled, and returned to the file on his screen.

Randall “Randy” Anderson thought she was the best secretary a man could want, even if she could be a little stingy with the coffee after lunch. “Whodathunk the DDO of the CIA would have to do battle with a moat dragon like that every day of his working life” he thought with a chuckle. “Well, she’s the best anyway and keeps me honest as nobody else could but Amelia when she was alive.”

Anderson was, in fact, the DDO, Deputy Director, Operations, for the CIA. That meant, of course, that he was not master of the CIA, but rather, master of the spooks that made it famous. It was the funnest job in the agency if you had the guts and the stomach to get there, and Anderson did in spades. He had come up as an Operations agent, all his life a spook in the field somewhere. He knew how it worked out there in Indian Country, which was just about everywhere these days, and he knew how to support his people and get things done when they needed to be done. He was also an uncanny Washington politico, which is what really got him into the DDO’s chair.

Born something of a northeast blue blood, he’d played lacrosse through high school and then at Holy Cross as an under grad. He’d taken a turn as an entry level broker on Wall Street, but after a year had been bored despite having already made something of a small fortune, and that’s when the Company found him. He was what the recruiters liked best when they could get one. Independent, tough, good on his own without much of a team around him, smart as hell, aptitude for languages though he spoke none but English (the tests told them that). He’d done well in the training, and in every post he’d had in career that spanned all of the world to the East of Vienna. Like most of the guys (they were mostly guys back then) he’d eventually been “blown” out there and had to come back to Langley to “run” agents rather than play one. He was good at that, too, and racked up successes that put him in charge of more and more people and money. Eventually, there was nowhere else to go, and he’d ended up in the DDO’s office, sitting behind the big desk in the glass walled office at Langley, moving the pieces around the board in the greatest and most dangerous game in the world.

It was that moving of pieces that had got him so far. Of the many innovations he’d brought to CIA, one of them had been something he’d worked out with the Agency’s personnel folks and those of the Department of Defense back in 1988. When he was “out there” Randy’d met a lot of agents who had been ex-military people who were really, really good at what they did. When he got to the staff at Langley, though, he was surprised to learn that there was no systematic way of tapping into this pool of people. Up to then, the CIA waited for these guys to get out of the service and come looking for the Agency, not the other way around. So, it was a relatively simple but brilliant idea to put the personnel people and DoD and CIA together in a loose sort of way to make some “referrals” between the former and the latter which might work to the benefit of the US government’s service.

The scheme was simple. The DoD would funnel the names and unit addresses of each officer who’d formally petitioned to separate from the services to the CIA recruiters. CIA could then screen these names and do a quick background check to see if anyone looked “interesting.” Interesting prospects received a postage-free brochure through their military units’ address which (it was hoped) would provoke these desirables to consider a new career in the CIA. Back in ’88 there were lots and lots of pilots leaving all the services to go fly for the airlines. Lots of special ops guys were leaving the Army and the Navy, too. It was very simple, and it worked. Some of the best field spooks in the Agency had come in just this way over the last 20-plus years. Good pieces made for a better game, and Randall Anderson loved to play, so much the better with good pieces.

So it was that in the summer of 1990, and just before Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait put an end to the late 80s airline hiring binge, an Air Force pilot by the name of Captain Paul Cameron had apparently decided to seek greener pastures and applied to separate from the service effective in January 1991. As agreed, his name and service number were sent from the USAF to DoD and thence to CIA. The good Captain received an envelope from the CIA in his squadron mailbox in mid October 1990.

Cameron would note later that he’d not heard that any of the many other squadron guys who’d left in the past few years got such a letter. On the other hand, most of the guys just wanted to fly something forever, so maybe they just tossed them in the trash and never thought about the CIA again. Paul was intrigued, though, and thought at the least that he might supplement the notoriously low first-year airline salary with some side income from the CIA. It seemed perfect to him. He had no idea what the CIA had in mind, but it might be a natural way to get people into and out of all kinds of places in the world without being noticed. Airline crews, after all, passed through separate checkpoints without much examination, and they came and went without much remark by anyone. Perfect, as Cameron thought it.

Which was exactly what Randall Anderson had had in mind, frankly. He was a little disappointed from the very beginning, however, with the low response rate he got out of the many Air Force pilots to whom he sent invitations. He was never, on the other hand, disappointed with the quality of those who did respond, and certainly not with Captain Paul Cameron. From the beginning, he’d thought Cameron a very interesting and promising case. He watched his application and testing process carefully, noting that he had exceptional language ability though at that point he spoke only Spanish (however well). He scored very high in physical strength and endurance despite his average height and build. His IQ was in Mensa territory, but he didn’t seem to know or care, both of which were very positive. Conversation and oral exam was where he really shone, though. Quick thinking, brilliant at free association, a natural master for connecting disparate things he already knew or was just learning into an intricate tapestry of a big picture. Anderson saw very early that Cameron was nearly perfect for what he had in mind, and was determined to have him.

Captain Cameron promptly dashed these ambitions, however, when in early January 1991 he concluded on his own that their would be a real, live, shootin’ war in the Gulf that spring, early spring rather than late because of the heat at the top end of the Gulf. He retracted his separation application from the Air Force and signed on for 7 years in hopes of joining his squadron in Saudi Arabia before the war might end. That quick, Cameron slipped through Anderson’s fingertips. The latter could not believe his bad luck, and spent a whole weekend thinking in front of a TV he never saw, over scotch on the rocks he didn’t drink, trying to figure a way to get this boy back. He did not, but he did have an idea that worked almost as well.

It was clear Cameron was back in the Air Force for the long haul, so what Anderson did was what he did best: he thought of the long haul and the big picture. If he could not have Cameron now, he would wait until later. Such a man, if given the right training, education, and experience, would be even better in 20 years than he would be now. That weekend Randall Anderson, DDO, invented another of his little known secret personnel schemes, and he called it “Phoenix.”

Cameron was asked to take leave for 3 days and come to Langley, which his curiosity would not allow him to skip. He came. He never knew it, and did not know it to this day, but his first meeting with the DDO took place on that trip. Anderson posed as a personnel geek for the interview so he could get a first hand look at Cameron. He also wanted to make sure the personnel guys didn’t blow it. The pitch to the young Captain went this way: CIA proposes that you become a very deep cover sleeper employee. You don’t do anything for now, follow your own career, learn what it can teach you. From time to time we may send opportunities your way, so that you learn some things we need you to learn. Don’t worry, they will also be things the Air Force wants you to learn. Most, maybe all, will not be anything you recognize as having come from us. We may not need to help you much at all, indeed we don’t expect to have to. We believe your own abilities and interests will take care of most of what you need. You work, you train, you learn, you live, you progress like a regular Air Force Joe. When the time is right, and we need you, we’ll call. When that happens, it’s an opportunity for you. You owe us nothing, but we offer you the chance to do something we think will interest you. If not, you walk away. If you like it, we arrange it with the Air Force, or if you’re retired, we arrange it with your employer. Don’t worry about that. What do you say?

To Anderson’s great relief Cameron accepted immediately. Simple arrangements were agreed about methods of communication and contact, which should wait, Anderson said, for CIA to call him and not the other way around. No money was involved, he told the new recruit, but that was not quite true. Anderson took care of his people. He wanted to make sure that in 15 or twenty or however many years, when he needed Paul Cameron, Paul Cameron would have the resources he needed to respond to CIA’s call. It wasn’t much, but CIA would place $25,000 a year tax free into the Agency thrift savings plan in Cameron's name. Paul Cameron was on the payroll from that day. He was only just about to find out 21 years later.

“Alright Boss, here it is, but you’re skipping a cup tomorrow as you’ve said!” It was Bobbie and the coffee shattering this reverie as she blasted through the office door like only she could do. Bobbie was a compact woman, full of lively energy and what the English would call “pluck.” Indeed, Randy Anderson’s opposite number in MI6 had called Bobbie “a rare plucked ‘un”, but not when she could hear it. The mug and its contents came to rest on the desktop to his right as Anderson looked up at the half smile, half snarl, of his protector and defender. “You have 10 minutes until the staff meeting, after that the meeting with State over at his place, then back here for the regular four o’clock down in the tank with the usual suspects which will last you the rest of the afternoon. I’m leaving at five to go pick up the girls tonight, so if you need anything, make sure it’s on my desk before you go to the staff meeting.” He loved her when she was this way. “Thanks, you’re the best. Great coffee” he mumbled, and she smiled and stormed back out to her desk.

“Well, ten minutes,” he thought, and returned to Camerons’s file on the screen. All things considered, the boy had done pretty well on his own. He’d got himself picked to spend a year at a prestigious graduate school studying international affairs. He’d spent nearly 25 months in Saudi Arabia on various assignments, also some contacts in Bahrain, the Emirates, Tunisia, Morocco, Spain, Paris, Turkey—he’d done very well with travel. Anderson noted with a smile that the Agency had quietly managed to have Cameron meet the Saudi Ambassador twice. His Highness would not remember, but Cameron would have learned something each time. Very good. War College with the Air Force over 10 years ago, and now the boy’s a Colonel. Aha—he’s taken some martial arts training? Interesting. He read a report from an agent who’d been sent by someone down in the Phoenix office last year. “J. Smith, Operations Directorate, attended 2-hour evening Aikido class with subject on two occasions, once in Arlington, VA and another time in Terre Haute, IN. Smith did not identify himself to the subject, but did train with him on both occasions. Smith reports student has made excellent progress and should earn first degree black belt in early 2009.” “Intrepid rascal, and at his age” Anderson thought. “What’s this guy, going on 45? Randy, my boy, you can still pick ‘em.”

Bobbie bellowed “Two minutes” from outside the door, time to go. Randall Anderson gathered his papers and coffee for the staff meeting, and killed the file he’d been reading on his computer. Rising to leave, he smiled as he mused: “I’ve got 15 of these guys, first time we’ve tried to use one. Should be an interesting play.” He walked out of the office and into the conference room across the hall looking happier than the staff had seen him in a month.

III. Paris

At a small café on the Champs Elysees, only 3 blocks from the Saudi Embassy, two Saudis were having an afternoon coffee. Both were light-skinned Arabs, men whose tribal roots were in the far North of Saudi Arabia, and truth be told, their traditional nomadic range extended all the way across Iraq into Northern Syria. In their great grandfathers’ time, the tribe had summered there, in the cool and green of the birthplace of the Euphrates River. Eden, most thought. Neither of these men had ever been there. But, in consequence of this lineage and close attention to marriages in the tribe for more than a thousand years, their skin was light, almost European. They knew this, and so they spoke English. Not Arabic—it drew too much attention these days, everywhere. Not French, too easy for listeners in Paris.

“Well, cousin. Why have you come to Paris? Isn’t it early for a family holiday?” asked the first. He was troubled. What is my cousin doing here at this time of year? He himself worked here, in the Embassy, as a minor official in the commercial attaché’s office. There is not much commercial to do with Saudi Arabia, in reality. He admitted to himself at least once a day that the real business was done by the oil ministry’s office and its staff, so there was really not much for him to do. But it was honest work and he had an honorable title, and he could live here instead of Riyadh, so what was to complain about?

“It is early, you are right, Majid,” the other answered. “But nevertheless, we are on holiday. Little Aziz has been having trouble with his stomach again, so we brought him here for treatment as before.”

“Fahd, tell me you did not bring them all? Allah be merciful, how can you afford it?” Majid exclaimed.

The other laughed a genuine laugh. He had a dozen children, by the grace of God, and only one beautiful wife, praise be to Him. She was his first cousin, and they had been sweethearts since childhood. “No, thanks be to God,” and he was still laughing, as was the other now. “There’s only me, and Fadia, also our oldest daughter Miriam to help her. Can you believe she’s nineteen already? I must find her a husband soon, I know, but first Fadia and I want her to finish university. Anyway, our oldest son, Mohammed, is here to watch them with me, and little Aziz of course is here. But you should have heard the others wailing to come, Majid, and Fadia’s mother! God protect me.”

“God protect us both, cousin” Majid prayed in turn. “When Nala and Fadia get together, it will be the end of me. She will insist that I take her and the children to Florida for the summer, and God protect us, as you’ve said, I cannot afford it! Plus, the minister will make an awful noise if I take a long vacation, the Yemeni dog.” Northern Saudis often referred to their darker-skinned countrymen from the south as “Yemenis”—it was not a term of endearment. “How long are you staying, and how may I be of service to you?”

“Oh, don’t trouble yourself, Majid, I know you have your hands full with your work, and don’t try to pretend you’re not a big shot here.” Fahd flattered him deliberately, and saw that it had immediate effect. Good, he thought. “We shall be here only two or three weeks, that is in the hands God and the doctors. How are Nala and the children?”

Looking, in his own mind, much more important and powerful, Majid said, “She is well, and as beautiful as she was when she was fourteen. She spends my money like it was sand, Fahd, but we have plenty after all. God is generous. The kids are doing well in school. All can speak English very well, sometimes I worry more about their Arabic. The grammar! Bah! Is it the same for you?”

“Indeed, cousin, it is. I can’t remember having to learn all that garbage when we were young. Oh, look at the time. You are busy, I fear? Do not let me keep you.”

“Ah, you’re right Fahd, it is late, and I have a meeting. Will you come for dinner? Is there anything you need, cousin?”

“Yes, we will come. I have your number my friend. Come to think of it, there is a thing you may help me with. Do you know an internet café? My deputy at the base is not what I would like him to be, and I must be in contact with him daily or he may sell the place to a Kuwaiti.”

Majid laughed. His cousin Fahd commanded the Royal Saudi Air Force Base just outside of Dhahran, on the coast of the Arabian Gulf. Not Persian, Arabian. He knew the deputy, too, and was equally unimpressed. “Yes, you devil, there is one four blocks to the east along this great street, but on the other side. Don’t cross the street though, you will be killed by these lunatic French. Go down into the Metro there, and cross underground, may God protect you.”

“Thank you, cousin. Well then, I’m off to defeat the wicked French and their traffic, and you to the important business of the Kingdom’s commercial affairs, no doubt. I will tell Fadia we are invited to your house for dinner, and she will arrange it with Nala when it suits them. The Ministers of the Interior, Majid, they rule us with an iron rod, do they not?”

“Walhamdulillah, but they do, cousin, they do indeed.” Then Majid stood, looking important, threw enough Euros on the table to pay for the coffees, and shook his cousin’s hand. “I’ll see you, then,” he said in parting, “to the King’s business, God bless him.”

“God bless him,” Fahd echoed, and watched his cousin leave the café. He sat back down, ordered another coffee from the very pretty French waitress, and began to think.

In English. He mostly thought in English these days, which he admitted was a curious thing, but there it was. It was an honest thing, anyway. He had been three years to school in England at Sandhurst, whence he had his commission. He was a fighter pilot, and all that training, most in the United States, had been in English. Most of the time he flew in English, the universal language of aviation. He dealt daily with his American and British advisors, often the only people he could trust to help him run his base without someone getting killed once a day. Not that his Saudi pilots weren’t good. They were, many of them. Some not so good, though, but he was working on that and the advisors were helping. It was just that the whole thing was so regulated, and many of his own men were not used to it. That, and they had often too much of the idea that their survival was in the hands of God and not their own. “Another generation and we will change that, God willing, he thought.”

Now this business, he puzzled. At least here I can think without worrying about someone trying to blow me up or shoot me. He smiled at that. Let’s hope anyway, he corrected himself, and took a casual look around the café. Seems innocent enough.

His position was difficult, but not impossible. He had information that was dangerous, very dangerous, and he did not know what to do with it. So far, he was fairly certain that nobody knew he had it, and that was good. But who to tell? He had no idea at first, but he had to get out of the Kingdom quickly, and so he had left on the pretense he’d laid out to his cousin. What he did not tell was more revealing, however, and he had seen that Majid was troubled to see him in Paris. He’d brought Fadia and Miriam to watch after the little one, that much was true. But he had chosen Mohammed for a more delicate reason. Mohammed had been running with the wrong kind of people of late. Fahd thought the boy needed a refreshing taste of the West to wake him up to the more moderate politics of his family, and lure him away from some of the shocking influences that had gripped much of the Kingdom the last year. More to the point, Fahd was worried about the rest of the family. He had brought Mohammed to get him out of the way. Another son, Ali, could be trusted to do his father’s bidding. Tomorrow Ali would move the rest of the family by road from Dhahran to the family home in the northwest, at al-Ha’il. There, if things did not go well in Dhahran, they would be protected by the tribe. Had Mohammed been there, he might not have obeyed, and Fahd could not have that right now.

All things considered, things were laid out as well as could be expected. The family would all be safe for the time being, praise be to God. What he needed to do next was to send an email to let someone know he was here. He had got the address from one of his American advisors, an F-15 pilot flying with the 13th Squadron at Dhahran. How the Captain had got it he did not know. What he did know was that he’d asked the man if there was any way he could be put in touch, confidentially, with an old friend of his from the USAF. It must be very quiet, he’d said, and perhaps a meeting out of the country, in Europe, might be arranged? It had taken a long, nervous week, during which Fahd wondered how long he’d last. But the Captain came through, and he did well. No emails, no phone calls. He’d waited for Fahd to come to the squadron to fly, managed to schedule himself to fly with the General (for Fahd was a Brigadier, himself). In the privacy of the briefing room, Captain Davidson handed over the small slip of paper with a HotMail address on it.

“General, take this,” he’d said quietly. If you are in Paris the third week in April, a friend may meet you there. Here are some instructions, do not write them down. Use an internet café, not your hotel or your laptop. Create a new email account, one you’ve never used before. Send a message to this address. You are to say “Falcon one, contact” in the email body, no subject line. Wait for a reply, and instructions will be given to you.”

“Thank you, Captain. If I am in Paris this Spring, perhaps I will try it. Have you ever been to Paris yourself?

“No sir, I don’t much care for the French,” Davidson admitted.

“Pity,” said General Fahd. “Well, I think I will not fly today after all, Captain. I’m feeling a little under the weather, as you say in the USAF. I’m going to see the flight Surgeon.”

“God protect you, General,” was the Captain’s parting remark. At this the General turned, a look of some alarm crossing his face, then it was gone.

“And you, Captain, and you.” Fahd left the squadron. He and his family were on their way to Paris the next evening.

And now he was here. In truth, he’d been here a week already, but Majid did not need to know that. His family was soon to be protected, and that was a comfort. He’d now checked in with his embassy, as required, even if his mode of doing it had been a little irregular. In fairness, he should have gone to the embassy himself and spoken with the Military Attaché. But that might have been messy, and the story of little Aziz might not have held up. He did not know the Attaché, so he could not trust him. Majid was important enough, and well connected enough, that he could cover with the “notification” if it ever came up. “At least, he would make a lot of noise about it to keep his honor with me,” he thought.

His coffee finished, General Fahd paid his bill and got up. At the door, he turned and asked the waitress in French where the nearest Metro entrance was. “To your left, monsieur, about one block to your left.” He made a show of looking out the door in a wide semi-circle from his right to his left, and then pointing in that direction. “Looks OK I guess, but who am I kidding?” he wondered. “Well, inshallah,” he mumbled in Arabic, “as God wants,” and he left and moved quickly down the street in the direction of the Place de la Concorde.




Across the street and half a block west Ahmed Al-Kisani appeared to be staring through the front window of a trendy suit shop. It was a bright day, the interior of the shop was dimly lit, and the plate glass of the window made an excellent mirror in which to watch the café into which the two men had gone. He did not know either man, not even the names, but had been told to follow this one and report on his movements. He’d had a long boring day—first, the long wait in front of this man’s hotel in St. Germaine, then the long walk to a metro station that was unnecessary, then almost losing the man on the metro itself, and then the brisk walk from the Arc de Triomphe station. “At least the last was downhill,” he thought, “but I wish there was somewhere I could sit down, and I have not prayed since dawn, God help me.” He glanced in his mirror at the door of the café, then turned slightly to look in another part of the window for a moment. A cold breeze blew downhill from the Arch as a cloud scudded across the sun, and Ahmed turned up the collar of his wool car coat and dug his hands deep into the pockets.

Kisani was a small man, which never ceased to bother him. He tried to stand and walk just a little on his toes most of the time as this put him just a shade over five feet six inches tall. He was thin as well, and while he was trim and fit and never likely to be fat like many of the soft Arabs, he would never be muscular or powerful. This also bothered him. His greatest asset, and that of which he was most proud, was the light-skinned, mostly European-looking face that his parents attributed to a great grandfather who had been a Spaniard. Nobody ever talked much about the great grandmother, and he did not ask. What mattered to him now was that he could speak French well, and in most places he could pass for a Frenchman. “Best to be one who blends in if you are going to do the work of God” he remembered being told by his mentor in Morocco.

As far as his parents knew, Ahmed was in France studying business at a small occupational school. It was all they could afford, but the family had great hopes for him. They sent him a small allowance each month to help cover his expenses, and of course they paid his tuition. For the rest of his upkeep he was required to work. For this purpose he’d concocted a job cataloguing books at a suburban Parisian library—an honorable job, not manual labor or restaurant service, but something respectable and learned. Ahmed’s father was very proud and told all the neighbors in the hometown outside of Ceuta.

Ahmed made far more money than his father imagined, however, and this had nothing whatever to do with libraries. He’d met a new friend his first week in town, in the small restaurant next to the cheap hotel where he’d taken a room and still lived. An unusual man, Ibrahim. “Unusual” was the word that came to Ahmed’s mind every time he saw or thought of Ibrahim. Tall, stout for an Arab, lean and strong looking. Strong Arab features, the hawkish nose, wavy black hair and close cropped stubble of a beard, and eyes that seemed to be completely black. It was the eyes that were unusual, and the way he moved. The eyes seemed to be on fire, even though black as coal, and yet somehow they were cold, distant, detached. Ibrahim moved like the tigers Ahmed had seen at the Paris zoo. Fluid, but with purpose, soundless, but firm. There was power in the man, that much Ahmed could see and appreciate. Ibrahim was how Ahmed pictured himself. He had agreed instantly to the proposal that he work for Ibrahim, “to do errands I cannot do, go places I cannot go, and hide in plain sight as I cannot, my friend” Ibrahim had said. And so, Ahmed was a surveillance man working for a group he believed to be associated with Al-Qaeda, although he was not certain of this. Ibrahim had never given a name to his “company,” and Ahmed did not ask. He was afraid to. He hoped it was Al-Qaeda—it would be good to be working in company with the great ones.

He turned again to look at the sleek English shoes to his left, the ones he was beginning to think he might come back and buy tomorrow. Just then a man came out of the café, and Ahmed stiffened. It was the man who had come after his target. “What does he look like?” Ahmed asked himself? “Arab? Not sure. A nice suit, rich guy walk.” Ahmed divided his time between watching Majid walk West toward the Arch and the door to the café. He saw Majid reach the corner and turn hard to the right, in the direction he knew the Saudi Embassy lay. “So, perhaps this guy works at the embassy, and perhaps this other guy has met him?” He made a mental note to report this theory to Ibrahim.

Ahmed walked a few steps to the east to stare at another shop’s window, and tried to think of the warmth of his home south of Gibraltar. “God curse this cold” he thought. Then he saw his target emerge from the café moving fast to the east. “At least he’s going downhill again, thanks be to God,” and Ahmed set off to follow, on his own side of the street, staying back a hundred paces and glancing in an occasional shop window as he passed. The man did not seem to be looking for a follower. “Good,” thought Ahmed, “no games.”

General Fahd had no idea he was being followed, but made his way at his usual brisk pace toward the Metro station. Fahd was fit for a man of fifty years, and proud of it. He came from good Bedouin stock, hard men and beautiful women, tall for Arabs and usually thin rather than paunchy. Fahd kept in shape on purpose to keep up with the younger fighter pilots he led. Too many of them could not pull the G’s they needed to be really good, but Fahd could, and that was why he’d risen so far and so fast. He wore glasses now most of the time, and he was bald on top. Still, he was a handsome man, and big enough, and with his very business-like pace the crowd instinctively made way for him.

He reached the Metro and plunged down the stairs, and across the Champs Elyse Ahmed panicked. The Moroccan ran hard for the Metro entrance a hundred paces ahead on his own side. “By the grace of God, let him have to stop to buy a ticket” was all he could hope if he wanted to catch up before the man disappeared down an escalator in the station and caught a train to who-knew-where.

At full speed, Ahmed reached the bottom of the stairs and clipped the wall with his left shoulder as he turned the corner to enter the station, hoping to see the man at a ticket machine or at least just going through a turnstile. Instead, what he saw was a deep gray blur, and then a heavy impact with something that felt too solid, and then he was down on his back. He’d run into someone. Still panicked, he muttered “excuse me” in Arabic as he tried to get up and see around the big coat into the station, looking for his quarry. “Excuse me” he said again, this time in French, and then he saw—he’d run into the man he was following.

General Fahd helped the little man up, ignoring the Arabic words and replying in easy French. “Excuse me, sir, it was my fault entirely. Are you hurt? Can I help in any way?” He noted a look of panic on the man’s face, indecision and—something else? Desperation? “Caught at something you wished not to be caught at, my little friend?” he thought. He kept up a look of friendly, and he hoped, very French concern and waited for the man to say something else.

“No, no monsieur, it was my fault” Ahmed finally spat in French. “I must catch the next train, monsieur, so sorry,” and turning, he dug in his pocket for his Metro pass and dashed through the nearest turnstile.

Fahd, tossed a “good day” after the little man, watched long enough to see him get on an escalator down to the trains, and for 10 other passengers to head down behind him, then climbed the stairs to the street. “Enough time?” he wondered. Reaching the street, he turned downhill and saw the internet café only a hundred paces or so away. “Enough” he decided, and ran in that direction. “The little bastard will be on the escalator for at least half a minute, then another half to get back up: I can make it.” He slowed just before the door and stepped inside.

It was a space about twenty feet wide and thirty deep. Close to the storefront the first table ran from just to the right of the door all the way to the wall, and three people sat at computers with their backs to the street. The rest of the place was similar, but in the middle of the space the tables were grouped in a square, two machines on a table, about half occupied. “No good” he thought. The counter and attendant were near the back, so he walked quickly in that direction. “I need to use a machine for a while” he said in French.

“Of course, monsieur” said the pretty girl. “Pick whichever one you like, it’s three Euros every ten minutes, here is your ticket, bring it back to me when you’ve finished.”

“Thank you, mademoiselle,” Fahd said, and went for the empty machine farthest from the door, where he could sit with his back to the wall. He removed his overcoat and suit coat, loosened his tie, and rolled up his sleeves. He removed his glasses, and sat, slumping down behind the monitor to watch and wait.

Right about on schedule, the little man ran past the window without looking inside. “So, you were following me, little man?” Fahd thought. He was angry. Who would follow me? What do they know? How did they find me here? He thought for a moment. “The embassy? No, only Majid knows I’m here, this guy was waiting for me. Could it be Majid? No, he is not the type. Someone else then. He did not like what that meant. This was getting dangerous, and he was exposed. He thought of his family back at the hotel and a shiver went through him. “Madmen” he thought. “Well, now I am here, I had best do what I came for. If he’s following me, no doubt I’ll find the little man at my hotel when I return there.”

A hundred yards down the street Ahmed stopped running, breathing heavily. “I was out of sight of him for, what, two minutes?” he thought. He could be anywhere. Maybe he caught a cab? He considered stopping in, or peering in, all the shops between where he now stood and the Metro stairs, but dismissed it. “If I find him anywhere, he will recognize me, and if he’s not a complete fool he will wonder how I came to be here so quickly after running so fast to catch a train. Too obvious. Better to go and wait back at his hotel, perhaps he will come back there, and go back out again today or tonight before I go home to see Ibrahim.” He shivered despite his run and turned dejectedly down the street toward the great mass of the Louvre.




Cameron woke with a start. He blinked at what he saw, and tried to swim up through the sleep haze and confusion that the frequent trans-Atlantic traveler knows all too well. “Oh yeah, welcome to Paris” he said aloud, stretching. He looked at his watch—he’d changed the time on the plane—“two-ten; still light outside, guess it’s still afternoon.” “Time for some lunch,” his stomach was yelling, but he lay back on the pillows staring at the ceiling, wondering “what the hell am I doing here?”

He knew what had got him here—that was pretty obvious. It was the surprise of it, after all these years, that he still couldn’t quite get over. It had started with the phone call at his office, he’d never forget it. “Colonel Cameron, I’m calling for the Phoenix Group.” He’d thought he was hearing things. “Take down this address, sir. Use an anonymous email account that you create today, any service you choose. Do not use an account you’ve used before. Do not use your office computer, your home is better but an Internet café is best; commercial, not a public library. Send an email to the address I’ve given you, say “contact, Phoenix 1” and no more. Don’t worry about a subject line. You’ll receive a reply in an hour or less after you transmit. Do you understand, sir, and can you tell me if you’ll respond?” “Uhhh” was all he could say for a moment. “Sir?” said the voice. “Um, did you say the Phoenix group? Cameron remembered asking. “Yes sir. Do you understand, and will you respond?” the voice asked again. Thinking faster now, Cameron got things moving. “Sheesh, wonder how Lizzy is gonna react to this.” “Sir?” prompted the voice. “Yeah, OK, I’m here” Cameron said at last. “Yes, I’ll respond, I’ve got the address written down, and I know how to take care of that. I can’t do anything about this until around six Eastern Time tonight, though, is that OK?” “Yes, sir” the voice replied, “that will be fine. Be careful, sir, welcome to Phoenix.” The caller hung up. Cameron had sat staring at the email address for five minutes thinking back to the letter that started all this. How long ago had that been? 1990? Almost 22 years, and not a peep from these guys. “Well, not a peep you know about at least,” he thought. That letter in the box at the squadron, the long application he’d had to type on a borrowed typewriter, the essays he’d had to write which he remembered thinking were pretty lame, the machine scored tests, more essays, the interview with those guys, and then deciding to stay in for the war. “Long time ago” he wondered, and remembered the trip to Langley after he’d pulled his papers and decided to stay in the Air Force. “Phoenix program. I’ll bet I haven’t thought about that deal in at least 10 years. Wonder what these guys have in mind? Shit, what am I gonna tell Elizabeth? She’s gonna go nuts.”

He’d sent the email that evening from a machine at Kinko’s, and sat sipping a latte waiting for the reply. It came in 15 minutes. “Well, they’re on the ball at least.” And he read:


Mr. Cameron,

Thanks for your quick reply. We have need of your services, if you’re interested, this month, in Paris. Nothing to be worried about, nothing strenuous. You fly to Paris, meet someone and talk, maybe then meet a few other people who are familiar to us and not hostile to you or us. You fly home and send us a report. Pretty simple.




“Smith” he chuckled. “Yeah, right. Same guys who answer their 800-number with “Hello” if I remember right.” He was thinking now. “Paris this month. Have to tell Elizabeth about that, but we can figure something out. Have to tell the Boss something too. Maybe I need to go to a conference or something?” He made a mental note to check and see if there was anything legit that would form a good reason to go to Paris.” He typed:


Mr. Smith,

I’m interested, but we need to talk about logistics. You have any thoughts of covering me with the Air Force, or do I need to make up my own excuse to go to Paris? Who’s paying the bills? How long will I be gone? Can I get killed (he laughed at himself at this)? Do I travel as me, or are we playing spooks? Who makes the arrangements?



He pushed “SEND” and waited, five minutes this time.


Mr. Cameron,

You appear to be as advertised. Marvelous. You are an employee of the Phoenix Group, and records will show you have been so since Oct 1990. You’ll be interested in your account balance, more about that later. The Air Force will task you with the trip to Paris. That’ll take care of your General and your wife. Trip should take about a week, including travel both ways. You travel under your own name, but new passport, which we’ll send you next week. We have a photo, not to worry. We’ll send you a new Visa card as well, your name, don’t throw it out, that’s for expenses. You book your own travel with the card, pay your expenses and get cash as needed out of an ATM when needed. The bills come to us, not you. Be reasonable, but not cheap, you want to look worldly and upper middle class. No more likely to get killed than you would be on a trip to Miami in the wrong neighborhood, but one never knows for sure.

When can you go? We’d like to get moving by the end of April.




“Well, I’ll be damned. Welcome to the big leagues, I guess” Cameron whistled. He checked his Blackberry for appointments in April. “Pretty booked, as usual” he saw. “OK, that can go, and that . . .looks like the best week is 17-23 April. Air Force orders takes care of both Bosses. General’s gonna be curious as hell and Elizabeth is gonna be pissed, but I’m going.” He typed again:


Mr. Smith,

OK that all works. Best week for me is 17-23 April. That OK for you?



The reply was immediate:


Mr. Cameron,

17-23 April is perfect. Expect Air Force tasking end of this week, your destination is classified as is the purpose of the trip. Let us know if that gives you any trouble. Expect passport and credit card(s) end of next week. There will be more than one card, will explain that in later emails along with more info about the mission and the meeting.

Do not use this address again, yours or mine. You create another new account, different provider this time, and send an email to me tomorrow at We will discuss the mission there.

Any other questions for tonight?




Cameron remembered laughing loud enough that he drew a stare from the woman 2 machines down the row at Kinkos.



Just one question. Your name really Smith?



And the expected reply,


Dumb question.


“Quite an act” Cameron mused now on the pillows in Paris. “A month ago I was a simple Air Force O-6, and here I am now playing spooks in Paris, all expenses paid.”

Preparations had been hectic, but not too much so. The General had taken it well, considering. Nobody likes to be told he doesn’t get to know something, especially a General. But he’d shrugged at the old man and been banished with a wave. Elizabeth had been a little more difficult, she wanted to go along like last time, to London. Undoing that had taken some real fast talking. In the end she was mollified by the promise of a trip to Grand Cayman in June. They’d both enjoyed the Caymans ever since their honeymoon fifteen years ago, and this would be their fifth trip there.

This one would be different, though. Now, turns out, Paul Cameron, Colonel, USAF, has a private account at the Royal Bank of Canada, Georgetown, and a balance, including capital gains and dividends, of just under $800,000. Employee of the Phoenix Group for 22 years? Yikes, he’d remembered saying when he’d read Smith’s email. He had not told Elizabeth about that yet; wasn’t sure whether he was allowed to or should tell her. Time for that when we get to Cayman, he thought, I have some banking to do in Georgetown, just in case. He returned to the business at hand.

The passport and credit cards came as promised. Three credit cards, each in a separate mailing, on different banks, all domestic. Emails with Smith told him to use one for the airplane tickets and cash in the US, nothing else. Smith said to carry about $1000 US, on the card. Destroy that card and leave the pieces in the US. Use another one for the hotel in Paris only, and the third for cash where ever he needed it in Europe. “Pick your own hotel, Mr. Cameron,” Smith had said, “but low profile, not a place where you’ve stayed before, and don’t go straight there from the airport. Take the Metro, not a taxi. You enjoy books on espionage and the like, right?” Cameron had been amazed at the question—he did. “Read this one,” and Smith had given him a title and author. Cameron had read it already, but he read it again. “Create another new email account, new service again, and email Mr. Jones at when you get to Paris. Internet café always, Mr. Cameron,” Smith directed. “Leave your mobile phone at home please. Jones will arrange a meeting via email. When you get a message from yet another address, ask this question in your reply: “What was the title of T.E. Lawrence’s book about his times with the Arab resistance in WWI? The answer should be “Seven Pillars of Freedom.” Cameron balked at that, and emailed back: “Smith, the book is titled “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” Smith had retorted “Of course it is, but anyone could know that, Mr. Cameron. Very good, though. Seven Pillars of Freedom, if you please.”

He’d thought about the trip, after that exchange, and began to plan. He re-read the novel. He’d scoured the internet, found and studied maps of the Paris streets and the Metro. From there he’d made his plan for the trip into town. The Bistro he knew from before, his last time in Paris with Liz—it was a good place to sit, wait, and watch. The hotel he also found on the internet. The trick with the woman on the plane had come straight out of the novel. He thought it kind of cheesy when he read it, but it worked. He’d tagged the French cop in the restaurant as soon as he came through the door, and he saw clearly that he was watching.

The skill with the crowd was something he’d taught himself back in ’95, in Miami. He’d never been a big city guy, and before they’d moved there he’d thought about how there must be different “rules” people lived by in a city, rules he did not know. People got killed in carjackings in Miami. Elizabeth was scared to death. So, they invented a “spy game” together. “Keep your head on a swivel” he’d told her. “Leave room between the front of your car and the one ahead of you, so you can move if you have to. Be aware of everything around you, don’t just zone in on the car in front of you, or the traffic light. You need to see someone coming for you long before he gets to you, and you can if you open up your eyes and see. Look up when you walk, keep your hands free and open, look in people’s faces well ahead of you. Listen to the steps around you . . .” They’d both practiced, and felt better. “Never knew if it worked or not, though” he admitted to himself, getting out of the Paris bed and heading for the shower. “Guess I still don’t know for sure, maybe half the Paris PD is hanging around outside waiting to pick me up.” He laughed at that. “Well, I saw that bugger at the airport, took me about a nanosecond, and I haven’t done anything to attract attention. Still, he did look me over pretty well. I looked too military, probably, have to walk like a samurai, Paul, not a Colonel,” he reminded himself. “Weight low, down in the belly, not up high in the chest and shoulders, that’s what Sensei would say. ‘Don’t look at me, I’m just another American out for a holiday in Paris.’” And then “Yeah, right, pal. You just keep right on watching, and be careful, and stay smart. We don’t want Mrs. Cameron going to Cayman this summer with somebody better looking than me.”

IV. Bahrain

The Saudi sipped his beer occasionally as he worked his mouse and stared at his screen. Like all Saudis, he wore a thob, the long white shirt that reached to his ankles, and the red and white checkered shamak, even in Bahrain, where most men dressed like Westerners and women could wear miniskirts, high heels, and drive cars. There were many Saudis in the Internet bar in the souq district of Manama, most were having a beer and talking to women or surfing the Internet, none of which they could do at home, ten miles west over a causeway that spanned a thin strait in the Arabian Gulf.

Khalid al-Shahrani took another sip of his beer and savored it. He rationalized that he was doing God’s work, and he needed to blend in with these other people, so it would be OK. He would say extra prayers tomorrow, if he managed to find a mosque. It had been nearly two hours of waiting so far, and nothing had come, until a moment ago.

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,

I am sorry to be late, but I have been expecting a report from one of my men. Our problem is here in Paris, but we have it covered. Once we have determined how big the problem is and what caused it, we will be able to eliminate both. I have the assets I need to do that. Do you have any other instructions for me?

Praise be to God,
He read it three times, wishing there was a way to be sure nobody was monitoring him. “Cursed Americans” he thought, “they are devils, cursed by God, but they are clever and dangerous.” It was that which made this vague talk necessary, and he was aware that it was a very thin shield. This message was not that hard to understand, though, so he knew what it meant. He had to think a while about what he would say in return, however. In the end he said simply

Proceed as required, let me know when you have something. Usual schedule.

That was all he really needed to do for today, but he needed to think. His whole operation could be compromised by this man, if he really knew what he had. In truth, though, Khalid did not know what the man really knew, he only had a suspicion. And, it was only the sudden departure and flight to Paris that had sent up the warning flag in his mind.

“Could be completely innocent” he tried to work it out.

“He took the small one, the mother, two of the older kids. He left the rest at home didn’t he? Would he have done that if he was worried? Lots of people go to Europe, medical treatment often, a vacation maybe. But it's an odd time of year for that.”

Khalid was not married, did not have children in school, so he wasn’t sure. He was thirty-five and unmarried, old for a Saudi, but his family could not afford the dowry. True enough, lots of respectable families these days did not want their daughters married to a man who had been a mujihadeen in the Afghan jihad. “Nobody appreciates our sacrifice, or our piety” he grumbled to himself as he sipped the last of the beer. “Well, Ibrahim is good, God willing he will find out what the man is doing in Paris, thank God we have him there.” He looked at his watch, saw that it was nearly eight o’clock. “Six o’clock in Paris,” he calculated. His schedule did not require him to check for email again until ten tonight, and then not again until noon tomorrow. Isha, last prayer, had ended five minutes ago.

He got up to pay his tab, planning to stop in at the Mexican restaurant two blocks away for fajitas and a margarita, possibly to find a Russian girl for tonight.

V. Paris

“Falcon one, Contact.”

General Fahd stared at the single line for a moment, then pushed the “Send” button on the Yahoo email screen. “I wonder how long this will take? Better not be too long, Fadia will wonder what’s become of me, and the kids will be getting hungry and bored.” He bought a bottle of water and a bar of chocolate from the counter girl, and settled back into the chair to wait, keeping an occasional eye on the window and door. He was looking for Arabs now. “Strange I can’t trust my own people” he thought. “Madness.”

He stared at the screen for five minutes, pressing the “Refresh” button twice hoping to see a reply. Nothing. “This is boring” he thought. He opened another window and began to surf. New York stocks up a little. Oil futures steady. Football scores. Good deal on air fares to Tahiti. “Not with a dozen kids,” and he smiled to himself. Another ten minutes had gone by. He hit the “Refresh” button again.

One new message. “Well, tallyho, my friends. God bless you Captain Davidson.” He opened the message and read:


Greetings. We have arranged a meeting with the party you requested, but the exact details have been left to you and him. Email this address: In the body, simply say “Do you have a question for me?” The question should be “What was the title of T.E. Lawrence’s book about his times with the Arab resistance in WWI?” If the question is correct, your reply should be “Seven Pillars of Freedom”. Exactly that, General, no changes please. Once you have both authenticated with these exchanges, you will know that you have connected with the party you asked to meet. He does not know to expect you, however. You should identify yourself, once you are sure of the other party’s identity. Set up the meeting however you like.

If you must, you may contact me again at this address.

“Hmmm. What do they call these people in America? Spooks? I think that’s it.” He copied the new email address with two mouse clicks and opened a new message window. He then typed:

“Do you have a question for me?”

in the message body, pasted the address in the correct block, and pressed “Send”. He sat back to drink his water and think.

Colonel Paul Cameron, showered, shaved, lunched, and well exercised by a long walk across town had been in the internet café down the street from the Cluny Museum for nearly an hour. He’d made his contact with Mr. Smith as well, using the address he’d made up this morning. “Funny how when you need something like that, it’s hard to think them up,” he’d thought for ten minutes. Ultimately he’d used the tail numbers from the F-15s in his old squadron. “No pattern to speak of, and nobody who wasn’t there will remember, so they shouldn’t be predictable. All ’77 models though.” The nice looking twenty-something girl behind the counter caught his eye and smiled at him. He smiled back and held up his empty glass to signal for another Coke.

To the girl, as to most people, Cameron was an interesting man. He was only moderately handsome to be sure. He had a sharp jaw line, a defined chin, high cheekbones, but a nose that was too long and drooped at the end. Not good in profile.. He had thick, brown hair that was graying on the sides and receding a little at the forehead. Just turned forty-five, he was not a big man, but he was nearly six feet tall and clearly fit. “No bulge around the middle like most men his age,” the girl observed. Indeed, he still had a “V” shape from solid shoulders to a waist that was not much bigger than when he was twenty-five. He was wearing a loose-fitting long-sleeved shirt, but when he moved in his chair and the fabric stretched tight across his back she could see the lines of muscle in the shoulders and arms. When he’d come in she’d thought he moved like a dancer—her boyfriend was a dancer—fluid, graceful, light, yet seeming to be anchored to the earth with every step. His eyes were a deep, steel blue, alive and probing, with lines at the corners that spoke of age, mirth, wisdom, guile, or something—she could not tell what. He seemed to radiate an unconscious confidence, she thought, like he doesn’t know or doesn’t care that he looks interesting. Or, that he doesn’t care what the world thinks. “Mon dieu, what an interesting fellow.” She drew another Coke from her tap in response to the summons.

Cameron offered another unconscious smile when the Coke came, as with his other hand he pushed the “Refresh” button on the web browser. “Bingo” he thought when he saw that he had a new message. He opened it and read the simple line:

Do you have a question for me?

“What the heck is this?” he wondered, staring at the line. He checked the address, it was not the one he’d used to contact Mr. Smith. On the other hand, he had not yet used the line about T. E. Lawrence, that had to be it. He wrote in response:

“What was the title of T.E. Lawrence’s book about his times with the Arab resistance in WWI?”

And read the almost immediate reply:

“Seven Pillars of Freedom. What seminar were you in at War College?"

“What?” Cameron asked aloud. He looked up and saw the girl smiling again, a little startled. He smiled back, mouthed “Sorry”, and went back to his screen. He thought for a moment about that year at School in Alabama. “Who’s on the other end of this?” Another moment and he was nearly sure he had it. He sent

"Five. What is the name of your 11 year old son?"

On the Champs Elyse General Fahd sat back abruptly and hard against his chair. He ran both hands over his forehead and back across his bare crown, locking his fingers behind his head and leaning back farther until he stared straight up at the ceiling. “It must be him,” he thought. “So quick, it must be him.” Deciding, he leaned back to the keyboard and sent:


We need to meet, I must speak with you. But, I was followed, probably from my hotel. I found him and lost him by luck, but am nearly certain he is gone now. Do you have any suggestions?

The girl saw another smile on the face of the man at the computer, but she was not sure what it meant. The man was happy about something, but the look was also, somehow, dangerous. What an interesting fellow indeed, she thought.

Cameron re-read the email three times. “Fahd,” he said to himself quietly. “What have you got yourself into, my friend, and what is it you have to tell me?” He thought for a few minutes, knowing the other man was waiting, but he wanted to be sure about his reply. He could not afford a mistake. What he needed was a public place, but with only a few ways to enter, so he could watch and see if Fahd was followed, without a potential tail seeing him in return. And then, what to do about the tail if there was one? He sorted the options for another minute, and chose.

Good to hear from you. Here is what I want you to do:

Do not go back to your hotel yet.

In one hour there will be a boat called “BatoBus” on the Seine going West from the dock just under the bridge at the Place de la Concorde. Buy a ticket and take a seat in the middle of the boat. I will be at the back, but if you recognize me, make no sign. Sit and watch the other passengers board. If the man who was following you gets on the boat, pass your right hand across the bald part of your head from front to back.

If you do not see the man, sit tight and wait for me to come to you, which I’ll do once we’re away from the dock and out of sight of anyone who might have followed you to the shore.

If the man does get on the boat, we have a problem. Just past the Eiffel Tower the boat will turn and head back east, then it will stop in front of the Tower. At that stop, I’ll get off the boat. I’ll trip on the stairs to make sure you know it’s me. Follow me, about 50 meters behind once we clear the boat. Wherever I go, you follow, 50 meters. If I stop, keep walking, and go right past me.


Fahd read the words, a little astounded. “Paul, my old friend,” he wondered. “What have you been doing, and where, for whom, and how did you learn to play like a spook so well?” He grinned for the first time since he’d come into the café, some of the tension draining out of him. “Well, thanks be to God, at least he seems to know how to play this game, whatever it is, and I don’t, so that’s a blessing.” He sent:

Understand. I will be there. The man was small, about five feet five or six inches, European looking but he spoke Arabic. Dark coat about mid-thigh length.

See you in 1 hour, I have to get moving to make it there.

And he did. Fahd rose from his seat. He considered straightening his clothes and making himself look presentable, but now that he’d almost talked with his old friend he remembered something. Cameron was often bored at school, and would sometimes read novels in the longer lectures. Once, he had given Fahd one to read--an espionage/counter-terrorism thriller. Thinking quickly, he stuffed his tie in a coat pocket. He folded his suit coat in half, then laid it across the back of his overcoat and stuffed it into the arm holes on each side, then put on the coat. It was tighter across the back, but there was a little bulge, and it actually made him stoop forward somewhat, like an older man. He paid the attendant thirty Euros for his time and left, affecting a slight limp and hunching forward, trying to walk like his grandfather back in Ha’il. He walked west, back toward the metro station, but he did not intend to take it. Halfway there he turned into a shop he’d seen as he hurried past over an hour ago. There he bought a black hat and a wooden cane, emerging back onto the street looking very much an elderly French gentleman as he hailed a taxi.

Cameron looked at his watch. “Nearly four o’clock,” he saw, “not much time.” He waved to the girl at the counter for his check, and returned to the machine. First, he found the BatoBus website, and looked at the stops. He’d not had time to look before, and now he saw that the stop near the Place Concorde was actually two blocks west. No matter, Fahd would find it. He guessed his friend would be in a taxi in any case, and the driver would know the place well. The schedule was fluid, a boat at every stop every fifteen to twenty minutes. It would have to do. Close to five o’clock, Fahd would be there. Cameron had planned to board himself on the south side of the river, under the shadow of Notre Dame, but he saw immediately that this would not work. The service ran East from there for two stops before turning around the end of the Ile St. Louis and stopping twice more before the place he’d sent Fahd. At fifteen minutes each, that would take him more than an hour, and he had other things to do. “Not good” he thought. Down to fifty-five minutes as the girl brought the bill and he laid ten euros on the table. He would have to find a cab, make the preparations if he was lucky, and then have the cab race across town to the boat dock at Hotel de Ville on the Right Bank not later than four-thirty. “It’ll have to be enough,” he mumbled, signing off his user id and closing the browser to erase his trail.

He stood, putting on his dark wool coat and smiling again at the girl. “Do you speak English?” he asked.

“Yes, monsieur,” she said, “can I help you with something?”

“Mademoiselle, I need a taxi. And do you know a bar where perhaps I may find some Spaniards like me? I need to have a meal and a drink to remind me of home.” He spoke in English but with what he hoped sounded like a Spanish accent.

“I am sorry, monsieur, but I do not,” she replied. “But, there is a place two blocks south of the museum, there. I have had paella for dinner there, but that is the only Spanish item on the menu that I recall.”

“That is good enough, thank you.” He left abruptly, looking for a taxi.

In his own taxi, General Fahd removed his new hat and tried to make himself more presentable. Contacting Cameron had renewed his confidence, now he wanted to make a good impression. He had not seen the man in years. “What a year that was,” and he stared out the window of the car, “that year in Montgomery at the USAF War College.” And it had been. For Fahd and his family, a welcome, novel experience of life in the United States. The cool weather, everything green, everything so inexpensive, and the relaxed schedule of the school had made for a year of refreshment for the whole family. He smiled. Little Aziz had been born there; he and Fadia were so proud. They now had a daughter and a son who were both American citizens by birth. “And Cameron,” he thought. “A true friend—to offer to take Aziz into his own home if I should want to send the boy to school in America someday.” His mind began to drift, still staring out the window as the car neared the Place du Concorde and the Louvre. What a fellow he is. Always knew more than the lesson could teach about the world, and war, and politics. Always ready with an oblique but insightful comment that made everyone think. Beautiful wife with those curious blue eyes, beautiful blonde children, a girl and a young boy who would each be in university now. What were their names? The boy is Sean, I think, and he plays soccer. I shall have to ask him about the girl. But yes, I will call him “abu-Sean” when we meet, and he hoped his friend would call him “abu Mohammed” after his own oldest son. And didn’t he win the athletic award twice in the year? There was that martial arts thing, as well, gave him bruises on the arms all the time but I could tell the difference in his presence in the room after a few months, very strange thing now I think of it. And that sense of humor, just like all American pilots. A Christian, attends church, a Person of the Book and therefore permitted to us as a friend. Knew to point out to me which way was East for my prayers in the building, Praise be to God, and to tell the other Americans to buy kosher meats for the parties we had. . .

With a start he realized he had not prayed since midday, but excused himself because of the follower and the need to stay out of sight for a while. He would say extra prayers at maghrib, God willing, and again at Isha tonight and at fajr at dawn tomorrow. . .

Engrossed as he was in these thoughts, Fahd did not notice that the taxi had stopped at a traffic light. He was so engrossed, in fact, that he made a very serious mistake. On the corner not four meters from his window Ahmed al-Kisani was simply loitering, passing the time before he would head back to the General’s hotel to pick him up again, and wondering what he would tell Ibrahim if he did not. And then there was his quarry, so close he could almost touch the car, the man staring absently into space behind the window. It was all he could do not to leap for the scooter that waited at the curb another six meters to his left. Instead, blessing God and all his ninety-nine names, he very slowly took a few steps backward, behind the man to his left, making slowly for the scooter. Then the light changed and traffic started to move. He bolted for the scooter, kicking it to life and gunning the machine into traffic, searching ahead for the quarry he had lost and now by the grace of God had found. But where was it? His hopes fell, and he gazed wildly around the circle, hoping, searching . . .There! He was nearly killed by a Renault barreling in from his right, but now he saw the taxi across the circle. He fell smoothly in behind, three cars back. “Today I am lucky, perhaps I will be even more so” he said aloud to the traffic around him. He was sure the target had not seen him.

Kisani was correct. Fahd sat in the taxi, still working to restore himself to a dignified appearance. His collar was back down, the tie replaced around his neck. He’d laughed as he squirmed within the coat and withdrew his now wrinkled suit coat from its hiding place, smoothing it on his lap. “What to do now?” he checked his watch. “Forty minutes until the boat, but perhaps it will be earlier? Better not to miss it, or we’ll have to start over.” “Driver,” this in French, “do you know the BatoBus stop near the Place du Concorde?”

“Oui monsieur, but it is further west, perhaps half a kilometer. Is this the one?”

This was confusing. “Is there another nearby?” he asked.

“Non, on this side of the river, the next one is east, near Hotel de Ville” said the cabby.

“Bon,” said Fahd, deciding, “let’s go to this stop west of the Place, then.”

“Bon” the cabbie returned, and he began to look for a place for a u-turn.

He was nearly thirty-five minutes early when he descended the steps to the bank of the Seine and found the ticket kiosk under the bridge. The dock was simple, but the BatoBus sign was unmistakable, so he bought a three day ticket and walked West along the embankment, a little stroll to calm the nerves while he waited.

Kisani parked his scooter at the curb above on the street, and cautiously walked out onto the walk on the bridge. He leaned on the railing and looked East toward the Louvre on the Right Bank and the D’Orsay on the Left, and Notre Dame in the distance. Then he casually looked down to confirm his man was still there. He was, and again he blessed his own luck that he had his monthly transport pass. He would not need to buy a ticket, but could wait until the boat was alongside, blend with the crowd that was starting to build now, and slip onto the boat without being seen. He settled in to wait as the target strolled under the bridge and out of sight. He knew he would not be going anywhere for thirty minutes.


Cameron was nervous in his cab as it pulled up at the place the waitress had named. It had taken nearly ten precious minutes to get here, and he had not even started what he needed to do. He asked the cab to wait and promised a ten Euro tip, then leapt out and through the door into the restaurant.

It was dim inside, even for late afternoon. There was a wall on his immediate left that ran all the way to the back, and along this wall a bar of dark polished wood. Standard bottles behind the bar, and a mirror, several beer taps, and hanging in a niche amongst the shelves the trademark jamon, a Spanish cured ham. The whole leg stood there in the wooden rig, with the knife that slid on a guide to slice it along its length, paper thin. He salivated. “Jamon and beer. Not much time,” he thought, “but have to break into this somehow, might as well look like a homeboy.” He walked down the bar toward the man behind it. To his right was a space of perhaps thirty feet, tables a little farther apart than you would see in the US, but about what he remembered from his one trip to Spain. The air was stale with old smoke, beer, food, bodies, and there was a light haze of cigarette smoke clinging to the ceiling. He made a quick look and turned to the bar, counting the people from the snapshot in his head: maybe fifteen.

“Buenos tardes, señor” he said to the bartender in what he hoped was Castilian-sounding Spanish, or at least Cuban. He’d learned in Colorado as a high school student, so he thought he probably sounded like a Mexican, but Cuban would be better here.

“Hola, que tal señor?” Said the bartender in reply, “Hello, how are you. Will you have something?

“With pleasure, señor,” Cameron continued. A plate of jamon, and a beer, if you please.”

“Of course señor.” As the man busied himself with the ham, Cameron made a study of his prospects in the in the mirror behind the bar. He was looking for someone dressed in dark, even black clothes, maybe even a leather jacket, perhaps longish hair, hopefully with some pals along for a drink. Nobody that looked like fitting the bill, he found to his chagrin. “May have to do this the hard way,” he thought, but that would spoil things and it was his absolute last option.

The ham and beer came, he paid, and asked in a low voice, “señor, I have not much time. I need to meet a certain kind of man, someone who can do something for me, something that requires a certain, shall we say, “reputation”. I am discrete, can you help me?”

The bartender looked suspicious for a moment, considering. The man in front of him looked European, dark slacks with no pleats, fashionable shoes, the gray turtleneck and the light olive skin. His Spanish is a little queer, but perhaps he’s a Catalan or something. Well, what’s it to me? If Miguel gets into trouble with this guy, that’s his problem.” Leaning low across the bar, he pointed at Cameron’s middle and said “directly behind you, señor, a man named Miguel, the blonde one, might be what you want, but it’s nothing to do with me.” Without another word he turned and walked through a door to a backroom at the far end of the bar.

Cameron tried to see this Miguel in the mirror, but couldn’t for the mass of his own shoulders. He rolled up a slice of the ham and popped it in his mouth, letting it lie there on his tongue and savoring the salty, earthy flavor that only came from real jamon. “Righteous” was the word that came immediately to mind. It melted there in his mouth, and he took a great gulp of beer at the right moment. “Well, here goes, no time to waste.” He turned to face Miguel.

The man did not really look the type, but he would do if he was willing. He was about six feet, medium build, black turtleneck and jeans with heavy shoes and a dark wool coat like his own. The face was handsome but hard, there was a scar along the jaw on the left, this guy had been around the block at least once. The other one was not as promising but typical. A little pudgy, close shaved dark hair, oval face, and doing his best to dress like a sophisticated Spanish-Parisian tuff. It did not bode well for Miguel’s prospects that he kept a sleaze like this in train, but his time was short and it would have to do, or not, as fortune provided. The rest of the men in the bar were intent on their own beer and conversation. “Good.”

He decided that direct was the only way, so he covered the three paces to the table and stopped to the pudgy one’s left, looking directly across the table into Miguel’s eyes as he looked up. “Gentlemen,” Cameron began. “Good afternoon. I regret I have no time to spend on pleasantries, but there is something I need done and I require the services of some reliable men. I would make it worth your while and it will not take you long. Shall I sit down?” He placed the beer and the plate on the table and stood, hands open and hanging limp, waiting.

The pudgy one looked from Cameron to Miguel, wondering what would happen, then back to Cameron with a sneer as he thought he’d read what his master would say. “What makes you think we want you here, Catalan?” He started to rise and reached for Cameron’s jacket with his left hand. Cameron slid his right foot almost slowly to his right, making a small circle with the right hand as Pudgy reached for it, not quite keeping up. As the circle came back down Cameron grabbed the hand with his thumb in the middle of the back of Pudgy’s, on top of the crown of the first knuckle of the ring finger. Pudgy’s haymaker right hook was just getting underway, but it was too late. Cameron pivoted on his right foot, suddenly beside Pudgy with the hook flying harmlessly into empty space, and then with a smooth, quick turn of his whole body, he folded Pudgy’s left hand in a twist that pointed his palm and fingertips back toward the inside of his own wrist, and pushed the whole thing toward the floor just under the man’s buttocks. Pudgy yelped as the strain came on all the connective tissues of his lower arm, and dropped like a ton of shit onto the floor. He fell awkwardly, landing on the point of his left hip with an audible thud that produced another yelp. Another quick pivot, and the man was face down on the floor, Cameron towering above him and pressing the hand down at a right angle to the stiff arm, directly above the back of the shoulder. Pudgy was gasping there, Cameron standing loosely, one hand empty and open at his side, his eyes on Miguel but aware of all the others in the room.

Miguel had made only one quickly-recovered reaction to the flash of movement, and now sat staring up at the man in front of him. He smiled, hoping he looked cool, and said “You watch too many movies, señor. Sit down. May I share your jamon? Please release Patricio, he is harmless as you can see.”

Cameron did, surveyed the room once more, and sat. Pudgy stood up, favoring the hip and massaging his wrist. He pulled his chair around the table toward Miguel and out of Cameron’s reach. “Good,” Paul thought. “Didn’t really want to make a demonstration, but perhaps it’s helped.” He looked at his watch. “I got five more minutes here, max, and then it’s show time.” He turned to Miguel.

“Señor, as I said I have no time, but I regret your friend’s accident.” A look and a nod at Pudgy. “I need two, perhaps three, reliable men in about an hour, in the third alley along the Avenue Gustave Eiffel, northeast of the tower. You will see me walk by, then another man about my height and build, but probably with a mustache, let him pass. Behind him there will be a small man, perhaps one and a half meters, following us. I want you to mug him, take him in the alley, and beat him up, but do not kill him. I will pay you thirty euros now, and another hundred when I see you after. Come out of the alley when you are done. I will be there. You keep the cash and credit cards from the man’s wallet, all but one, that one is mine, and his identification. The rest is yours, along with my hundred euros, cash. I have no time. Yes, or no?” He finished, stood, placed another slice of the ham in his mouth, and reached for his wallet.

Pudgy flinched at the move. Miguel smiled. “How do I know I can trust you?”

“You don’t” Cameron said. “You’ll have my thirty euros, and you may choose not to show up, that risk is mine. In that case I will have to deal with the little man myself, as you see,” another look at Pudgy, “and perhaps I will be back here for my money some day soon. It would be a shame if you could no longer come here for tapas of an afternoon, would it not?”

That made Miguel nervous, and the young man struggled not to show it. To cover, he smirked again. “Give me the thirty euros, and I will be there with Patricio and another friend, I like this place very much. Pablo the bartender has a most extraordinary sister, you would like her, you know? But I think one hundred fifty euros would be better since there will be three of us.”

“Done” Cameron said, and tossed the thirty on the table. One hour, perhaps ninety minutes from now, you know the place. Do not kill the small man, mind you.” He turned and swept out the door with a last look at the small crowd of men in the bar, into his waiting taxi, which sped off north toward the Ile St. Louis and the BatoBus stop under the lee of Hotel de Ville.


Fahd had walked two hundred meters along the embankment, and back again, twice now. He was on his third lap and beginning to get nervous; it was five minutes after five o’clock. “Where is the God forsaken boat?” he wondered. “This must be the place, but why should the jackal be late?” and he cursed all French under his breath for being tardy.

There was plenty of traffic on the river to be sure, but he had not seen one called BatoBus in the nearly thirty nine minutes he’d been here. It was getting on toward dusk and getting colder as well. He’d left his hotel nearly five hours ago and Fadia would certainly be nervous by now. He was hungry, tired and angry as he passed under the bridge heading east on his route, when he looked straight up into the early evening sky in a silent appeal to God to make the boat appear. He was not looking for anything but grace; what he saw sent a chill through him. There was the briefest glimpse of the same small man, for a moment leaning on the railing of the bridge and also looking to the east, and then he was gone.

Fahd brought his eyes quickly back down to scan the embankment path ahead, and with relief he saw the boat, at last, turning in from the center of the river and headed for a landing at his dock. “What is that man, a devil?” he wondered aloud, in Arabic this time. “How can he have found me again?” Who else is helping him? My God, what about Fadia and the children?” Again he shivered. Now he saw the boat would dock in a minute or two, it was time to decide. “Well, I am not a woman” he thought, ‘the little man can’t be that big a problem, if he is not armed, and that is not likely in Paris.” He hoped that was true. “What to do? Should I lead him away from Cameron? Perhaps that is safest.” The boat touched and a deckhand jumped across to the dock to make it fast. The crowd began to queue for boarding. “What to do?” He ran again through the email with Cameron. “Well, he suspected I would be followed again, he must have a plan. He prefers I come on the boat. Very well, so be it.” He turned on his heel and made for the back of the queue. He could not see the follower anywhere, but he did not want to obviously look around, either. “He does not know that I’ve marked him. I am a Frenchman, taking an easy afternoon in Paris on a fine April day. I have no reason to believe anyone will follow me, I have nothing to hide. I only have to be calm and get on the boat.”

There were perhaps ten people ahead of him, and more joining behind him from the comfort of their benches near the ticket kiosk. When his turn came, he showed his ticket and climbed across the gunwale, taking the two steps down to the deck quick and light. Knowing Cameron would be near the stern he turned left into the Plexiglas-enclosed cabin, shunning a seat in the open bows of the vessel. With an effort he avoided a panicked search of the cabin that might have given Cameron away. There was a seat five rows from the front, he took it and sat, facing the entrance with a view of the gangway. As an afterthought, he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew his copy of the Koran, then watched forward as discreetly as he could, thumbing the pages slowly.

There he was. The follower came aboard between two middle aged American women. Fahd made a quick- but-smooth movement from front to back across the bald pate of his head with his right hand, and then the small man disappeared forward; apparently he chose to sit out on the deck and then to follow when Fahd emerged from the cabin. “He is not stupid” the general thought. Someone sneezed loudly behind him. He thought nothing about that for a moment, then he wondered. “Cameron?” he thought hopefully. “Perhaps he is telling me that he saw? Let us hope so.”

It took another seven minutes before everyone was seated, and the same deckhand cast off the line at the bow and bounded aboard. The pilot in his cubicle jockeyed the throttles and moved the boat away from the dock, slowly at first then gathering speed as she cleared it and made her way into the central channel of the Seine. The view was spectacular, cirrus clouds slid across a high, Spring sky; the sun was going down casting a faint orange pale on the ragged, torn edges. Back to the east the sky had already turned a deep purple, creeping west through a blur of hues to the still bright blue due west. The river bent left about half a mile ahead, and on the south side, around the corner, Fahd could see the Eiffel tower in silhouette against the multicolored sky. It was time for maghrib, but there would clearly be no mosque and no prayer anytime soon; it looked like it would be at least a twenty minute trip to the tower, and Cameron had said the boat would first pass it and then turn back before it stopped there on the opposite side of the river. “No matter,” he thought. He had his Koran in hand anyway, he knew the prayers and the right verses to recite. “Allahu akhbar, Allahu akhbar, Allahu akhbar” he began repeating in his head, “God is most great, God is most great, God is most great . . .” In a moment, he was lost in the mystery of prayer, and forgot everything about his troubles and this worrisome follower.

Up in the bow Ahmed Kisani was uncomfortable and cold, the boat was making something like five knots that drove a frigid breeze over the prow and right through his coat. He cursed France again and thought of home, which reminded him that it was time for evening prayer. According to his habit he cast about for an excuse not to pray, and decided that since he was doing God’s work following this man, and since he was on this wretched boat in the middle of this wretched river in wretched, cold France, God must intend for him to miss this prayer. He omitted the thought that followed it just at the edge of his conscience, that it had been days since he had prayed even once let alone the five times a day that was his duty. He could not even turn his back to the wind for fear that, facing the cabin, his quarry might see him, and know that he was being followed. He cursed again under his breath and drew his arms across his lap, deep in his pockets, and tried to tuck his chin and face behind the collar of his coat.

Ahmed thus passed a truly miserable twenty minutes in the bow of the BatoBus boat, and Fahd a blissful twenty minutes of prayer in the comfortable cabin. Each stirred back to the here and now only when they felt the boat making it’s wide turn back toward the tower, and each returned to his duty, one from heaven, and the other from hell. It occurred to Fahd as he recalled his nemesis there forward that perhaps it had been very cold, and perhaps the man had been in hell up there. “How appropriate” he hoped.

Five minutes later the deckhand once again swung across the short gap and onto the dock, making the line fast at the bow. Passengers all along the boat stood up to collect themselves. A queue formed in the aisle. Fahd stood but did not move into line; he would wait as he’d been told. He buttoned his coat to the top button and turned up his collar against the cold he expected outside. There was no sign of his follower forward.

People were moving up the aisle and onto the dock, there was a sneeze again just to his right. He did not look, but saw in the corner of his eye a figure pass along the aisle. The walk did not look right, there was a slight limp and the figure was stooped and old-looking. Fahd dismissed this man and waited, nearly missing the man’s stumble as he reached the stairs. “Cameron?” He was amazed. What had happened to the vigorous young man he knew? The man wore a black wool coat, turned up at the collar, a black hat not unlike the one Fahd had bought two hours ago for his disguise, black slacks and shoes. He was over the gunwale now and moving off at his crippled pace. Fahd moved now, fearing he would lose his way. He stepped into line and was off the boat in a moment, looking for the slumped man. He saw him crossing the square, about seventy-five meters ahead, toward the Tower and the park beyond. “Fifty meters” he remembered. He began to walk at a brisk pace to catch up. Through his concern for his friend’s health he thought of the difficult time the small man would be having keeping up with his long gait.

A casual observer could not have guessed that the trio were together in any way. There was an old man making his way under the arches of the Eiffel and into the park, probably aiming toward his home somewhere in the dark warren of century-old buildings east and north of the great monument. Then there was a distinguished looking man of above-average height, walking with a purpose, perhaps to meet someone for dinner at one of the trendy restaurants in that same quarter of the city. Another wanderer hurried along toward his own destination some way behind. It was growing quite dark, only a thin sliver of blue bordered by yellow, orange, scarlet, and then the deep black of approaching night showed on the horizon. The nearly-useless street lamps of Paris were just beginning to come on.

At the edge of the park all three men turned north along the Avenue Gustave Eiffel and continued their slow advance. A block went by, was interrupted by a narrow street, and another began. Another minute and a second alley passed on the right. Up ahead Fahd saw a third alley yawning darkness that seemed to spill into the dimly lit street, and the elderly man limping along passed it and kept going. He was nearly sure now that he must be following the wrong man. If this went on for another block, he would find the next public place, a restaurant perhaps on a busier street a few blocks ahead, and there he would try to find a taxi. He’d go back to his hotel, sleep, and tomorrow he would find another internet café and try again. He was passing the third alley himself now, and the man up ahead turned a corner and vanished from sight. Concerned, Fahd increased his pace slightly, just in case.

Several things happened at once as he reached the corner and turned. A strong grip took him and heaved him around the corner. There was a confused explosion of sound behind him, the way they’d just come. Adrenaline fired through his limbs and he started to struggle with this unexpected assailant, but the grip was like iron and he was swept in a semicircle to his left until his back came to rest against the wall of the building. He looked at his attacker in the dim light, preparing some strike in return, then relaxing. Under the hat the bent old man now stood ramrod straight at six feet, his legs slightly apart in a strong stance, and the face of Colonel Paul Cameron grinned out of the darkness. The grip on his coat relaxed and an index finger pressed to Cameron’s smile. “Quiet for a moment, abu-Mohammed” he whispered, barely audible.

Away around the corner the odd noise continued for another thirty seconds, then the night was quiet once again except for the sounds of distant traffic. Cameron looked satisfied, listening with his head cocked slightly to one side. He thought for a moment, then smiled again, a queer smile that was at once both pleased and something else. “Shall we go and have a look at your little friend?” Cameron asked.

“What do you mean?” Fahd was still recovering.

“I think he has had an accident, and as people of God we should go and see if he needs assistance. Come, I may need you anyway.” Cameron led the way around the corner and back toward the dark alley, no trace of the limp now as he moved like water flowing over the even ground. They walked perhaps twenty meters, Fahd slightly behind and to the right, before three figures materialized out of the gloom. Cameron held out a hand in front of Fahd and said quietly in Arabic “Not too close, my friend. Step to your right ten feet or so, off of the sidewalk just a little. Watch and be ready.”

“Ready for what?” Fahd wanted to ask? “What the hell is going on? When did your Arabic get to be that good?” But Cameron’s tone did not want conversation. Fahd moved as he was told and focused on the figure nearest to him.

“Buenas noches” Cameron said to the man in the middle of the three. “I see you have come. How is our little friend?”

“He will live, but he will not be moving about for a while, and not quickly for a while after that” was Miguel’s reply. “Let us finish our business and get out of here.”

“I need the ID and one credit card from his wallet, if you please,” and Cameron held out his right hand, his left foot sliding back slightly, the right pointed directly at Miguel, the left hand loose and open at his side.

“First the two hundred euros” Miguel demanded.

Cameron shook his head, and wagged his left index finder at the second man, to his left, who had started to move. “No mistakes gentlemen. Patricio, a while ago you had a taste. This time I will break your arm so that it may never heal, you will be crippled as well as fat and ugly. Do not be stupid tonight. One hundred and fifty euros was agreed, and you keep the thirty that you already have. Sixty euros each for beating up a midget is much better than a hospital bed for tonight. Take the money, go find some food and something to drink, perhaps Pablo’s sister even.” This last he said as his gaze fixed on Miguel to his front.

In the dark Miguel fidgeted slightly, trying to decide what to do. This man was strange, he spoke strange Spanish from the Madonna knew where, and for a reason he could not name he was certain that the man would do exactly what he had just said he would do. Could he and Juan take him, and Patricio the other one over there? No, too risky, and they had all been here too long. “Very well, one hundred fifty señor” he said at last. He offered the license and a credit card.

Cameron looked hard at him for a moment, then slowly withdrew the cash from his coat pocket, relaxing as he stepped forward. The money and the cards changed hands.

“Gracias, vayan con dios”, "go with God," Cameron said at last. He motioned to Fahd and backed away a few steps, gave a limp salute to his Spanish toughs, then turned and walked quickly up the street and around the corner into the deepening gloom.

VI. Langley/Paris

Randy Anderson sipped the rapidly cooling coffee, his second cup today and probably his last, as he scanned through his inbox looking for urgent email that must have his attention. Others he would get to later. He worked from oldest to newest, which was relative, because he received new ones at the rate of several per minute.

He was looking for any news of Cameron, who should be in Paris today, since this morning local time. He looked at his watch again: it would be five-thirty in the afternoon there now, eleven thirty in the morning Langley time. He reached the emails that came in around eight this morning, just after two p.m. Paris time. Nothing so far.

There was a message about another operation going down in Yemen, nothing fancy, just a little spying on someone who was nominally an ally of the United States, but you could never be sure these days. Some allies, like the French, didn’t seem to be able to figure out how to act like one most of the time, or so it appeared to many Americans. He scrolled up. There was an email about some information for the President’s Daily Briefing, or PDB. He read it, thought for a moment, approved the inclusion and directed that the Briefing also include some related info, along with the file name where it could be found. Further up he found a note about his meeting this afternoon with the director of the National Security Agency. Another about a personnel matter he’d been working on, a promotion he was arranging for one of his favorite field operatives. There, a note from Mr. Jones. He opened it and read:

For DDO Langley:

Phoenix arrived in Paris on schedule, but lost his minder somewhere enroute into downtown. Probably slipped through a hotel lobby near l’Opera. Unexpected touch. Present whereabouts unknown. He checked in by email two hours ago, nothing since then.

Falcon has also checked in by email, and he received instructions for the contact with Phoenix. Unknown whether contact has occurred, but Falcon’s check-in was also nearly two hours ago. Fortunate timing, both subjects at machines at approximately the same time. Assume that contact has been made but do not know if a meeting has occurred.

No opposition in play that we’ve seen.

Anderson thought for a moment. “Lost his tail? How’d he do that, the sly bugger? Who’s he worried about, us or someone else? Well, guess it serves us right trying to tail him in the first place, can’t blame him for losing us. That’s actually good news, our boy can take care of himself. Still, I’m going to have some ass for our guy getting lost. No opposition—of course not you hack, you haven’t seen him since he hit town ten hours ago” He typed

Understand, appears our boy knows how to play. Suggest you check to see if he’s used one of our credit cards, find his hotel, pick him up again. Use Intel if you need them, my authority. Let me know when you have something, direct.

He stabbed the “Send” button. “That’ll cause shit to fly down in Intel.” He chuckled. Normally, he was careful not to get directly involved in field ops. He had good people who did it for a living now, he was supposed to let them do their jobs. “Well, what good is it being the Big Cheese around here if I can’t sail some excrement around once in a while.”

Two floors down and at the other corner of the building, Jones sat back from his screen and looked up at the ceiling. “Great” he mumbled to the tiles up there. “DDO knows I’m alive, which could be great for my career, except he also thinks I’m a complete fuck up, which I am. Jesus.” Jones was his real name, a source of some humor among his colleagues. He was not a hack, though. He was a seasoned field agent, had proven he could be resourceful and unpredictable, the kind of agent the Agency had a reputation for, but didn’t actually have many of. He thought for a few minutes. “What’s Phoenix know, and what does he not know?” He didn’t have a clue. He considered forwarding the DDO’s message to the guys in Intel along with his request for a scan of Paris hotels for a credit card. Maybe the DDO’s hand would get him some cooperation with those guys. He re-read the email, “not good.” “No use anyone else knowing the Boss is pissed at me” he observed. Instead, he killed his screen and got up, headed for the Intel desk and a guy who owed him a favor. “This will go better face to face.”


Cameron and General Fahd walked quickly and talked little, needing to put some distance between them and the scene of the crime. They circled around the block and were now headed south one street east of where they’d left the mugged short man, and they would soon be several blocks south as well. Cameron was betting that if he could follower would try to continue north toward the river searching for them, and he wanted to be well away, in the other direction.

“Abu-Sean” Fahd said quietly in Arabic when he began to feel composed. “You amaze me. What was that all about, who were those men? When did your Arabic become so good? You sound like you were born in Riyadh!”

“Hold on, slow down” Cameron said in English. “It’s not really that good, but thanks for the compliment about the accent. I’m OK with phrases here and there, but I only got about a third of what you just said. English is fine, if we keep it quiet. What did you say, again?

Fahd repeated, a little mollified. “OK, one at a time” Cameron replied. “You were followed, right? So, someone is a little too interested in you, and maybe me if we’re together, and that’s not going to be healthy for either of us. So, we had to do something about that. I paid those guys to mug the short guy, in case we should pass by there with him in trail. He was, they did, unlucky for him, he shouldn’t have signed up. Any idea who he is, or why he’s following you?”

“No idea who he is,” Fahd admitted, “some idea why he’s following me, although I don’t know how, and I don’t want to talk about it here in the open. What was that language you spoke to them?”

“Spanish. I don’t know any French, and it helps to communicate with Parisians in something besides English, makes them more hospitable for some reason.” Cameron shrugged his shoulders as he walked.

“So Spaniards can be hired in Paris to do a mugging? Are they so bloody-minded? I would never have known.”

“No, not especially bloody minded. It was a practical thing. I don’t speak any French, I figured it’s gotta be tough to do that kind of deal in English here in Paris, so Spanish was my only choice. I got lucky and found a bar with those guys in it, and they needed the money. Otherwise, I’d have had to do it myself, which would have been messy.” Cameron blessed his luck again, quietly. “If the guy’d been armed we’d have been in big trouble. Not a good risk, so this was better. If the little guy hadn’t got on the boat, you and I would simply have walked another way, and these guys would have come out for nothing, except for my thirty euros, that is. Anyway, a hundred eighty euros is a small price to pay to have us both clear of that guy so we can talk in peace.”

“Where are we going now?” asked Fahd. The walk was making him warm in his coat despite the chill in the air, and he noticed for the first time since the internet café that he was hungry.

“I’m not sure, really” said Cameron, looking at his watch and then ahead on both sides of the street. “I vaguely remember a restaurant in this general area when I was here in 2005. It’s here somewhere, we’ll find it. You hungry? I’d offer a mosque, it’s going to be Isha in a few minutes, but if you permit me, I think it would be best if we avoid mosques until we sort things out a little. This restaurant, if I can find it, is kosher, so it’s OK for you.”

“You amaze me, Paul” Fahd said again. To himself he wondered how the man could remember little details like that. Muslim rules for food are identical to kosher rules for Jews. “Yes, I could eat a horse as I believe the expression goes in your country. How far do you think? Can we talk there?”

“Yes, that’s the plan and it’s not far. I recognize that hotel over there now, the restaurant will be another block this way, and then a half block to the left. Are you here alone, abu-Mohammed?”

“No. I brought Fadia and little Aziz, on the pretext that the boy needs treatment for his stomach. Nothing serious, but it was an excuse. Also Miriam to help Fadia, and Mohammed to watch them when I’m out. They’re at the hotel, but they should be OK.”

Cameron frowned in the dim light of the street lamps, and shook his head a little. “Not OK, Fahd. Whoever had you followed probably picked you up from your hotel, so they know the family is there and they know you’ll come back. We’ll have to do something about that, but with shorty down for the count back in the alley, we have some time. First, we need to talk and see where we are. How are Fadia and the children? They are all well, I hope?”

“Splendid” said Fahd as they turned left and he saw that Cameron must have spotted his restaurant. “And how is Elizabeth, and Sean, and what is that pretty daughter of yours called?

Cameron smiled broadly. “Elizabeth is gorgeous as usual, and she’s taken a job last year. The kids are growing up. Sean still plays soccer, sorry, football, and started at his University this last fall. Lilly, is beautiful, and destined to cause me much worry and loss of hair. She’s in her third year, studying to be a teacher.”

“I am glad, abu-Sean. I hope I can see them again soon.”

Just then they arrived at the restaurant and stepped inside. It was typical of Paris. There were ten tables, close together, arranged along the walls of the narrow room on either side, with a small bar at the back and the kitchen beyond that through a door. There was dark wainscoting on the walls, and wallpaper above in a Provence color scheme. Curtains across the glass front covered the lower half of the windows to just above eye level on the walk outside. The lights were Paris-dim. There was nobody else dining yet, the only person visible was a tall, thin waiter at the bar who, seeing them, put on a smile and began to walk toward the door with two menus in hand.

They sat at a table midway down the left wall, Cameron facing the door. In a few minutes each had ordered half a roasted chicken with vegetables and rice, and each began with a bowl of onion soup as a concession to the chill outside. Cameron wanted a beer or some wine, but his friend was a most observant Muslim, and while he knew Fahd would not have minded, he chose to abstain out of respect. With the soup before them and the waiter retreated to the kitchen out of earshot, they resumed small talk. “So important not to rush with Arabs” Cameron reminded himself. “Patience, sort out all the family business first on both sides, and he will come to the point when he is ready.”

“So, Brigadier Fahd, who has charge of the rest of the children while you are in Paris?” Cameron began.

“Our second son, Ali. You remember him, the heavier one that spoke the best English? He is in charge, but of course I have a cousin nearby in Dhahran who will look in on all of them. In fact, Ali will take them all to al-Ha’il today or tomorrow. That is the center of our tribe’s area, you know? We have a home there, of course, and much more family to look after the children. Ali will get them all there.”

Through this Cameron watched his friend carefully. “He’s not quite so sure about that, is he Paul?” he asked himself. Then to Fahd, “Why not leave Mohammed, isn’t he three years older, or do I miss my arithmetic?”

“No you are right.” Fahd’s shoulders slumped and he looked depressed, the weight of his burden heavier now that he had someone to share it with. “I’ll tell you what it is, Paul” he said. “I do not quite like Mohammed’s behavior lately. He is strange, rebellious, even hostile on occasion. He says evil things to his mother, may God forgive him, and the thing that most worries me is that he has begun to affect some of the hyper-radical rubbish that these terrorist maniacs spew in their tapes on al-Jazeera. I do not know for sure, but I fear he has fallen in with a bad crowd in Dhahran or somewhere along the coast. I could not trust him with the children, not now, I had to bring him along so I can watch him myself.”

Cameron pondered this in silence and waited. He could see Fahd trying to screw himself up to coming to the point, deciding how to begin and how to finish what he’d come for. Finally Fahd went on, a look of determination set on his worried face.

“Well, I suppose that brings me to the point, my friend. I will tell you the whole story, and then you will tell me what you think is to be done. You do not mind, I hope? How is your soup, by the way?”

“Wonderful,” and it was, Cameron was famished and as he listened he was ladling soup and crunching on the particularly delicious crusty bread one only seemed to be able to get in Europe. “Of course I do not mind, abu-Mohammed. I have come to Paris to see you, and to listen to this story, and to help if I can.”

That seemed to cheer Fahd, and he relaxed a little. He began, “Did you know that I had a younger brother? No, I don’s suppose I would have talked about him much. His name was Isa, which you know is “Jesus” in English, but never mind that. He was an F-5 pilot out at Tabuk Air Base. You have been there, I think, back when you lived in Riyadh?”

“Yes, we went scuba diving from there during the Eid al-Adha, after the Haj the year I was there.”

“I thought so. You will have to tell me about it sometime. Anyway, my brother Isa was killed in a mid-air with one of his mates in the squadron, it must be twenty years ago now. Isa has a son, Saad, a good boy, and I have tried to be as much of a father to him as I could these twenty years. He is just nineteen now and will be going to university next fall, perhaps in the US. He was born there, when Isa was at Squadron Officers School in Montgomery, he is a US citizen.”

“And now you amaze me, Brigadier. You have two of your own children with US passports I think?”

“Yes, by the grace of God, little Aziz the last time when we were at school together. Well, now we come to the point, abu-Sean. Saad is a good boy, and like all the al-Auda he is a good Muslim, but we have none of these vermin that tried tearing the Kingdom apart several years back, thank God. Anyway, three months ago or so, he was invited to a camp in the desert, an overnight thing, you know the kind. He went to one of these, and then another. At the second one he noticed that most of the other boys also had US citizenship, nearly all. And then, at a third, there was a mullah there, and some people who looked to Saad like ‘hard men’, that was what he said. These men talked about the corruption of the al-Saud, the heresy in the kingdom, the jihad against America, and the need to use all the weapons that the faithful could muster, even the sons of the great Satan itself. I will never forget the words, Paul, just as Saad reported them to me.”

“And what did the boy do?” Cameron asked, a little alarmed.

“Nothing, played along. You should hear his English, he has a southern accent. He played along, as he said, he stayed for the night as planned, listened to the mullah and the others. One, at least, was older and admitted he had been in Afghanistan when the US threw out that filth, the Taliban, back in 2002. Saad came home with his friends as planned, this was just three and half weeks ago now, and he came straight up to Dhahran to me.”

Now Cameron was very concerned. “Straight, Fahd? Tell me exactly, as much as you can, how did he come?”

“Well, you know the road from Riyadh, my friend. It is only a three and a half hour drive, three checkpoints along the way for papers. But the boy is clever, Paul, I think he has a source for those books you used to read. One of his friends drove him, and he rode in the right seat, like a wife, dressed in abaya, so nobody knew it was him.”

“Good,” Cameron relaxed a little. “Go on, then. He told you this story?”

“Yes, and a little more. The mood in the camp turned militant the last night, and it seemed to him that the boys there were already in teams, teams of perhaps fifteen, and there were sixty or seventy of them there, Paul. Saad and his friend, the one he went with, felt a little left out, but that was for the good anyway. That’s it. What do you think, my friend?”

Cameron was thinking hard, very hard. Aside from the obvious, he was wondering what he should say to Fahd about what he thought, who he was working for today, and what that might mean for the sons and nephews of General Fahd al-Auda, Royal Saudi Air Force. He wondered what seventy young Saudis with US passports were doing camping out in the desert so damned much, and who was it that brought them together like that, and what for? “Well, they weren’t playing Texas Hold ‘Em out there, and it’s no supper club, you can bet your ass on that” he told himself. He gave Fahd a look, a probing look. “The man is worried. Has he told me everything? Ahh, what about Mohammed?” He considered for a moment, then chose his course.

“What I think, my friend, is that someone was trying to recruit young Saad, that much is clear, and I think that could be a very dangerous thing for him, and for you. But there is this to consider as well. I am surprised that it was done so openly, even these days in the Kingdom, if you’ll pardon me. To me, that indicates that these men, this “cell” I’ll call them, are a little careless, or stupid, or poorly trained and organized, or perhaps all three, or maybe just arrogant. Either way, they have made a mistake, and that means, God willing, they will make some more. As to what these people are doing, I will not venture a guess, but I can find someone back in the US that I can tell, and they will know what to do. This began for Saad three months ago, you said?”

“Yes, I think, not more than four anyway. Is that important?” Fahd asked.

“Could be, maybe not. This is not really my field,” he said, “but I do have some ideas old pal” he thought to himself. “Where is your nephew now, Fahd?”

“I kept him in Dhahran with us for a week, and then he stayed a week with my cousin. I’ve sent him up to al-Ha’il by car with Ali and the rest of our children, where someone will look after him until we sort this out.”

“Good, that’s good,” Cameron said somewhat relieved. It would be a shame if the kid got killed for camping. “Now, Fahd, we have to think a little about this, and we should get moving soon.” By now they were halfway through the chicken dinner, which was excellent, seasoned in the French style, some garlic under the skin, and cooked slowly so that it fell off the bones at a touch. “Our little friend back there in the alley will wake up soon, perhaps in another hour, and when he does he may try to get to your hotel to pick you back up if he’s fit enough, or God forbid, he calls his chief and they send someone else in his place. Before that happens, we need to decide what to do with Fadia and the kids, so we need to talk some and make a plan.”

Fahd blanched. “I had not thought of that. Should we go now?” He began to fold his napkin and pushed his chair back.

“No, no, I think we have a little time still. Only listen a minute while I think out loud. I think Saad was clever, coming in abaya to warn you. But, in the end, somehow, you are compromised my friend, someone knows you left Dhahran and came here, because someone in Paris is having you followed. So it is good that Saad is in Dhahran, and it is good that Ali will take the rest of your family to al Ha’il soon, and it is good that we have met here. When we’re done, we’ll go and get the family and move them to another hotel and be lost to these people for now. But tell me, what do you think of Mohammed? Is he a US citizen, and could he be mixed up with all this, too?”

Bingo, Cameron saw. Fahd was very uncomfortable all of a sudden, and he shifted back and forth in his chair two or three times before he replied.

“Honestly Paul, I don’t know. He is not a US citizen, and thanks be to God for that in his case. I fear, I do not know mind you, but I fear that if he were, he might love to be involved in all this. I brought him, God protect us, because he needs watching, and because I thought a taste of the real world might bring him to his senses.”

Cameron fell silent for a few minutes, finishing the chicken and rice, then a long pull on his glass of mineral water. He thought something would eventually have to be done about Mohammed, but he hoped not soon. For the moment there were some things that could be done, and these they should do before the night got much older. He turned and signaled the waiter for the check, then back to Fahd.

“All right, abu Mohammed, time for us to get moving. First, we find an internet café. By the way, what was the name of your contact?”

“Smith,” Fahd said matter-of-factly.

“Mine, too,” They both chuckled at that. “We need to email Smith. It’s occurred to me that he may have the means to either detain or to follow our little menace back there, and either way that will buy us some time. It may even lead to his chief, which would be still better. While we’re on the internet we find you a new hotel, and I pay, not you. Actually, you’ll be the guest of the US government for now, not to worry. Now, we need to talk about picking up Fadia and the kids. Do you think she’d remember me, and would you feel comfortable if I went to get them? The thing is, I think it’d be better if you did not go back there, just to be on the safe side.”

“What do you mean by safe, Paul. Are they in immediate danger, God help me!”

“No, absolutely not. But, think of it Fahd. Someone knows what you look like well enough to follow you. We have one of them out of action for the moment, but there are almost certainly others. Who knows how long it’s been since the short guy checked in with his boss, or when he’s supposed to? What if he’s late already? What if the boss is suspicious and sends someone else to watch the hotel while he tries to find out what happened to the little guy? No, I don’t think there’s an immediate danger to the family, but you can’t go back there. On the other hand, nobody’s seen me.”

“I see, of course, you are right my friend. What else, then?”

“Let’s go to an internet café, you ask this guy (he pointed at the waiter at the back) where there’s one nearby, I have no French, you know. We find a hotel and I book it with one of Uncle Sam’s credit cards. Then, we call your hotel. You talk to Fadia, tell her I’m coming to collect her and ask her to pack everything up. Tell her nobody is to use the phone and they’re all to stay together, in the room, until I come. I’ll take a taxi, maybe two, and bring her and the kids. You go in advance to the new hotel and make sure everything’s ready. Do you want one room, or two, or a suite, my friend?

“A suite if we can get it, with two bedrooms and a pullout in the living room for Mohammed, that’s what we have now. How long will we stay there, Paul?”

“One step at a time, Fahd, I’m new at this little game, and I’m not that good at it yet.” The check came and Cameron counted out enough Euros to cover it. “What do you think, will she be OK with me picking her up?” He thought for a moment, decided. “One other thing, Fahd. Can the women come out to the taxi without abaya on? It would be easier to disguise them if they didn’t look like, well, themselves. Together, without the abaya, we might look like an American family at this hour going out to dinner together.” Cameron had never seen the face of either Fadia or the daughter Miriam. It was a tough question to ask.

Fahd considered. “Abu Sean,” he said finally, “If I ask her, Fadia will consent to letting you collect her and the children, for the safety of the children, probably only because Mohammed will be there as well. But, my friend, I’m afraid not even the Prophet himself, Peace be upon Him, could convince her to show her face to anyone but her husband and close relatives. Do you know she wears abaya to greet my own brothers? And Mohammed would go crazy anyway. No, that won’t work, but not because I don’t wish it could, my friend. It will have to be with abaya, there is no other way.”

“Well, then, that will be good enough, abu Mohammed” Cameron shrugged, and he had the beginnings of a plan in mind for the hotel. “Let’s go find this internet café, we need to get to work.” It was nearing seven-thirty in Paris. The two men rose and left the restaurant much refreshed, and heading East they set off for the internet café.

In the alley it was very dark. Ahmed al-Kisani stirred, rolled to his right a little to ease the pain on his left side, and tried to swim up from the abyss of unconsciousness. The cat that’d been sniffing at his swollen face darted away and back into the shadows. Ahmed could not quite get his brain working, but somewhere some part of it decided that it was still dark, his cat had woken him as it often did, and there was plenty of time before morning, he should sleep. Another piece of his brain agreed, and he smiled a little and lapsed back into oblivion. “This is better anyway, it doesn’t hurt as much” was the last flash of intelligence before everything went black again.

In the distant northern suburbs of Paris Ibrahim bin Sultan al-Otaibi was getting a little worried. He had just finished Isha prayers in the mosque two blocks from his shabby apartment, and his main concern was finding some dinner, perhaps a lamb kebab and some shwarma, a kind of Middle-Eastern burrito. But he was also concerned about his man Ahmed, from whom he had not heard since about noon today. They did not have a set schedule for contacts when Ahmed was working on a tail job, “Perhaps,” he thought, “that would be a good policy for next time?” He made a mental note to add this as standard procedure, and to forward the idea to his control officer. “One of our biggest problems is we have to invent everything as we go along” he thought, referring to al-Qaeda, which indeed was his primary employer. “Until we know all the tradecraft, and have the resources to use it, the infidels will have the advantage.” Still, he knew that their anonymity was a nearly unbreakable code in itself, the bottomless pool of anonymous recruits from a hundred nations who could be called upon to serve the glorious cause. It was this that gave him comfort and the confidence that he could win.

“But,” he thought as he walked, “back to Ahmed. What is the problem there, or is there one? This Saudi General should be easy to follow, and Ahmed is one of my most skilled operatives, so I doubt he has lost him. Perhaps this General is just very active today? It is early after all, and Saudis dine late. If the man has met friends he will not dine until ten or so, leaving his family at the hotel. Might Ahmed have had some trouble? Unlikely. The General would feel secure here, think he was safe, and he had no help anyway. No, Ahmed must be working very hard tonight,” and at this he smiled. “Good, I think it will be a long day for him with this active General, but Ahmed should have much to report to me tomorrow, or even later tonight, God willing.” And for a moment he felt at peace, thinking of the lamb. But something did not seem quite right, and he came back to it. “No, something might not be right, and I cannot afford to let this one go. I will ask Salah to come in tonight, and tomorrow I will send him to the General’s hotel to watch. Ahmed will have a rest, and I will have his report, and just in case Ahmed has been spotted we will change up, and the General will go back to feeling comfortable.” These arrangements complete in his mind, he felt he had things in hand. There was nothing for it but to let his pieces play on the board, no use ruining this excellent lamb kebab, and he stepped into his restaurant, finding a table near the back.


During the ten minute walk to the internet café Cameron remembered the ID and the credit card he’d taken from the short man. It was too dark to read them on the street, but now he urged Fahd to hurry. They had more than he’d thought to report to Smith, and he wanted to give the Agency guys as much time as he could to digest this, hopefully before the little man got moving again.

Now they were seated together around a machine in the small café. It was smoky and a little loud, hard Euro-pop music blaring to cater to the young crowd. Cameron opened the Yahoo mail window.

I have met Falcon, but there is opposition in play here in Paris. Falcon was followed by a small man, probably North African, named Ahmed al-Kisani, age twenty nine. I have his drivers’ license and a credit card.

Do you have assets immediately available? If so, you may still find Kisani in the third alley north of the Tower, on the right hand side of the Ave Gustave Eiffel. He has been there for about an hour already, so he may be gone by now. If you can get there, you may find something that we need. Follow him at least, perhaps pick him up if you think that wise, in either case find out what he’s up to and advise me how to proceed. Get moving if you can.

He did not expect an immediate reply, and none came. It would be just one-thirty in the afternoon at Langley, but then it occurred to him he had no idea whether Smith was there, or in Paris. He hoped Paris so someone could get something moving to pick up Kisani.

They had other things to do, though, and they opened a travel website to find a hotel for Fahd and his family. They worked through several, all of which had rooms that they thought would be too small, and between them they decided they needed something out of the way, not a big chain hotel like the Ritz. In the end they chose a four-star hotel in the Marais, a different district over a mile from the family’s current hotel.

“I’ve had the evil thought that we should make Mr. Kisani pay for your hotel Fahd, to compensate us for our inconvenience,” Cameron flashed the credit card to his friend.

“You are not serious, Paul? Could we do that?”

“Maybe, but no, I am not serious. I don’t know how quickly the owners would notice, but it’s no good telling them we’re spending their money at your new place of residence. Still, I may use it somewhere else if I get the chance, just to see if I can get away with it, and to drive them nuts with the expenses. It would be even better if I had his PIN for a cash machine, that would be perfect.” He regretted leaving the wallet with Miguel, perhaps Kisani had carried a slip of paper with the PIN written on it.

Cameron now had to make a decision about his own two government-issued credit cards. One was for his hotel, the other for cash. He could use either, actually, but he was trying to sort out all the consequences, if any, of using them. For one thing, he assumed the Agency could track his use of these cards in near-real time, and he wasn’t sure he wanted them to know where Fahd was, but he was not sure why. Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure he wanted the Agency to know where his hotel was, either. He put that aside for the moment. “Use one of my personal cards, maybe?” He thought about this. “No, I think not. Harder for them to trace, because they would not expect it, but if the bad guys figure it out, they can probably track me all the way back home, and that would not be good, no way. Use the government card and the trail probably stops with some front company the Agency has set up, I’m protected. OK, government card it is.

In the end he decided to use the hotel card, reasoning that it would confuse the Agency if they saw he was checked into two hotels at the same time, maybe they could not cover both here in Paris. “Hmm, maybe even three hotels, or four? They did say “don’t be cheap,” didn’t they?” They used the card, booked and prepaid online. The hotel did not have the suite Fahd wanted, but there were two adjoining rooms with enough beds and bathrooms. It would have to do.

They checked the mail, nothing. It had been twenty minutes. Cameron was starting to think of heading back to the alley and following Kisani himself—he could always hand off to the Agency when they got their act in gear, pity to waste the chance. The guy was almost certainly a small fish, but he could lead to a bigger fish right here in Paris, and that might be valuable.

Still nothing at twenty-five minutes, and Cameron went to the bar, bringing back two bottles of water and a couple of Mars bars. It had been a long day after a long trip from the States. “Is it really still Tuesday? He wondered. The confusion that always accompanied his jet-lag was setting in, and he was starting to feel groggy. “Too much to do still,” he told himself—the chocolate would have to work its magic.

When the email came, both of them had lost all hope of catching Kisani still napping, it had been over two hours since they left him unconscious in the alley. If Miguel and his pals hadn’t killed him, he was sure to be up and around by now, they agreed. The were eager to see what Smith had to say anyway

Where are you now? We are very concerned about the opposition, and would like to bring you in where we know you and your friends will be safe. Give me an address and we will have someone come and pick you up.

Cameron sat back in his chair, thinking. Fahd noticed, and asked, “what is it, Paul? Why not answer, we’re wasting time. What about this Ahmed?”

Cameron was still thinking. “Something’s not quite right with that reply. What is it? What’s missing?”

That was the key, he thought suddenly. Smith had not asked about Kisani at all, and that was the urgent part. Hadn’t said whether they were moving to pick him up, nothing. Just “where are you?” Why’s that the most important thing right now? Then it came to him. “You were supposed to be following me, weren’t you Smith, and I lost you and now your shit’s in the street, so you’re trying to save your own bacon?” It felt right. He wasn’t worried about his own side, really, but he was pissed that they’d tried to follow him, even if it was for his own good, and he was more pissed that he’d just wasted, what, thirty minutes, and this guy was just trying to cover his own ass.

Quit screwing around. We are safe for the moment, nothing to worry about at all. You go pick up this Kisani guy, let me know when you do and what you know about him, then I’ll come in. Meantime, I’ve got stuff to do. Anything else you’d like to know about the guy off his ID or the credit card?

If not, I’ve got things to do, and I’ll check in again in an hour or so to see what you have.

As expected, the reply was as immediate as he figured the guy could type, wherever he was.

Cute. Ok, give me the ID stuff, any numbers, date of birth, place of birth if it’s on there, address, telephone, everything. Can you fax an image? Credit card number, name, expiration date, and the 4-digit code off the back of the card. Please.

Calling Paris station now to get things moving.

Can’t hold it against me for trying, right?

“Wrong, but I’ll probably forgive you” Cameron said aloud. He fired off an email with the information on the cards, answered “Maybe, maybe not” to the question, and said he’d be back online in two hours and they better have something to tell him about Ahmed. He killed the screen and turned to Fahd.

“Cheeky guys. Well, let’s get moving, abu Mohammed.” Just for fun, he decided to try to use Ahmed’s card, but he gave it to Fahd for this first try. “You look more like an “Ahmed” my friend” he said with a shrug, and Fahd smiled.

The card worked, and the clerk didn’t ask for ID. “Well, it was only ten euros, but this has all kinds of possibilities for mischief” Cameron grinned, and they stepped outside to hail some taxis.


At Langley, Jones aka Smith was on the phone trying to do damage control. “Damned amateurs trying to play spooks” he mumbled while the ringing started at the other end. But that wasn’t what was causing his foul mood. He knew the DDO had a thing for this guy, he’d already screwed up once today, and he didn’t want Cameron to report to “the Boss” that he’d been too clever by half while not supporting an agent in the field.

“Hello,” was the answer on the other end of the line.

“Ripley? Jones, calling from the Farm. I have a Flash tasking for you.”

“Fire away.” Patrick Ripley sat in his office, the desk officer for the night at Paris station. He was covered as a commercial attaché, and so was a “legal” in the country, with full diplomatic immunity. As in all such cases, the fact that he was actually Agency was a very closely guarded secret. He’d worked with Jones before and recognized the voice, and the caller ID on the encrypted phone showed that the call came from Langley. Otherwise, he’d have had to authenticate the caller.

“OK,” came Jones across the scrambled line, “I have an asset working in Paris, more about that later if I can clear you. He was followed, but he paid some guys to mug the tail in the third alley north of the Tower on the east side of Ave. Gustave Eiffel. Do you know the place?”

“Sure, I know it,” and Ripley was out of his chair making ready to leave the office. “How long ago, and what’s this guy’s name? What’s he look like?”

“Two hours ago.” Jones passed all the information he’d gotten from Cameron. “Follow him if you find him, certainly try to run his drivers license there, we’re doing the same here. He’s Moroccan, that we know for sure already. Can’t find any employment in Paris for him, but you may have better luck there. In any case, we want to know where this guy goes home, who he sees, what else he does. You got it?”

“I’m on it, let me get out of here, call you in a few hours.” Ripley hung up, struggling into his jacket, locked his safe, and flew out the door, making sure it latched behind him. He looked at his watch. “Two hours,” he thought. “Probably not going to find him in the alley still, unless they’ve mostly killed the guy. Worth a try though. If he’s not there, I’ll try the nearest hospital, if not that, I’ll go find this address and see if Mr. Kisani is a bad guy.”

VII. Paris

Ibrahim sipped the scalding, sweet tea and munched on the dates from the plate in the middle of the table, watching the door. The lamb had been excellent as usual, and now he waited for Salah to come. The restaurant was quiet, also as usual, two men smoked a hookah at the far end of the room, others talked quietly, waving their hands madly about as is usual in the Middle East.

Salah came through the door, a great hulking man. He was dressed well enough, but cut an intimidating figure. He was a dark-skinned Egyptian, which spoke of some near or distant lineage from upper Egypt, which meant south Egypt, which always hurt Ibrahim’s head to think about, but never mind. Salah was broad shouldered and muscular, a large head, thick black hair, a matching mustache and a nose that would have made the Pharaoh himself proud. He had jet-black eyes that were not overly intelligent, and indeed, Salah was not Ibrahim’s brightest light. Still, it was difficult to recruit people here in Paris that were willing, able, and discrete, and Salah was all three. In truth, Ibrahim always thought of him as his muscle in reserve, although he had had no occasion to use such talent since he’d been these two years in Paris.

“Salaam alaykum, ya Salah’ he said, as he rose to greet the man, “Peace be upon you, oh Salah.”

“And upon you be peace” the other answered, and the two made the pair of mostly-air kisses on the cheeks with which Arab friends often greeted one another. “Hayyak allah” he added “May God give you life.”

“God gives you life” Ibrahim rendered the required reply, “sit, my friend, have some tea and dates, and then we will talk.”

This they did, making small talk for several minutes, Ibrahim inquiring after Salah’s family in Egypt, the other knowing better than to inquire after anything to do with Ibrahim. Salah was obedient, and discrete to a fault, and to be candid he was awed and often a little frightened by Ibrahim. He was a quiet man in any case, and now he waited for his sometime employer to come to the point.

“Salah, brother,” Ibrahim finally began. “Here is the address of a hotel in the Saint Germaine district. There is a man there that you must follow.” He laid a slip of paper with the address on the table, then produced a small photograph of the man. “As you see, he is early fifties, bald. You cannot tell from this, but he is tall, perhaps 1.8 meters, six feet two inches or so. He is a Saudi general, and we do not know why he has come to Paris. I need you to follow him, and report to me where he goes, who he sees, what he does.” He thought for a moment, and remembered his new bit of tradecraft. “You have a cell phone, my friend?” Salah nodded. “Excellent. You will call me every two hours and make a report. This is very important, Salah, the work of God. You must not fail, do you hear?”

Salah tried his best to look serious and confident, inside he was unsettled. “And what if I do fail, I wonder?” he thought. But he said, “Yes, Ibrahim, I can do it easily. I will follow this Saudi scum, and I will telephone you as you say. But, when shall I go, tonight?” The last he asked only half heartedly, hoping to seem eager to begin but that Ibrahim did not really expect him to spend the whole night on a cold Paris street.

“No, my friend, tomorrow will be better. But be early, perhaps not later than eight o’clock in the morning. I do not know what he has planned, and you must not miss him leaving the hotel.”

Inside Salah was relieved. He could sleep with the Lebanese whore again tonight, and still pray at the mosque in the morning for fajr. “God is Great” he said, half to himself and half to Ibrahim, as he thought of the girl and then of the forgiveness of prayer. How wise, he thought, and again he said aloud, “Allahu akhbar”.

Ibrahim consulted his watch, and swallowed the last of the now-lukewarm tea. “Excellent, brother” he said, as he rose to leave and laid ten euros on the table. “Mind, now, call me every two hours. It is important, my friend.”

“It will be done, sheik Ibrahim,” he added the desert Arab’s honorific, hoping to flatter his boss. He remained seated, though, and Ibrahim said goodbye and disappeared out the restaurant door.


Patrick Ripley sat a final five minutes in his car, parked on the west side of the Rue Gustave Eiffel two blocks south of the alley Jones had described. It was dark here, the perfect place for a mugging, despite the nearness of the Eiffel Tower and the lights that shone up from ground level to illuminate it. Here, only half a block east, the gloom was heavy, the dark almost oppressive, the weak light of the Paris street lamps so feeble they almost helped the dark seem darker.

He reached up to the roof of the car and confirmed again that the interior light was off. His eyes finally adjusted as well as they likely would to the darkness, he opened the door and got out, closing it as quietly as was possible. He stood motionless on the walk, listening, feeling the darkness as he’d learned so long ago.

It’d begun in the Army, first his being picked as a recon scout, later as a squad sergeant in the “Night Stalkers” of the 10th Mountain Division. Then Ranger school, and then finally the Green Berets. He’d been good, one of the best they’d said when they asked him to join and train for Delta. But he was ready for something else, something a little more cerebral, and the CIA was waiting. An evil grin split his handsome face there in the dark. “We own the night” he thought to himself, the mantra of the old division and his unit that had, indeed, been masters of warfare-after-dark. “Now, here I am, doing battle with some Moroccan dwarf half dead in Paris, and me half killer and half thief in the night.” The smile disappeared, invisible as it’d been anyway in the dark. He could see down the street now, on both sides, and the alley he wanted was there, an even heavier dark spilling out of it onto the walk that crossed in front. He took a last look all around in a wide arc, and set off quickly but soundlessly down the walk on his side of the street.

The night was ordinary, his keen senses told him. There was the sound of the distant traffic, the fluttering of some bats overhead leaving their daytime roosts in the old buildings to his right to hunt the night insects. Nothing moved on the ground that he could see. A hundred yards ahead, nearly directly across from the alley, there was some foliage the other side of the iron fence that bordered the park of the Tower to his left. Another block beyond this, and the alley, the cross street was lighter, but there also nothing seemed to be moving.

He came even with the foliage, completely alert and on the balls of his soft shoes, this was a good place to get mugged and he did not want to make a mess here that someone might find. But there was nothing. He slid back into the shadow of the overhanging bush, leaned against the iron rail, and looked across the street into the maw of the alley. Nothing. He closed his eyes and listened, again feeling the dark, still nothing. He reached into the right coat pocket, and drew out the lightweight night vision goggles, fixed them in place and flicked the power switch. The night turned the familiar but always eerie green on green in starlight mode, and he began another sweep. Nothing along the far side of the street, left or right of the alley, nothing moving inside, but no sign of Kisani, either. His spirits dropped a notch, but he forced himself back to focus. He turned right and looked through the goggles back toward his car, again nothing, now left, north toward the lighter cross street, nothing again. He turned back to the alley to his front, and flicked another switch, the goggles now in infrared mode. He made another quick scan outside, but returned quickly to the alley. There. Something warm, about the right size, slightly right of center and perhaps forty feet back from the entrance. Not moving. “Warm enough, must be alive, but he must really be out of it to have been there this long” he thought.

He waited another minute, and when he was satisfied he was completely alone and secure, he moved quickly, silently, across the street, coming to a halt against the right hand wall just inside the opening. He switched again to starlight mode, listening, and moved forward.

The man was there, breathing evenly as though asleep, clearly not conscious. Ripley stooped, careful to stay behind the man who was laying on his right side, and began his examination. He listened with the practiced ear of the Special Forces, listening for the telltale signs of internal injury. “Hmm, perhaps a broken rib or two” he decided, and touched the exposed left side gently through the man’s coat. This produced a quiet groan. “Yep, broken rib.” He gave the belly a gentle poke, no response. “He’ll live, but not going home tonight and he can’t stay here or he’ll probably be dead by morning from shock and exposure.”

Now he began his search, feeling quickly and lightly in each of Kisani’s pockets, looking for anything useful. In the coat pocket he found a slip of paper, small, and this he put in his own coat pocket. Inside pocket, a card, again into his own matching pocket. Nothing in the other coat pocket, no weapon, no empty holster, no sheath for a knife and no knife anywhere. “Not armed, at least he was not intending any rough stuff” he catalogued this to think about later. Front left pants pocket, a larger piece of paper, thin, into his own pocket it went. There was nothing else, no wallet, but that he expected.

He froze automatically. “Something?” His hands opened and slowly, silently spread wider in an arc in front of him and then to the sides. He listened, now motionless, stooped over the inert shape on ground. There it was again. What? Ahh, a cat, he decided, what he’d heard was the nearly imperceptible click click of its claws on the asphalt surface in the alley. He relaxed a little, shifted his weight, and gently turned toward the far wall of the alley, staring through the goggles directly at the cat fifteen feet away, which stared right back, not quite sure if it saw something or not. Ripley did not move. The cat took two tentative steps toward him, thought better of it, and turned and retreated back toward the end of the alley.

He was almost finished. He stood silently, reached in another of his pockets and brought out a small flashlight in his left hand. He switched this on, but it gave very little light, only enough to augment the goggles. It could not be seen ten feet away. He began a search in a spiral, beginning with Kisani on the ground and working outward, looking for anything interesting that might have been dropped in the scuffle of the mugging. There was nothing. He switched off the light and stowed it, then removed the goggles and placed them in his coat pocket. He stood listening once more, the cat was making a little noise in the trash at the back of the alley, the man at his feet still breathing evenly, nothing else. He turned and walked quickly to the opening of the alley, and turned south along the wall of the first building, moving at a casual pace back toward his car.

“Almost home” he said silently to himself as he drew even with the car on the opposite side of the street, now silhouetted to his completely adjusted vision with the lights of the Tower beyond it. He stood in what shadow there was looking at the car, then crossed and got in. He produced his phone from an inside pocket and speed dialed a number, then waited.

“Hello” a voice answered.

“Viper” Ripley said, his voice even. “I need a pay phone line, St. Germaine, Paris. I’ll wait.”

“Right, hold one” the voice replied. Thirty seconds passed. Then, a Paris dial tone came through strongly.

He dialed 911 and waited, until the French voice answered.

“Paris Emergency” the woman said.

“Hello, I want to report a mugging. A man is hurt, in an alley just north and east of the Eiffel Tower. You must send an ambulance.” He abruptly hung up. Patrick Ripley then sat back to wait for the authorities to arrive.


It was nearing five thirty in the afternoon at Langley, and Brian Jones was working on an email to the DDO to summarize what he knew so far.


Phoenix and Falcon have met and are working together in Paris. However, there is some opposition in play there; Falcon was followed by a Moroccan national, one Ahmed Kisani.

Amazingly enough, Phoenix arranged to have Kisani mugged, and he and Falcon have shaken the tail. They took his ID and a credit card, we have that information and are working on it here and locally in Paris. I have Viper working Paris, he has gone to pick up Kisani’s trail if he can, we should have something there tomorrow.

Phoenix is checked into two hotels, one near Chatelet and another in Les Halles, don’t know which he’s actually staying at, or if he’s at either. Working on that, too.

Both our parties are “in” for the night, so there should be no more action today. We will have more info on Kisani, and perhaps the ID of the opposition, sometime tomorrow.

He sat back and read it again. “This is a little iffy,” he thought aloud. “Things are not what one would call ‘under control,’ and the boss may wig out a little with this new guy out there solo. But, we have a lot going on, good prospects, and this thing may lead us to much more than anyone hoped for.” He sat another moment, thinking. “Well, he didn’t send this guy out there to be a tourist, and the guy clearly can take care of himself, at least so far. Can’t be too pissed at me, the man’s doing his job.”

He stabbed the “Send” button with the mouse, switched to the browser, and began a search for Kisani’s family ties in Morocco.

The computer chimed, and Randy Anderson looked up from the file folder from which he’d been reading, then returned to it. There was trouble brewing on the Hill, he’d been called to testify again at the end of next week. Terrorists were playing Old Harry in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and the Committee was pissed that more was not being done. “Well, more is being done,” he said to the empty office, “but we sure don’t want to tell those leaky bastards about it, now do we old boy?” He finished reading the report, made two short notes, and closed the file, turning to the computer.

He read Jones’ email, amazed. “What the hell is Cameron doing over there? Had some guy mugged, did he? I wonder how he did that. You never cease to amaze my boy. And who the hell is following our Saudi friend? Only one obvious answer to that, I’m afraid, no great mystery there. But what does al-Qaeda want with a Saudi Air Force General?” Anderson drummed his fingers on the desktop and stared into space for a few moments. “Guess our General knows something he shouldn’t know, or at least they think he does. Wonder what? This has all kinds of possibilities.”

He sat, quietly thinking for several more minutes, and finally said aloud “Well, I don’t like it, but you take your chances as they come. This really does have all sorts of interesting possibilities if we can track this Kisani character to someone bigger, in Paris or elsewhere. Might turn into a really big break, let’s hope big enough to spend Phoenix on.” He brushed that thought aside with a grin. “Actually, it looks to me like the bad guys may more than have their hands full with Colonel Cameron.” He typed quickly.


We’ll have a meeting in my conference room tomorrow, ten o’clock, by then mid afternoon in Paris. That should give Viper time to do some work and have something to report, and I’ll want to know what we’ve got on Phoenix’s location as well. If you’re not getting all you want from the Intel guys or the analysts, use my authority and pull out all the stops. I want to let Phoenix run for now, but we need to support with info or whatever he needs. Forward anything he sends you, I want to be kept up to speed.

See you at ten, keep at it.


Jones opened the email as soon as his machine pinged, and smiled broadly. “YES,” he yelled at his empty office. “The Boss is still a player. “Let Phoenix run”, ha ha, the bad guys are in the shit, we have a no shit for real spook running this Agency. He went back to his research, he was getting pretty close to nailing Kisani’s parents’ address in Rabat, and he now knew there was also a brother and two sisters. Ripley might have more before midnight tonight, but for sure by ten tomorrow. “I think we have a real old fashioned covert op going on here, right in the middle of gay Paree, even if we do have an amateur running amok over there. He’s doing pretty well, too. Would I have thought of mugging the tail?” he wondered.


Ripley’s car was now parked a block west of the Paris hospital near La Defense with a clear view of the emergency entrance. The police were still inside, had been for the past half hour, probably trying to talk to Kisani if he’d come to, but at least to set the staff in there straight about when they were to be called. It was too early to do anything, Kisani was the last patient to come in, he’d still have most of the staff’s attention. “The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient,” Ripley breathed within the confined space of the car. “When these guys are gone and some new emergency comes in, that will be the time.” He had things to do in any case.

He reached first into the inside pocket of his coat, and found the small slip of paper from Kisani’s own pocket, pulled it out. “Inspector’s coupon” he smirked, “but, it’s in French, so he bought it here. No real help.” He laid it on the passenger’s seat. Next he felt in the right outside pocket, finding nothing but his goggles, which he put into their case on the floor on the passenger’s side, and zipped it closed. Next, the left pocket, a larger piece of paper, thinner. He looked at it in the dim light of the star flashlight. “Dry cleaning receipt,” he saw. The print was in French and what he supposed was Arabic, but perhaps it was Farsi, even Kurdish—he spoke none of any of them. “Probably Arabic, though one never knows these days.”

He checked the time, it was nearly midnight in Paris. “Worth a try,” he said to the night, and dialed the shop’s phone number. You never knew about dry cleaners, maybe an all night place with one day service. The phone rang four times on the other end, and Ripley was about to stab the “End” button on the phone when a voice answered, in what had to be Arabic.

He said in French, “Is this the Al-Sharani cleaners’ service?”

“Oui, monsieur, it is, but it’s late, we are closed.”

“Fine. What time do you open tomorrow, please?” Ripley asked.

“At eight, monsieur.”

“Good, and is this the right address,” he read it out, “where is that, exactly?”

The voice gave the directions, a shabby suburb up north if he remembered right, about half way to De Gaulle.

“Good night” Ripley said, and hung up. “What else do we have?” He felt in his right front pants pocket and found what he’d thought was a business card. Instead he had a photograph, a guy in his fifties perhaps, bald on top, olive skin not too dark. Dark eyes, though, mustache, hair cut clean over the ears and short on the sides. “Military guy, I’d guess, maybe Italian by the look of him, maybe even Greek, or a Turk. Probably the guy the dwarf was following.” He flipped the picture over. There was some hand writing on the back, again in some kind of Semitic script he didn’t know. The picture was posed, like something official, maybe from a passport, definitely not a candid or a surveillance shot.

He put the photo on the seat and felt in his other pockets. “OK, that’s it” he said absently, with a quick glance at the hospital entrance down the street. Nothing new there, except the police were getting in their car to leave. “Now what kind of story do we have here?”

He began sorting possibilities, trying to make a coherent picture out of what he’d been told by Jones, which wasn’t much, and what he had in front of him from Kisani. There were all kinds of possibilities, of course, many combinations that could fit the data, but some would be more likely than others, and this was what he was good at, this and killing quietly, but not tonight. He worked on this for nearly fifteen minutes, and finally had what he thought was the best that could be done.

“So, Kisani is Moroccan, and he lives in the Arab slum out toward the airport. He does his dry cleaning there, so he spends most of his time up there, not much of a downtown boy. That’s a guess, but he got himself mugged down here, which a real downtown guy would probably not have done. So he probably hangs out up there, mostly. He’s got this picture of a guy to follow, so someone put him up to that. The someone lives out there in the same neighborhood I’ll bet, so he’s probably also an Arab of some kind. Whoever that someone is has access to a government picture of this other guy, maybe his passport records, maybe drivers license, something like that. So, maybe the guy’s government is following him, or maybe someone else’s. Or, maybe these guys are AQ (he called Al-Qaeda that, it was easier) and they have someone on the inside that has access to such things. Nasty if that’s the case. No trace of a weapon on Kisani, he obviously isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to kill with his bare hands, so whoever is following this guy was just following for now, nothing more. Why? Because they want to know what he does, who he sees, where he goes. Why? Because they don’t know something, and they need to know? Worried about a security breach, perhaps? Hmmm. That would explain a lot. They’re not sure, so don’t want to set off alarms unnecessarily, but they can’t afford to let it go, at all. OK, so what we’ve got here are some bad guys, probably, that think this guy” he looked at the picture, “knows something, and they want to know what before they take him out. And, we have to assume they have other guys, a group of people, that can and will take this guy out if they decide that’s necessary. A cell, then, operating in the north of Paris, with access to government photos of people, wherever the picture-guy is from. Nice, this might be fun.”

Anything more would be just guesses, but it wasn’t bad, considering he’d only been on this for a few hours. An ambulance was approaching from behind him, lights flashing but no siren. “OK, time to do this next deal,” he mumbled, but he had another thought. “What we need is one of our guys working this neighborhood, obviously something’s going on up there that we want to keep track of.” He made a mental note to mention that to Jones. Ripley did not have anyone who could do that on his staff, legal or otherwise, but Jones might be able to send someone out.

He speed dialed the phone again.

“Hello,” came the familiar, deadpan voice.

“Viper again” Ripley said. I need the hospital near La Defense, Paris, emergency department if there’s a separate listing. How long?”

“A minute, maybe less. Wait one.”

“Dial it when you have it, I’ll hold.”

In forty five seconds a phone began to ring in his earpiece.

“Paris West Hospital, Emergency, good evening” said the Parisian woman.

“Hello, good evening” Ripley replied, sounding agitated. “Madame, I am worried. My brother in law has gone missing, and the police told me he might be there with you. He is a short man, in his mid thirties, dark hair, dark mustache, do you have anyone . . .”

“Oui, monsieur, we have a man like that, he came to us by ambulance only an hour ago, not more, but . . .”

Ripley interrupted, sounding more agitated, “My God, is he all right? My poor sister will have a heart attack! An ambulance, you say? May I speak with him, is he conscious?”

“No monsieur, he is not, but the doctors say he will be fine. He was beaten, God help him, and he is bruised, has a broken rib, and a slight concussion, but he will be fine. The doctors say he is not to be disturbed tonight, mind you, but he will be awake tomorrow by ten. You may call then. Do you have a pen and paper, I’ll give you the number for his room.”

“Yes, Madame, I have it, please go ahead,” Ripley smiled the evil smile, copying the number in his notebook. “Thank you, Madame, you are very kind.”

“But monsieur, what is your brother in law’s name, he had no identification. . .” but she did not get to finish. Ripley hung up for a moment, then hit the speed dial yet again.


“Viper. Here is a phone number, Paris, a hospital room. Can you put a tap on it, this is high priority.” He read the number and waited. A lot depended on the age of the phone system. The building did not look new, so it might have an older system with an analog switch, and the number in Kisani’s room might be just an extension, which would mean the communications wizards would be out of luck. It was worth a try, though. The hospital windows looked like they didn’t quite match the façade, too modern, so there’d been a renovation. Maybe he’d get lucky and the phone system was updated with a digital switch. That one the comm whiz kids could get to.

“We have it, sir. What do you need?” the voice declared. Ripley couldn’t believe his luck tonight.

“Good. Keep it until I cancel, please, tape everything in or out, try and trace any incoming calls and log any numbers dialed from that line. Call me on this line at the first call, either way. Got it?”

“Got it, anything else?”

“Nope, that’s it for now, thanks.” Ripley hung up. Kisani would sleep it off for the rest of the night, the doctors would see to that. “Nothing left to do here,” he decided. He fired up the car and turned for home and bed. There would be plenty of work to do in the morning.


Paul Cameron emerged on the street level two blocks away from his hotel and moved westward, away from it, for one hundred yards. Checking behind himself for traffic, he abruptly crossed Rue Rivoli making a careful scan of the north sidewalk in the direction he’d come. He was not being followed. Relaxing now, he made his way toward his hotel on the Rue Jean Lantier.

The evolution to move Brigadier Fahd’s family had gone well enough. He’d arrived at the hotel in Ste. Germaine at around ten o’clock in a Chrysler Town and Country minivan taxi, which he thought was ironic but very practical. He’d sat in the car for three minutes or so on arrival, chatting with the driver and making a good sweep around the hotel to look for any watchers. There were none.

Fadia received him with both joy and caution: she was uncomfortable in the company of another man without her husband present, but she’d remembered him fondly from War College. Mohammed was clearly irritated about this breach of family protocol, but in the end they were all bundled into the van and delivered at the Hotel du Vieux Saule in the Marais District, north of the river Seine.

Fahd had been there for forty five minutes, and he’d arranged the rooms to accommodate the family. The hotel was classically Parisian: small, old, but well appointed and clean. It was five stories with a small lobby and patisserie on the ground floor, just around the corner from the ancient Carreau du Temple on Rue d. Picardie. Cameron left them there at nearly eleven, running on empty after a very long day.

Now he walked through the door of the Grande Hotel du Champagne, greeted the night clerk and retrieved his key. He made his way to the tiny elevator which bounced noisily to the third floor. Finding his room, he undressed quickly and fell into bed and a deep sleep. He was snoring loudly five minutes later, dreaming a strange dream of young Arab men eating onion soup au gratin among the dunes of some faraway desert.

VIII. Saudi Arabia

Ali bin Fahd al-Auda could see the outskirts of the town of al-Ha’il in the crisp, hard-cold air of early morning in the desert. In the middle and back seats, four of his brothers and sisters were still asleep. “Good,” he thought. He looked again in the rear view mirror. A hundred meters behind, an identical black GMC Suburban followed, driven by his nineteen year old cousin, Saad, and carrying the other four children of General Fahd bin Turki al-Auda.

It was the end of a long, hard drive. They’d left their home in ad-Dhahran on the coast of the Arabian gulf at midday yesterday, as his father had ordered. The route took them straight for Riyadh, four hundred fifty kilometers across the open desert of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, the repository of nearly one third of all the world’s known reserves of oil. The two vehicles, each bearing the sticker of his father’s rank on the lower windscreen, had passed without remark through the three highway checkpoints. In Riyadh they’d stuck to the highway through town until they passed north of the Diplomatic Quarter in the northwest of the city, then they’d taken the al-Buraydah road north stopping for gas, maghrib prayers, and a poor dinner in the village of al-Majma’ah. By the time they’d got there he was beginning to relax. Nobody was obviously following them, indeed there hadn’t been a car behind them for at least twenty miles by the time they’d stopped. From Majma’ah the road became narrower, and they could no longer drive at the nearly one hundred miles per hour that was usual on Saudi highways, and it had been a very dark night. But, now they were here, al-Ha’il, to be welcomed and protected by the powerful al-badawiyyah, or Bedouin tribe of the al-Auda to which they belonged.

Ali was honored to have taken the lead in his older brother’s absence, especially since he was only seventeen and cousin Saad was nineteen. He was not so honored that his judgment was clouded, however. Ali understood the danger his father had described, and he was anxious to get his brothers and sisters into town to the rambling family villa, enclosed in the walled compound that held the homes of his uncles and their families. He passed the first buildings on the outskirts of the town he knew so well from his many summers here, and he turned at the first left as he’d agreed with Saad last night. Saad powered straight on for three blocks, then turned left as well. He’d gone three blocks West along a street lined with small shops when he passed a cross street, and saw Ali’s Suburban waiting at the sign as expected. Saad slowed as he passed, taking a long, hard look down the street behind Ali, looking for anything suspicious. Nothing. He punched the accelerator and the 454 V-8 roared, accelerating the big SUV quickly back to one hundred kilometers per hour. Ali saw him go, but waited, counting slowly, and when the time was right he accelerated smoothly away turning left, falling in behind Saad about three hundred meters back. They were clear. Saad would lead them to the compound now.

In another ten minutes they arrived at the gate, on the north edge of town on a small hill. The wall was ten feet high, the gate a set of double doors of heavy steel painted to match the sand-colored stucco of the outer wall’s covering. The nearest neighboring house was half a kilometer to the west, there was another a kilometer east on the other side of a wadi that was always dry except after a hard winter rain. To the north was the open desert, here mostly hard, flat ground strewn with bits of flint, very occasionally a small dune of fine, brown sand, and a surprising number of hardy Joshua trees that somehow managed to eek out a prosperous living from the arid land. A hundred miles further north the world was a continuous sea of shifting sand. Another hundred miles along a desert track one struck the Tap Line Road running along the border with Kuwait, Iraq, and then Jordan. The road followed the Trans-Arabia pipeline that had once transported Saudi oil all the way to the port of Sidon, in Lebanon, and from there to Europe. That had of course ceased in 1967 when the Israelis had cut the line where it passed through the Golan Heights, but one could still use the excellent road from al-Rafdha four hundred fifty miles northwest to Amman, Jordan.

Ali and Saad got out of the Suburbans simultaneously and approached the locked gate. Ali went to the left-hand gate post and pressed the button on the electric intercom, which only worked about half the time, but he was an optimist. Saad went to the right and found the doorbell switch, giving it several quick pushes to see if he could get anyone inside to wake up and let them in. They converged at the middle of the gateway, shielded from the road by the two vehicles, and waited.

“Sabah ilkhayr, ya Ali” Saad said quietly, “Good morning, oh Ali. How was your night?”

“Sabah innur, ya Saad”, replied Ali, “Good morning, Saad. It was a long drive, but the younger ones slept after dinner, thanks be to God.” He looked at the gate, which sat cold and immobile and closed, no noise from inside the house. “Do you think they are still at prayer?”

Saad checked his watch: five o’clock, and he looked at the growing light of the morning. That was it. They had been too far outside of town to hear the call to fajr prayers as the first light of dawn told the difference between a gray thread and a white one in the palm of a muezzin’s hand, but that would have been only ten or twelve minutes ago, not more. The family was very likely at prayer in the small mosque at the north end of the long drive that split the compound into two even halves.

“I think they must be, cousin,” Saad said at once. They looked at each other. Neither had thought of praying on the drive, not since dark last night; they were too eager to get here and away from the open road. But now, without a word, they turned a little south of west, toward the holy city of Mecca and the Qa’aba of Abraham, and together they began to chant softly, “Allahu akhbar, Allahu akhbar, Allahu akhbar . . .” and from there they fell into the comforting rhythm, occasionally on their knees with foreheads pressed to the ground, at other times standing with hands clasped in front.

In another ten minutes they were finished, and both felt refreshed. Now they each tried the electronics again, the intercom and the doorbell, hoping to catch someone moving about before everyone went back so sleep for the ninety minutes that remained before the whole compound would awaken again to prepare for the day.

They waited again, and just when they were beginning to wonder if something was very wrong, there was a voice from the other side of the gate, gruff and demanding, a little threatening.

“Peace be upon you,” the voice growled, “who comes to disturb the peace of our home at this hour? If you are a brigand I will shoot you.”

Saad and Ali both grinned, then mouthed “Great-Uncle Majid” in unison. Uncle Majid thought himself the patriarch of the family, mostly because he was the oldest living member at seventy-eight. He was no longer straight and tall, strong and threatening, but his voice still commanded respect that was due him at his age, and he had the courage of a desert lion.

“Uncle, it is I, Ali bin Fahd. I have the rest of the family in the cars, and cousin Saad is here. Let us in, Uncle.”

There was a noise of surprise from the old man, then steel grated on steel as the bolt moved. The hinges gave a loud shriek when the old man opened the door just enough to peer through at the boys outside, but he did not show himself. The wary old bedu stood back from the gate and waited for the others to show themselves; he cradled an AK-74 assault rifle in his leathery hands. But he saw Ali and knew him at once, Saad, too. Lowering the weapon he came forward with his arms wide to hug them both, the three of them yammering away the multitude of Arabic greetings that were required, expected, and gladly rendered on such occasions.

“Your father, my brother’s son told me to expect you today, oh Ali, but I did not expect you so early. The men and I have just come from the mosque, the women are going back to bed. Are you all here?”

“Yes, Uncle” Ali replied, a little urgently. “The rest are in the cars outside. Help us to open the gates, let’s get them inside before anyone sees that we’re here.”

“God is great” the old man said. He stood back while the two young men opened the gates wide, then they drove through, dismounted and closed and locked them. Uncle Majid got in beside Ali.

The compound was in two halves, west and east, and in between was a long, straight drive that divided them. Here, near the gate, the drive was surrounded by a semicircle of grass fifty yards in diameter with a line of palm trees along its edge. The drive went the length of the compound, nearly 200 yards, where it ended in a wide circle before the mass of the north wall. At the apex of the circle was the mosque, but to the left and right of this were the garages, each with its own door, enough for ten cars in all. The compound was two hundred yards wide as well. Along each side of the drive was a strip of grass, trees planted at intervals along the way, and then a concrete walk. Along the walk on each side ran a wall, and these walls concealed the private gardens of each villa, so that each nuclear family had its own privacy where its women could move about un-veiled in the green space. There were four villas on each side of the compound.

They stopped the vehicles in front of the second villa on the left. All the buildings were identical, three stories of stucco and marble, with what looked like stone balusters on balconies below the second-floor windows in the front of the houses. These were actually concrete, as were the walls of each building, the floors, and the roofs. Indeed, concrete was the preferred building material in Saudi Arabia: wood was much too scarce to build with. It was a horrible irony, however, that for concrete the Saudis had to import sand and aggregate. Saudi sand is too fine to make concrete, and there is not nearly enough stone, either. It was just as well. A concrete house was cooler than anything else, and even here it would reach one hundred and five degrees on most summer days.

They began waking the other kids, ranging in age from thirteen down to little Saud who was six. The second house on the left was that of the Fahd al-Auda family, and Ali opened the door in the wall to allow his brothers and sisters to walk through, cross the garden, and enter the house through the front door. Saad carried Saud piggy-back style; Uncle Majid had the twin girls Aisha and Aina by the hands. The rest walked, all were chattering away, very pleased to be at their summer home, in the cooler, drier air of the central plateau of Arabia, but mostly just pleased that they’d left school two weeks early and would not be going back until the next term.

Everyone knew their rooms, they had not packed much, so there was not much to do to move in. In a short while everyone was back asleep, all except Ali, Saad and Uncle. The three men gathered in the great living room, the majlis room where men gathered to talk and drink tea and eat dates in the evenings. Ali made tea, and brought it out of the kitchen with the flat Bedouin bread he’d bought the night before when they stopped for their prayers and supper. There was no fuul, or hummus, but the bread would be enough while they talked.

“We will people here to help around the houses this afternoon, Ali. They are good people, Muslims, praise be to God, and they have served the family for five years.” Uncle Majid was proud of the family’s wealth.

“Good, Uncle,” Ali said. “I do not know when my father returns from Europe. What news do you have from him?”

“None, but they are in no danger. Now that you are here everyone is safe.” He munched on a piece of the bread, sipped the tea. “Those filth out there,” he waved southward, “are not Muslims. The Prophet, Peace be upon Him, tells us that it is wrong for the Muslims to usurp the power of their government. We have a king, and a government, only the King can declare jihad. But why would he, why should he? These Americans have done us no harm, most of them are Christians, are they not, Saad? People of the Book! Weren’t you born there? Have not my nephews Fahd, and your father Isa, may God keep him in Paradise, been there many times? Were these Americans not good to you every time? They were, or I would have heard of it, by the Grace of God. No, we have no quarrel with them, and they have done God’s work, ridding the Iraq,” he waved north, “of that pig Saddam, may his bones rot in the hell of swine’s offal he deserves. These people are vermin, these that you met in the desert, Nephew, to threaten or attack or even kill other Muslims. They will not come here, we are the al-Auda.” He sipped the tea and took more bread.

Saad was not so sure. When he thought of it, he was still shaken by what he’d seen at the desert camps, especially the third one. The Mullahs had been passionate, the Afghanis, Saudis who had been in the jihad against the Russians in the old days, were hard men, their eyes cold, distant, frightening. They talked of war, killing, nobody was innocent, nobody immune. They were serious, dangerous people, and many of the other boys who had come seemed to think the same way. They were not as convincing, not as hard, not as trained, and they had not killed yet. But many of them would when their time came, of that he had been sure. He shivered a little. The Al-Auda tribe had been more or less supreme in this part of Arabia for nearly two thousand years, but times were changing. The police here were mostly from the tribe, but they were armed, if at all, with automatic pistols, and most of the time they were not loaded. Most families kept guns for hunting, but nothing heavy. Saad had never been in the army, he was too young, and he did not want to be. But he could understand that if any of those Afghanis came to Ha’il looking for them, they would come with guns, grenades, explosives, and hate, and they would kill. It would not be pretty if it happened. Still, they were safer here than they could be anywhere else in the Kingdom, at least until Uncle Fahd returned. He would know what to do, or would have already done it. “God keep us” he thought.

Turning to Uncle Majid, he gestured at the AK. “Uncle, I didn’t know you had such a thing. Where did you get it?”

The old man smiled broadly, revealing two brilliant rows of perfect, white teeth, his dark brown eyes flashed. “Nephew,” he said, “we are the Al-Auda, the Abu Tayii. Our people have kept this land for as long as anyone can remember, before the time of the Prophet, Peace be upon Him. We did not do it with camel’s milk, we have always been armed.” A little of the fire appeared to dim, but the eyes still gleamed with something like anticipation. “We have everything we need in the armory under the mosque.” He hefted the AK. “Many of these, many bullets, a few grenades, even a few fine swords.” At this the smile split his face, his right hand clenched in a fist, and the fire in his eyes was bright and terrible.


The sun was well up over the Arabian Gulf, four hundred miles east of Ha’il. Khalid al-Shahrani was just beginning to stir from a sound sleep in his own bedroom in the apartment in the Al-Khobar district of Dhahran. It was not a luxury apartment; Khalid was not wealthy, and he would not have wanted to be conspicuously so in any case. He was a jihadi, or that was how he thought of himself. He’d lived the hard life in Afghanistan from the last year of the Soviet occupation until shortly before the great attack on the United States in 2001. Since then he’d been here, coordinating Al-Qaeda operations in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, recruiting young men to do the work of jihad, motivating, shaping, preparing them for the fight that was only now beginning.

Since the disaster of Afghanistan had forced the core of Al-Qaeda from its stronghold there, the mujahedeen had had to adapt to a new reality. War had its costs. Still, this was a war they had chosen, and they’d enjoyed many victories so far, so there was no complaining. Many of the faithful who survived the American war luckily made their way back home, and Al-Qaeda’s strongest and most active presence was now in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi officials were slow to understand the threat, which had initially made Khalid’s task relatively simple. He’d begun with the huge attacks on residential compounds near the diplomatic quarter in Riyadh. These had killed many, including his fighters. That was unfortunate, but it was useful in many very subtle ways. It had frightened the expatriate community, one of the key pillars that kept things running all over the kingdom, and keeping things running was what kept the al-Saud family in power. Frighten the expats into leaving, and the whole edifice of the Saudi government would crumble as public works ceased to function, oil and its money ceased to flow, banking ceased to work and capital fled to safer harbors. That was the key strategic objective, to undermine the public’s perception that the al-Saud could maintain order by making it appear that they were powerless to prevent these acts of chaotic violence.

Suicide attacks contributed to the overall effect, and it worked as expected. Few expats were willing to die for their business interests in Saudi Arabia, while his people were willing to die. The slower learners among the more resilient expatriates, principally the Americans and British, had needed more direct action. Kidnappings and beheadings, and random sudden shootings of selected individuals had largely solved that problem. Many of the larger American and British firms were still running skeleton staffs 5 years later, with only a handful of their own people, trying to carry on with local workers. But it was a losing battle for them, he believed. Things in the Kingdom were slowing down, money was not being made, investment was drying up, and the vast bulk of the young Saudi population was becoming more and more restless.

But the situation was not without its problems. The al-Saud had finally reacted when it became clear what the Al-Qaeda objective really was, and their reaction had been more violent, determined, and more disruptive than Khalid liked to admit. In the last five years nearly two hundred and fifty of his people had been martyred or captured, and those captured would never see the light of day again unless to see it glinting off the sword swinging down to separate their heads from their necks. War had come to Saudi Arabia, Khalid al-Shahrani had brought it. He was proud of this, but even he would admit that the issue was undecided, and there was much fighting left before it would finally be so.

With these mixed feelings of satisfaction and uncertainty Khalid found himself awake. He was uncomfortable in his mind, despite the fact, he told himself, that things were going remarkably well. He had an excellent and bold plan that was well advanced, a plan that might once again put the nations of the West back into economic turmoil. He was fighting a creditable battle with the Saudis, winning sometimes, losing about equally often, but he was in no doubt that he and his men would eventually win. “What is it that bothers me so about this Air Force general?” he asked himself yet again. It was a question he seemed to have wrestled with daily for the past month, and it was starting to annoy him.

He rolled to his right and consulted the clock: five minutes after eight. Had he heard the call to fajr prayers? He could not remember, so he must not have heard. He lay on his back thinking about his problem, the immediate one of the general, and what to do about it.

There had been nothing to report last night at ten when Ibrahim had emailed for the last time from Paris. His man was still out, following the general. He did appreciate the suggestion about calling every few hours to report, but that was a more practical thing in Europe than it was here, or in many places in the Middle East. “The government of the French cannot monitor every phone in the country,” he frowned, “but these vile swine the al-Saud can, and they do.” He did not like to use the phone on this side of the causeway to call anyone in his organization, except for completely and ordinary calls. Too risky, very dangerous.

He had been to Paris once himself, years ago in the early summer of 2001. He liked it, but it intimidated him. Too much going on, too many cars, women, sounds. It was too complex. He had to admit he was not a very devout Muslim, but the simplicity and security that he thought of when he thought of a state run according to Sharia appealed to him. He returned to the problem at hand, annoyed that he’d strayed off course. What was it that bothered him about this man? Was he not an ordinary Saudi? Maybe that was it. In his mind, the ordinary Saudi was content to maintain things as they were, rather than work continuously to improve. He was one of these himself. Perhaps he was uncomfortable because this General Fahd seemed to be the other kind of Saudi, the kind that had profited for thousands of years on the trade across the desert by camel caravan, or led the raiding of a large band of badawiyya? This man had a reputation around Dhahran: he was a mover, a man who made things happen. He’d risen fast in the Air Force, even though he had no royal connections. True, he came from a prominent family in an ancient tribe out west, and he was rumored to be wealthy enough. He wondered for the hundredth time why men already wealthy would want to work at all.

The more he thought along these lines, the more uncomfortable Khalid became. Laying there, covered by the sheets, the air conditioner droning in the window in the next room, he became more and more certain that this general bothered him because he was a man who made things happen. An alarming thought finally broke its way into his consciousness, having beat on the door of his mind for many days without being admitted. “The man has not gone to France for the health of his son at all! He has fled, or he has gone to do something. That fool of a boy, his nephew, must somehow have got here, or got a message to the General, and the General has set about doing something about it!”

He sat straight up in bed, very worried now. The lack of reporting from Ibrahim’s man was suddenly an ominous development in his mind. This General running around with the knowledge of his recruiting—what would he be doing? Who might he tell, there, that he could not tell here? He found he was beginning to sweat despite the air conditioning, his mind reeling off an endless stream of potential disasters that might include his being dead at the edge of a sword.

Khalid forced himself to calm down, to think. He swung his legs off the bed and walked into the living room to be nearer the air conditioner, sat down on the sofa and tried to focus. Why go to Paris? Why not just use the Air Police, or something in the Air Force, they must have something like that, why not use it? Ahh, perhaps he believes it may be penetrated? It was, which was good, but it was not good that this General was careful enough to assume that it was. Why not go to someone else high up in the Ministry of Defense and Aviation, MODA—surely he could do that? But he had not, he had gone to Paris. So, if he is on to us, he does not trust anyone here well enough to talk here in Saudi. He smiled at this. “At least, that is a comfort, a sign of our success.” This made him feel a little better.

“Who would he approach in France? The French government? What could they do, or what would they do? Nothing. The French are weak, as long as we play by certain rules.” The rules were you did not threaten the basic stability of France. If you did, the French were not nice at all. He had seen a member of Hezbollah in Lebanon who was found hanged from a street light with his genitals shoved in his mouth not long after a French tourist had been kidnapped and killed. Message: “We don’t care what you do with anyone else, but don’t fuck with us.” Message received and understood. He liked that about the French, and the Russians: they were direct, easy to understand. No, the French will do nothing. They do not care who they buy their oil from, and we can do business with them when we are in control. If not the French then who? The Americans, or the British, it had to be. But why Paris? It did not matter, really. What mattered was only that if he was right, then the General had to be eliminated quickly, before he could do any harm. “Any more harm,” he corrected himself. “I do not know what this man has already done, and hasn’t he been gone more than a week already, by the Grace of God?”

He looked at the clock again through the open doorway of the bedroom, still only eight-twenty. It would be only six-twenty in Paris, too early to get anything to Ibrahim, and he did not want to send anything from this side of the causeway, anyway. Action in Paris would have to wait for later today, or tonight, when he could get a message out, but the time difference would work in his favor. There were things he could do immediately here, though, with fair certainty of success and little risk. He reached for the phone and dialed a number.

“Na’am,” the voice answered, “Yes?”

“Mohammed, this is Khalid. How are you this morning my friend? I wondered if we could have breakfast, if you are available on such short notice?”

“Khalid, my friend. I would be happy. What time do you suggest, and where?”

“Meet me at the usual place, and we’ll walk together until we find something. It is a good morning for a walk,” Khalid said, careful to avoid any mention of any particular place. “ See you in twenty minutes?”

“Yes, in twenty minutes. Salaam.” The line went dead.

“Salaam” Khalid repeated to the empty phone. “But peace is not what I have in mind.”

Twenty minutes later he was approaching the usual corner, and he could see Mohammed coming toward him from the other direction. Both men were wearing the long white shirt, the thob, that men always wore in Saudi Arabia, and the red and white checkered shamak with the black, rope-like igaal to help hold it on their heads.

At the corner he waited for Mohammed to cross the street. They shook hands, exchanged a brief hug with pats on back, and set off down the side street to their left. Khalid knew a small kiosk two blocks this way that would be open already. He was quite hungry, and he wanted bread, hummus, cheese, and perhaps some oranges.

There was little foot traffic on the street at this time of morning, so it was best to talk as they walked. “Mohammed,” he began, “we have a problem. I now believe this Air Force man may have guessed what we are up to, and we must act quickly. How soon could you organize something for the nephew in Riyadh, and for the General’s home here in Dhahran?”

“Khalid,” the other replied, looking nervously around, front, right, and briefly behind. “Is that wise? What have you heard? I thought we did not know if he knew anything, perhaps he has only gone to Paris for the medical treatment of the little boy?”

“It may be so, Mohammed, but I do not think we should take the chance. We have too much invested in the other plan . . .” he was deliberately vague on this; Mohammed did not know about the broader operation. “No, I think at least I would like for him to have an accident and be killed before he can return to Saudi Arabia, and I will attempt to arrange that later today. But also I would like this nephew to disappear, as soon as may be done. If we can do anything with the rest of the General’s family here in Dhahran, that would put the entire Air Force on notice that we are to be respected.”

Mohammed was not an Afghani, had never been in the jihad in the old days. He’d been recruited three years ago, and was a veteran of three attacks here in the Kingdom, but he was the patient type rather than aggressive. He understood the military line of things well enough, but he was very careful. This sounded dangerous. He tried another line. “Khalid, but if we kill this General’s family, won’t the rest of the Air Force go crazy? Won’t that make it harder for our cause? I do not think we are ready . . .”

“We are ready,” Khalid interrupted. He knew it was a gamble, but he chafed at the lack of resolve he often found in these new men. What they needed was some action to temper them, these who had not been in the Afghan jihad. “The Air Force will do nothing, trust me. Now, we know where the nephew lives in Riyadh, do we not, and the General’s address here in Dhahran?”

“Yes, brother, we know. What shall we do?”

“It would be best to take the nephew someplace quiet, in his car out on one of the big roads in Riyadh perhaps, not at his home or wherever he lives. Put four men on it there, follow him, wait for an opportunity so that they can get quickly away. But kill him, Mohammed, do you hear?”

“Yes, I hear. And the General’s family?”

“How long to make a car bomb for his house?” Khalid asked?

Mohammed thought for a moment. “I should guess at least a week, Khalid. Saleem was taken three weeks ago, remember, and our only bomb maker in this province is not as efficient. And, we have not received any new plastique in over a month. It will take time.”

Khalid cursed under his breath. A week was too long. He wanted something quick, his hope was that word of a catastrophe would bring the General back to Dhahran on the run, where he might be more easily dealt with than in Paris. “What can we do, then, Mohammed? It must be soon, tonight, tomorrow night at the latest.”

“It will be risky, Khalid, but we could send five, perhaps six men to the house at night. I do not think there is an alarm. We can kill the two older sons quietly in the middle of the night, and take the women and children after with no trouble. The risk is if they raise any alarm, or if any of them struggles, or if they are armed. We might have to start shooting, the noise will rouse the neighborhood. We have no friends in that part of the city,” Mohammed warned. “If there is a problem our men may be martyred or captured.” He shrugged. “It is a risk, my friend, it will be as God wills.”

“Then let it be so, and may the Grace of God be with your men, Mohammed. But let it be today, tonight, tomorrow, not later than the next day, my friend. I am worried about this man, he must be dealt with quickly.”

They arrived at the small restaurant; it was crowded. The conversation was over as far as business was concerned. Khalid began to talk animatedly about the retail gold jewelry market as they found a table near the doors and ordered their breakfast. Mohammed did his best to make the small talk, but his mind was racing ahead to all the things he would have to do today.

When it came, the bread was hot, the hummus flavored with garlic and onion. Mohammed tried not to hurry, but he was out of things to talk about and he needed to get on with his mission. He was glad when Khalid pushed his chair a little way back from the table and laid his napkin on the table, rising to leave.

“Salaam,” Khalid said. “Go in the protection of God.”

“Salaam, go in the protection of The Generous One” Mohammed replied. He watched Khalid leave and sat a few more minutes to finish the last of the bread.

For his part, Khalid felt better now that he had put things in motion. “Mohammed is a good man,” he thought. “Careful, almost to a fault, but a good man anyway. He knows how to get things done at any rate, and once I have him moving he will do what he’s told. When he has had more action, seen more people killed, he will be a real lion.” This made him smile.

But he had much more to do. It was now nearly nine-thirty, and things would be starting to move in Paris by this time. He quickened his pace, taking a different route back to his apartment to retrieve his car, a white Nissan sedan. He did not go to the apartment, but unlocked the car and slid behind the wheel. He pulled out into the heavy traffic to weave his way out to the highway and from there onto the causeway to Bahrain. He had a message for Ibrahim, and it must be delivered this morning when the man checked his email at ten Paris time.

IX. Paris/Langley/Dhahran

Just a half a block West from the Hotel Agora Saint-Germaine along the Rue des Ecoles there was a small patisserie with really excellent French breads and pastries, and the coffee might just have been the best one could buy in Paris. It was strong, viscous, and with the right amount of steamed milk and a teaspoon of sugar it packed almost the same punch as a café cortado in Miami, only in a bigger cup. The bakery was not large, but large enough, and in this part of Paris it did a brisk breakfast business for tourists and locals alike.

It was not yet crowded, seven-thirty is early for everyone in Paris outside the modern business district to the west of the old city. There were only a few locals in the shop, and perhaps one or two visiting businessmen who were not over their jet lag yet. There was one couple, speaking Dutch, who were evidently out to make the most of their day in Paris with an early start. One of the businessmen was obviously French, dressed in dark olive slacks and square-toed polished black shoes, a black ribbed turtleneck sweater, a Breitling watch on his left wrist, and dark hair and piercing blue eyes, very awake at this time of the morning. A thigh-length black leather jacket hung from the chair across the table from his own, his briefcase on the chair as well. He was remarkable only in that he could have walked off the page of any fashion magazine for sale that day in Paris, and therefore not remarkable at all. He was drinking one of the café’s cups of excellent coffee with obvious joy, munching on croissants and crusty rolls with butter and marmalade, reading the early morning edition of Le Monde.

Inside the newspaper was a copy of USA Today. Paul Cameron read intermittently as he watched the street outside the windows in the direction of the hotel, checking to his left occasionally up the Rue Vallette in the direction of the Metro station at Maubert-Mutualite. The joy he was getting from the coffee was completely genuine.

True to his usual pattern, he’d come wide awake at around two in the morning, his first night after a trip across the Atlantic. There had been no sleep from two until around four, and then a restless thrashing that lasted until the alarm clock rang at five-thirty. It was the same every time he came East, it would be worse tonight and hell tomorrow night, but by the fourth night he always slept well. In the meantime he would eat heartily and enjoy the coffee. It was the only thing that seemed to help with the adjustment. Even if it didn’t the coffee kept him alert.

He’d showered and shaved quickly and was out of his hotel by six. From the Metro Station at Les Halles, he hopped the number 4 purple train to Odeon, then switched to the gold number ten line to Cardinal Lemoine station. There he’d left the metro and stepped into the all-night Kinkos shop to check his email and see what he could expect out of Smith today.

There had been no email, but he sent one of his own:


I have re-located Falcon and he is safe for the time being. What do you have on our friend Mr. Kisani?

If you’re in Paris it’s time we met. Set it up. If you are not, arrange for someone who can provide some support to meet me, either military or agency, but not at the embassy. Needs to be someone discrete, not obviously American, and above all effective in the field. No bullshit. I’m a bit out of my depth here, and time for you professionals to pitch in.

I have some initial information I think I should pass on as well, it may be time-sensitive and I’d like someone working on it as soon as possible.

I will try to check this address again around noon Paris time. Meantime, I’m going to pick up a cellular phone, will send the number with my next mail.


If Smith was at Langley Cameron hoped he was the type who started early and worked late. He didn’t want to wait six hours or more for a reply, things needed to get moving today. Before he left he’d also sent a note to his wife, from the address he usually used when they traveled together:


Strange to be in Paris without you, but things are going well. I had lunch yesterday at the little restaurant in the Place Chatelet that we used so many times on our last trip. Good sandwiches still.

Listen, let’s plan on a trip to Grand Cayman when I get back. See what you can find for tickets, maybe the week after next. The high season will be over, so it won’t be too expensive. I’m going to need some scuba diving, sun, and daiquiris when I’m done here, and so are you.

Love you,


The Kinkos clerk knew a cellular kiosk a few blocks away that opened around nine. He planned to buy two phones, one for himself, one for Fahd. Email was too slow and the cafés too exposed for quick communication, and he had a feeling they might need to be easily in touch.

He’d approached this café from the East, across the street from the Hotel Agora which had been Fahd’s home until the move last night. There was almost no car traffic at this time of the morning, and no foot traffic at all. It would have made any one staking out the hotel stick out, but there was no one. He was sure that would change relatively early this morning, which was why he’d come so early himself. Either that, or these guys were stupid, sloppy, and not worth worrying about, but he didn’t think that was likely to be the case.

Cameron ordered another cup of the coffee. It was getting close to eight o’clock, and foot traffic was beginning to pick up on the street outside. Inside, too, things were starting to get more crowded, the noise level increasing with more conversation, more sounds of eating and cooking. The Dutch couple got up and left, turning west on the Rue des Ecoles toward the Sorbonne, no doubt. The woman caught his eye as she passed by outside the window and smiled the warm, Dutch smile. He returned it and raised his cup in salute, watching her and the husband go, turning his head left to look over his shoulder as they went.

It was a lucky thing, seeing him then, although he would have seen him anyway eventually. The big man came walking down Rue Vallette from the Metro station there to his left. He walked heavily, but not in a clumsy way, a walk that said “strength” but not “grace” or “speed”. He was dressed much like the Spanish hoods who’d done the mugging, black from head to toe. His hair was jet black, prominent nose, dark eyes and bushy brows, the skin dark even for an Egyptian. Cameron decided immediately that he was Egyptian, the features unmistakable in his mind, so similar to all the Egyptians he’d drunk tea with in carpet shops from Bahrain and the Emirates all the way to Morocco.

Cameron made another show of toasting the retreating Dutch woman and returned to his paper and croissants, watching the big Egyptian in his peripheral vision as the man turned the corner and walked away East toward the hotel. Halfway down the block he looked to his right and left, then abruptly crossed to the South side of the street where was lost from Cameron’s view. The angle was not right. It didn’t matter. He’d been seen, Cameron had been right to come. The Paris cell had resources beyond Ahmed al-Kisani, and from the looks of this guy they were ready to start playing for keeps.

“Wonder if they know we rolled Ahmed, or if they know about him at all, yet?” he thought to himself, chuckling quietly. Not likely, yet. He settled in with his paper and coffee to waste the time between now and nine when the phone kiosk would open. He had time, the Egyptian was not going anywhere, not without Fahd, who wasn’t likely to come walking out of the Hotel Agora anytime soon. “Good guys are ahead in this game so far,” he mused. When he went out for the phones he’d take a better look at the big guy.


The phone woke Patrick Ripley out of a very deep sleep, a sleep he was having trouble swimming out of as the phone rang and rang, somewhere out of reach. Finally, having knocked the alarm clock and a lamp off the nightstand, he seized hold of the handset and managed to mumble, “Hello” into the phone.

“Sorry, must be the wrong number, I was trying to call New York,” a voice said, and the line went dead.

Ripley was instantly awake, the covers went flying across the bed as he leapt out, running for the kitchen where he’d left his encrypted sat-phone charging on its stand. He grabbed it, cursing as it went through its power-up cycle and verified the encryption keys for the day in a two-way exchange with the satellite twenty-six thousand miles overhead. A minute later the power indicator turned green. He was back in the game, and he speed dialed the number he needed.

“Hello,” the usual deadpan voice again.

“Viper,” Ripley replied. “Do you have something for me?”

“Yes. Activity on the phone we tapped for you, hospital room. There was an outgoing call five minutes ago, do you want to hear it?”

“Play it,” Ripley said.

“Coming at you,” the voice returned.

There was a pause, a few electronic beeps, then a voice. Ripley closed his eyes and tried to picture the faces. He did not understand the language, but he was certain now that it was Arabic. The first voice was a little high, weaker. That would be Kisani, the small man he’d found in the alley. The second voice was strong, deep, commanding. He was asking questions, quickly. Kisani did not seem to have good answers, but he was doing his best. Another question from the other man, another answer. Did the voices change a little? The stronger man seemed to accept what Kisani was saying now. They reached some kind of understanding, then the call ended. It had lasted about a minute.

“Do you have the number, and a location?” Ripley asked.

“We have the number, the location is North Paris, nothing more specific. The call was too short, but we can trace it through the directory in another hour or so. It’s a land line.” The voice read off the number.

“Can you tap this number?” Ripley asked?

“Already done” said the voice. “And, before you ask, we’ve got people working on a translation and transcript now. Should be ready in about an hour. Where do you want it?”

“Paris Station, make it an hour.” Ripley said, and rang off. He looked at his watch: just after eight thirty. Kisani’d had a good, long sleep. Only two -thirty in the morning at Langley, too early for Jones. “Well, I was right about these guys at least. Kisani phoned home to what’s going to turn out to be little-Arabia up toward the airport.” He was thinking now, trying to decide how aggressive to be. Should he call the number himself, listen to the guy, maybe see if he speaks English? “No, too soon, he might tie his call from Kisani to mine, and that might get both of us killed. But what about Kisani? Wonder if he’s going to leave the hospital today?” That would be an opportunity: he’d definitely head straight for home.

He speed dialed again.


“Viper. I need the Paris West Hospital, Emergency Department.”

Clicks again, a beep, then the phone was ringing. “Hello, Paris West Emergency, how may I help you?”

“Hello,” Ripley said in French, “good morning Madame. This is inspector Cluseau of the Paris Police, I’m looking for a Mr. Kisani, he was brought there last night by the police. Can you tell me if he’s still there?”

“Oui monsieur, but he only just woke up half an hour ago. We only just learned his name. Would you like to speak with him?”

“No, no, don’t trouble him. We are just calling to see if he is all right. Have the doctors decided when he can leave the hospital? Today, perhaps?”

“Oui, monsieur. They are doing his release examination now, and the paperwork will take about an hour, perhaps a little more . . .”

Ripley stabbed the “End” button on the phone. “Shit!” he yelled, running for the shower. He’d have to move fast.

In ten minutes he emerged on the street and ran half a block to the Metro station where he took the steps down two at a time. Inside he swiped his pass card, passed through the turnstiles, ran down the escalator, crossed over to the Northbound platform and waited two minutes for his train to arrive. He boarded the RER C train, he’d decide at Javel station what to do next. He wanted the transcript from the Embassy first, but he was not sure he’d get there in time, and Kisani was the best link he had to finding a bigger target in North Paris, that would have to come first. He looked at his watch again. Forty five minutes until Kisani might be released. He’d probably make the hospital, barely. But without his car, he might lose him if the man had ground transport. “Well, no way I’d have made it in my car anyway, in rush hour traffic it’s almost ninety minutes to the Embassy.” He checked his wallet, there was enough for a short taxi ride, and if he was early at the hospital he could find an ATM and get more cash. He settled in for the train ride, already decided on the direction he would take. Direct to the hospital it would have to be.


“Nine o’clock, time to move,” Cameron said to himself. He signaled the pretty waitress for his check and began to collect his things. The paper went into his briefcase, he stood and put on the leather jacket, turning up the collar in back. Might as well look really French, or Spanish. The bill came and he paid it, then left.

Out on the sidewalk he turned right and walked East, spotting the big Egyptian immediately, standing at the far corner looking uncomfortable and obvious, leaning against a lamppost. “OK, not exactly professional help, that’s a promising sign,” Cameron observed. He reached into his pocket and brought out a pair of dark sunglasses. At the corner he turned right without appearing to notice the Egyptian, it was two blocks south to where the phone kiosk was supposed to be.

Paris was waking up. Shops were opening, tables and chairs were being wiped down on the sidewalk in front of the many al-fresco cafes of Ste. Germaine. There were all kinds of people in Paris, from everywhere around Europe, North Africa, sometimes he heard an accent that was without a doubt English Caribbean or Bermuda, it never ceased to fascinate him. He walked easily, smiling at the working people getting ready for another business day, taking in all the faces, clothes, shoes, making sure they all fit in at the places they were. There was nothing unusual that he could see. “Except for that lump back there” he reminded himself. “Sheesh, what a yokel, but I would not want to meet him in a dark place where there is no help. Nasty piece of work, that.”

He found the phone store, just opened, with a professional young man behind the counter. Cameron walked in side removing his glasses, and opened in Spanish, “Hello, good morning. Do you speak Spanish by any chance? Or English?”

“Oh, English, please monsieur, I have a little Spanish from school, but my English is very good.” At this the young man smiled proudly. “What can I help you with, monsieur?”

“Ah, English. Excellent” It was tempting to be too cute and try a Spanish accent with the English, but there was almost certainly going to be some showing of ID here, and all of his were American, so that might prove a little odd. Better to play it straight up, nice and simple.

He said, “Good morning, Robert,” reading the name tag above the cash register. “I have just arrived from the US yesterday, on business, and I find that the people I’ll be working with need to find me often while I am here, and I hoped to do some sightseeing with my wife this week. So, I’d like to buy two phones, please, one for each of us, and some kind of calling plan or whatever you use here in Paris.”

“Excellent, sir,” Robert replied. “All our phones use GSM, you know, which until recently you could not use in the US. But a year or two ago ago that changed, and now our “World Phone” will work anywhere. This way, you can still use it back in America when you get home. Now, this model . . .”

The transaction took thirty minutes, but he’d convinced Robert to toss in his own fully charged battery in trade for the fresh one from the new phone, so he was ready to go when he walked outside. As he’d fidgeted around the shop he’d also spied a café across the street and what looked like an internet bar next door. He walked out with his phones at nine-thirty-five, the chargers and other hardware in a plastic bag in the briefcase. He glanced left, right, then left again before crossing the street, giving him two good looks at “Pharaoh”, as he’d decided to call him, still leaning awkwardly against the lamppost down on the corner. He crossed at a gap in the light traffic and took a seat on the sidewalk at the café, intent on watching his man for a while to get a feel for what he might do.

Nothing much happened. The street was up to full speed, and there were tourists everywhere enjoying their Parisian breakfasts. Cameron finished his third cup of coffee of the morning with great satisfaction, although it would have to be his last. The caffeine was beginning to make him light headed. He was reading the paper again, facing toward the windows of the café rather than north toward Pharaoh away there on the corner. But the windows were very clean, the morning sun shining strongly on them, and they made a perfect mirror in which to watch the Egyptian, who’d been checking his watch every five minutes or so.

At precisely ten o’clock Pharaoh reached in a pocket and out came a cell phone. It was clear to Cameron that he’d dialed, rather than answered the call, and he listened more than he spoke. After only two minutes he closed the phone and stashed it back in his pocket. “Surveillance report,” Cameron guessed. Pharaoh looked his way momentarily, then crossed to his side of the street and began shopping in the corner windows. “Not great, but a little better,” Cameron thought of the man, “But I think I’d have checked into the Agora, sat down in the bakery if they have one and had a cup of coffee and read the paper. At least that way I could watch for a sneaky bugger like me.”

It was time, and he collected his things for another move, this time two storefronts further south, where he entered the internet bar.


It was a fine day in Bahrain, all across the Gulf for that matter. Cool for late April, but welcome, and a light breeze just ruffled the shallow Gulf water so that there was an occasional whitecap out on the sea, but not many. Dhows and other craft were plying the waters between Bahrain and the coast of Saudi Arabia, scouring the depths for the seafood that sold so well in both Manama and the coastal Saudi cities of Dammam, Dhahran, and al-Jubail away to the north.

In his usual internet café Khalid al-Shahrani was feeling better now that he had put things in train. He was confident that his man Mohammed would have the Saudi end of things under control shortly, and he would be rid of the troublesome General’s family. He had sent emails to his chiefs via websites hosted in Pakistan and Iran, he needed approval to accelerate the deployment of his teams to the United States as soon as he could get them moving. That would take several days to accomplish, but to have it approved was the biggest step, then all that remained was to organize the move and they would be safely out of the Kingdom. The only loose end was the General himself and the family members in Paris. He’d emailed Ibrahim as well, however, and now there was nothing to do but wait for the reply that should come within the next fifteen minutes.

In the meantime he sipped a glass of orange juice and let his mind drift onto other things. Perhaps it was time he left Saudi Arabia himself? He found he had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, his family was here of course, his parents getting old and they would need taking care of. He was the eldest son, so it was his responsibility, and this nagged him. He still had hopes that once he’d helped win the Kingdom away from the Al-Saud he would be powerful and wealthy enough to take his pick of any young girl in the kingdom, perhaps even a former princess? On the other hand he had an icy feeling that he was running great risks. He did not know why he felt this way: nothing untoward had really happened, had it? And where would he go? He’d had enough of caves and rough living out in the wildernesses of Afghanistan. He did not like the idea of Chechnya, too cold, and the Russians were very dangerous people to screw around with. He swallowed involuntarily. His worst nightmare was to end his life like the Hezbollah man in Beirut. And, he had heard that the Russians had taken to burying his colleagues with pig entrails stuffed in their orifices, making them unclean and therefore inadmissible to Paradise. No, not Chechnya, not ever. Not Africa, either. He found he’d grown used to creature comforts. No, there was no place better than Saudi Arabia for him, not now, maybe not ever. It was not so risky here, the ruling elites were incompetent, lazy and corrupt. His side would win, it would be soon, and then he would have a wife and one of the palaces that would be reserved for the top Al-Qaeda commanders like him.

Khalid checked his watch; it was after ten in Paris. Ibrahim should be online anytime now. He signaled the waiter and ordered a Danish pastry and a cup of European coffee. Working the browser, he returned to one of the Pakistan websites. There he found the message he was waiting for. It was nearly one o’clock in Islamabad, and the network had apparently come to a quick decision. He read:

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,

You are requested to take all necessary measures to protect the assets and it is agreed that they may be transferred if you desire it to be so. It is also agreed that action shall be taken against the family in question so that security shall be assured.

However, no action shall be taken once your assets reach their destination without orders from H.E. the director of operations. You are requested and directed to inform us when they are in place and what state of readiness they achieve.

God is Great

“Well, that is another relief,” Khalid thought. And he was a little excited as well. To be moving the teams was excellent. He would perhaps be able to strike a great blow against the Enemy in only a few short months. “But there is much to do still.”

Now he worked the browser back to the inbox and refreshed the window. There was the expected email from Ibrahim, “the man is reliable, and thorough,” he mused. Ibrahim had been one of the most promising recruits he’d seen in the last glorious years in Afghanistan. They’d been able to train at will, as much as they needed, at least in the South where the swine-eating Northern Alliance could not reach and the dog Ismail Khan dared not reach from his stronghold in Herat. Ibrahim was his prize student, if he had one. He learned quickly how to use the standard weapons, the AK, pistols, knives. He was physically strong, swift of movement, well balanced. He’d been excellent even at the home-grown hand-to-hand combat techniques taught in the camps. He could use explosives if needed, but this was not his strength. Best of all, he was a thinker, he was committed, he was charismatic, and he could lead. That much had been evident by the third day he’d been in the camp southeast of Kandahar. He would sometimes teach what he knew of the Holy Quran when there was no mullah to do so. It was clear the other new men looked up to him. As Khalid clicked the link to read, he relaxed in the knowledge that everything in Paris would be well in hand, Ibrahim would have seen to it.

God is most Great.

I have had a report from my man. Our subject met only one person yesterday, most likely one of his own countrymen. The meeting lasted perhaps thirty minutes in a café near the embassy. Regrettably, we have not penetrated the embassy, but as God wills we shall in the near future.

However, after the meeting the subject did some sightseeing around Paris for perhaps an hour or two. He was out of surveillance for thirty minutes or so, in small shops which my man could not enter without being noticed.

Later, as he followed the subject back to his hotel, my man was apparently attacked at random by hoodlums of the kind one only finds in the infidel countries, and he spent the night in a hospital, beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Thanks be to God, he has phoned me this morning with his report, and I shall see him in person in a few hours.

We have the subject’s hotel under constant watch, and I have had a report only fifteen minutes ago that the subject has not left the hotel. God is with us. The man I have there is perfect for dealing with the problem, and he will do so quickly and efficiently if that is what you desire. But what of the rest of them?

I will wait for your reply.

Got is most Great.

Khalid scowled. “The decadent, uncivilized, French swine.” He hated petty criminals, men who robbed and stole only for their own greed, and who killed without reason, without a glorious Cause. “When we have taken Arabia and the Holy Places, we will take France next, and we will civilize the vermin or put them to the sword as the Prophet did, Peace be upon Him.” Khalid had only once been to Europe, and other than that never to anywhere west of Lebanon. Street crime was largely unknown in the Gulf, not counting the shootings and kidnappings his own men were trying with mixed success to make commonplace in the Kingdom. But that was not crime, it was war, “and we are winning.” He grinned. He’d known he could rely on Ibrahim, the man was gifted.

Deal with both problems immediately, or as soon as may be done.

Khalid killed the browser windows he had open, then re-booted the computer to wipe away all traces his communications. In truth, he knew, a computer expert could extract much of his traffic from the machine, but that would never happen, at least not before the traces were hopelessly muddled with the thousands of others that would be put there this very day by others using the machine. Now he had things to do back west on the Saudi end of the causeway. He paid his bill and walked out to the street to the waiting car which would take him to Riyadh, there he’d put his other pieces in motion.


At Paris West hospital Ahmed Kisani was making ready to leave. His head still hurt, and he looked like he’d been run over by a truck. A long, ugly bruise purpled the left side of his head and his left ear where he’d been hit with something last night. He was thankful the lights had gone out when the blow came; up to then they’d been punching his abdomen with such ferocity he thought the pain would kill him. How he’d ended up here he had no idea, but he was determined to go to the mosque for midday prayers today if he could just get moving and get out of this place.

Transportation, however, was going to be a problem. His wallet was gone, with them his transport pass for this month, all his cash, credit cards, everything. “Curse the French and all Spaniards,” he spat into the Spartan silence of his hospital room. His ribs ached despite the tight bandages around his middle, and the prospect of walking all the way back to the BatoBus stop to retrieve his scooter was unthinkable. He could not even bend over to tie his own shoes.

He sat there, miserable and helpless, waiting. In a few moments the door opened and a lively middle-aged nurse entered the room. She saw his plight immediately, and stooped to tie the shoes. Ahmed thanked her profusely. Painfully, he stood up, and she helped him on with his coat, which was dirty from his time on the alley floor, frayed at one point on the lower hem where he must have been scuffed about on the ground. He was embarrassed by the coat. Now, however, he was ready, and the nurse led the way out through the door with Ahmed right behind, walking delicately.

Had he not been so slow he would have missed the phone, but it rang when he was no more than two steps down the hall with the door still slowly swinging shut behind him. He stopped and debated for a moment, and then turned back. “Perhaps it is Ibrahim,” he said to himself. In the room he answered the phone, “Yes?”

“Ahmed, brother, it is Ibrahim. Do you need any help getting home? I need you here quickly.”

“Ah, Ibrahim,” Kisani sighed, relieved. “In truth, brother, I have no money for a taxi or anything else, and I cannot walk very far. Can you help?”

“I do not know, but perhaps. Can you get me the number for someone there, perhaps they will advance you some cash on one of my credit cards.”

This took twenty minutes to arrange. Ahmed first had to retrieve his nurse, and to ascertain what telephone number might suffice for such a transaction. The nurse had not known, and it took her five minutes just to get to her station and find the number. Meanwhile, Ibrahim held the line, Ahmed sat heavily on the bed trying to ease his pain. In the end, Ahmed had twenty euros in his otherwise empty pockets as he stood at the administration window signing documents that would allow the hospital to send the bills for his treatment to his home address.

Out on the street, half a block from the hospital entrance, Patrick Ripley sat at a café trying to slow his breathing. He’d run three blocks from the metro stop to get here, stopping only briefly at an ATM to withdraw cash on his VISA card. He sipped the iced mineral water and focused on breathing deeply through his nose, then slowly out his mouth, uttering a barely audible “aaaaahhhhhhhh” sound with each exhalation, the out rush of air incredibly long and controlled. His heart began to slow almost immediately, the perspiration that had started on his brow quickly ceased. He returned, he thought, “to a centered, harmonious state.”

The mobile phone vibrated on his belt. He opened it and spoke, “Yes?”

“Hello, identify.” It was the usual deadpan voice.

“Viper,” he replied.

“There has been another call at your number, incoming this time, from a mobile phone. Here is the number.” The voice read it, Ripley fumbled for his notebook and pen, and wrote it down. “The phone is in North Paris, a couple of blocks away from the landline from the earlier call. Here’s that address.” Again Ripley wrote without speaking. “Do you want to hear the call?” the voice asked.

“Not if it’s anything but French or English,” Ripley said, then added a moment later, reconsidering: “How long ago?”

“Five minutes ago, it was a long call, nearly ten minutes.”

“Play it.” Ripley breathed deep again, and listened. They were the same two Arabic voices, one obviously Kisani, the other the strong, fluid voice he’d heard earlier this morning. “Ibrahim. Got you, my friend,” he smiled to himself. It was looking like turning into a very good day.

“That’s enough,” he said after two minutes of the tape. “Do you have the translation of the earlier call?”


“Read it.” And the voice did. There was nothing interesting, really: concern for Kisani’s health, a few questions about the circumstances of the attack. Ripley remembered the other voice sounding concerned when he’d heard it in Arabic only an hour and a quarter ago. “Suspicious, maybe?” There were instructions to meet at a café, but no address, obviously it was a place they knew well, not even a name. No help. “The suspicions, though?” He wondered. In his mind, he replayed the more recent call, the one he’d just heard from the cell phone. “No, there was no suspicion in the voice there. Concern, help for a friend. Good, they think it’s a random mugging, no more. And why would they think otherwise? This guy Jones is running, he’s something else.”

“Anything else?” the voice asked.

“Yes,” Ripley replied. “I need the translation at Paris station today. Tap the mobile phone, send the log to Paris along with the rest.” He had another thought. “Call me right away if the guy makes any international calls.”

“Done,” said the voice, and the line went dead.

Ripley snapped the flip-phone shut and replaced it in his holster. His breathing was back to normal now, and he drank deeply from the bottle of water. He caught the dark-haired waitress’s eye and ordered some breakfast.

Twenty minutes later he nearly choked on a slice of bacon when Kisani limped out of the hospital door, and he’d just started on the breakfast. He motioned to the waitress again for the check, regretting the loss of the rest of breakfast, but then he relaxed a little. Kisani was limping slowly straight toward him; he would not have to hurry all that much. The little man had half a block to cover before he’d pass, and it was clear he was making for the Metro station another three blocks away, for he had not hailed a taxi. He tucked the napkin back onto his lap and continued to eat, but a little faster.

In the light of day Kisani looked ghastly as he walked by within ten feet of Ripley’s table. He had a black eye on the right side, and that huge bruise on the left ear. The broken rib was causing him the most distress, however. Ripley’s keen ears heard the labored breathing as he passed. “Bad shape,” he thought, feeling a little sorry for the Moroccan. “But then, you have to know the rules if you’re gonna play this game, pal. Jonesey’s guy just showed you what it costs to play with the big boys.” He laid enough euros on the table to cover the bill and a nice tip, the latter he hoped the dark-haired girl might remember, as he thought he might stop by here again soon to see if he could pick her up. Right now there was obviously no time. “Story of my life.” He smiled broadly at the girl, though, and she smiled back, which made him feel a little warm. He walked nonchalantly out of the café and followed Ahmed to the Metro station.

Kisani either knew no tradecraft or was just too sore to care. He walked straight to the station and descended the escalator without so much as a look around after he’d bought his ticket. On the eastbound RER platform, Ripley stood against the tiled wall with the other passengers waiting for the train, but about a car’s length away from Kisani. A tail job on the metro could be tricky. If his luck was good, the target would get on through the rear door of one car, and he would get on the following car through its front door. He would be close enough to monitor the target, but it was much harder to get caught that way, particularly if there wasn’t much traffic. That wouldn’t be a problem so much today, traffic was heavy. As it happened he boarded in the car behind Kisani, who found a forward-facing seat and never once looked around at anything or anyone.

Ripley assumed the train trip would take them all the way to the northern suburbs, which he’d taken to thinking of as “little Arabia” since this whole show began last night He therefore expected a change to the RER-B line at the St. Michel station. He was surprised when Kisani got up at the Invalides station and made to leave the train. Ripley took care to be last to leave the car, but kept an eye on his prey, taking up station perhaps fifty meters behind him. They ascended to the street, where Ahmed first crossed the Ave. D’Orsay and walked onto the Pont Alexandre III, the most ornamented bridge across the Seine. Halfway across Ripley stopped to pretend to take a picture of the boats on the river, using his mobile phone as simulated camera, to make himself look inconspicuous and to give Kisani the chance to open the distance. He was just “photographing” the last of the gilded sculptures atop the columns at each end of the bridge when the Moroccan turned right on the north side of the bridge and headed East. Ripley stowed his phone with a last look around, now nearly two hundred meters behind, but that would be no problem. Kisani was moving so slowly he’d be caught up in a few minutes and would have to work out another excuse for delay.

As he turned right at the end of the bridge the seasoned CIA agent and former Ranger was horrified to see Kisani strapping on a helmet and then boarding a scooter. The bike growled to life with a tweak of an electric starter, and Kisani moved quickly out into traffic. Ripley looked to his left and began flailing his arms at the passing cars, trying desperately to hail a taxi, looking intermittently right to see where Kisani was. It was no good. There was no taxi, and in thirty seconds Kisani had mixed with the frantic flow of vehicles in the roundabout at the Place de la Concorde a quarter mile East, and he was gone. Ripley looked at his watch; it was just after eleven. More than a little disappointed, he crossed the street and walked North toward the US Embassy, a little comforted in the knowledge that there was a treasure-trove of information waiting in his office there, and that Langley would be waking up in about an hour. There were other ways to find Ahmed Kisani, starting with the address on his driver’s license, and with him the man with the liquid voice.


Dawn would not come to Virginia for another hour. A clear cold sky of deep black swept from horizon to horizon, stars burning brightly out of it, casting faint shadows. The night creatures had gone silent, the day creatures not yet moving about. It was quiet as death, only the faint rustle of the still-bare tree limbs accompanied their ghostly starlight shadows dancing on the grass.

The screen was bright enough that it nearly spoiled the view out the window, but Jones enjoyed it anyway. He too had once been a creature of the night, and this one was perfect for stalking and killing—moonless, but with the starlight that would show the inexperienced prey moving around in what they would think was safety. The view and the memory stirred a shot of adrenaline, and he felt alive for a moment in a way that he seldom did in this headquarters job. His shoulders drooped a little, which nobody could see, and he turned from the window to read the report again.

Ahmed Kisani’s parents ran a small grocery market outside the Spanish colony of Ceuta. The colony was a source of some friction between Spain and its Moroccan neighbor across the Strait of Gibraltar. It had been there for over four centuries now but still the Moroccan population often chafed at the border within their own, and at the affluence in the colony. Outside, the Moroccan village wrapped around the old Spanish town, and the border between wealth and poverty was striking. Despite that, it looked like the Kisanis were doing all right. There was a sister still living at home, and two brothers believed to both still be in Morocco. Looked like a dead end, but the guys in Morocco were still working.

Ripley had done well in Paris. He noted the two phone numbers and other information that had come from the search, the taps on the two phones, even one address from the land line. The name attached to that phone account was one Mohammed Isa, but he was sure that would be a fake. The name on the cell phone account was Khalid Dourhi, probably also false. It didn’t matter. By the end of the day Paris time, perhaps tomorrow at the latest, Ripley would surely have a picture of the guy with the phones, and perhaps Mohammed-Khalid would make some interesting calls before the day was out. Meanwhile, the geeks in Intel would also be running the voice prints from the call-tapes, they might get lucky and find a match.

He returned to Cameron’s email, still thinking through the whole package he had before him. The concept of teams of Arabs finding their way into the US was not new, of course, but this idea of guys with US passports was a little novel. Of course the Agency had thought of it, but nobody had ever really figured what, if anything, they might do about it. It was good information to have, but it wasn’t really much when you got right down to it. There had to be several thousand Saudis with US passports; without some names it would be tough to get anything moving. And, he had no idea of what their targets might be, except Cameron’s mention of the kids’ doing some small arms training. “Well, they probably all do that,” Jones thought. He was still a little irked that he’d been unable to locate Cameron on his own. The cheeky bugger was checked into no less than four hotels, and no telling which one he was really staying at. It might be all four. No matter. The new cell phone number was on Ripley’s answering machine in Paris, and once the two hooked up he’d not lose Phoenix again.

He fired off an email to his Homeland Security liaison, including Cameron’s text after he’d sanitized out the names. He sent a copy to his FBI liaison as well, knowing that contact would send a note to Immigration, with a warning to look for an unusual influx of Saudis with US passports entering the country. Last, he sent Cameron’s information and his own synopsis of what they knew in Paris to the Intel department right there at Langley, with a request to compile a list of all Saudi holders of US passports. They’d have to get that from State, but since 911 even the intelligence people over at Foggy Bottom had learned to play ball, and they would produce. It might be a very long list, but it was a place to start. Might as well see how deep that pond was before he wrote off the possibility of catching a few fish in it.

What they really needed, he thought as he turned again to the window, was some names. Would this Saudi General’s nephew remember any? Almost certainly. A few names would be enough to start gathering others. How to get them? It was obvious once he thought of it. The US government could not ask the Saudi government to help, for two reasons. One, the Saudi government was probably penetrated, that was why Falcon had wanted to talk to Cameron in Europe instead of in his own country. Second, even if the Saudis would help, it was unlikely they would do so quickly enough to prevent whatever Al-Qaeda had planned with these teams. In his gut, Jones was thinking that if he was running those groups, he would probably try to move them soon, just in case they’d been compromised. And with this bunch following the General in Paris, Al-Qaeda was at least a little concerned about that. No, Cameron and his pal would have to go to Saudi to get the names, talk to the nephew, maybe stir around the country a little. He didn’t think the DDO was going to like that much, but what choice would they have? Then he remembered the Boss’ email from yesterday. “He’ll love it,” Jones mumbled. “The Boss is a player, this guy Phoenix is a player. Come to think of it, I’m still a player.” His eyes switched focus to the glass pane that separated him from the silent, deadly world outside; there his own face stared back at him, and he searched it. He was not yet forty, he was as fit as he’d been in his twenties, thick brown hair and a rugged, square jaw above broad shoulders. The dark eyes stared back at him. He smiled at himself and looked past the smile to the darkness outside and the faint line of the woods two hundred yards away across the empty lawn. “Quiet as death.”


The Pharaoh made another call at twelve o’clock, then he’d moved off westward out of view from the internet bar. Cameron had seen enough. The man was on a two hour reporting schedule, but there would be no chance of his discovering Fahd here. He did not want to run foul of the big Egyptian, and in any case he had things to do. Leaving the Pharaoh to the empty Hotel Agora, he walked south to the Metro station at Maubert

It took twenty minutes and two changes to arrive at the Filles du Calvaire station in the Marais District. Up on the street he turned north toward the tall pillar and statue in the Place de la Republique, but at the first café he encountered he turned in and took a table near the windows to watch the traffic for a bit.

The destination for the moment was the Hotel du Vieux Saule and General Fahd, but he would not go straight there, both for safety and because he needed to think. He was also hungry. He ordered a steak with green peppercorn sauce and a side order of fried potatoes. Sipping on a coke, he watched intently out the window.

Foot traffic was heavy, motor traffic heavier. Cameron slipped quietly into his state of un-focus and began a sweep of all that he could see. On this side of the street the view was pretty restricted. There was a news seller on the sidewalk next door, but he seemed very comfortable with his business, and at least one buyer appeared to know him and call him by name. A regular customer; this guy is OK. On the other side of the wide boulevard people flowed steadily in both directions, very few even pausing to look in the shop windows, nobody loitering. He looked up the facades of the buildings, finding mostly curtained windows. He scanned the roofline for a half block north and south. Nothing.

The phone on his hip vibrated once, then twice, shocking him out of his near trance. He popped it from the cradle and answered, “Hello?”

“Hello,” said a voice in American English, he thought. Cosmopolitan, though, no definite accent, perhaps just a hint of the mid-West. “What is the title of T.E Lawrence’s book about his time with the Arab revolt?”

Cameron nearly inhaled the mouthful of Coke, managed to clear his nose, coughed hard a couple of times. The voice on the end of the line was silent. Finally he gave the reply “Seven Pillars of Freedom.”

“Excellent Mr. Cameron. My name is Patrick Ripley, Mr. Smith gave me this number. The other you will already have recognized. I believe you wanted to meet?”

“Yes,” Cameron replied, trying to get his brain working. He hadn’t thought much about this, although he knew it was coming. He was very surprised it’d come so quickly.

“Will you pick the place, or shall I, Mr. Cameron?”

“I’ll pick the place, Mr. Ripley,” Cameron said. He paused a moment, and decided it was as good as anything else he was likely to come up with. “OK, listen. On the Boulevarde Du Strasbourg, number thirty-nine, about two blocks west of the Gare de L’Est, there is an Aikido dojo. It’s a martial arts thing, Ripley. There is a class at four o’clock today. We’ll meet there. Do you have a baseball cap?”

“Sure,” came Ripley’s reply. “Boston Red Sox. The dojo on Strasbourg, four o’clock, then. See you there, Mr. Cameron. Here’s my number in case you need to get hold of me before then.” He read off the number and Cameron wrote it down, then they rang off.

The food came as he continued to think. He’d found the dojo while at the internet bar this morning. Practicing on the road had become something of a hobby for him, and usually when he was on business he’d try to find a club where he could get at least one workout. It helped him stay in shape, otherwise the restaurant food would turn him into a marshmallow man. There were numerous internet sites that could search for Aikido dojo’s worldwide, so finding one in Paris had been easy, and he’d even been lucky to find one of his own style. The dojo would be a nice, public place to meet this Ripley, and the members of the club would be on “his” side, just in case. Aikido people were like that, in his experience. It would be a good place to meet.

Now he was munching on the fries and sorting through the next few days. There were three problems that wanted solving. First, this group in Paris. It would be nice to deal with them somehow, and he was counting on Ripley, or acquaintances of his, to come up with something on that front. Then, there was the problem for Fahd back in Saudi Arabia. Last, there was the problem of these teams of young Saudis. Those two problems could clearly not be solved in Paris, and no matter how else he tried to think of it, he always came back to the same place. He and Fahd would have to go to Saudi Arabia.

There was just no way around it. The best connection they had to help them find the network was Fahd’s nephew Saad, who was now, if the plan had been followed, holed up in the family compound in al-Ha’il. Saad was the link to the teams, the teams the link to the network, the network the key to a return to something like normal life for Fahd and family. The two problems were really pieces of one problem, Saad the key to both. There was no way around it. But, how to get there without being seen? How to work once they got there? These things he would have to ask Fahd, and perhaps Ripley. Alone, Cameron felt he was at the end of what he could do. It was time to play a team game.

Across the street, Rene LaPlante rounded the corner and turned south, then paused abruptly, his mind working at full speed. Something was not right, something had seized his attention, a half-remembered face, something out of place. He collected himself and began walking again nonchalantly, until he came to the first shop window and peered in to collect himself. “What is it?” he asked himself? “A face? But what did I see, and where?” It was part of the curse of his photographic memory: his eyes might see something, his brain recognize it at a subconscious level, and he was left with the eerie, almost frightened feeling that he was forgetting something important. Now he had that same feeling, but he was conscious that he was exposed here on the street, he’d made an obvious movement that would have been seen by anyone the least bit experienced. He could afford only a few more moments at this window, so he focused on its surface, using it as a mirror.

Behind him was empty sidewalk, the same on the opposite side of the street. He began a mental replay of his movements, trying to sort out when the warning signal in his head had fired. He shifted a step or two to his left, to get an angle in the glass that would let him look back up the street from where he’d come. He spotted the windows of the restaurant, the news seller on the street in front, no customers now. He could see nothing unusual in the restaurant windows, the angle was wrong for most of them, the sun glinting off them now made them as much mirror from here as was the glass a foot in front of his face. He considered retracing his steps, but thought better of it: too obvious. Instead, he chose to simply stow the eerie feeling as he very often had to do; there was no way to deal with it today in any other way. However, he made a mental note to be more observant when he passed this way again tomorrow, as he did every day, and to look into that restaurant for a cup of coffee in the morning to see if there might be anything helpful there. Nothing more could be done here, so he slumped his shoulders and shrugged the collar of his coat up higher on his neck against the gathering chill in the shade of the buildings, and turned along his way south toward home.

In the restaurant Cameron peered cautiously from behind the menu and saw LaPlante retreating down the sidewalk. Time to move, right now. He signaled for the bill, finishing his Coke, collecting coat and briefcase. He didn’t know the man’s name, of course, and he scolded himself that if there hadn’t been the abrupt movement, he would not have noticed him at all. But there was no doubt it had been the watcher from the airport . . .”was that just yesterday?” he wondered, confused by the jet lag and a little groggy from the heavy meal. It was nearly two o’clock, he wondered that he’d been here so long. “Lots to think about, I need sleep and tonight’s not going to be great for that, and that is one scary guy if it was me that made him start so,” he observed. In a few moments he was on the street, walking with a feigned but noticeable limp and a little stooped, but briskly north to put distance between himself and the watcher, in case the latter might have doubled back.

He turned right at the first corner, looking for a metro station, preferably one with two lines and an interchange, but this wasn’t his part of Paris, so he would not be choosy. Nothing here. A block East and he turned North again, looking back West to clear his tail, which looked OK. He fell back into his own fluid walk. From the Metro system map in his pocket he chose the Republique station, two blocks away. It was perfect, six lines there. He stopped abruptly and moved between two parked cars, checking traffic both directions, but again clearing his tail. He crossed. Two minutes later he descended the steps to the station, wound through the maze standing on first one, then another platform, a third, and finally boarding the gold number three line for Arts et Metiers.

On the way he resolved to be more attentive despite the fatigue, and emerging onto the street once again he half-feigned confusion to give the place a good look-over. It was only one block to Fahd’s hotel, but fifty yards along this side of the street was a small grocery; he ducked in to buy some mints to clear his head and to watch for anything unusual for a moment. In Spanish he asked the clerk if he knew the phone number for the Vieux Saule, and in a moment he was dialing. Another pause and Fahd said, “Na'am?”which is “Yes?”

“Fi inglesi, ana abu Sean,” Cameron responded in Arabic. “In English, it’s me, father of Sean.”

“Paul, my friend, I was beginning to worry about you. All is well, I hope?” Fahd said in English.

“Fine, fine, abu Mohammed. Listen, I’m just down from your hotel, and I’ll be there in a few moments. Anything unusual there today?”

“No, no nothing, we are bored to tears, as you Americans say, nobody has been out all day, nobody has used the phone. Where are you calling from?”

“I’m just down the street at a grocery, but I have a cell phone, also one for you. Can you meet me in the lobby to talk for perhaps thirty minutes?

“Of course, I will see you there directly. You have not attacked anyone else today, have you now Paul?”

Cameron chuckled. “No, no I have not, not yet at least, but the day is still young, Abu Mohammed. I’ll see you in the lobby in five minutes. Masalaama.” He rang off. He’d been peering out the grocery window as he spoke, surveying the pavement, looking for anyone unusual. For some reason he was worried about the Pharaoh, the big Egyptian, and half-expected to find him lingering here in front of Fahd’s hotel, informed by some unbelievable providence of the new address. The sighting of LaPlante from the airport had shaken him, he did not believe in coincidence, not in a place as big as Paris, and he wasn’t quite sure what he’d do with the Egyptian if he was here. He was running out of time in any case, he had a meeting to make at four.

But the Pharaoh was either still in Saint Germaine outside the Agora or he’d given up for the day, in any case he was not to be seen here, so Cameron crossed to the other side of the street and walked into the Vieux Saule.

The lobby was small, like most such hotels, with polished sandstone floors inlaid with diamond-shaped tiles that looked like black slate. The ceiling was low and paneled in dark wood, but bright recessed lights cast a gleam off the brilliant floor and made the whole space seem alive with light. A heavy and gorgeous burled reception desk stood on his right, and a pretty receptionist smiled at him on the point of asking if he could be helped when the elevator opened and disgorged the smiling General Fahd.

The two shook hands warmly, as old friends, the receptionist looking on sat wondering, captivated by something in the man who’d just come in from the street. She could not quite place it, he moved with an air that contained both grace, speed, and . . .power? Perhaps that was it, that and the warm smile, the shining, piercing blue eyes. She wondered still as they disappeared into the small café.

“Listen, Abu Mohammed” Cameron began. “I have to get moving again soon, I am sorry to be in a rush. There is much to be done. First, I was at your hotel this morning, the other one, and there was someone there to watch for you, an Egyptian, I think. A big man, rough looking, nasty piece of business. Keep an eye out for him here, anytime before you leave the hotel, and if you see anyone like him, you should call me and remain indoors.”

Fahd looked concerned, but resolute. He said, “I shall. And you mentioned some mobile phones?”

“Yes, yes, here is one for you, and here is the number for mine. That one will need to be charged I think. Now, I’ve been thinking, Fahd. If ever we are to have you living in safety at home again, I think we’re going to have to go to Saudi Arabia, and soon. Have you talked to your son Ali? Have they made their move to Ha’il?”

“No, I have done nothing today but read newspapers and sleep, God preserve me. May I use this phone to call, Paul?”

At this Cameron smiled broadly, “Yes, courtesy of the US government.” He chuckled. “I seem to have an expense account of some size. Yes, call them after I’ve gone, and then call me and let me know how you find things there. I think we should probably go to Ha’il for starters, but I’m not sure how to get there. What I am pretty sure of is that we should not go by way of Riyadh or Dhahran, by airline I mean. What can you suggest in the line of another route?

Fahd thought a moment, the barest hint of a smuggler’s sly grin creasing the corners of his mouth. “Paul, I find you’ve become something entirely different from the honest fighter pilot I knew years ago. Well, we shall talk of that in my house in al Ha’il, with a great khopsa before us and all my relations around to eat it. Here is how we will do it, my friend . . .”

X. Saudi Arabia/Paris/Langley

The day had developed into one of those truly horrible days along the Persian Gulf coast: hot, the dry-bulb temperature around one hundred seventeen degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity was hovering at ninety three percent. The sky was not clear, but rather a milky haze seemed to cover it all around so that it looked white instead of blue, but there was no shade, at all, the merciless sun glaring through the shroud piling heat upon heat.

The blast of it took Mohammed’s breath away for a moment as he opened the door of the apartment in Al-Jubail, thirty kilometers north of Dhahran. The door closed quietly behind him, and he stood there on the balcony, adjusting his eyes to the glare and his lungs to the suffocating heat. He did not like the coast. His family came from the interior, Nejd, north of Riyadh, where the air was dry and even on a day like today the sky would be a deep blue, the hot breezes felt like a furnace blast but at least they did not leave you soaking with filthy sweat from your small clothes right through a freshly pressed thob. He found his sunglasses, adjusted his igaal to hold his head cloth at the just the jaunty angle he liked, turning to find the stairs for the four-floors’ walk to the street below.

As miserable as the heat made him, he was having a good day, now that he was over his misgivings with this mission. He still thought Khalid was asking him to take an incredible risk, but he had convinced himself it could be done, and his meeting here had set the last pieces in motion. The two brothers, Basir and Hamid, would help. They rounded out his team of six men, and together, they could take the General’s house and his family.

He hoped. But they could not do it tonight, which would not please Khalid, but as God willed, it could not be done. The other three men would come, but they were in Taif far to the West, and it would take them until tomorrow morning to arrive. Then there was preparation, planning, perhaps some shooting practice in the desert, food and sleep. Tomorrow night it would have to be, God willing. And, he had many things to think about. He’d already driven by the house once today, where all was quiet, but that was to be expected on such a filthy day. The women and the little ones would not want to be outdoors. They would sleep, eat, play, but all indoors. He had drawn a map, taken a few digital pictures, and he had a plan of attack and escape in his mind. But he’d had to do this first, to be sure of the two brothers. Now he would return to his own apartment, in Khobar, to sketch out the plan, rehearse it in his mind, looking at the map and refining both so that he could show the men how it must be done. He needed to organize the weapons still this evening; not a difficult thing, but not simple either. He wanted pistols, all the same caliber, with silencers if he could get them, and knives for all the men. “Unlikely, though,” he thought ruefully. Their weapons were always a polyglot of whatever could be found, and nobody knew how to make a proper silencer anymore. “It is the price we pay for jihad, and God will reward us with victory, however.”

With this thought he reached his car and welcomed the steady flow from the air vents when it was running. Soon he was driving South on the four-lane highway, the high-rises of Khobar and Dhahran just visible in the heat-shimmer on the horizon. He was confident: all was progressing well, and he’d accomplished much in only a short afternoon. But he found himself thinking again, unbidden as he often did these days, of the sword flashing down in a wide arc to remove his head, his body buried in an un-marked grave, his mother wailing in their home in the north. He shook his head, muttered some verses from the Quran, forced the image away for the hundredth time. “By the Grace of God,” he said aloud, “we are the defenders of the faith. Allah will give us victory.” The speedometer said he was moving at one hundred thirty kilometers an hour. He squeezed down harder on the accelerator and the needle swung upward to one-sixty


Khalid Shahrani was also having a good day, but he was cooler by far, in the dry interior of the Kingdom. He liked Riyadh: even at a hundred and twenty degrees, one never felt even damp, and the sky was a clear, piercing blue from one horizon to the other. Just now he was sitting in the central square within sight of the old fort which now served as a museum, on a rock under the sparse shade of a date palm. It was coming on toward dusk, trade and traffic in the shops nearby was brisk.

The drive from Dhahran had taken only three hours. Since his arrival, he’d bought ten airline tickets from four different travel agencies, all on European flag carriers, changing in five European cities and all arriving at five different international airports in Canada. On different days. It was a good start. He had seventy five men to move, if they could all be counted upon, but the arrangements must not be made at too rapid a pace. Such a thing might raise suspicions. He glanced to the center of the square where the grating lay in a depressed spot in the pavement: there they took the heads of criminals in Riyadh. He squirmed a little, tried to relax, made a covert scan around the place to see if anyone was watching. No, there was not. In any case, he reflected, he’d made a good beginning with only half a day’s work. His first contingent would be on its way West in only five days, he’d purchase the rest of the tickets within the next seven or so, all his men would be deployed in two weeks, safely out of Saudi Arabia.

His phone rang, not unexpectedly, and he answered, “Nam?”

“The boy is not at his apartment,” his man said from the other end.

“Odd,” Khalid said, and anyone watching would have seen his forehead wrinkle under the headdress. “What about his job? Have you checked there? Has anyone seen him?

“No, emir,” said the man. “He has not been seen for two days, but nobody knows where he is. Shall we be more. . .” there was a pause “. . .direct?”

“No, certainly not,” Khalid answered quickly, but he liked being called emir. “Go home now, stay out of trouble. Keep your phone nearby, I may need you.” He rung off and stowed the phone in his hip pocket.

“Odd,” he thought again. “Where would he go?” And then it hit him. “Ahh, now it begins to fall into place. I was right to begin this morning.” He was suddenly certain he knew where the youth had gone. He produced the phone again and dialed Mohammed.

“Yes?” came the answer, in English.

“Mohammed, it’s me Khalid. How are you my friend? It’s so long since we’ve talked.”

Driving his own car, Mohammed was entering the outskirts of Dhahran, but he caught the warning sign. They had, of course just been together this morning.

“Yes, Khalid, my friend? How are you, and what can I do for you?” he said

“Well, I thought I would tell you that my nephew, you know the one, from Riyadh, he’s come to Dhahran to visit my cousin. Isn’t that lucky? And we were just hoping to see him there in Dhahran? Will you give him my warmest regards when you see him, and say that I am sorry I missed him in Riyadh?

Mohammed smoked it at once. “Yes, yes I will, but I will not be able to call on them tonight. My brother arrives tomorrow from Taif, and I must prepare his room for him tonight. You understand?”

Khalid did understand, but the long pause told both men he was not pleased. “You cannot visit tonight, Mohammed? You are certain? I had very much hoped to send someone to pay my respects to my cousin tonight, it is his birthday, is it not, for the love of God?”

Mohammed braked to a halt at the top of an exit ramp, sweating hard despite the air conditioning in the car. “No, no, Khalid, I cannot. My brother must come first, or my own mother, may God protect her, will flay me alive.”

Another pause while Khalid thought, and both men were tense now. Finally Khalid said “Good enough then, Mohammed, but I am disappointed. It will certainly be tomorrow night, then? I count on you for that. My cousin must not be disappointed again, especially as my nephew has come all the way there for the occasion. You understand me, Mohammed?”

“I understand,” he said. The line went dead, but he sat there at the traffic light, which was green, his legs trembling so hard he could not safely drive.

Khalid snapped the phone shut and glanced again around the square. He was very angry, and the grating in the pavement only fifty yards away was suddenly more ominous than ever. He opened the phone again and dialed a number, a long number, and he waited.


A phone was ringing in the third floor Paris apartment, but it rang and rang. Finally it stopped, but an answering machine had picked up. There was a pause, but no message, and then the line went dead.

Moments later the mobile in Ibrahim’s pocket vibrated. He checked the time in the LCD window on the back—three-thirty. There was no phone number in the caller ID window, and it was not time for Salah to call from his surveillance. He was not expecting a call. The phone continued to vibrate.

At length, he opened the phone and said in French “Oui?”

“Fi arabi, ana Khalid” said the voice in Arabic, and continued in that language, “I need a report.”

“Yes, emir,” Ibrahim said at once, although he did not like this at all. Since when did they talk on cell phones? “What do you need to know, my friend?”

“Has our Gen . . ahh, our friend been seen? Is our business with him concluded as we agreed?”

“No, it is not. I have my man working on it now. I am due to hear from him on his progress with, ahh, the negotiations in about thirty minutes,” Ibrahim trying to slip into what he hoped would sound like an innocent business call to anyone who, God forbid, might be listening.

“What about your other man, the one with the problem yesterday that had to be replaced? What has he to say?”

“Oh, he is with me now, and I am just discussing his view of the matter.” He paused to think for a moment. “He was unsuccessful, yesterday, as you know, but I do not think it is a problem. The interlopers were Spaniards, from a Spanish company you understand? They do not have a place in this deal, it will not be a problem.”

“Spaniards? What are Spaniards? What are they doing in Paris, and why are they attacking . . .I mean, why would they attempt to break our business deal there? I do not understand, and I am very concerned!”

“Spaniards, my dear friend. As in, from Andalusia, you understand?” Ibrahim was astounded yet again at how ignorant of the modern world some of these more ideological fellows could be. “Andalusia, he repeated, of the old Caliphate of Cordoba in the time of the Caliph Omar.”

“Ahh, I understand” he heard Khalid say with some relief. “Are they so many in Paris, or in France? Are you sure there is nothing amiss?”

“I am sure,” replied Ibrahim, feeling like he was getting his superior under control. “What an extraordinary call," he thought. And then, to Khalid, “My man here comes from Morocco, you know, just across the straits from Spain, and he speaks a little of their language, hears it often at home. He is certain our competitors were Spanish, spoke in Spanish, there can be no mistake. Their intervention was an irritating coincidence, no more. Our business is in no jeopardy.”

“Ahh, excellent,” said Khalid, and they were both relaxing a little. “But, still, I tell you this, Ibrahim. Time is not with us. I have every reason to believe that more serious competition is watching us, and may come into the, ahh, negotiations at any time. I must ask you to press hard, and to conclude this affair immediately. Immediately, do you hear?”

“I hear, my friend, and I will make it so as soon as I can. I am just expecting our man to call in at any minute now, and we will make certain that we do not lose the deal. But, I believe you do not want us to bankrupt ourselves in the process of making this deal, am I correct?”

“No, no, Ibrahim, your work there is too important. Do not, ahh, break the bank to finish speedily, but it must be concluded sooner rather than later. I rely on your judgment, but do not disappoint me. You understand?”

“I understand, Khalid. I do. I will see if we can put a larger team together, perhaps with more brains working on the problem we can conclude more quickly. Is there anything else?”

“No, that is all. Keep in touch, Ibrahim, I will hope to hear from you on the usual schedule, with some concrete results.”

“As God wills,” Ibrahim said. The line went dead, he closed the phone and placed it in his pocket in a smooth, liquid motion.

He turned to the battered Ahmed Kisani, who looked very much like he’d got the worst end of the Spanish deal. “So, Ahmed, you are certain, beyond certain, that these maniacs were Spaniards?”

“Yes, yes, Ibrahim,” the little man said through his obvious discomfort. He wished this interview could just be over so that he could go home, get into bed, and sleep for two days. He had never thought he could be so sore and not be dead. “They were Spaniards, and all of them are thugs and hoodlums, the same here, in Spain, and in my own country. Barbarians.” For ideological effect, because he so craved being recognized as a full member of the jihad, he added “May God curse them all in Hell.”

Ibrahim was unimpressed, and he gazed hard at Ahmed, the cold black eyes searching the little man’s face for any hint of doubt, any falseness in his eagerness to please. “A weak man,” he thought, “a man I may soon have to dispose of, but however, I agree this is nothing to be concerned about, for now.” To Ahmed he said, finally, “My friend, I am thoughtless, you must be very uncomfortable. Go ahead, finish your tea, I am paying . . .” he put ten euros on the table for the two of them. “But I must be getting back to work, my friend. Please, finish, and then go and rest. Come and find me at the kebab restaurant when you are feeling better and can work again, I think I will have something for you in a day or two.”

Satisfied for now, Ibrahim made his departure, gliding down the aisle and out the door in that way that never ceased to awe Ahmed. When he was gone, Ahmed took another sip from his tea with an inward groan, wondering if he would sleep at all with this pain in his ribs. Giving up on the tea, he stood awkwardly and left, slowly, not an ounce of grace in his walk.


Wan afternoon daylight shone through the two walls of windows that made the dojo’s west and south sides, but it added no warmth. True to form, the aikido school tended to skimp on heat in the winter and cooling in the summer, letting the temperature vary as it apparently did at dojo in Japan. Somehow it must be thought that primitive is better, austerity aids in learning, enduring hardship in the form of extremes of temperature was just part of the training. All very Japanese.

Cameron reflected on all this as he came into the room and took it in, the mat had to have a surface temperature of about sixty degrees, very cold on the bottom of the feet. But it was much the same in his home dojo; even in the dead of Ohio winter with baseboard heaters going, sensei’s mats would also be cold, at least at the beginning of class. Once things got moving he would not notice it, and if the class was vigorous he’d soon be glad of the low temperature as it would cut down on his sweat.

The room was bigger than many he’d been in, about forty feet square. He counted the one-meter mats, confirmed there were thirteen one way and fourteen another. A big dojo, and a lot of mats. The surface was firm, but it gave, and the old building’s wood floor could be felt to flex a little, so much better than the ground floor which might be concrete underneath. He dropped smoothly to the mat in a motion like water, rolled across shoulder and back with barely a sound, coming up to his feet in one unbroken flow, facing the opposite direction now, toward the kamiza, at the front of the dojo, where a small shrine stood. On the fourth wall, to his left, there were three wooden racks on which lay assorted wooden staffs and swords, practice weapons, a comforting, familiar sight, and looking up he saw the ceiling was high enough to practice with them unhindered. He relaxed, five minutes before class was to start, and sat on the mat to loosen his joints, stretch, look nonchalant, and watch his fellow students arrive.

There were four already in the room, all apparently regulars, talking quietly in French in the back corner where the two windowed walls met. Two of these wore indigo blue hakama like his own, wide traditional pleated Japanese pants that looked very like a skirt over their white cotton judo uniforms, black belts visible underneath the straps that cinched the skirt about their hips. The others were in plain white from ankles to necks, no colored belts, a very typical Iwama-style school: black or white, nothing in between but skill and long, deliberate practice. A minute later another student arrived, this time a woman, also wearing hakama, about five feet three, perhaps a hundred and ten pounds, dark hair, blue eyes, a kind, pretty face and a ready smile, probably mid-thirties. She looked straight at him with a smile and a small bow, which he returned, having risen quickly to his knees with his feet tucked beneath him, under his hips. She said something in French that he did not recognize, and he replied in English, “I regret I do not speak French, do you speak English, I’m Paul Cameron?”

She extended a hand, and said in accented English, “Hello, welcome, I am Elise Bourget. You are American?”

“Yes, yes I am, I am in Paris on business this week, and very happy to have found your dojo. Will you point out sensei for me, I would like to meet him before class and introduce myself,” he said.

“Oh, he is not here yet,” she replied, “he usually comes in at the stroke of the class start time, and we begin. You will probably have to wait until after class, but he will not mind. We are always pleased to have guests to train with. Now I had better stretch a little. Welcome, again, Mr. Cameron.” And she moved off several yards to an empty place on the mat.

There was no sign of anyone he would have thought to be Ripley, but he’d not expected to see him yet anyway, no reason for him to show up until later, near the end of the class. A soft ruffle brought his attention around to his left and he saw the teacher enter, drop to his knees, bow in the general direction of the shrine at the front of the room. He rose, clapped his hands loudly, and all the students made to line up near the rear of the room, facing front, all on their knees, in order of rank as was customary. He took notice that the woman Elise appeared to outrank one of the two men in hakama. He took his place next to the lower of the two, the white belts lining up to his left as two more came hustling in and joined at the end. Eight students in all, pretty typical for a weeknight class anywhere in America.

Sensei led the ceremonial bows and claps to begin class, and they spread out to warm up. Cameron watched the teacher carefully, mirroring his movements as they went through the unfamiliar warm-up routine. It was funny, he reflected, that everywhere he’d ever trained the techniques themselves were so very similarly practiced, and yet the warm-up routines seemed to come from different planets, some teachers placing great emphasis on limbering up the wrists and elbows, some focusing on stretching the legs and ignoring the arms altogether. He found he was also distracted, looking for Ripley, but he focused on breathing deeply with a long, loud rasping exhalation, “ki-breathing,” and he returned to the duty of the class.

Twenty minutes later, he sailed through the air for the tenth time to land in another soft roll on the mat and spring to his feet, facing toward the teacher who’d thrown him. “Hai, dozo” sensei said with a shallow bow toward him, “Please begin,” and the students paired off to practice the technique the teacher’d been demonstrating on each of them.

This time Cameron was paired with the senior student, a man about his height and weight but perhaps mid-thirties who moved with very obvious power and concentration, guaranteed to be a good partner. Cameron, the junior, was first to be thrown, and in a moment he was airborne yet again, reflecting as he flew that the man certainly had powerful aikido, fast, smooth, irresistible. Four times he flew, and then it was his turn to throw, he concentrated, breathed deeply, and did it perfectly, the overall feeling light and yet he tossed the man bodily across the room.

It went on like this for another hour, the partners alternating, he threw and was thrown by Elise on three occasions, by sensei once more, and by the senior student twice more, the techniques varying across the aikido repertoire in a way that reflected the teacher’s theme or emphasis for the night, without ever a word about how they were connected or what this emphasis was supposed to be. It was very Japanese, right there in Paris, but they were all used to it. By the time it was over and they had bowed and clapped again he was damp with perspiration but feeling exquisitely alive, focused, alert. It was always the same, he reflected, perhaps also very Japanese.

Cameron made his introductions to the teacher, and thanked him for allowing him to practice as a guest for the afternoon. He took a quick look around, glad to see that the other students were folding their hakama on the mats. He removed his hakama and laid it flat to begin the ritual of folding it, and the senior student approached, his own already done.

“I think we may have trained together before,” the man said in English, sounding American but with a hint of what must be a French accent. He stood now only a couple of paces away. “I’m not certain, but I believe it was at a weekend seminar in Indiana, perhaps three or four years ago, and the teacher was Matsuoka Sensei. Were you there?”

Cameron was amazed. “Yes, I was there, closer to four years ago, August I think it was.” He looked closer at the man, stood up, trying to find a memory, match the face, but he could not. He remembered a woman he’d trained with at the time, very light, very graceful, the best woman he’d worked with until tonight. He did not remember this guy, at least not specifically. “Are you American?”

“Yes, I am, but I spend most of my time here in Paris, have been here for nearly ten years now, it’s my home. What did you think of Sensei?”

“Excellent,” Cameron replied. “But . . .”

The man smiled and waved as he turned to go. “I’ll be back in a minute, I’m just going in to change, wait here.”

He was back in five minutes, wearing street clothes, his aikido equipment in a black duffle bag. Cameron had retrieved his own from the back corner of the dojo. He’d come in his judo pants, planned to wear them back to the hotel or wherever his rendezvous with Ripley might take him, but his jacket, hakama and black belt were now inside the bag and he wore a dark grey polarfleece over a dry tee shirt. He was drying his hair with a towel.

“That was an excellent seminar in Indiana,” the man said, “Matsuoka is amazing, a student of Segal Sensei’s you know? I remember you were quite good at the time, I thought, although I believe you were not yet shodan then, still wearing a white belt.”

“Yes, yes I was,” Cameron said, feeling uncomfortable, not remembering as well as this guy.

“Are you busy now?” the man said quickly. “Perhaps we could have a drink, perhaps some dinner?”

Alarm bells went off in Cameron’s head, and he shifted his weight automatically, balancing evenly on both feet, the bag hung light in his hand, his knees flexed slightly as he lowered his center of gravity. “Who the heck is this guy” he wondered to himself, and he saw the man’s hand reaching for the pocket of his duffle.

The smile broadened on the man’s face, and he said “Very good, Mr. Cameron, very good. But don’t be alarmed.” He produced a cap from the bag, and placed it on his head. “Boston Red Sox, Mr. Cameron. In Indiana my name was “Smith” if that helps you remember, although we only just barely introduced ourselves. Here, I’m Patrick Ripley. Now, let’s go find some dinner, we have a lot to talk about.”


Dusk fell very quickly, gloom descending onto the Hotel du Vieux Saule so that the unlit marquis could not be read from beyond twenty meters’ distance. The streetlamps as usual lent their charming ambiance to Paris-after-dark, but they were useless for anything else. Illumination on the sidewalk outside the hotel was confined to the pool of light spilling through the glass door of the lobby.

A dark, slender figure moved quickly into this pool, opened the door, and disappeared into the hotel, the early night returning to undisturbed quiet except for the motor traffic flowing by in either direction. Shops were closed, and there were few pedestrians about. But after perhaps five minutes, another dark figure moved into the light, this one big, heavy. Nobody was watching, but if they had been, they would have seen the big man look deliberately through the door and into the hotel lobby, pausing very slightly for a good look, before he resumed his brisk walk and passed on into the deepening Paris night.


“Spaniards? What are Spaniards? What are they doing in Paris, and why are they attacking . . .I mean, why would they attempt to break our business deal there? I do not understand, and I am very concerned!”

Jones looked from this transcript to another on his desk, making notes and thinking about the possibilities. This call had been recorded by Paris station only two hours ago, the Paris cellular number the results of Ripley’s activities yesterday. Now, thanks to that call, he also had not one but two cell numbers in Saudi Arabia. A search of NSA’s global listening program led to an earlier call, recorded as a matter of routine and not likely ever to be used for anything before today. Both Saudi cellular lines were now on the full-time watch list at NSA, the translated “product” to be flashed to his desk with the highest priority.

There was no doubt, from what he knew of Phoenix’s capers, that the two Arabic speakers were talking about the mugging he’d engineered in a dark alley north of the Eiffel Tower. Likewise, he had no doubt that if they could, these people intended to eliminate Falcon and his family once they were located. He was less certain, but strongly suspicious, that the Saudi Arabian end had a plan for violent mischief in Dhahran tomorrow night. He looked at the time and did the math: “Well, really only about sixteen hours from now before it’s dark tomorrow, Saudi time,” he said to his empty office. “Add a few hours, figure they want to make the hit around two in the morning the day after, and that makes about twenty hours from now, perhaps a little more.”

A moment more for thought, and he addressed a secure email to Ripley in Paris, with a copy to the embassy communications center so he would get it immediately regardless of where he was.


Two urgent warnings for you, Phoenix, and Falcon:

Cellular intercepts indicate strong likelihood that the Paris cell you have engaged is intent on liquidating Falcon’s contingent as soon as possible. Exercise extreme caution.

New cellular intercept making connection to Saudi cell, same organization probably. I strongly suspect that the Saudi cell intends action against a Falcon-related target in Dhahran area over the night hours tomorrow, Saudi time.

We are standing by to support any operational needs you may identify. Paris station has full text of all intercepts, and I will forward future material as it develops.

Let us know what you need.


He stabbed the send button and sat back, staring out the window at the full daylight of the fields and the edge of the woods. Something spooked a flock of birds that rose suddenly in a cyclonic spiral a few hundred yards away, and, reaching the level of the tops of the forest canopy, they streamed away southward. It was the inspiration he needed. A few clicks on the browser of his secure computer and he was looking at the very secret roster of agents available to the CIA mission in Saudi Arabia, a mission that had been steadily reinforced since the 9/11 attacks four years earlier. There were enough Operations people in Kingdom now, split between the Embassy in Riyadh and the two Consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran, to open and sustain a small war in a pinch. Well, maybe a very small war. They were there, in fact, for “snatch and grab operations” and for security for the embassies. Still, twelve para-military operators, highly trained, was a very dangerous bunch. He opened another secure email window, consulted the address book and entered the address to the Chief of Station in Riyadh, a man named Scaparatto, whom he did not know. He copied the DDO for effect, and typed:


Chief Scaparatto,

We have reason to expect an attack tomorrow night Saudi time on a target in Dhahran that is of considerable value to the Agency. We do not yet know the exact location, but I expect to have that in the next few hours.

I suggest you move all available in-Kingdom assets to a secure location in Dhahran tonight, and have them poised for what may be a “hot” snatch and grab operation. The subjects are almost certainly Al-Qaeda, armed and dangerous. Prepare the team accordingly. Detailed instructions to follow.


“Send”. Another email, addressed to the DDO only:


Just emailed Riyadh Station. The target in Dhahran is likely the home, or some other facility, owned by Falcon, Phoenix’s contact in Paris. We have phone intercepts on cell lines ID’ed by Phoenix and Ripley in Paris yesterday, linked to calls today from Saudi to Paris. If we move quickly we may be in position to grab some bad guys in Dhahran tomorrow night.


Next he worked the browser again to see what Ripley could call on in Paris if he needed muscle: not much, unfortunately. He got up from his chair, paced around the office twice, his hands opening and closing unconsciously as he did so, occasionally pausing to look out the window at the edge of the woods. Anyone watching would probably have described a man that looked like a caged tiger, all nervous energy, alert, intense, ready to spring at some prey just out of reach. He made another circuit around the office, wondering how he could pose the question to the Old Man, but nothing he could come up with seemed likely to work. He sat back down.

But the Boss must have been at his computer. He opened the email addressed to himself and Scaparatto, and Ripley:


Scaparatto—make it so, stand by for further instructions from Jones.

Jones—pick one guy from Ops here at Langley, once you’ve passed instructions to Riyadh, saddle up for Andrews, my plane will be waiting, you’re going to Paris. Keep Phoenix alive and healthy.

Ripley—terminate Paris cell of these bastards ASAP. Jones enroute with help. Do it as quietly as possible, but get it done.



Jones leapt out of his chair as though he’d just watched Notre Dame score a touchdown, but he managed not to scream. Two emails later he left his office, coat and briefcase in hand, back in the great game at last.

In his corner office, Randall Anderson sat thinking through what was obviously a very interesting situation indeed. There were risks, not least of which was the stink that might rise if any move in Paris were to attract too much attention from the French authorities. But from what he’d seen of Jones’s briefing at ten yesterday, there was something big in the works, something Al-Qaeda intended to do here in the States, probably soon, and he needed to know what, when, and where. He had always been a risk taker, and that was what his boss wanted him to be. Still, there might be noise in Paris today, and he’d need some top cover. He reached for the phone, and twenty minutes later he set it down, bawling through the open door, “Bobbie, call down to those miscreants in the garage and have my car and the detail ready; I’m to see the great man himself at the White House in an hour!”

XI. Paris

General Fahd could not believe what he was hearing. The women were in the next room, obviously upset at how angry he was, but he’d sent them there so that he and his son could be alone. The boy needed discipline, but he was an Arab, and this could not be done in front of women.

Mohammed had slipped out of the hotel. Sent down to the bakery in the lobby for rolls, cheese, juice for an afternoon snack for the family, he’d decided on his own to see some of the town. He was sick of hotels, he’d not been out for two days, and he was old enough, he’d thought. He was fascinated by the sights and sounds of Paris, and by the subway system. He’d simply walked out, boarded the subway with a system map, and decided to find the old hotel—there was no other target he could think of, and he’d wanted to prove he could do something. He’d got there easily, walked inside, had a coke in the lobby, lounged for a few minutes feeling sophisticated, very proud of himself. He was only gone about an hour all told, he did not completely understand why his father was so furious.

“Father,” he said again, standing up, defiant, “I am old enough to look after myself. What does it matter that I took a ride on the subway?”

“Mohammed,” Fahd replied, “it is not the ride that’s the problem. The problem is that you were sent to bring food, not to go sightseeing in Paris. And, the bigger problem is that you returned to our old hotel.”

“Why is that a problem Father?” the youth asked, still defiant.

Fahd thought. All right, he said to himself, it is time. “My son,” he began, “The problem is that we are in some danger. There are people here in Paris who may want to harm us, all of us, and also there are people back at home who may try to harm us. I have friends here, that is why we came, and I met them yesterday. I was followed, but my friends took care of that, and we moved so that those people” at this he scowled in disgust “could not find us again. But the old hotel is being watched, and it’s probable that you have led these villains back here. Now you have put your Mother, sister, brother, and you and me in danger again.”

“But, you didn’t tell me that,” Mohammed protested.

“I should not have to tell you everything,” Fahd insisted, becoming even more angry. “It should be enough for you to listen to me and to do as I say. I am your Father. Sometimes I will decide you do not need to know, but I expect you to obey.”

“Well, what if I do not?” asked the boy. “I’m old enough to know things, and if you will not tell me important things then I’ll do as I please. Anyway, I can take care of my Mother,” at this he puffed out his meager chest, “and I have friends in Dhahran who will help me if I call them . . .”

The strike stunned him and he fell to his right knee. “Where did that come from” was all his mind could form as he tried to come back to his senses. It took him nearly a quarter of a minute to be certain that his father had hit him in the side of the head with a closed fist, moving faster than he would ever have thought a man his age could move. His head hurt, his eyes were teary, and he found he could not get up just yet, but his hearing was beginning to work again.

“ . . .and when I say I expect you to obey, you will obey, or God help you my boy. You have no idea what you’re dealing with, none, and these friends of yours are exactly why we had to come here. We are al-Auda, you are al-Auda, and we will not sin against God and His Prophet, Peace be upon Him, by consorting with that kind of scum. They are a perversion, they are not good Muslims, but you are my son, and you WILL BE A GOOD MUSLIM.” He was yelling now, and with the last words he caught himself, abruptly silent. Fahd looked at the boy kneeling on the floor. The eyes were an impenetrable mix of fear, humiliation, sorrow, contrition, defiance. He’d struck his son. “Not good,” he thought, calming down now. “Mohammed,” he said more gently, “these people may want to kill us, all of us, even little Aziz. We must be careful, and you must listen and obey, if only for the sake of your family.”

The boy just sat there, saying nothing, and Fahd could not tell what he might do next. He did know he needed to make a phone call. He reached and ruffled his hair a little, felt the slightest response. “Good,” he thought, “it is a beginning.” He opened the door and slipped into the other room, where he found the cell phone and quickly dialed the number.


Colonel Cameron was drinking Coke again, this time with dinner, chicken for the second night in a row. “What is it with chicken and Paris this trip?” he mused, deeper in the jet-lag fog he knew would get deeper still. Ripley was still talking . . .

“ . . .slums in the Northern sector, about half way to de Gaulle airport. I’m thinking we might make a little field trip up there tomorrow, just to look around, see what these addresses and the neighborhood look like. Do you think your Saudi friend will be able to help?”

His phone rang, startling him out of the fog again, and he answered. Ripley’s phone rang just as the look of concern covered Cameron’s face, and the CIA station chief noted that as he flipped his open.

Ripley was still listening when Cameron said “Just a minute, Fahd,” covering the phone and saying, “Ripley, we have a problem . . .”

The latter was also very concerned, asking short, clipped questions and clearly not liking the answers, holding up a finger indicating that Cameron should wait. He checked his watch, nodded, gave instructions that he should be called in an hour with an update, and rung off.

“What’ve you got?” he asked, folding the phone away.

“My Saudi friend, General Fahd, has had a bit of a slip up. Seems his oldest boy, who’s with him here in Paris along with the wife, a daughter, and his youngest son, slipped out of the hotel I moved them to last night and went joy-riding on the subway. No problem with that, except the dimwit kid went back to the old hotel. No problem with that, except the old hotel is being watched by a nasty-looking hulk of an Egyptian thug. I spent three hours or so watching the hotel and him this morning.”

“Shit,” Ripley said. “Well, what I’ve got is worse. Is he still on the other end of that?” indicating the open phone.

“Yep, what’ve you got?”

“Langley has a phone intercept that looks pretty strong, says the General’s house or some other property in Dhahran may be hit tonight. Somebody doesn’t like him. Ask him what the address is, that’ll help us some.

This Cameron did, and he could tell General Fahd was upset. “Paul,” he said, “I need to make another call immediately. Stay at this line and I’ll call you right back when I’m done.”

“Right, will do. Fahd, keep everyone in the hotel for now. I have help. Talk to you shortly.” He hung up.

Looking at Ripley, Cameron said “Addresses in Saudi are a little iffy. Here’s the street address, but also a couple of landmarks nearby and some directions from a main road intersection, that usually works better. What’ve you got in Kingdom?”

“I have no idea. That was the Comms/Ops center relaying a message from Jones. He’s on the DDO’s plane, God help us, enroute to Paris from Andrews as we speak. Should be here in about,” he checked his watch again, did some mental math, “about five hours. They land at De Gaulle and clear customs there. We’re supposed to run an op here to see if we can round up this Paris group. Jonesey’s bringing one other guy, don’t know him but I’ve heard the name. We’re gonna be real busy.” He signaled the waiter to bring the check. “What do you think about the General’s hotel, Colonel?”

“Well, I guess that’s obvious. We need to make a low pass by there and see if the Pharaoh” he grinned, but the blue eyes had gone cold, hard, and dangerous, “has found his way there. If he has, we need to sort him out somehow.”

“Yep, just what I was thinking.” Ripley rummaged in a pocket for a wad of Euros, said “dinner’s on the Company,” and laid down enough to cover it. “Two things first, though. One, we need to pick up my car, we’ll do a drive-by on the first pass. Two, we need to get you into street clothes,” and he pointed at what was left of Cameron’s aikido garb, the white pants conspicuous under the table. “Car’s at the embassy, short walk to the metro, couple of stops south, then a couple of blocks again. We may pick up some equipment while we’re at it. Tell you what,” he said, looking at his watch again, “why don’t you go back to your hotel and change, I’ll meet you there in about an hour?” Cameron nodded. “Good. Now, just which hotel should I come and collect you from?” At this both men grinned broadly, then broke into hearty laughter.

Cameron recovered first. “Did I lose you on my way in from De Gaulle?,” he thought for a moment, “yikes, was that just yesterday morning?

“Yep, it was yesterday. You got it bad, don’t you? Ripley asked.

“Yeah, but at least it’s predictable. Happens this way every time I come East across the pond,” Cameron replied. “I’ll rally. But let’s get moving,” he stood up and collected his bag, Ripley did the same. “I’m at the Grand Hotel du Champagne on rue Jean Lantier, just off the Rue Rivoli. Do you know it?”

“No, but I’ll find it. Subway’s this way” he said as he led the way out the door, and they turned right down the walk.

Cameron’s phone rang, he flipped it open and said, “Nam, ya amid,” which is “yes, General.”

It was Fahd. “Paul, good news, the boys and the children are safe in al-Ha’il. I’m thinking of calling the Air Police at the Base to cover my house. What do you think?”

“Hmm,” Cameron replied, “Not sure about that. Hold a minute.” He turned to Ripley and asked, “What do you think about Fahd calling in the Saudi authorities in Dhahran about his house?”

Ripley shook his head, said “I think we’d rather he didn’t do that. I took what looked like a pretty official photo of what I assume is your General off the guy you had mugged last night.” Cameron looked surprised. “Searched him in the alley, he was still out cold. Nice touch, by the way, we need to talk about that later tonight. Anyway, I think someone on the inside fingered your pal, so if I were him I’d stay away from that for now. Also, the Company may be doing something to cover it, that’s why they wanted the address. Saudi police will make that more complicated.”

“Right.” Cameron went back to the phone. “Fahd, we think that might be a bad idea. However, we have probable American help on its way to Dhahran. If you can hold out, I think it’d be better to wait on any call for Saudi police until we know more. We should be with you there in less than two hours in any case, and we should have something else by then.”

“Very well, Paul,” the General said, “but it better be good. In the Kingdom, this is a Saudi problem. I’ll want to know exactly what’s planned before I become a part of it or allow it to go on in my country.”

“Of course,” Cameron said, “wouldn’t have it any other way my friend. Now, I’m getting on a train,” they were walking quickly and had reached the steps down to their station. “I’ll call you again in about an hour, but you call me if you see or hear anything suspicious there.”

“Right, thanks Colonel,” and both phones clicked off.

On the platform, Ripley said “You need the purple line one level down, this is my train,” as they felt the surge of air from the leading cars approaching in the tunnel to their left. I’ll see you at the hotel in an hour, maybe less. I’ll call you on that line” he indicated the cell, “before I come up.” The train stopped and the doors opened, Ripley moved quickly inside and seemed to immediately disappear into the crowd within.

Cameron looked again, couldn’t see him, and shook his head. “Real spooks,” he thought. He turned and headed to the escalator for the lower platform and his train back to Chatelet station.

An hour later, true to his time, Ripley pulled up in of the front door of the Grand Hotel de Champagne on Rue Jean Lantier, and before he had switched off the car Cameron came through the door, once again in black slacks, dark turtleneck sweater and the thigh-length navy blue coat. He carried a pair of black leather gloves in one hand.

The drove East on Rue Rivoli, then turned north after a few blocks at the Place Chatelet, and Ripley was saying “we’ll drive by on the hotel side of the street, you looking out your side and I’ll check the north side. We’re looking for a stocky guy you said, dark hair and complexion? What was he wearing when you last saw him?”

“In this light he’ll look like we shopped at the same store. Dark pants, shirt, coat. The hair is jet black, he has a nose that would make a pharaoh proud, and he is a big, awkward looking guy. He was not a very smooth surveillance guy, he should stick out like a sore thumb unless he’s gotten some fast training since eleven this morning.”

“OK, we’ll just make that pass and see what we see, then we’ll decide what to do next. If we see nothing, though, I think I’ll make a long turnaround, couple of blocks maybe, and we’ll make a second pass on the other side just to be sure. If the coast is clear, we park and go see the General. If it’s not, we call him, then we think a bit.”

“Fine,” said Cameron, and they both lapsed into silent thought.

Traffic was light, it took only another five minutes, and Ripley made the right turn onto the street they needed, slowing to just the legal limit. They drove slowly by the hotel, but saw nothing. “What’ve you got?” It was Cameron, still looking out his window, almost a block beyond the hotel. “I’ve got nothing on this side.”

“I got nothing as well,” Ripley answered, “I think. There was a really dark doorway I don’t quite like, about a hundred yards this side of the hotel. Didn’t see anything in there, but it’s worth another look. Time for the long 180, there’s a roundabout another two blocks northeast of here. We’ll double back there and you can take a closer look on your side. Open the glove compartment.”

Cameron did, and found the night vision goggles. “You know how to use those?” Ripley asked.

“Not these, but I used some about 17 years ago when we went drug smuggler hunting in F-15s down over the Gulf of Mexico." He turned on the dome light. "Ok, power switch is here. What’s this gizmo do?”

“That’s a dual-mode NVG, starlight/low light and infrared. Switch vertical is starlight, turn it clockwise ninety degrees and it’s in IR mode. Use IR for this pass. Power on now, if you will, to let ‘em warm up a little, here’s our turn. You can put them on and start getting used to it as we approach.”

Cameron held the goggles in his right hand. They were light, much lighter than the set he’d fixed to his helmet as a Captain with a jury-rigged bracket back in the day, and the image was sharper, clearer, higher contrast, but the field of view was still narrow. “Hey, let me know as we get close, this is a little like staring down a soda straw,” he said.

“About a block to go,” Ripley answered. “OK I can see the doorway, just beyond that long glass storefront window.”

“Bingo,” Cameron said as they cruised by, a combination of triumph and dread in his voice. He lowered the glasses. “That had to be him. Leaning against the door post like this morning against a lamppost on a street corner, right size, and it’s where I’d be if I was watching this hotel. Damned dark here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Dark of the moon and there’s a cloud cover. I’ll find a place to park in a block or so and we’ll think about this a little.

This they did, taking a right turn after rounding a curve four blocks beyond the hotel. Ripley reached down and ran his seat back few inches, then squirmed a little sideways to face Cameron, leaning against the door. “All right, what do you think?”

Cameron looked at his watch. “This morning I watched him long enough to see him make a phone call on the even hours, two hour reporting cycle it looked like, so it’s just past eight now. He’s not due to phone home again for a couple of hours.”

“Interesting, I hadn’t heard anything about AQ guys doing that kind of thing. Guess they’re learning; at least they don’t learn fast. This guy look tough?”

“Yeah,” said Cameron. “Big, tough, strong I think, but not fast probably, and not quick. You thinking of taking him?”

“Definitely. Jones’ message says the DDO wants us to take down this Paris cell, whatever its size I gathered, so we might as well start somewhere. I hadn’t bargained on starting tonight, though. Jones won’t get in until later with his cavalry.”

Cameron was thinking. “Question is, how long is the big guy planning on waiting there tonight? Is he just a watcher, or is he going to try and pop Fahd and the family himself sometime tonight? Or does he have help coming?”

“There’s a thought,” Ripley reached for his phone, hit the speed dial and waited.

“Hello,” came the deadpan voice.

“Viper” Ripley said. “Any activity on either of my north Paris taps lately, like since we last talked this morning?”

“Yes. The calls from Saudi I think you already have seen, but the cell phone gets pinged by the same guy every two hours. You want the translations, they’re pretty short, “nothing to report”, in Arabic. The last three we don’t have translated yet.”

Ripley thought a moment, doing math again. “I need the last two. Get the translators working double-time on those right now, I got a situation here. Can you give me a call when you have them?”

“Yes. Anything else?”

“Yeah. Any outgoing calls from the north Paris cell tap in the same period?”

“One, about five minutes ago, that’s in the queue. Do you want that right away as well?”

“You bet, ASAP. DDO’s priority, I’ll answer for it if I have to. Get them going, please, and call me as soon as you have them.”

“Will do.” The line went dead.

Turning to Cameron he said, “We got the cell phone and a landline on the Paris organization this morning, fruits of my labor with the little guy, Kisani, last night. Sounds like your watcher is calling the cellular line on his two hour cycle, nothing to report through translations six hours ago. My bet is his report of finding and tailing the kid is on one of the last two, probably the last one at eight reports the hotel address. Bad news is the cell up north made an outgoing call right after that report, or at least that’s my guess. We’ll know for sure when we get the translations, probably take about an hour.”

Cameron was thinking faster now. “What time did you say Jones and his buddy get to De Gaulle?”

“I figure around eleven. What are you thinking?”

“Well, I’m not sure. I’m guessing, probably same as you, that they guy up north may be arranging a hit on the hotel for later tonight. My guess is they wait until maybe two in the morning when things are really quiet, so we have some time. But I’m not sure we can wait for the cavalry, ‘cause I’m just guessing and I don’t want to be wrong. If we had to take the Pharaoh right now, do you think we could do it quiet enough, and what would we do with him?”

“We can take him anytime we like,” Ripley said, and Cameron could faintly see the lines of a smirk on his face in the dark. “But I think we can wait for the translations, an hour tops. Your Pharaoh won’t even make another phone call by that time, and I think the small hours of the morning for any hit is a safe enough bet. I think I’ve got the plan, here’s what we’ll do . . .”


“Fahd, this is Paul,” he said in English. I have bad news.”

A word in Arabic that he did not know came loudly through the earpiece. Then “Shit” in English. “Paul, what now? Is it my house in Dhahran, or the boys in al-Hail?”

“No, neither. You’re blown here again. There’s a nasty looking Egyptian watching the hotel from across the street and about a hundred meters East. Probably followed Mohammed, but don’t be too hard on the boy. I assume he didn’t know . . .”

“No, he didn’t know, but I’ve already been pretty hard on him. Paul, he’s going to be a problem.”

“We’ll deal with that later. Right now I need you to get ready to move again, but we’re going to have to move light this time. With my apologies, please ask Fadia to pack very light, only what you can carry. We’ll be moving on the subway.”


“Probably in about thirty minutes, an hour at the most. I’m booked at a number of hotels,” he chuckled briefly, “to confuse my own side, which really makes me laugh, but we’ll move you to one of those. Just for tonight. Tomorrow we’re leaving Paris, I’ll let you know where later tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on how things go. The ladies can shop when we get there to re-equip. Uncle Sam’s credit card again, my friend.”

“That won’t be necessary, Paul. I can handle it. Do we follow our plan to get into Saudi Arabia as we agreed earlier today, or has that changed?”

“No, no change, we go, just making a short detour is all. Why?”

“I need to make a couple of calls then. When do you think we will head that way?

Cameron thought for a moment. “I’d think in two days, maybe three at the most. Is that close enough to work with?”

“That’ll be fine. Let me ring off now and get things moving here, make my calls. Are you coming here?”

“Yes, when everything’s set, but I’ll call first. Don’t answer the door unless I tell you first by phone that I’m about to knock. These people are nasty, Fahd, we take no chances.”

Had he been in the hotel Cameron would have seen what Fadia saw on her husband’s face, something she had never seen before but which chilled her to the bone. It was an animal face, full of violence, the face of death that seemed to say to something she hoped was nowhere nearby “I am death, and I will come for you.” Instead they both heard Fahd say simply, “Leave some for me, Paul. I’ve had enough of being hunted, time to change roles. Call me before you come.”

“Will do, pal, will do.” They both rang off.

Cameron turned to Ripley. “I think my General is ready to kill something, and if he gets a chance anytime soon, I rather believe he’d do it just like that,” he clicked his fingers.

“I hope he doesn’t have to, Colonel. I really do, but I hope he’s ready to do it if it comes down to that. You ready to do this thing?”

“Ready Mr. Ripley,” Cameron was grinning the dangerous, reptilian grin, his eyes like ice.

“Then let’s saddle up.” Ripley got out of the car, Cameron also, and as they passed each other at the hood Cameron took the keys. Ripley looked at his watch. I’ll call you with a thirty-second warning, probably around five or six minutes after ten. Time now nine fifty-five.”

“Nine fifty-five,” Cameron looked back up from his own watch. Take care, Ripley.”

Ripley shrugged. “Big guys just fall hard.” He spun on his heel, rounded the corner and walked off East toward the hotel four blocks away, moving smooth, like a cat or like flowing water. Cameron swung behind the wheel and drove off to the end of the block, also turning East.


It had been a very long day, after a long night last night. He grinned with pleasure. The memory of the Lebanese whore made him smile, but there was nothing else that would have. He’d been up late, he’d gotten up early, he’d been outside most of the day and all night, and he had no hope of reprieve before this thing was done, God willing, at around two o’clock in the morning. Salah groaned aloud. His feet hurt, his phone was nearly dead; he wished he could go home to bed. He glanced at his watch. Ten o’clock. He reached for the phone and pressed “Send” twice, the phone auto-dialing the last number.

“Oui?” It was Ibrahim.

“Allahuakhbar” Salah said. “God is most Great. Ibrahim, I have nothing new to report. The Saudi is still in the hotel, all is quiet here.”

“Excellent Salah, excellent. I have everything arranged. You will wait there until two, the rest will meet you as we agreed, and then you take them. I will talk with you again in two hours, at twelve.”

“Ibrahim, my phone is nearly dead. Perhaps I should not call again?”

“No, you must call. Save your battery now, I’ll ring off. Call me at twelve, Salah. God is Great.”

“God is great” Salah said to the dead line. He pressed “End”, looked again at the battery indicator. Only one bar. “Probably won’t last that long,” he thought, but he had to make his call again at midnight. He switched off the power to conserve what he had left and dropped the phone in his pocket

Across the street to his right he could see the hotel marquis, dimly lit, and the semi-circular pool of light that came through the lobby door. He hoped whoever was coming had some kind of plan, something better than he could think of. Walking into the lobby, shooting or roughing up the night clerk and demanding the room number, barging into the hotel room with guns blazing or knives slashing seemed to him likely to land him in a French prison. Not what he had in mind when he’d begun working with Ibrahim. A chill ran down his neck. Killing a couple of women and a small child were not really his thing, what he was used to was roughing people up a little, maybe a broken arm or leg, a nose perhaps. Salah squirmed inside his clothes, cold sweat running on his back and legs despite the chill in the night air. He shook it off, thinking “I’ll go and get a coffee and get out of this damned cold in a few minutes. This guy isn’t going out this late anyway.” He looked at his watch.

A shadow moving very fast crossed between him and the lights from the hotel, then something hit him in the solar plexus, taking his breath away. Struggling for air, he lashed out with his right fist, trying to connect with whatever, whoever, was attacking him. He missed, but his fist, arm, shoulder, all the rest of him kept going. Salah couldn’t understand it, for a moment he knew he was off balance, falling forward still just barely standing on his right foot, and then everything spun vertically and he hit the pavement, hard. There was a flash of light inside his head, then everything went dark. He could still hear, although there was a roaring in his ears, and he hurt all over. Then there was a prick, something sharp, and he was embarrassed about where it seemed to be, laying there face down on the sidewalk, but a moment later hearing, feeling, and pain disappeared into an endless, deep blackness.

Ripley worked quickly. It took three zip-ties to bind the big man’s ankles together, only one long one for the wrists behind his back. Only ten seconds had passed by the time Cameron screeched to a halt at the curb. Ripley lifted the limp figure, way too easily Cameron thought, and opening the door with one hand he wrestled the man into the back seat, having to bend his neck awkwardly to get the feet in, the knees also bent to get the door closed. But it was done, and Ripley said simply “Drive” as he slammed the passenger door.

Cameron moved out, in no hurry at all, looking both forward and in the mirror for any sign of trouble or alarm. Nothing. “Which way to your lair, my leader?” he quipped to Ripley, who gave a short reply and went silent. Cameron laughed aloud and drove into the night

XII. Paris

With the slightest of bumps, the Gulfstream touched down on the runway at De Gaulle airport. Jones was already awake, thinking, but the steward at the front of the cabin had gone to sleep during the descent from ten thousand feet, and his new accomplice, David Allen, seemed as though he could sleep forever. The man had barely been awake at all during the seven hour flight from Andrews. As he looked, though, Jones saw that the eyes were open, and there was a gleam there under the heavy lids. Allen turned his head slowly in Jones’ direction, winked, and closed his eyes again. “Never know when you’ll next have time to sleep,” he said absently.

They rolled to a stop outside a large hangar on the general aviation side of the airport, and the stairs were let down while the turbines were still turning. First the crew, then the two passengers descended to the tarmac, where two French officials greeted them, accompanied by two baggage handlers. The pilots handled the French.

The bags went into the back of a seven-passenger van, Jones and Allen in the middle seats, and the two Frenchmen in the front. The Gulfstream pilots waived sarcastically as the van moved off, and Jones regarded the airplane: plain white all over, except for two blue and one silver stripe down the fuselage just under the row of windows, a U.S. “N-number” registration on the tail. Nothing to mark it as U.S. government, just another set of wealthy American businessmen come to work their magic in France.

The van made its way around the perimeter of the sprawling airport on a road that ran just inside the outer security fence. Twenty meters inside that one was another fence, clearly electrified in the truly bright glare cast by huge spotlights on poles ten meters high every hundred meters or so along the road. The French were taking no chances with security at this airport. The trip took ten minutes, the drivers apparently not intent on hurry, but in the end they arrived at an unused jet way at the north end of the new terminal building. Jones and Allen clambered out of the vehicle, were handed their bags, and shown up the steps through the jet way and into the terminal itself. From here they would join the regular airline arrivals to clear immigration and customs, and they began the long walk down the polished floor, following the signs.

Jones had been here before, of course, and so had Allen. The latter was now completely alert, walking with an easy, fluid pace, his eyes moving all the time as he scanned the sparse late-night crowd. He was not obvious, but to Jones he had the look and moves of a thorough professional. To anyone else he probably looked tired. To Jones he looked like he might be a very dangerous man. “Good company on this trip,” he thought.

They saw LaPlante at about the same time. He was reading a paper, sitting in a gate waiting area with his case and coat sprawled over two chairs. Allen began talking in French about their meeting tomorrow with executives of a French software company, and Jones fell into that language with no effort at all, pointing out himself that it would be an early morning, but that he was hungry for some dinner. The two men exchanged a look that told each what each already knew. They continued the flow of talk but walked on.

Renee thought the two men looked interesting. He’d not seen what plane they got off of, but he could check that. He knew that the corporate jets often had to have their passengers let in this way to clear the authorities. He envied the rich. But the man on the right, in particular, had a walk that he knew well enough, and he did not think it was the walk of a man who was planning a meeting with software executives tomorrow. He looked at his watch—just after eleven-fifteen. His shift was over, and there were no more arrivals or departures tonight to worry about. While the two men he would follow moved further down the terminal, he collected his things, and when they were a hundred meters away he got up to begin the chase.

At the end of the terminal the two Americans turned the corner into the immigration area, and cued in the line for “other arrivals” while most of the other passengers, few though they were, moved through the EU lines as quickly as they could and into the baggage area. They spoke little or not at all, each looking through the meager crowd for signs of another watcher. One or two people were already using cell phones, despite the signs that prohibited this, and Jones was thinking of using his to see what had been happening during their flight when LaPlante rounded the corner twenty yards away. “No need to give him an excuse,” he thought, giving Allen a look, and he moved to his turn at the immigration counter with the false passport in the name of William Murphy ready in hand.

Allen did not turn, but waited patiently, still watching the last of the crowd. He fumbled for a moment in his briefcase and produced a ticket folder, scanned it, checked his watch, made a show of looking around for a clock on the wall. This he found, and after stowing the ticket folder, having noted LaPlante, he re-set his watch to local time. It was his turn for the immigration clerk, and he approached the counter.

“What is the purpose of your visit to Paris?” the man said rudely, holding out his hand for the passport Allen handed across.

“Business,” Allen said, disinterested but polite.

“And what is your business, monsieur, and how long will you be staying in France?” pressed the clerk.

“I am in the computer business,” Allen replied, “we customize enterprise software for mid-sized companies. My firm has several clients in Paris and I’m here for a routine check on the progress of our projects. I’m usually here for a week, occasionally ten days, but it will depend on whether there are any problems to be solved.”

The clerk tried to look unimpressed. He wondered how he could go to school, get into this computer business, travel, be important, make money. These Americans. Well, the papers were in order, there was no reason to delay any further, and he was finished for the night in three quarters of an hour anyway. He stamped the passport and closed it, adding the required “welcome to Paris, monsieur” as he handed it across the counter to Allen who took it, saying nothing, and walked on into baggage claim.

He found Jones with the cell phone to his ear, listening intently, eyes looking dangerous. They walked to the customs pass at the end of the baggage hall, through the lane marked “nothing to declare” and out into the transportation mall. There were few people.

The two men made a show of shaking hands, talking low and smiling at one another. “Meet you at the hotel Agora in St. Germaine,” Jones said. You take the train, St. Michel stop, keep the tail if he follows you. I’ll go by taxi, and call you with instructions once he’s chosen. Have to think about this, and I need to make a call to Ripley, the local guy, to make a plan.”

“No problem,” Allen smiled again, gave the proffered hand a brisk shake, turned on his heel, and headed for the ticket booth to buy a transport pass.

Jones went left, straight for the doors to the outside, and found the taxi cue empty but two taxis waiting for a fare. He hailed one, heaved his bag into the back seat, and as he contorted his body into the car he looked hard at the bank of doors where LaPlante would have to exit if he was going to follow, but the man was not there. “Good,” he thought. He was not yet certain what he wanted to do, but for now, he wanted this guy, who he assumed was a Paris policeman, to stay relatively close. Might be useful, depending on what Ripley had in play.

He’d called the comm. Center, who’d told him that Ripley had taken down one of the terrorists, and where, and that he and Cameron had taken the suspect to a hotel in St. Germaine. Jones thought that was a strange choice, but he was getting used to Cameron’s unpredictability and imagination, so he was not that surprised. He did not yet know whether they’d done anything else about the possible attack on Falcon for tonight, and that was what he must know soon if he was going to get into the act.

The taxi was rolling, he’d given an address he knew in North Paris, near Sacre Coeur, where he planned to switch to the subway himself and proceed from there to the Agora. He settled into the seat and opened his phone again, entered the number he needed, and waited.

“Nam?” answered the voice after only one ring.

“Hello, my name is Smith, calling from Phoenix, USA,” Jones said, a little surprised by the greeting. This was supposed to be the cell number Cameron had picked up . . .when was it? This morning? “Jet lag sucks” he thought.

“Phoenix,” said the voice on the other line. “Well, I’m not sure you have the right number.” There was a pause, then “What was the name of Lawrence’s book about his time with the Arab resistance?”

Jones was briefly startled, then said, a broad grin on his face, “Hello Mr. Cameron. Seven Pillars of Freedom was the title. Are you secure there, and is Ripley with you?”

“Good evening Mr. Smith,” Cameron replied, clearly pleased on the other end of the phone. ”Yes, we’re at the Hotel Agora, in St. Germaine, Ripley is with me, and, ahh, our guest is here as well.”

“Wonderful. I think I should speak to Ripley, then, if he can spare a few minutes. I need to get up to speed and I suspect we have a time press on our hands.”

“We do, and he’s just finishing up with our friend. I need to get moving, too, here’s Ripley.”

Cameron handed the phone over as Ripley came out of the second bedroom of the suite where he’d been working on the Egyptian they now knew was called Salah. It’d taken quite a cocktail of drugs to partially revive the big man from the near-coma Ripley’d put him into with the hefty dose of valium, but in the end he’d come to in just the right state for an informative conversation. Still bound hand and foot but in no pain at all laying there on one of the beds, Salah had confirmed what Ripley was already pretty sure he knew. Salah was a foot soldier, not as nasty as he looked, not a kingpin by any means, a small fish. He did know the cell number for the bigger fish up north, his near-dead phone confirmed he’d dialed the number every two hours all day today. He called the big man Ibrahim, sheik, and a few other respectful things, he had an address, which Ripley already knew, but he also named two restaurants in the same neighborhood. Beyond that he was pretty useless.

“Smith” Cameron said as he handed over the phone.

“Mr. Smith, how good to hear from you. You’ve come to Paris, I believe?”

“Uh huh,” Jones’ voice came back. “I have, and I have one associate with me, who I believe has attracted a guest of his own. He’s headed your way, guest in tow. I thought the man might be useful, but I need to know your situation.”

Ripley frowned briefly, then gave a quick summary of their actions since eight o’clock tonight. “We think the last call our friend here made set the time for a hit on the hotel. He doesn’t speak much English, sad to say, but the Colonel has some Arabic and we’re pretty sure that’ll happen around two in the morning, a little more than two hours from now, give or take depending on how prompt these guys are.” He paused. “What do you have in mind, and who’s Allen’s guest?”

“Looks like a Paris cop of some kind, very alert guy, picked us up as we walked down the terminal at De Gaulle. Kept his distance, but I’m pretty sure he’s following Allen, on the subway.”

“Just a minute,” Ripley said, covering the phone, he turned to Cameron. “Hey, Colonel, did you say some guy eyeballed you at the airport when you came in the other day?”

“Yeah,” Cameron replied. He was shrugging on his coat, preparing to leave. “I’ve got to get moving to get the family moved. Why?”

“Smith's got a guy following him. Can you describe your guy?” Ripley proffered the phone.

Cameron took it, quickly describing LaPlante from his own quick observations in the airport and earlier today from the restaurant window. Jones grunted assent that meant, “same guy”, and Cameron added, “be careful with him, then, Mr. Smith. The guy is spooky, nearly spotted me through a plate glass window this afternoon by accident, completely random event, but he’d only seen me for moment a day earlier. The guy’s some kind of spook. Now I gotta go.”

He handed the phone back to Ripley, then made a cutting motion across his own throat and gestured to have it back. Ripley gave over his own number and closed the line.

“Any change in plan, Colonel?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so. You?”

“Maybe, I’m still thinking. Anyway, I’ll call you in a few hours and we can compare notes, make adjustments if necessary. Get moving now, take care, Colonel.”

“You too, Ripley. Don’t make too big a mess tonight.” A pause, and he added, “nice training with you again.”

“Same, now get outta here, talk to you later.”

Cameron nodded, opened the door, and was gone.

Ripley sat staring out the window at what could be seen of the Paris skyline down the narrow street. It wasn’t much. He looked at the small table across the room, then at his watch, considering whether to turn on the phone and do something at midnight when Salah, presumably, should be making his call to check in. He decided against it, nothing to gain there but a phone number he already knew, and a voice he already had recorded. No, better to leave that, let the phone be off and seemingly dead, he’d already checked the battery.

Looking back out the window he continued to struggle to put the pieces together. Somewhere in his mind he’d made a connection, but he couldn’t quite bring it to the surface. He lapsed into the slow, rasping breathing routine, clearing his thoughts. As expected, it came to him in a time he could not name until he looked at his watch: five minutes. Amazing, the passage of time.

He rose and began to sweep the hotel suite, thinking carefully of everything he’d touched. He took a washcloth from the shower, wet it and lathered it up with soap, and began to wipe things down. This took another seven minutes. He returned to the bedroom where Salah once again lay snoring loudly. He decided to leave him bound, no sense in not sending a subtle message to his friends in the FNP. He gathered up his equipment, stuffed it all into the black duffle it’d come in. Back out in to the sitting room and he made one last sweep. “Well, I’ve probably missed something, but then again, they’ll know someone was here anyway,” he mused. On an afterthought, he picked up Salah’s phone and pocketed it. It would be cute to leave it for the French, have them sort out the rest of the Paris gang for him, but he wanted the rest of the numbers for himself, and there was no time now. He grinned at the missed chance for mischief, and shrugged unconsciously. He took one last look around the suite, then walked to the door, opened it with his washcloth, and left.

Cameron was perhaps fifteen minutes ahead of him now. “Not enough,” he thought. The washcloth went into a laundry chute in the hall, and he was down the elevator and out on the street a few moments later. He walked a block west and stepped into the coffee shop where Colonel Cameron had begun this very, very long day. The tired waitress took his order, and while he waited, he dialed the phone number Smith had given him, and waited.

XIII. Northern Paris

Ibrahim lay on his bed, unable to sleep, mulling over the events of the last two days. “Extraordinary” was the only word that he could conjure up to describe them. They’d started out simply enough: a simple assignment, follow a Saudi general and see what he would do in Paris. But things seemed to have gotten rapidly out of control, and now he was sending some of his people, not wholly reliable people he reminded himself, to kill a family in a Paris hotel. “Madness” was the new word this realization conjured up.

He turned to his left and looked at the digital clock on the table beside the bed: twelve-seventeen. Salah should have called as instructed. Ibrahim looked back up at the ceiling and tried to make sense of his discomfort. He sorted and re-sorted the last two days to see if the events fit together in some way that made sense. He shook his head. They didn’t seem to. Everything had a good, solid explanation, and he was about to put an end to the worrisome general. He closed his eyes again, determined to sleep.

Ten minutes later he opened them again, the feeling would not go away. Getting up, he went into the living room, sat on the shabby couch, and opened his own cell phone. He dialed Salah’s number and waited. Two rings, and then the female techno-voice began to tell him in French that the number he’d dialed was not available. He hung up. “Probably the battery is dead,” he argued. He walked back into the bedroom, intending to get back into the bed. Instead he stood there, looking out the thin curtains on the window at the night beyond.

Without really thinking about it, he crossed the room to the closet, found a duffel bag on the floor, and slung it onto the bed. Coming out of the trance, he looked at it there, open, empty, waiting; he marveled at whatever had made him do that. Still, he decided, “Allah is merciful.” With a purpose now, he began to go through the closet, throwing things he might need onto the bed, moving to the small chest of drawers for other things. Soon there was a good sized pile, and he began to fold it all neatly into the bag.


The taxi driver was tired and ready to get rid of this fare, but the man didn’t look like the kind one could just kick out of the car, regardless of how late it was. He looked in the mirror again, but the face was difficult to see in the shadow cast by the back of the front seats. “Just drive” the voice said menacingly, sending a chill through the cabbie that made his bowels feel watery. He put his eyes back on the road and said an Ave Maria, resolving not to look back again.

They were headed back north, not quite having reached his subway stop, but about as far away as he could have been from where Jones now wanted to get, as fast as he could. He did not know this part of Paris, but it was after one o’clock and there was virtually no traffic, so he thought the cabbie could make a little better time. “How much longer?” he asked, still in the harsh voice.

“Perhaps ten minutes, monsieur. I do not know this part of the city well. Are you sure of the address?”

“I’m sure, just drive, and pick up the pace, will you. I’m in a hurry.” Jones retreated further into shadows of the back seat to think about what he would do when they got there.


David Allen emerged from the subway stop at St. Michel, checked quickly behind him, and, not seeing LaPlante, dialed a number on his phone. He listened for thirty seconds, grunted, and snapped it back into the clip on his belt. Without hesitation, he spun round and headed back down the stairs. At the bottom he spotted LaPlante, coming toward him, but he pretended not to notice. Instead he affected a look of confusion, scanning wildly about for a subway system map, and seeing one, walked over to it and studied it for a moment. He dug into his pocked for a piece of paper, looked at it, and then back at the map, reaching up with his free hand to trace the Brown and then Purple lines from the Marais to St. Michel. Satisfied with his course, he turned again, caught LaPlante watching him from the stairs up to the street, and went straight for the escalator down to catch the train to Marais, his new destination the Hotel du Vieux Saule with LaPlante in tow.

Fifteen minutes and he was there, coming up onto the street, a left turn toward the hotel that allowed him a peak to his left to see LaPlante falling in behind. He dialed his phone.

“Yes?” It was Ripley’s voice.

“I’m nearly there. Any change?”

“No,” Ripley replied. “I’m there already, third floor, room 319. Call me when you get to the third floor so I don’t shoot you on the way in. Your friend still with you?”

“Yeah. See you in a minute or two.” Allen rang off. He checked his watch as he crossed the street, it was one-thirty. A moment later he stepped through the hotel door, looking to his left, into the bakery as though looking at the sign for the shop’s hours. Once he was past the dozing desk clerk, he turned to the elevator, thought better of it, found the stairs and walked up.

Ripley sat at the window, looking out at the street, waiting. He saw LaPlante round the corner just as Allen disappeared beneath him. The Frenchman walked slowly up the opposite side of the street and disappeared into the same dark doorway where he’d taken Salah just over three hours ago. He shook his head to wake up. “Gotta stay sharp.” His phone vibrated and he headed for the door, drawing the 10 millimeter S&W Pistol with the long silencer from its place at the small of his back.


It was cold now, especially snugged into the arched stone niche that surrounded the door. LaPlante had not planned on being out all night. But the man he’d followed did not seem to Renee to be what he wanted to appear to be. He was good at disguising his walk, his mannerisms, but LaPlante was good at this, and he thought the man reeked of “intelligence agent.” He’d used his phone already to confirm with his headquarters that no known French agent had arrived by private jet at De Gaulle tonight. “No ‘known’ agent,” he groused to himself for the third time. “Merde, those shits at headquarters. Everyone thinks they need to keep secrets.” Still, he didn’t think this man was French. He was nearly sure he was American: the shoes, Renee thought, were American. An American agent in Paris at this time of night, running all over town on the subway, was certainly interesting and worth a little discomfort. At least it wasn’t raining.

A look at his watch showed he’d been waiting for fifteen minutes, and he was on the point of crossing the street to quiz the desk clerk on the man who’d just entered the hotel, when he stopped and faded back into the deep shadow of the door. Four men were walking up the other side of the street, in his direction and that of the hotel. He could not really see four men, but they were talking, and he could hear them walking along in the near-silent night, no traffic to be heard anywhere. It was four, he was sure of that, and he willed his eyes to pierce the darkness. Nothing. “Probably a bunch of drunk teenagers,” he murmured under his breath. He continued to watch, knowing they would pass under the awning of the hotel and through the pool of light on the sidewalk outside the door. Then he would cross and begin his work.

They were there in another thirty seconds, but he was shocked when they turned abruptly, hurled open the door and piled through it. “What’s this?” Something was not right. Renee’s brain was in overdrive, sorting what he saw. “Shit,” he yelled aloud. He fumbled for his phone, dialed, and waited for an answer. On the third ring he couldn’t wait any longer and he began to walk briskly across the street for the door of the hotel. The four men, and there were definitely four, hadn’t been in a hurry, they’d stormed the door, like an attack of police or infantry. They were all dark-haired, certainly not fair-skinned at all, but he could not say more in the short glimpse and poor light. He was nearly across the street when the other end picked up.”

“FNP Headquarters.”

“This is LaPlante, Detective Inspector Renee LaPlante. I have an emergency and need an immediate counter-terrorist squad at,” he looked up at the address on the awning, and moved to the side into the shelter of the brick wall so he would not be seen from the lobby, “Number 6 rue de Picardi, the Hotel Vieux Saule. NOW!” He was yelling. He leaned to his left, peeking through the door. There was no clerk visible at the reception desk.

“Hold a moment Inspector,” the voice said blandly.

“Shit!” Renee said again. He hoped he was wrong, but his guts told him four Arabs had just entered this hotel to attack the American he’d just followed. And he was unarmed, as usual for the airport duty. No gun, nothing.

“Inspector, I have a team enroute. They should reach you in fifteen minutes.”

“Shit!” he yelled into the phone. “There may be dead people here in five minutes! Tell them to hurry, for God’s sake, and tell them to call me NOW on this number.” He read it, listened to the repeat, and hung up. Moments ticked by, the phone didn’t ring. “Go in?” he thought, “have a look around, maybe go up the stairs? See if the desk clerk is OK? Maybe this isn’t what I think and the clerk has just gone to the WC?” “No,” the other half of his brain replied. “I know what I saw, and I have no chance, unarmed, against those 4. If they finish in the hotel and come out through the lobby, they’ll finish me as well. I’ll wait.” He peered cautiously around the corner again. Nothing.

The phone rang and he nearly jumped out of his skin. “LaPlante,” he answered.

“Inspector, we are enroute to your location. What is the situation there?”

“Who is this?” LaPlante asked.

“Squad Leader Olivier, sir. What is the situation there?”

“Olivier, listen carefully. I am certain that four Arab men have just stormed this hotel, not more than fifteen minutes after a man I believe to be an American agent entered it. You must hurry. How long?”

“Eight minutes, sir, no more.”

“Make it three, or I’ll strangle you myself when you get here. Whatever is happening here, it will be over in eight minutes.” LaPlante could just make out a new roar from the vehicle. Olivier must be driving.

LaPlante could not believe it could take so long. He left the line open, peeked around the wall again into the lobby, again seeing nothing. He retreated, and leaned back to wait.


The attack had been about what he’d expected. A sharp knock on the outer door, a pause, and then they’d broken it down. He’d been surprised by the silenced weapons, a nice touch, but they’d been as cold, ruthless, and stupid as he thought they’d be. They came through the door bunched up, no discipline to cover the room, and they’d begun to fire immediately at the beds and the pillows bunched under the blankets. They’d spoken in what he knew to be Arabic, nothing else sounded like that.

Ripley had taken the lead man center of mass, a double tap to the chest from the big ten millimeter. It hurled the man backward into the next following him, but as the two collided Allen fired his first volley, taking number two from the side and forcing him to his own left, out of the way of the third man. Everyone was firing now, and Ripley had felt a round or two strike the heavy wooden chest he’d hidden behind. Number three and four had kept firing, not seeing, or not understanding what was happening even as their leaders went down. Without a pause his weapon came back down into battery, the sights settling in the middle of a dark face, mustache, still shooting at beds, oblivious of the death about to strike him. Two quick pulses of his trigger, the first round took him in the forehead, and he dropped his aim enough to put the second through the chest. He heard a last “phhhhhuttt” from Allen’s gun, a scream, and then mostly silence. Feathers from the pillows floated everywhere, smoke and the smell of cordite mingled with the familiar odor of fresh death.

Both men moved quickly. Allen went to number four, who he’d only shot in the knee, nearly blowing the leg off. The man was moaning softly, eyes closed. Ripley frowned at his new acquaintance, and, their eyes both so well adjusted to the dark, Allen smiled back visibly and shrugged. “They were all down, it was a good shot, just for practice. Besides, quick is too kind for this kind of crap.” He nudged the man’s mangled leg, drew a sharp moan, and then the man passed out.

Each quickly searched the dead, pocketing wallets from all four. Ripley stood and hissed, “Let’s MOVE,” and he disappeared through the broken door. “Leave him, maybe the FNP will get something out of him, and I’ll get it from them by the end of the week.”

Together they ran to their left, away from the stairs and elevator that led to the lobby. At the end of the hall they turned right, down another long hallway, the east side of the building. At the end of this there was an exit door, already open, and they went through, closing it behind them. From there, down the fire escape three floors to the street. The alley opened two blocks west, and another two blocks east, nothing near the immediate front of the hotel. Ripley’s car was there. He fired up as Allen shut his door, and drove slowly down the alley to the east, turning south onto the boulevard and steering for the US Embassy. It was six minutes after two in the morning.


The counter-terror squad arrived noisily at five minutes after two, just as the shooting finished on the third floor. The team piled out, Olivier storming over to LaPlante. “Anything?” he asked.

“Nothing,” LaPlante replied. He looked at the troopers, thinking “good, very good.”

“I’ll lead, then, follow my last man and stay out of the way,” Olivier said. He motioned to his team, made two hand signals. The team formed up, two men went through the door and stopped to cover the lobby, two more dashed into the lobby, leapfrogged past them. They took up positions at the entrance to the bakery and under the reception desk’s counter. Nothing moved. The rest of the team and LaPlante walked in, looking around.

LaPlante smelled it first: blood. He waked deliberately to the desk, then around it through the half door. The young man was dead, a pool of dark blood under him on the polished sandstone floor. He’d been shot twice in the chest.

“Shit,” Olivier hissed from over his shoulder. “Any idea what floor these maniacs are on?” He gave two signals, and four men moved to the stairs and elevator. One gestured down the hall to the east, and Olivier acknowledged with a waive that sent him halfway to the end.

“None,” said LaPlante. Then he looked at the desk above the dead man; there was both a book and a computer screen. Stepping carefully to avoid the blood and not spoil the crime scene, he took the book. One glance told him nobody had checked in after seven o’clock the previous evening. Many Americans earlier yesterday, but all apparently couples. A Saudi family the night before, or Arab at least. Al-Auda. That was a little odd, but Saudis often came to Europe. There was a note in the margin with another name: “Paul Cameron.” The light went on.

“Third floor,” LaPlante said aloud, too loud. “Room 319. MOVE!”

Olivier was quick, hand signals again, two men went up the stairs, another two had the elevator open. Another went down the hall, joined his partner, and together they ran to the end, made the right turn and disappeared. Olivier held up five fingers, ticked them down one by one, and at zero the elevator closed and went straight to the third floor.

They could all smell the cordite when the door opened, the two men on the stairs arriving almost at the same time as the elevator. Now they moved slower. Olivier spoke into a microphone, quietly, requesting another squad and a crime scene unit. He motioned to the stair team, which scuttled down the hall to just short of the open doorway, low along the wall. The hall team rounded the corner at the far end, and saw Olivier’s signal. They took up positions ten feet away from 319. Across the hall, a door clicked briefly open, a head peeked out, and then abruptly closed.

Otherwise it was quiet. Olivier cocked his head for a moment, listening. Then he stood up and walked casually down the hall and into the room, lowering his submachine gun. He was no longer worried.

LaPlante was right behind him, what he saw was a mess. Three dead men, the hotel room a shambles. One man shot, moaning in pain on the floor. All the men were armed, bullet holes in the walls, furniture, all the beds, feathers everywhere. He shouted suddenly “BACK DOOR!”, turned and ran out. Olivier turned as well, the gun coming up. They rounded the corner and saw the “Sortie” sign over the door at the end of the hall. LaPlante ran harder. He burst through the door onto the fire escape landing, leaned over, looked down to the alley below. Nothing. “Shit,” was all he could say. He turned back into the hall and shoved Olivier aside. It was nine minutes after two; Rene LaPlante was three minutes too late.


Twenty miles north, Jones was a very frustrated man. The cab had dropped him off where he thought he should be, but he could not find the address he was looking for. The neighborhood was a warren of crooked, narrow streets, and nothing he tried had worked. He’d spend nearly twenty minutes searching. Now he’d found it, but it was dark, quiet, nothing moving. He’d been watching the building for a minute and a half, trying to decide what to do.

He was unarmed, of course, right off the plane, with his luggage in tow, but no help in there. He assumed the man he was looking for was armed, or he figured he had to assume that. “Not good busting in on an armed bad guy at two-fifteen in the morning unless you’ve got something to trade,” he murmured to the damp darkness around him. He moved on down the street for a block, found a wrought iron fence with sharp spikes on top, and looked at it in the gloom. He gave the nearest spike a half-hearted yank, but it was solid as, well, iron, and he gave that up.

“No good,” he said aloud to the darkness. “No good at all, and it’s no use getting killed by this guy tonight.” He reached into his pocket for the cell phone, and dialed Ripley.

“Speak,” Ripley answered.

Jones heard the car in the background. “This is Jones, but I’m not packing, and I figure this guy might be a little shy. Do you have his phone number?”

“Wait one,” Ripley said, then he read it off. “Got it?”

“Got it,” Jones said. “Let’s see if I can flush him.”

“Careful, Jones. Call me when you have something, but don’t make a mess.”

“No problem.” Jones stabbed the “END” button. He dialed the Paris number. Three rings, four, and an answering machine picked up. There was a greeting that said simply “leave a message” in French, then the tone. Man’s voice, smooth, excellent French, like a native. He hung up. Jones looked across the street at the wide building, three stories, the apartment he wanted was number 125, on the ground floor. “There might be a window at the back,” he mused, “maybe no drapes, I take a peek inside, see if I can get in nice and quiet.” But he shook his head, “no good. Didn’t come all this way to die stupid.”

It was a judgment call, to be sure. Smart money walks away at a time like this, but Jones, fresh from his desk job and charged up by the long flight and his pseudo-chase across North Paris simply could not let it go. On his side of the street still, he walked east for a hundred meters until he felt sure he was lost from the view of the window he was interested in. He crossed the street, pulling the wheeled luggage, turned back west toward the apartment building. He was there, and he turned up the walk, leaving the bag standing on the side of the road, walking casually like he owned the place, or lived here. He stopped at the edge of the front window, listening. There was a dim light on in the back room, he could see the corner of a window on the back side of the building, but there was no one visible, no one moving. He backed away and to his right for moment, considering the spacing of the windows and doors, gauging the size of the apartments. Now he frowned. He turned and walked to the center of the apartment block where there was a breezeway through to the back of the building. Very slowly, very quietly now, he moved toward the rear window of apartment 125, sure now that this must be the bedroom. He found the window, and with his back pressed hard to the wall he craned his neck to his left to peer inside. Nothing. The dim lamp showed the foot-end of a bed, and an empty wall opposite it. There were no feet. Slowly, quietly still, he retraced his path to the breezeway, back out to the road and his bag.

He looked at the sky, and around in a 360 degree sweep of the near horizon of low buildings. It was brightest to the South, more city lights still on that way. He took a last forlorn look at the apartment, cursed under his breath, and headed down the street, hoping to find a small hotel or at least an all-night club where he could sit down and have something to drink to kill the few hours remaining before dawn. As he walked, he flipped open the phone and re-dialed Ripley.


“It’s Jones. I think our guy has done a runner. Can’t be certain, but I got as close as I could unarmed, doesn’t look like he was in the apartment to me. Any chance you took him at your hotel?”

“No, I don’t think so. I hate to lose this guy. What do you want to do?”

“I’ll find a place to hang out for a couple of hours, maybe catch a nap, drop back by the apartment about seven to see if I see him either leave or return.”

“Good,” Ripley said after a brief pause. “I’m sending Allen back to you with a present that should make your next visit more fruitful. He’ll come in a taxi, here’s an address,” and he read off the name and address of the Kabob restaurant he’d gotten from Salah two hours ago. “Allen will meet you there, probably take him an hour, maybe a little more.”

“Right, see him then,” Jones finished, closing the phone.

XIV. Southern Paris

Colonel Cameron fell onto the bed at the hotel, dead tired and convinced that finally he’d break his jet lag routine. He closed his eyes, lusting for instant sleep, but it wouldn’t come. He struggled to get comfortable, squirmed about on the bed, threw off the covers completely for a few minutes, then gathered them up again and piled them on. Nothing. After thirty minutes he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling through the semi-dark of the room.

Fahd and family had done well, moving quickly and light, leaving a small fortune in luggage and clothes behind. Mohammed had not been the problem he’d expected, but Fahd had given a cautioning look and a cock of his head. The boy seemed cowed, maybe even repentant, but something was smoldering there. Fadia was frazzled, frightened, and very talkative, but he’d not had enough Arabic to keep up.

They’d taken the metro well south, almost to Orly Airport, far from the tourist districts of Paris where he hoped he would be well clear for the night from both the people hunting Fahd and the French police that would soon be very active indeed. Ripley’s plan would make sure of that. He needed to be well away, he hoped this was far enough for tonight.

He looked at the bedside clock—a nod to American custom, this was a Holiday Inn—it was just after three a.m. Whatever was going to happen should already have gone down, unless he was way off the mark. The cell phone was there, but it remained silent. He turned back to the ceiling and alternated between that and the window, the lights of Paris far to the north beyond.

The plan for now was to get up in the morning, work the internet or a travel agent they hoped to find in this general neighborhood, buy airline tickets and leave France, tomorrow if it was possible but certainly by the day after. Whatever time they had to kill would be spent shopping. He had his own bag, recovered from his first hotel, but the family had only light carry-on bags. In any case, they would take tickets to just about anywhere they could get that was outside of France, and they’d work on the onward journey back to Saudi Arabia from wherever that ended up being, maybe England, maybe somewhere else on the continent.

The next thing he knew Cameron was swimming up out of deep sleep, the noise of the alarm clock loud in his ears. He swatted at it to turn it off, cursing to himself that it could not be time yet. The thing kept going. His mind began to work, and he realized it was not the clock, but the phone ringing, and he fumbled with it, finally answering with “Hello?”

“Colonel, it’s Ripley. I assume you’re all secure for the time being?”

Still groggy, he was slow to reply, then said, “Yeah, yes, we’re OK. How did it go on your end?”

“It went fine, but we made a bit of a mess as you would put it. Some bad guys are out of the game for good at any rate. That’s the good news. Two bits of bad news, however. One, Smith did not locate the big man up north, he may have smelled us somehow and skipped town. If so, he’s a very smart guy and that worries me. Anyway, two, a more immediate problem. Who paid for the hotel rooms that your General was in?”

“I did, with one of the Company credit cards.”

“I was afraid of that. You’re blown, Colonel. French police were all over the hotel within a few minutes after we, err, left it, and our Comm guys say there’s a watch out all over town, looking for you. We’re going to have to do something clever to get you out of France.”

“Great, fabulous,” Cameron moaned, finally fully awake but wishing he wasn’t. The spy shit was starting to get very, very old.

“Hey, Colonel,” Ripley threw in. “Not to worry. You probably never wanted to come to Europe on vacation again anyway, right?” He was chuckling through the line.

“Not funny, Ripley, not funny at all. Mrs. Cameron loves Europe, and if I’m blown that bad, I’m going to send her your way for satisfaction, and God help you my boy.”

“Amen, sir,” Ripley was laughing aloud now. “Listen, we can fix this, right now task one is to get you out of France. They don’t have a picture or a description, at least not yet, so for now what you need is a new passport, different name, money, new cards, all the trimmings. Happily, I work at the US Embassy and such things are relatively easy to come by. Where are you?”

Cameron gave the address off the small hotel notepad next to the phone, which drew a whistle from Ripley on the other end. “Long way out. OK, you stay put, don’t spend anything but cash for the time being and better still, stay in the hotel. I’ll take care of the Embassy end and meet you there in about, oh, say three hours, say six o’clock?”

“Make it seven Patrick, I need the sleep,” Cameron ordered.

“Sorry, not this time, Colonel. New passport and cards are good for some period of time, but I think our little caper tonight is going to be the crime of the decade for Paris, and if the guy that eyeballed you and who followed my associate into town this evening is anybody at all, he’ll have a photo, description, and all kinds of other info about you pretty soon. Six o’clock, ready to move, or I can’t answer for you staying a free man. Trust me on that, and I don’t want to answer to the DDO if you land in a French prison. He’d have my family jewels himself I’m afraid.”

Cameron thought about that for a few seconds and surrendered. “Fine, see you at six then. I guess I should have the whole crowd moving?”

“You better. I assume the General was registered under his own name as well?”

“Yeah, he was,” Cameron’s spirits sunk. “He registered, but I paid. Dumb. Is that going to be a problem?”

“Maybe, but maybe not if you move quickly enough. I’ll keep an ear to the ground and will have more for you when I get there. Six o’clock.”

“Fine,” Cameron said, and the line went dead. He closed the phone. The ceiling was still there, sleep was not, at least for the time being.


It was still quite dark at four when David Allen strolled into the tiny café where Jones had been waiting for the better part of two hours. The latter had napped, head in hands, for perhaps a total of fifteen minutes, he thought. Allen looked way too fresh for four in the morning, and Jones snarled at him as he reached the table and sat down.

“Never know when you’ll get to sleep again,” the eyes were alight still, the joke hit home, Jones regretted every minute he’d been awake on the flight from Washington, and he snarled yet again.

Allen waved at the man behind the counter, a greasy-looking type, and said simply “Two coffees,” in sloppy French. Then to Ripley: “what did you find on your quest, my leader?” The smile just made Jones madder.

“Nothing, you shit, and quit the damned smile thing. I think our big fish has swum away.”

“Well, Ripley has provided the tools of the trade, as it were,” and at this he patted his jacked under his left arm. “When we’ve shocked you back into semi-consciousness we’ll go and see whether he has or not.”

This perked Jones up just a little, and the coffees came a moment later. Allen slid his across the table without even looking at it. “Both for you, my liege,” he said, still with the casual smirk. “Drink up, quick now, and we’ll let the caffeine do its work while we walk back to this guy’s apartment.”

Jones was annoyed, he was supposed to be the boss, after all. But Allen was right, he needed the jolt, and he needed to accomplish something tonight if he didn’t want this whole trip to have been a waste of his time. No fun going back to Langley without a notch of some kind in his . . .what? “Well, never mind what,” he said to himself. He loaded sugar and cream into the first cup and drank the strong Parisian brew as quickly as he could get it down. Ten minutes later both men were out on the street walking briskly north to the apartment building they wanted.

Almost there, and at a dark place along the sidewalk Allen reached into his now-open coat and produced one of the big, silenced, 10 mm automatics, handing it to Jones. Cold and professional now, Jones, cleared the chamber, slipped the magazine out to check it was full, drew the slide back again and let if slide forward again, slow and quiet, chambering a round. He left the safety off.

As luck would have it, the two rounded the corner onto the correct block just a few seconds before Ibrahim, a hundred yards east, almost did the same coming in the opposite direction. The few seconds made all the difference.

It was dark behind the Arab, lighter to the south and west, so Ibrahim, not completely exposed, saw the two Americans first and quickly retreated the two steps back around his corner, into the lee of the last building on the block. His heart was pounding, there was a dry, coppery taste in his mouth, and adrenalin shot through him as an involuntary impulse that said “run” made his legs tremble. He would note later with some disgust that the “run” command seemed to have been in French rather than Arabic. He mastered himself, breathing deep and quiet, resolved to wait just a moment before he would have to flee for his life, or not. He listened for the sound of running footsteps, but heard none. The night was quiet, dawn just an hour away. He chanced a quick look around the corner, stooping to near the street level so whatever showed of him would not be where someone would expect to see. The two were there, but they were walking slowly to the apartment building, not hurrying to catch him. He retreated around the corner to think for a moment.

It gave him pleasure that his instincts and training had been right. He’d left the apartment with his bag just before 1 a.m., headed for Germany as a first stop, perhaps further once he was clear of France. Whatever was going on, he was not going to risk his own neck, not yet, not until he understood the problem and could weigh in his own mind whether it was time to spend himself or not. It was at the train station that he’d finally relaxed enough to think. He bought the ticket, Paris to Cologne, but for the ten o’clock train instead of the earlier one at five. He had time, he reasoned. Out of his apartment, with his papers all in his possession, everything ready for a quick and anonymous leave-taking, he could still be useful gathering information. If anything happened at all. It was still possible that his team would deal with the General cleanly, that nothing really strange was happening to his network. In that case he could quietly resume his work. In the other case, well, the ticket would be there in his pocket and he could be well away in good time.

He cursed himself again as he stood there now for not having been prepared enough for this defeat. It was dark, but he’d seen enough of the two men to be pretty sure of what they were. As a matter of operational security he’d never kept a weapon or any explosive of any kind at the apartment, and he’d come back with a small packet of plastique, hoping to booby trap the apartment, just in case, a parting gesture at his adversary whoever that was. As it was the device he’d quickly fashioned with it lay useless in his bag. He would not be able to kill the men. He knew what he needed to know now: his network was blown, it was time to leave. He lowered himself to a prone position against the edge of the building for one last look, and gingerly crept forward far enough to look around the corner.

Jones and Allen were at the door, Jones to the right while Allen worked the lock. They swarmed through the door in what Ibrahim could clearly recognize as a sound tactical formation, weapons up, covering the rooms. He could imagine them clearing the bedroom now, closets, bathroom, finding nothing. He was pleased at their failure, glad that they’d be frustrated. He lay still and watched.

In the apartment both Americans lowered their weapons and exchanged a look that said “Shit.” Jones inclined his head toward the door and Allen walked over to close it quietly, locking it from the inside. They drew the inner drapes and turned on the lights. With a wave they started searching, Jones in the bedroom, Allen in the living room and kitchen.

The signs of a hasty departure were easy to see. The question was whether there was anything left of value. What Jones wanted, he thought, was a picture. They had two aliases, he figured all he’d get from anything in print was a repeat of those or a third one. But a picture to go with any name, now that would be useful. He quickly sorted through the drawers of a small desk, nothing at all, empty. He went next to the dresser, clothes, a junk drawer with odd change. He pocketed a business card in Arabic, a dry cleaning receipt, nothing else. Next the bed, which he turned over gently, not disturbing the sheets, and searched the underside of the mattress and top of the box spring. Nothing, and he replaced the mattress. Looking under the bed, he saw that the underlining of the springs was intact, no cuts or anything else that would indicate something had been hidden inside. He checked his watch—four-thirty. Time running short. He stood and returned to the middle of the small room, thinking. Clearly, this guy was smart enough, “clean” enough, that he would not have deliberately hidden anything here and then forgotten to take it with him. So if there was anything, it’d be something he left by accident, lost maybe, and forgot about long ago. Where? He scanned the room again, his gaze coming back to the dresser. Moving quickly now he opened the bottom drawer, found some jeans, two other pairs of pants. He quickly searched all the pockets, nothing. Running out of options. He went back to the closet; there was not much left hanging, on the floor was a laundry basket with dirty clothes inside. He started searching pockets again, shirts, pants, everything. The fifth garment yielded it up—a photo, man and woman, both Middle Eastern-looking, in color. It was small, and he was amazed at the carelessness of having your photo taken with a woman in one of those novelty booths like at a carnival. Had to be recent. “Well, everybody messes up sometime,” Jones reflected. He checked the rest of the pockets, finding nothing, and he turned as Allen came into the bedroom.

“Anything?” both asked at once?

“Photo,” Jones said as the other shook his head. “OK, let’s get out of here. This guy’s long gone, but we can see if we match a name to this face.”

The lights went off, they opened the door and closed it again quietly, and walked quickly back in the direction they’d come.

Ibrahim watched, wondering “am I blown, or am I not?” He could not, of course, return to the apartment. So he was at least a little blown. But what to do next? Run, or try to see what else might happen? He had only a moment to decide in the growing grayness of a Paris dawn. He chose, and rising to his feet in a nimble, liquid movement, he looked around the corner, verified that the two men were nearly two blocks ahead of him, and stepped out to follow them. He would stay far enough behind to insure he had an un-winnable head start if they turned and gave chase. He hoped it would be close enough to see where they went, perhaps who had ruined his Paris operation, and if he was lucky, who he would kill in retribution.

XV. Paris/London

His eyes hurt, dry and red from lack of sleep, but at least the light in the office was not the harsh fluorescent to be found in most of the headquarters building. He sipped the lukewarm coffee again, nearly spat in disgust before turning again to the papers on the desk.

He had three dead Middle Eastern men and one who would lose his right leg at the knee, all armed, in a Paris hotel at two o’clock in the morning. He presumed they’d been killed by the American agent he’d followed from the airport, but what were they doing there? The room was registered in the name of one Fahd al-Auda, Saudi passport, and family, but had been paid for with the credit card of what looked like another American, Paul Cameron, although he had yet to confirm his nationality. He’d had people working on any other credit card use by this man since three o’clock, they’d have to turn up something pretty soon—the man had to be somewhere else in Paris. Immigration was checking to see when such a man might have entered the country and where, and the photo might come from that angle if they found him at all. In any case, that would sort itself out, too. The question remained: who were the four men coming to kill, the Saudi, the American agent, or this Cameron, or someone else? Had to be the Saudi, but what was the connection between the agent and Cameron then? And where was the Saudi and the family?

LaPlante rubbed his eyes again, he was really too tired to work effectively, he thought. The phone rang, and he answered the speaker button. “LaPlante.”

“Detective inspector,” said one of his underlings who he’d rousted out of bed, what was it, an hour ago? “There are men named Paul Cameron registered at three other hotels in the Paris area, but none of the credit cards matches the one used at the murder scene. All three hotels are in the tourist area within a few blocks of the river. I’ve sent officers to each of them to see if they copied his passport page as the law requires, but you know many of the smaller hoteliers do not . . .”

“Yes, I know, but it’s worth a try. How long ago did your men leave?”

“Only five minutes ago. I should think we’ll know something, whether we’ve been lucky or not, in the next twenty minutes or so. Also, we did find an ATM cash withdrawal made with the credit card used at the crime scene, two days ago, near the Louvre. One of the hotels is two blocks away. That is at least a clue to the right neighborhood.”

“What about immigration?” LaPlante asked. This was taking too long.

“We finally got someone on the phone only about 30 minutes ago, and it will take them another 30 minutes or so to get their staff into the office to begin the database queries on Cameron and the Saudi.”

“Anything else on the Saudi?” LaPlante looked nervously at his watch: 5:30, three and a half hours since the crime went down. “But who’s the criminal, the dead men or the guys that killed them?” he mused.

“ . . .Embassy does not open until nine-thirty, and the people we could reach in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me personally that there is absolutely no hope of the Saudis there responding to any calls for assistance before opening time. They don’t get up in the middle of the night, the man said.”

“What Embassy did you say,” LaPlante countered, trying to keep up.

“Saudi Embassy, sir, we were talking about this Al-Auda man.

“Right, right. What about other hotels for him?”

“Nothing yet.”

“American Embassy?”

“Foreign Affairs is trying to get someone to call me, it’s been . . .” there was a pause, “twenty minutes since I last spoke with our people, nothing yet.”

LaPlante sighed. This trail was getting cold fast. The man he’d followed was a professional, he would know how to disappear and would certainly do so if not tracked down fast. Three and a half hours—he was probably already gone. His best bets were the Saudi and the Cameron fellow, and they were not looking like good bets either.


“What?” LaPlante almost yelled into the phone, he was irritable, frustrated, and having trouble concentrating.

“Sir, I said the American embassy is on the line. Do you want me to handle it and report back, or do you want to talk with them?”

“Oh, sorry Jean Luc, sorry, I must have drifted off. Put them through to me, and stay on the line and listen in please.”

“One moment sir.”

The line clicked twice, and a voice said in very good French, “Hello? This is the American Embassy in Paris, consular section, calling for a Mister LaPlante of the FNP.”

“This is Inspector LaPlante. I am looking for an American I think, named Paul Cameron, whose hotel room was the scene of a multiple murder in Paris at two this morning. Can you tell me if this man has registered with the embassy, do you know if he is in France?

“I can check that for you Inspector, just a moment.” There was a delay of perhaps twenty seconds, and then, “Inspector, Mr. Cameron has not checked in with us. Do you have his passport number by any chance? Our database is large and there are quite a few passports with that name in it. Do you have the middle initial, perhaps?”

“No, I don’t have the number or the initial, I was hoping you could help me with either or both. I need to find this man, he” . . .Renee paused, reconsidering what he was about to say, “he is probably in extreme danger, we believe a group of Middle Eastern terrorists tried to kill him tonight.”

The voice reverted to English, more urgent now. “Do you speak English, Inspector?”

LaPlante could hear a keyboard in the background, and he answered, “not well, I’m afraid.”

“Back to French, then. I’m just doing a few checks, Inspector, trying to see if any of these Camerons are outside of the US now according to our records. Did you say whether you’ve been able to verify his entry into France through your own immigration systems yet?”

“Not yet, but we’re working on it. I appreciate your help,” and LaPlante waited, drumming his fingers on the table.

Another minute marched by, then the American said, “Inspector, as you can imagine the American Embassy is anxious to assist you with any matter that involves an American citizen in France, particularly if there is a threat to that individual or to broader American interests. Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that anyone named Paul Cameron is likely in France today, that any has left the US in the last month. However, if it is any help, there is a report here that is now two months old of a stolen passport in that name. The Passport has been cancelled and a new one has not yet been issued according to our computerized system. That Mr. Cameron could not have left the US with that passport, but it may be, Inspector, that you’re onto someone using this stolen passport to enter France.”

LaPlante was wide awake now. “Can you send us the passport photo page, number, and the rest? Fax or email will work for me. This is very important as you can imagine.”

“Yes, I’ll do that, we are happy to assist and will look forward to collaborating with you to locate the stolen passport, if that is what you find. But for security reasons I can only send them to an address we have on file here for a known account in the FNP. Do you know how to access that address, inspector?”

“Yes, I do,” LaPlante was getting a good feeling. This might be the break he was looking for. “Please send it now. Before we hang up, can you give me your Paris number in case I need more assistance today?”

The man read off the number, and the two hung up. LaPlante was still considering the possibilities of the credit card having been stolen along with the passport, which would be a nice connection, when Jean Luc walked in with a printed page.

On the page was a facsimile of the familiar American passport, tourist variety, with a clear photo. Renee automatically fell into his comfortable semi-trance, looking partly at the photo and staring through it into empty air, his mind sifting information, trying to connect this photo with any face he knew. Nothing. He was sure he’d never seen the man before. The face that stared up at him was deeply lined, grey hair almost white, dark eyes, large ears, and a defeated, yellowish look. An old, tired man, not the kind of man who would be likely to be involved in this kind of business so far from home. Probably a dead end. He laid the page on the desk with what little else he had and laid his head in his hands. The clock outside chimed the quarter hour. Jean Luc went back to his phone to bother the immigration people.

Across town at the American Embassy, Patrick Ripley rocked back in his chair and looked at his phone, smiling, before returning to work on his computer, noting the time was 0545. He’d let the Colonel sleep an extra 30 minutes.


The subway was not crowded this early, which made his job more difficult. The two Americans, for he assumed that’s what they were, although they might be British, were three cars ahead of him on the train. He’d been lucky to get on with them still in sight. He hoped he was lucky, there was no way to be certain they hadn’t seen him.

Ibrahim had done his best with what was in the bag. He wore a nondescript loose jacket, and a large beret crowned his head at a steep list. If he had a chance he would shave his beard, he’d decided, but that hadn’t happened yet. In the meantime his hair hung loose at the back of his neck instead of in the pony tail or queue he usually wore, and he slouched visibly, affecting what he hoped was a starving artist look instead of that of the killer he was.

The train approached the stop at Place du Concorde, and through the dangerously-empty cars in between he could just see the two men preparing to get up from their seats. He waited, moving further back in his own empty car and taking a seat against the window. He made a show of stretching and leaned his head back on the seat and closed his eyes most of the way, waiting.

The doors opened as the train rolled to a stop, and the men were moving fast. Too fast, Ibrahim was just on the point of getting up himself when he was shocked to see the man on the right, the bigger one, turn and look toward the rear of the train. He tried to relax as his bowels turned to water, slouching further into the seat and trying to melt away. Through the squint of his eyes he saw the big man point first down the platform, then at the Metro map on the wall, and finally at the sign above the door where his companion was now standing, they appeared to be lost, trying to agree which way to go. Ibrahim waited, mentally encouraging them “Imshi, kafir Amriki” he hissed under his breath, “go on, infidel Americans.” But they stayed, apparently arguing. Helpless, Ibrahim watched the car doors close and he rode out of the station, still slouched against the train wall with his face turned away from the menace on the platform.

The train gone, alone there on the platform, Jones and Allen spoke in English.

“What was it?” Jones asked.

“I’m not sure, just a feeling,” the other said. “Should’ve mentioned it earlier probably, I kinda thought maybe someone was tailing us since just before we came down to the subway way back North, the first train. Only that one guy asleep on this train, though, and nobody else got off of course, so we’re clear I guess.”

“I guess.” Jones returned. This Allen guy was not for real, he thought


At precisely 6:13 there came a quiet knock on the hotel room door. There was a delay of perhaps fifteen seconds, and then another knock, this one louder. The men in the hall looked at one another for another fifteen seconds, and spoke quietly in French. Finally, they turned to the sleepy hotel desk clerk beyond the last man in their group, a few feet down the hall, and beckoned him forward.

The clerk was annoyed and frightened by the policemen. His hotel was small, his job dull, but it was quiet and he made enough money, and he mostly slept through this night shift. To a man of more ambition, or personality, this might have been exciting. But this clerk only wanted to be rid of the police, and of whoever had brought them here. Obviously it must be the American who had come in last night; this was his room after all.

He produced the key and reached for the door, but a grip like iron took him by the wrist, and he turned to the face in semi-panic. The policeman had hard, cold eyes, but he held his finger to his lips first, then held out his hand palm up, and mouthed “the key”. The clerk handed it over and stepped back from the door, and began to inch his way further back down the hallway.

The key went into the lock, and the big policeman lifted his left hand, his forefinger making the shape of a pistol with index finger and thumb. The other five men drew weapons from their holsters and waited. Left handed again the lead man drew his own gun, turned the lock with his right, and burst into the room. The others flooded in behind him, or at least three of them did: there was not room for the rest, who remained in the hall. Four 9mm pistols swept the room, three converging on the bed, the fourth trained on the closed bathroom door. The bed was empty, and there was no sound.

Another hand signal and the four men separated as much as they could in the small room, while one quietly grasped the bathroom door. The leader held up five fingers, and began to count them down. At the last the man at the door hauled it open, ducking quickly behind it in the hopes that if anyone fired he would not be hit by his own people or whoever was inside. He held his breath, but only for a split second. No shots, no sound at all, and then just the sighs of men relaxing and the squeak of their equipment belts. The room was empty, the American was gone.

The leader produced a small radio from the belt at the small of his back, made the report, and then held the speaker well away from his ear as the screaming began to come back in reply.

Ripley drove up in the parking lot outside the run-down Holiday Inn at 0630 as he'd agreed with Cameron, now accompanied by Jones and Allen who’d wandered into the Embassy just as he was preparing to leave. He was amazed by what he saw. Apart from the four Paris Police vehicles, this was the perfect place for a man like Cameron to have gone to ground. It was off the beaten path, far enough from Orly airport to be un-interesting to the average tourist or transiting passenger. There were only a few cars in the lot apart from the police; the place had to be nearly empty. It had been a good choice, but that was moot now, and Cameron was taken. He was wondering what had gone wrong when the phone on his hip began to vibrate. Still watching the front of the hotel, a feeling of deep depression starting to take hold, he opened it and said simply, “Yes?”

“Have you read Seven Pillars of Freedom lately?” asked a familiar voice.

“Colonel?” Ripley replied, in shock. “But where . . .”

“I got itchy, so I moved,” Cameron said simply. “You don’t sound so good, Patrick.”

“But how . . .what . . .” Ripley stumbled on, not sure what to do first. “Did you know the cops were coming? How did you know, how did you . . .”

“So they’re there, are they?” Cameron said, and a laugh came over the line. “Well, that’s a good lesson, follow your gut. You have something to write on, Patrick?”

“Yeah, sure, hold one,” he produced a small notebook from the inside pocket of his coat. “Ready, Colonel.”

“OK, do you know the Aérodrome de Toussus-le-Noble, southwest of Paris? It’s 6 kilometers south-southwest of Versailles. Do you have a map?”

“Yeah, just a minute.” He thumped Jones on the shoulder to get his attention, and pointed at the glove compartment, mouthing “MAP”. Jones went to work, and had the map open in half a minute.

Ripley started the car and drove slowly past the hotel parking lot, turning left at the end of the lane, and left again, headed toward the entrance to Orly. Allen fell in behind in the rented minivan.

“Right, Colonel, we’re looking for it. How the hell did you get there?”
“I’m not really there, actually, but I’ve been there. Nice, quiet place with just the right equipment, as it were. Right now I’m in an alley about a mile further west of there. Have you found it yet?”

Ripley looked at Jones, who pointed to the map and held it over so the other could see. He noted the highway loop around southern Paris, easy enough, and he knew how to get to Versailles of course. He made a right at the next intersection to head south toward the motorway.

“Found it, Colonel, on our way. What do you have in mind?”

“Nothing fancy, but perhaps a little unexpected. Meet me at the Palais Versailles in the gardens near the entrance gate at around eight this morning. That should give you plenty of time. Did you bring paperwork for me?”

Ripley shook his head, amazed again. Who is this guy, anyway? “I have the goods, Colonel. But how . . .”

“Not now, Ripley, I’ll tell you when we meet. Before you come, there’s something else I need.” He told him, and finished with “See you about eight, don’t be late, the weather won’t hold all day.”

“But . . .” Ripley started to say, but the line was dead. He thought briefly of calling back, but he was actually embarrassed that the amateur Colonel had managed to evade capture when the professionals had thought they were ahead of the game, so he thought better of it. He looked at Jones.

“Who the hell is this guy, anyway?”

“Can’t tell you all of it,” Jones replied, “I don’t know the guy at all myself, never met him, only the file. He’s something, though, and the DDO has a special interest in him. How much time did you spend with him yesterday, what did you think?”

“Almost 6 hours, counting the aikido class.” Ripley eased the car up to 120 kilometers per hour on the expressway, Allen was several car lengths back, keeping up. “Interesting guy, really. Very fit for his age, sharp eye for detail, can handle himself when he needs to. Doesn’t miss much. Was he trained at the Farm?”

Jones hesitated to consider, and decided he could tell a little. “No, not a bit. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t been trained at all, not by us at least. He’s still an active-duty officer in the Air Force, and he flies a desk for the last twelve years. No intelligence experience at all. Amazing, isn’t it?”

Ripley pursed his lips and was silent. “So what’s he doing out here in Indian Country? He didn’t really expect an answer, but his mind was working it through, not very successfully.

“I’ll let him tell you when we get where we’re going.”

“Fine, but first we have another errand to do.” Ripley dialed his phone again, and when it answered, he began simply with “Viper . . .”


Colonel Cameron dropped his own phone into his pocket and walked a block West, turning North as he emerged from the alley on a quiet street lined with trendy shops and cafés, an obvious tourist haunt. He approached a car parked in front of a rather large patisserie, not yet open, and got in the passenger side.

“Sabah ilkhair, ya Majid,” he said in Arabic as the driver opened his eyes.

“Sabah innur, ya aquid Paul, “ “good morning to you, Colonel Paul”, he answered unconsciously. He rubbed his eyes sleepily, then turned to look into the back seat. Mohammed and Miriam al-Auda slept there still. Majid shifted his gaze through the rear window to the car behind them, also parked next to the curb. He could just see his cousin Fahd through the windshield, also asleep. He knew Fadia and the boy would be in the back.

“So, my new friend, what do you plan to do with these poor people now, God be with them?” he asked.

“We wait for now,” Cameron said without looking, instead scanning the street ahead and to both sides, alternating in the two side view mirrors to check behind them. “And we get off the street as soon as we can. This café,” he pointed, “should open at seven, that’s just another ten minutes. Until then we wait as quiet as can be.”

“Then I shall try to sleep for the ten minutes while you watch, Colonel. It has been a tiring night for me.”

“A good idea my friend,” and he glanced as the Saudi slouched down behind the wheel and closed his eyes.

Calling the commercial attaché at the Saudi Embassy had been Fahd’s idea, and a good one. Majid was soft, not quick, and very Saudi in terms of any sense of urgency, but Cameron liked him already. He had come quickly, brought the cars, and moved them skillfully. Indeed, in many ways he was not typical at all.

Laying that aside for the moment, he considered the last few hours. He’d dozed only briefly after Ripley’s call at three o’clock, a typical third night in Europe for him, but he was so tired even the brief twenty minutes or so that he’d been asleep had brought everything clear to him in an instant. They had to move. The pieces were just too easy to put together. His credit cards were all over town, probably photos from his passport taken by copier at each of the hotel desks when he’d checked in. The French were on their own turf, and they would be looking for someone to pin the shootings on quickly—Paris depended on stability for the tourism business, and without that, business would grind to a halt. No, the Paris police and probably the FNP would be all over this, pulling out the stops, grinding out information. He’d used one of Fahd’s cards to register at the Holiday Inn, but they would have his information from the hotel Agora, too, and it was only a matter of time.

So, at four-thirty he’d called Fahd and told him the bad news—they had to move again, but this time they needed something besides the Metro. The family was up and getting ready instantly, but it took them some minutes of brainstorming before Fahd suggested his cousin. It was perfect. But, it did take some time. Majid arrived at the hotel at five-thirty, an hour after he’d decided they needed to run, and he’d been expecting the police to roll up in force for over half an hour when Majid arrived with the car, and another driven by a long-time family servant. The latter he dismissed with a hundred-Euro note, to take a taxi back home when he could find one. They were loaded and gone at twenty-five minutes to six, and only then did he relax.

The next move had been his idea, but it depended on how quickly Ripley’s people could produce the necessary paperwork. All his own papers were too dangerous to use at this point, and whatever Ripley brought him would all have to match, of course—the names, birthdates, all of it. Fahd and family could not get new documents so easily, even with Majid, and they didn’t have time to lurk around Paris for half the day waiting for the Saudi consular people to get it done. So the major airports, international flights, the TGV and the Chunnel train, they were all definitely out of bounds. But it was past time to quit France, past time to move on to Saudi Arabia to start sewing up the rest of this mess, before they all ended up in jail trying to explain the carnage in Fahd’s hotel room.

His eye detected movement in the right-side mirror, but Cameron’s quickening reflexes identified the walker as a café employee, probably headed right here to open up. Majid was snoring quietly. It was just before seven.

The walker stopped at the front door of the café, fumbling with a set of keys in the lock. Cameron opened his door and got out. “Good morning,” he said to the young man in English. And then in Spanish the same, adding “are you opening now”?

“Oui, monsieur, I am,” he switched to English. “Will you be joining us for breakfast?”

“Yes, yes we will. We’ve just driven all night from Monaco, you see.” Cameron affected a conspiratorial tone, and winked at the clerk. “I work for these wealthy Lebanese people,” he gestured at the two cars, “security. I’ll just wake them up and we’ll be in right behind you, OK? I hope you make good coffee and omelets.”

“Sir, my coffee is the best in France. For the moment I can offer you toasted baguettes, but Michele will be here very soon, and her omelets, mon Dieu, monsieur, they are for angels."

“Well, I’ll look forward to it, thanks.” The clerk entered the café, and Cameron went and tapped on Fahd’s window.

It took Fadia and Miriam another six minutes to straighten themselves up, six minutes during which the street traffic picked up fast, causing Cameron no small amount of worry. He didn’t know how far his picture might have circulated by now, and he didn’t like this exposed position. Finally they were all bundled inside, and he coaxed the coffee barista into placing a screen in front of the tables, shielding them all quite well from the street-side windows and the door. All in the name of “security”, with another wink. In another couple of minutes everyone had coffee and a buttered baguette on the table, the women were prattling on in rapid Arabic, Mohammed sulked and sipped his coffee. Little Aziz played with his bread and drank orange juice. Fahd and Majid looked dazed and stared at their cups. Cameron was wide awake, carefully scanning the increasing flow of early breakfast clients entering the shop, enjoying what just might be the very best cup of coffee he’d ever had in his life.


The morning was not beginning as pleasantly at the downtown office of the French National Police, where Renee LaPlante was drinking lukewarm coffee made by another policeman, guaranteed to be awful on its best day and doing much worse than that today. He spat a mouthful back in the cup and stared at it for a moment, but, reasoning that this was all there would be for at least another hour, he scrunched up his face and took a long pull, swallowing hard.

His assistant grinned at his boss’ grimace but suppressed a laugh. Strewn on the table between them were passport facsimiles of various people, five of the Saudi family who’d had their hotel room shot to shreds overnight, and at least four copies of the American, Mr. Cameron. The fifth hotel, the one that had been raided at just after six this morning, had no photos at all, and the poor night clerk was now cooling his heels in a holding cell for failing to make the copies as the law required.

One problem was this Cameron character, and of course the fact that they knew where nobody was at the moment. All the pictures of the American were the same, the old, lined face with the big ears. But none of the hotel clerks they’d talked to could remember having seen this man at all, not in their hotels. They had still not spoken with the day clerks, of course, that might have to wait another hour or two, but they were waking people up all over town so it would not be much longer than that. Left to run its course the business day would take care of it eventually when these people came on duty and were “escorted’ downtown by the policemen stationed in their hotel lobbies this very minute. No, the odd thing was that nobody remembered the older American, nor really any American at all. Sure, they recalled copying the passport, but not this face, not this man. Trouble was, they could not put any kind of memory, or face, on the man that might have handed in the passport. The story was the same at all four hotels. It was as if some kind of ghost was loose in Paris. That wasn't good, it was beginning to look very much like the stolen passport, and a dead end.

LaPlante took another sip of the bitter, tepid coffee and leaned back in his chair. He was becoming obsessed with the American and the Saudi family, he realized, but that was not really the important thing, was it? The American was tied up in this somehow, whoever he was, but the key point was that a hit squad of four Arab men had gone to the Hotel du Vieux Saule with the clear intent to commit a murder. The obvious intended victims were the Saudi family who were registered at the hotel, although the clerk that had checked them in was now dead and no help with a description. Even more interesting, the Arab hit team was itself dead or nearly so. LaPlante thus came to the obvious conclusion that someone had just completed a rather successful counter-terror or counter-intelligence operation in his fair city, right under his nose, and he had not a clue who to pin that on.

“Well, not quite no clue,” he said aloud, which drew the attention of Jean Luc across the table.

“What was that, sir?”

“I was just saying that we’re missing the point with the American and the Saudi. We need to find them, Jean Luc, but what about the bigger picture? What I’ve just concluded is someone is running a counter-terror operation in Paris, and a damned successful one at that, even if they have made a mess.” Another thought occurred to him, this one not as pleasant. His job was counter-terrorism, and it might not look real good to his superiors that the Arab cell existed at all, let alone that someone else had to take it down for him. He decided not to mention this to Jean Luc. Instead he said, “So, Jean Luc, who is running this operation in Paris? It must be the Americans, possibly the British, but I think Americans.”

“Why are you so sure, sir?”

“The only information we have points to them, and we have no British connection at all. We have at least the name of this Cameron character, even though we don’t like his face as an operative. And an American Passport from their embassy that matches all of these..." he gestured at the table. "There are the two men I followed out of the airport last night at midnight, and their plane was a private charter from the US, that I have already checked. By the way, I hope you have inquired of the immigration people for their names and passport photos. Also, the videos from the immigration hall at De Gaulle? Good. One of those men went into the Hotel du Vieux Saule only a few minutes before I saw the four Arabs storm the place. I saw him. Jean Luc, what do you think of a single shooter in a hotel room taking down all four Arabs, unhurt himself, in the space of less than a minute?”

Jean Luc thought about this. He was a bit of a sycophant, so he was parsing two answers, the one he thought might be right and the one he thought his boss wanted to hear. Content as he decided that happily, in this case, those answers were the same, he said “in my opinion, sir, it would be unlikely. Even in the dark, with the advantage of night vision goggles on his side, the single shooter would draw the others’ fire with his muzzle flashes pretty quickly. It’s not impossible, but I think it would have been more likely that there was a second shooter. All the dead men were double-tapped professionally, excellent placement of the groups. That last man through the door was clearly shot in the knee for sport or malice,” Jean Luc could see his boss was liking where he was headed, “a skillful shot by someone, I would guess, who no longer felt threatened. I think there was a second shooter, sir, I’d bet my mistress on it.” He grinned as he finished this.

LaPlante nodded, thinking first of Jean Luc’s mistress and wishing there could be such a bet, then of his own Vivienne, whom he had not seen in three days, and then of the problem at hand. “I wonder if the second shooter was the other American from the plane, or someone else? He would have had to come straight here while I was following . . .” His face went blank as he remembered something, and he looked at the pile of papers and photos on the table. “Jean Luc, do we have something here from the Hotel Agora in St. Germaine?”

“I think so, sir, just a minute,” as he shuffled through a pile. “Here it is. The Saudi, Al-Auda, was registered there until the night before last, had been there about a week. Wait a minute—he never checked out according to this!”

LaPlante picked up the phone and dialed, saying “I was there, Jean Luc, I was there. The man I followed from the airport went there first last night, and when he was out front, or nearly so, he took a call I think. Then he turned and headed for . . .Hello? This is LaPlante. Send two cars and four officers to the Hotel Agora in the St Germaine district, quickly. Call me when they get there to tell me what they find, and tell them to be careful. There are armed men about who will shoot people if they are surprised.” He hung up. “We came straight to Hotel du Vieux Saule from that hotel, Jean Luc. Now, what do we have on the Arabs?”

“Not much but bodies, and the fourth, who isn’t talking yet. No wallets or ID on them, they were trained it would seem.”

“Either that, or the shooters took whatever they had,” LaPlante said to the ceiling. He was beginning to dislike this American team. Very selfish. "What about their clothes, Jean Luc, and shoes? Any tags, anything?”

“Nothing. Weapons were French, probably purchased locally. Shoes were all local, and cheap, mostly imports from Asia with standard French labels. They did have silencers, which is unusual and a little worrisome.”

“Yes, worrisome. Well, at least they are not going to be killing anyone anytime soon, thanks to our Americans. Jean Luc, I think we need to speak with the DGSE, share what we have on this Arab group with them. You handle that. I’m going to telephone a friend at the Foreign Ministry and let him know that I suspect the Americans are running something here in Paris and making a mess. You let me know what the DGSE plans to do.”

“Yes, sir,” and Jean Luc left to find his desk and a phone.

There it was again, that funny feeling LaPlante sometimes got, a tickle in his memory that he could not quite place, just like he’d had on the street yesterday afternoon. “Wait a minute,” he said aloud. “That was not far from the Hotel du Vieux Saule!” He leapt up and walked quickly down the hall to the dispatch room where a large map of Paris hung on the wall, backlit and glowing. He found the intersection where he’d felt funny, traced a route to the hotel, and frowned. It was six blocks away. Not close enough, or too close to be a coincidence? That was the trouble with this feeling—it would bother him no end, and he might never sort out what it meant. There was something there, though, he knew it, and this time he was sure it would come to him in its own time. He could feel this one coming closer, bubbling up to fit with what he already knew, all he needed to do was keep looking at the evidence he had, keep digging for more, and his memory would eventually put it all together. He made a private bet with himself, looked at his watch, and said quietly, “by noon, I will have it.” He walked back down the hall to his office to place his Foreign Ministry call. After that, he would take a taxi home to his apartment for a change of clothes, a real cup of coffee, and a shower. Perhaps a call and visit to Vivienne before he returned to the office would clear his thinking. He sighed. It would be another long day.


It was fine, high, clear Spring day at Versailles, if a little crisp still. The museum of the Palace made famous by the negotiations of the Armistice that ended World War I stood at the end of a long park-like alee, elaborate knot-gardens punctuating an immaculate lawn that was already a deep, lush green despite the earliness of the season. A beautiful, expansive, opulent thing to behold and a fine day on which to behold it. Tourists were already starting to queue for admission, impromptu and official guides competing for customers who would pay to hear the inside story on the decadence of the French nobility that had built the place.

It was a place for lovers as well as for aging tourists. Angela Morris, an American who had just acquired the “Morris” by marriage three days before and had to keep repeating it to herself still, walked arm in arm with her new husband through the gate and onto the paved walk for the long stroll to the buildings. Randy was looking at the scale of the place, his mouth agape, and occasionally he remarked on something, but she was overawed herself, and barely heard. She was a gardener, or at least hoped to be. Right now she had just a few plants on the small balcony of her tiny apartment in Manhattan, but one could hope, right? She was looking intently at the plants, their rich variety and thinking of all the work that an army of gardeners must have to do here all year long to keep it from running wild. It was as she was taking in these wonders that she saw the man and nearly tripped on the edge of a stone laid into the pavement of the walk.

He sat on a bench, just under a tree and behind the tree a thick hedge. He wore olive slacks and glossy black shoes, a black polo sweater buttoned all the way to the collar, and a dark wool coat that hung open and spilled onto the bench either side of him. He had dark hair with just a sprinkling of gray, an angular, rugged face, skin that was tanned but smooth, and eyes that flashed something that simply held her attention like nothing she’d ever seen before. He was not especially handsome, she would remember thinking later and to her dismay, somewhat often. There was just something intensely sensual, or maybe “powerful” was the word, or maybe he was just interesting. He had immaculate nails, elegant hands, the lines of his shoulders were broad and his waist slim, his clothes perfect. “Interesting? Captivating,” she thought, and the latter word prompted a brief flash of fantasy that made her feel very warm in the chill air. She found herself staring at him, the eyes smiled back and tiny lines formed at their corners. Embarrassed, she looked at the rest of his face, saw the perfect white teeth smiling at her, and she turned quickly away, toward Randy. “Stupid girl,” she scolded herself, “probably a real jerk French guy.” She squeezed her new husband’s arm harder to reassure herself. She walked along for thirty paces trying to listen to Randy’s observations on the architecture of the garden, but in the end, she turned back for a final look, unable to resist. He was there, and the image would haunt her for the rest of her honeymoon.

David Allen had also spotted the man, but he didn’t stare. He leaned against the back side of a tree on the far side of the lawn, out of sight but keeping a watch nonetheless. The man was definitely something interesting, in a professional way, of course. Allen had seen him walk to the bench and sit down. Only one kind of man with that walk, if you knew what to look for. He opened his phone, made a quick call, and replaced it in the pocket.

Moments later he saw Patrick Ripley round the corner and walk straight toward the man he’d just been warned about. At the same time Jones emerged from a walkway to Allen’s right and took up a position on a nearby bench, flashing a camera and unfolding a map of the site. He looked like a tourist to Allen, who was shocked as he turned back to Ripley only to see that he’d stopped to talk to the man on the bench. “What the . . .” he mumbled, and then Ripley sat down.

“Well, Colonel, you’ve been busy since I saw you last.”

“As have you Patrick, as have you. By the way we’ve got company I think. Big guy over there across the lawn, trying to hide behind a tree. And another one, I think, just sat down on a bench about another twenty yards south of him. Should we move?”

Ripley gave a casual glance, and returned his gaze to his new friend. “Nothing to worry about Colonel. The guy by the tree is Allen, the guy on the bench is the mysterious Mr. Jones from Langley. I’m sure you’re anxious to meet them both, but I expect you to give them some serious razzing for being picked up so easily by a relative, err, amateur, if that doesn’t offend you too much.”

“Not at all. I’m just a poor, dumb fighter pilot trying to get along in a strange game. Amateur suits me just fine. But the day wears on Mr. Ripley, the day wears on, and I have places to be. Did you have any luck getting what I need?

“I did indeed, although I still think it’s a little strange.”

Ripley reached into his coat pocket and passed an envelope across. Inside Cameron found a new US passport, a driver’s license, three Visa cards, and an FAA Airline Transport Pilot’s license, all in the name of Michael Joseph Callan, age 45, of Louisville, Kentucky USA.

“Excellent,” Cameron said, looking up, “this’ll do just fine. Is there an APB out on me yet, or whatever the French would call such a thing?”

“Sort of.” Ripley leaned back on the bench and looked up at the crystal-blue sky, closing his eyes. “I couldn’t do much about the credit card stuff, so those are busted and you can’t use them again without being tracked. I’ll take them off your hands and get rid of them at the embassy shredder later today. I was, however, able to make some mischief,” which provoked a broad smile and a pause as Ripley continued to let the morning sun warm his face. “I hacked the French Immigration agency’s database and replaced your passport photo with that of some old guy’s face. Managed to get into the systems at three of your hotels as well, gave them a retouch with the same face. Last hotel didn’t have a computer system that we could locate, so that’s a wildcard. I meant to ask you: “did you have to show your passport at all of them?”

“I never actually checked in at one of them, just booked it over the phone when I noticed someone following me into town the other day.” Cameron stopped and looked confused, finally looking at his watch and then back at Ripley. “Christ Ripley. What day is it anyway? What’s it been, three nights or four?”

“Four. No, wait, three. I guess I’m a little lost, too. Anyway, tell me again what happens next.”

“We’re going to Amman, Jordan, and from there by road into Saudi Arabia from the North. But first, today, I fly Fahd and family from this little airport to England. Tomorrow or the next day we hop to Amman on something, British Airways or Air Jordan, whatever’s convenient. Fahd has transportation set up once we get there.”

“And you can just do that? Fly to England?”

Cameron smiled. “Fighter pilots are not really dumb, Ripley. I just say that so people will think I’m dumb.”

“I didn’t mean . . .”

“I’m just kidding, kid. It’s easy, really. Most military pilots have an FAA license of some kind, I have the airline thing from back in 1990 when I was thinking of getting out and going to fly for one of the big guys. Didn’t though, obviously. Anyway, I’ve flown these single engine airplanes with clubs and stuff for years. Rented one here in Europe about four years ago for a quick hop with my wife, wasn’t sure how that would work with a US license here, but it was no problem. Even better, everybody owns American light airplanes, Pipers, Cessnas, even some Mooneys, so it’s no big deal with the airplane and being familiar enough to fly it. I own a Mooney myself, outright, a 1978, a real classic. Anyway, the trick in our case is finding a big enough airplane, a six seater, which is not all that common for single engine airplanes. Only Bonanzas and Saratogas out there, really. Bonanzas are faster, that’s what I wanted . . .” Cameron noticed Ripley was starting to look a little bored with this. “Okay, getting to the point since I can see you’re not an airplane kind of guy, the airport here has a Piper Saratoga for rent, Fahd’s cousin from the Saudi Embassy has rented it, I’m the embassy pilot, and I’m flying this VIP family to England for a few days’ shopping.” Cameron sat back to wait for the reply, very satisfied with himself.

Ripley looked a little sick. He was thinking of his first parachute jump, cooped up in the back of a loud, bucking, pitching, dark hulk of a C-130, about to puke his guts out. He never really liked the flying part. The parachuting, though, now that was safety. Nothing to break, and if it did, well, you had your reserve chute right there. The idea of Cameron and the Saudis in some teeny weenie airplane with a lawnmower engine and a prop chugging across the English Channel turned him green.

“And since it’s within the EU, the General and his wife and all won’t need to show anything in the way of papers, either leaving here or entering the UK . . .not bad for a fighter pilot, Colonel, not bad at all.”

“Exactly. You don’t look so good, Patrick. At any rate, Fahd’s cousin has already phoned ahead to his consular counterpart in London, they’ll have new papers ready when we get there, day after tomorrow at the latest.”

“Who the hell are you, anyway, Colonel?” Ripley said from nowhere. “How’d you get mixed up in all this, and how the hell did you get so good at it? Gives me the creeps.”

Cameron threw his head back and laughed, a deep, rolling belly laugh that lasted the better part of half a minute. When he finally regained himself, he turned his gaze to Ripley again, the broad, perfect smile was there, the smile lines at the corner of the eyes were there, but the eyes themselves were bright, hard, dangerous. It was a look Ripley knew well from long experience, a look he respected, a look he would not under-estimate at any time.

“I think I’ll leave the story to Jones, if he wants to tell it Patrick. Maybe I’ll come back to Paris next Fall with Elizabeth and buy you dinner and a bottle of wine, maybe then I can tell you myself. Meantime, let’s just leave it that fighter pilots are rarely if ever very stupid, most are way above average, some are downright scary-dangerous smart, and all of them are very, very fast learners. Doesn’t matter if they’re American or not I don’t think. You run across a guy that you know is or was a fighter pilot for a big chunk of his life, mind your wives and daughters, Patrick, and don’t underestimate the guy. He’ll kill you if that’s the way of things, you make sure you kill him first if that’s the way of things. I like you, son, so stay sharp.”

“Yessir,” Ripley said automatically, suddenly an Army Sergeant again talking to his Colonel. “Uhh, I mean, thanks, Colonel.” He thought for a moment. “Will you need anything in Amman, like, for the trip into Saudi?”

“Glad you reminded me. We, err, might need to tool up a bit, so to speak. I was thinking a couple of handheld GPSs, maybe a set of those NVGs like you had the other night, compass, a couple of tactical radios if someone can spare ‘em, maybe a satellite phone, spare batteries for everything, a pack or something to haul it all in?”

Now it was Ripley’s turn for the belly laugh. “You would be in the scary-dangerous category, Colonel, good thing I have neither wives nor daughters. What, no guns?”

“Thought about that, but I think not. I’ve never been to Jordan, don’t know what it’d be like to get caught with guns, and I’m pretty sure crossing into Saudi with any would be a real pain in the ass. Besides, I kinda think Fahd will be taking care of that if he thinks there’s a need. I gather his tribe and kin are more or less Kings in that part of the country, figuratively speaking of course.”

“Right. What about some muscle then? I think Jones came over with orders from the DDO to make sure you stay . . .well, that you stay healthy. Allen, too, for that matter.”

Cameron considered this, glancing across at the two men across the park. They were quite invisible, really, nobody else was taking any notice of them at all.

“Hadn’t really thought of that until now, but they might just come in handy. Can you get them there? I can’t take them in the Saratoga, we’re full. They’ll need visas to get into Saudi, Fahd’s handling mine . . .?”

“We can get them there, Colonel, leave it with me. You have my number on your cell, and it’ll be safe to use once you get to London. Call me when you know when you’re going, flight numbers and the like, and we’ll set up a meet in Amman. The Company will take care of getting them where they need to be.”

“Great.” Cameron got up. “Well, Patrick, all’s settled then and I think I should be going. It’s a fine day for flying, but there’s a storm in the Irish Sea that’ll put England in the crapper for weather by later this afternoon, and I hate doing this in these little airplanes in lousy weather. Hard on the passengers.” He could see Ripley turning a little green again. “I’ll call you later this evening from London, or as soon as we have our papers and flights arranged.”

“Fine, Colonel. Sir, it’s been a real good ride working with you.” Ripley held out his hand.

“Me too, Patrick,” Cameron shook it warmly. “Take care, son. Hope to see you in the Fall for that dinner and a good bottle. Find a date, have a life. My wife will drive you nuts otherwise.”

With a last pat on the shoulder, Cameron strode off in that liquid walk, leaving Ripley with the feeling of having made a lifetime friend. Reminded him of the “Old Man,” his Colonel and brigade commander in 10th Mountain. He watched Cameron walk over to Jones and introduce himself to the shocked man from Langley, and then the same with Allen, finally spinning on his heel and gliding away like a swift boat on a glassy pond. He sat down on the bench again, wondering if it was too late to get into the Air Force and become a fighter pilot.


Ibrahim checked his watch just after nine-thirty and took another sip of his café au lait. His train to Cologne would leave in another half hour or just under, probably boarding twenty minutes ahead of time. Another casual scan around the small café confirmed his confidence that he had escaped unnoticed, and more importantly, not without some potentially useful information.

He’d left the subway a stop after he’d been forced to let the Americans go, his skin still crawled a little when he thought of the bigger man almost sniffing the air there on the platform, and then looking directly at Ibrahim. But never mind. He’d taken a chance guess and a roundabout route to the American embassy near the Place du la Concorde, and he’d waited a block away from the rear entrance to the compound hidden in a basement stairwell. An hours’ time proved a good investment. He’d seen the two men and one other leave the compound in two vehicles. He knew for certain at least that he’d been destroyed, nearly killed, by Americans. He also knew his quarry was Saudi, and he had a fair certainty that they would soon be leaving France, probably as quietly as they could manage.

Without much time before his train, he’d gone to an internet café, thinking as he walked, and when he arrived he’d had a pretty good idea what should be done. It was too early to expect any response from Khalid, but he’d emailed anyway. His network was destroyed, Americans had intervened, he himself was moving to Cologne for the time being to insure he was not captured, perhaps to return to Paris in a months’ time or more. He recommended two things: first, that Khalid attempt to interdict the Saudi when they arrived back in the Kingdom, although he did not know how or where. Second, that this might be aided if their connections in some key European cities were told to watch for the Saudis at their embassies in those cities for the next couple of days. Ibrahim reasoned that they would need new papers to get out of the EU. That done, he’d emailed his own contacts in Berlin, Zurich, Geneva, and London with the specific request that they monitor the Saudi Embassies for the next two days, providing a description of the General and asking for photographs to be taken if he was seen.

He’d found a telephone store as it opened precisely at nine o’clock and bought a new phone, the old one was in a sewer a few blocks from the station where he now sat. He would charge it on the train to Germany and call Khalid himself when he was safely in a hotel there.

The call to board his train interrupted this review, but he was pleased as he gathered his duffel and coat, palmed the cup of coffee, and walked toward the platform. His depression of early morning had given way to a feeling of confidence. He’d been put out of operation for a while, but he was not out of the picture entirely, and he had a feeling that, mashallah, “by the Grace of God”, he would manufacture his own luck and an opportunity to take revenge on both the Saudis and the Americans.

XVI. London/Washington/Riyadh

“Paris, Saratoga Foxtrot-two-three-five-Papa-Alpha level at eight thousand.”

“Saratoga Five Papa Alpha, Paris Approach Control, Roger. You are cleared direct via GPS to London and destination as filed, maintain eight thousand.”

“Five Papa Alpha, roger,” Cameron acknowledged. He grinned as he looked right to General Fahd in the co-pilot’s seat. “You want to fly, abu-Mohammed?”

Fahd grinned back, “Absolutely abu-Sean. I’ve never flown one of these.” He took the yoke on his side and said “My airplane.”

“Your airplane, General. It’s nothing compared to what we’re used to, so much slower, but flying’s flying. Here’s the autopilot switches if you decide you don’t want to hand fly. If you can handle air traffic control and the radios for a while, I might try to take a nap for twenty minutes or so.”

“I’ve got it, Paul.”

Cameron could see his friend instantly take on the look he imagined would be on his own face if he were flying: eyes scanning the horizon and the instrument panel in a rapid sequence, the altitude remained pegged at precisely eight thousand feet. Behind him, he could see that Mohammed and Aziz were asleep, the two women were chatting quietly. “OK, you got it. Wake me before we go feet-wet over the Channel or when they pass us over to the first English ATC station, whichever comes first.”

“Got it, go to sleep,” the General said. Cameron leaned his head against the window on his left and was out like a light in a minute.


The digital clock said 4:17, but that didn’t make sense. He closed his eyes, but the noise in his head kept going. He blinked twice. Still 4:17. As his brain began to work it decided the phone was ringing. Struggling a little, he came awake and lifted the secure phone.

“Anderson,” he said simply.

“Sir, this is the duty officer, you asked to be advised if anything happened in Paris. It’s after ten there.”

Awake now, he sat up in the bed, saying “what have you got?”

“Initial report from Paris Station says they took one terrorist alive and interrogated him, another four were eliminated in a hotel room. All five are in the hands of the Paris Police as of 0900 Paris time. Phoenix and Falcon are enroute to London in a private airplane. According to this a follow up report is due in about another hour, about five-thirty our time. Also, the State desk officer over at the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center had a call from a mid-level guy in the French Foreign Ministry asking if they knew of an op we might be running in Paris.”

“What’d our guy tell him?”

“Nothing, sir, he didn’t know of anything, nobody else at the Center did, either. Neither did we, so we told them we had nothing.”

“OK. Do me a favor, check and see what’s going on on the Paris Police network, any APB’s or whatever those Frogs call such things. I want to know what they think they’re looking for, who if they have any names, and how hard they’re looking. I suspect I’ll have a call from their Director sometime this morning, awfully Christian of him not to have called already and woken me up. Guess he’s not that pissed.” Anderson realized he was musing aloud. “Oh yeah, and flash Paris that I want a teleconference at,” he looked at the clock again, “at seven o’clock Langley time, with all the details. You did say Phoenix is enroute to London by private airplane?”

“Yessir, that’s what it says here. Is that bad?”

Anderson chuckled. “No, not bad, son, just about what I’d have expected. Sheesh, Randy. Alright, son, you get back to work, call me here if you get anything else off the Paris net in the next hour and a half. I’ll take the teleconference here at home, tell my people I’ll be into the office about eight-thirty.”

“Yessir.” The line went dead and Anderson replaced his handset. He rolled onto his back and stared at the coffered ceiling, painfully aware for a moment that the other side of the bed was empty. “Still not used to it, old buddy. Amelia’s gone, gotta move on.”

The big house was dead quiet, seemed like it’d been dead quiet since Amelia’d died, what, seven months ago now? Some days he thought he should sell the place, too big for just him, the kids didn’t come that often. Maybe just take an apartment closer to the city, it’d be easier on his security team and he could always just go visit the kids instead of waiting for them to come to Virginia. But he hadn’t done it. When you got right down to it he loved this house, loved the rich paneling in the study, the bookshelves lined with his library, collected over a lifetime. He liked the subtlety of the colors Amelia had used to decorate the formal living room, the kitchen, the hearth room where he’d still watch football on Sundays with his security detail. In the fall he loved to sit out on the terrace, looking past the stone baluster across the lawn littered with the falling leaves of every amber color at the Potomac as it flowed lazily south to Washington and beyond. The Guys played football on that lawn sometimes. No, this was home. It reminded him of Amelia, which was a good thing. “Good woman, none better,” he murmured. “OK, down to business pal.”

The President had been as understanding as usual last night. That was the thing about this guy that set him apart from the Presidents he’d known before. This guy understood that the gloves had to come off to fight this enemy, and he was a fighter. Since taking office he’d given the Agency pretty much carte blanche to find, take, kill, kidnap, or buy terrorists just about anywhere on the planet. The Old Man had asked a few questions about what might happen, just in case the uproar in France reached his level, but he was satisfied and said he’d handle it if it did. In the end he’d simply said “Go, Randy, thanks for coming over.” The kind of President America needed and deserved in troubled times.

“And I’m by God the kind of spook America needs in troubled times,” he growled at the empty room. “Private airplane? What the hell is that Cameron character up to?” He laughed out loud. “Well, the man’s a fighter pilot after all, no surprise he can fly one of those things. I guess that tells me something about Paris—our guys must’ve figured it was too risky to leave the country by any “normal” way.” He made a mental note for his conversation with Paris at seven. “What else?” he asked the ceiling.

He lay there staring and thinking for fifteen minutes. Finally he decided there was nothing productive he could do until the phone call at seven, so he tugged the blankets back up to his chin and rolled over, and was back to sleep in a few minutes more. Randy Anderson, DDO, was not a man to worry about much.


Khalid fought to control himself as he re-read the message from Paris. His mouth was strangely dry, his breath came shallow, and he could feel perspiration on his forehead despite the air conditioning working overtime in the internet café. He looked up from the screen to sweep the room, all young Saudi men surfing the web. Nobody else was sweating, but nobody was paying any attention to him, either.

He looked back at the screen, blinked away his disbelief, and read the message for a third time. Network destroyed, probably, Ibrahim’s apartment searched by Americans, probably CIA. The General was almost certainly alive since there’d been no phone call from Salah to crow over the success of the murder attempt. Ibrahim on a train by now headed for Germany, his telephone number compromised. Unbelievable. How could his best man, his protégé, have failed so utterly? He stared at the screen, but in a few moments he realized that he was replaying the dreaded image in his head again, the one where he knelt on the stone square, hands bound behind him, the grate in the stone before his eyes and the headsman above him holding aloft the great sword. He shook himself, wiped his brow, and sat back.

Up until this he’d had the beginnings of another good day. He’d prayed at dawn, thanks be to God, then slept well until nine. After a breakfast of bread, cheese, oranges and some tea he’d bought another ten airline tickets for his men. That, at least, was progressing according to plan. In another two or three days he’d have enough to get half the force out of the Kingdom and they’d be safe.

“Well, why should it take so long to do?” he asked himself. “Of course, it need not,” he answered. Instead he resolved that he would find one more travel agent here in Riyadh today, buy ten more tickets. Then, he’d arrange for his men to begin moving some of the “assets” elsewhere in the Kingdom, smaller towns where they would clear Security for the international flights and avoid doing so at the major departure points like Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dhahran. Taif, in the mountains above Mecca would do. Then Tabuk, up north by the Jordanian border, a nice, provincial town, very quiet. He had people there, he had people everywhere in the Kingdom. He had another thought, and decided it was a good time for him to see the mountains of Hejaz himself. “Perhaps it’s time to do something a little more complex, just in case.” He’d drive West to Taif this evening, buy more tickets there tomorrow, then to Tabuk the next day to buy the rest. He’d be finished quicker, he’d feel safer knowing his men could begin moving, and he’d have broken up the pattern considerably. The picture of the grate flashed through his mind again very briefly.

“Yes, that is a good plan,” he gloated. It did not escape his notice that he’d be on the road, or far from the power center of Riyadh, at least, when Mohammed attacked the troublesome General’s house in Dhahran this evening.

He looked up again at the sound of movement, and saw that many of the other customers were shutting down and moving to the counter to pay for their time. Right then the call to noon prayer, is-salat id-zohr, issued from the loudspeaker of the mosque a half-block down the street from his chair, a penetrating, clear tenor voice, and others took up the call a fraction of a second later. “God is most great, God is most Great, come to prayer . . .” Khalid had too much to do to spend the next thirty minutes at prayer, but it was after all a part of the rhythm of his life, and he would be conspicuous if he tried to avoid the mosque right here. In any case, the café would close, the clerk was already beckoning frantically at him and another man to shut down and pay so he could shutter the shop.

He killed the cursed message and the browser, and shut down the computer as quickly as he could. Reaching into the pocket of his thob as he stood he produced two ten-riyal notes, waving them at the harried clerk. The man nodded with a grateful smile, and Khalid left the notes next to his machine.

Out on the street men flowed in a heavy stream toward the mosque on his right, and he blended in with the crowd. It would be good to pray again today, it would calm him, Allah would give him wisdom and strength. He reached into his left pocket for the phone, dialed Mohammed in Dhahran, and walked toward the mosque.

“Nam?” the voice answered.

“Mohammed, may God give you life, brother,” Khalid said cheerily. How was your preparation last night? I hope your mother is well?

“God gives you life, brother,” the other replied. She is well, praise be to God, but the mullah here is about to begin the prayers. Can it wait, I must turn off my phone.”

“And here, my friend, here as well of course. I was just wondering if you still plan to call on my nephew tonight as we agreed. It’s very important to me that he receive my greetings tonight.”

“Yes, yes my friend, it will be done. I’m looking forward to, ummm, seeing him. It should be an exciting party, I doubt he’s expecting it at all.”

“Don’t be too sure of that,” he said in a tone he hoped conveyed a warning. He had a strange feeling about this, such was the effect of Ibrahim’s failure. “If you want it to be a true surprise, you must be careful. He’s a clever boy like his father, my brother. You have help, do you not?”

“Yes, I do, it will be a good surprise. Now I must go.”

Khalid had reached the door of the mosque, and men filing past him through the door looked disapprovingly at his phone. He heard the beginnings of the mullah leading prayer over the phone just as it went dead.

He closed his own, pocketed it, and joined the flow of men into the cool interior of the mosque. The entry hall was littered with shoes already, and he removed his own sandals, putting them aside in a corner where he was pretty sure he’d find them. He padded forward on the cold tiled floor to the ablution stations, thinking as he always did that the Prophet, Peace be upon Him, had been wise to ensure that the prayers happened at the same time of day, by the sun, everywhere on earth rather than at the same time by the clock. Thus, prayers were about five minutes earlier on the coast, in Dhahran, than they were here in the center of Arabia. When his turn came he stepped up to the long ceramic-tiled trough with a fountain of water spilling into it from a large perforated pipe above, and he performed the ritual washing that always preceded prayer. First his hands up to the wrists, and then he took water into his mouth three times, spitting it into the trough each time. Next, he snuffed water into his nose three times from his right hand, blowing it out each time with the aid of his left. Then he washed his face from ear to ear three times, and from chin to forehead three times, from wrists to the elbows three times, from the forehead to the back of his neck and back three times. Next he washed each ear with the corresponding hand, first finger brushing the inside of each ear while the thumb ran along the rear of the outside of the ear. Finally, he washed each foot, beginning with the right, leaving them damp, and spoke in a whisper the ritual kalimatus shahda: ash-hadu alla ilaha illallahu wa-ash-hadu an-na muhammadan 'abduhu-wa-rasuluh, there is no God but God and Mohammed is His Messenger. He was ready, clean, and pure to hear and speak the words of the Holy Q’uran.

Khalid followed the men ahead of him into the mosque proper to find a place to pray. As it often was with small, out of the way mosques, while the building was dusty stucco on the outside, plain and a little unkempt, inside it was magnificent. Thick carpets covered the floor, many of them clearly very old, but thick and soft nonetheless, in many patterns, but most of them dark reds, blues, blacks. Khalid recognized them as Afghan rugs. In a richer mosque they would most likely be made in Iran, but this was a place for common men. Men lined up to pray across the front row from right to left, regardless of rank, and filled the rows behind as necessary. He took his place, standing, and waited quietly. Above him the interior of the dome of the mosque loomed far above, worked in beautiful tiles, geometric designs and intricate calligraphy of the verses, the sura, of the Holy Book. From the ceiling hung massive, ornate chandeliers. In another minute the leader at the front, before the mihrab, a door-shaped niche facing toward the Ka’aba in Mecca, began to pray by raising his hands, palms forward, and saying aloud “Allahu akhbar”, God is most Great. Khalid fell into the routine automatically, as he had done five times a day every day from the time he was five years old until he became occasionally too busy doing the work of God. But it was automatic, unconscious, ritual, and he fell into the rhythm and peaceful bliss of the prayer, standing there in the sight of Allah with his fellows, humble before their God.

Thirty minutes later he came back out onto the street, waited for the shopkeepers to hustle past him, and decided it was time to check his email again, just in case. The drive to Taif could wait until the cool of evening, and it was only just before one. Khalid was seated at the same machine a few minutes later drinking a cold Pepsi when his phone vibrated in his pocket.

“Nam?” he answered.

“Hello Khalid, this is Mohammed calling. How are things in Riyadh?”

“Very well, my friend, very well. How are your plans progressing?”

“That is what I’m calling about, coincidentally, I couldn’t talk earlier. Were you aware that your nephew is not in Dhahran today? I stopped by your brother’s house, may God protect him, earlier today to make sure we would not be a bother if we came to give our birthday wishes tonight, and nobody was home. It looks like the whole family has left for the summer or something. Did you not know your brother was leaving town?”

Khalid frowned and began to perspire again, thinking hard. First Ibrahim had been destroyed, less than eight hours ago. The Saudi general was at large in Paris, probably, or at least he had to assume he would be. As far as he knew the rest of the family had been at the Dhahran house yesterday, although now he thought of it, there was no way to be completely sure of this, either. If they were gone, either they were warned yesterday or this morning, but perhaps they’d left even earlier? He shook his head. Too many unknowns.


“Just a minute, I’m thinking, err, of where he could be. I did not know my brother was planning to travel this week.” He tried to focus. Someone was screwing with him, fast and hard, that much had to be assumed. The grate in the plaza flashed across his mind yet again, but he brushed it aside. This was the kind of thing he was good at, although he felt like he was behind, and he was not accustomed to being behind. He had no idea where the family might have gone, anywhere in the Kingdom as far as he knew. It occurred to him that this call was lasting too long.

“Mohammed, I’m sorry,” he said at last. “I regret any trouble you may have gone to, and I appreciate your willingness to help me wish my nephew happy birthday. I will remember your kindness, my friend. For now it appears that I will miss that honor, but perhaps I will make a late acknowledgement to my brother some other time. Is there anything I can do for you in Riyadh, or perhaps Taif? I find I need to go to the mountains tonight or tomorrow?”

“No, no, Khalid, there is nothing, but thank you for your kind words. I’ll be in touch, then?”

“Yes, Mohammed, I will talk with you soon. Thank you again, my friend. Goodbye.” He stabbed the “End” button before he heard a reply.

There had been no more email from Ibrahim, but that was no real surprise, the man should be on a train halfway across France by now. Khalid struggled with the feeling that everything was falling in on him, from every direction, and that he was losing control of things. Was that true? Maybe it was time to leave Saudi Arabia after all, maybe for just a little while to see if things settled down? At least until he knew how deeply he was penetrated by—who? The Americans? He looked at his cellular phone suspiciously, thought of Ibrahim’s phone compromised in Paris. Could they do that here, in the middle of Saudi Arabia? Surely not? He made a mental note to make fewer calls, just in case. It would be an awful lot of trouble to get a new phone and get the number into the hands of all the people who would need it.

Energized by a sense of disarray and doom, Khalid got moving. In five minutes he was in his car, driving West on the Mecca Highway toward the Al-Khariyya mall and a travel agent he knew would be there. He was determined to finish his ticket buying today, tomorrow, the next day at the latest in Tabuk. As he drove he decided he would buy one more ticket, for himself, although he could not think of anywhere he wanted to go.


Bert Phillips was the duty officer in the Agency’s 24-hour Operations Center on this early morning in April. He nodded and took another sip of coffee as the intercepts officer handed him a sheet of paper. He read it quickly, another of these phone intercepts that the guys who were pissing off half of Paris were interested in and wanted hot off the wire, day or night. He’d talked with the DDO just about an hour ago, this looked pretty harmless, so he decided not to bother him with it. He checked the row of clocks on the wall—just after eleven in the morning Paris time.

“Can you get me a number for this Viper guy in Paris, or get him on that phone?” he asked the intercepts guy, pointing at the big multi-line secure phone on the desk next to his feet.

“Yep, take about two minutes, you pick it up when it flashes.”

The flashes came, he picked up the phone, watched as the lights on the line went from amber to green, and said, “We’re secure. This is the duty officer, you Viper?”

“Viper,” Ripley replied, slightly annoyed.

“I have another intercept on your line in Saudi Arabia. You still want it, or have you guys killed everyone that matters in Paris already in the last twelve hours?”

“Very funny, asshole,” Ripley said. “At least I’m not some piss-ant REMF Ops Center clown with my feet up on a desk and a bad cup of coffee in my gut in the bowels of Langley. Maybe I’ll kill you next, pal.”

Bert took his feet off the desk. “OK, OK, so you don’t have a sense of humor. I can send this stuff to the Embassy if you don’t want it now. What’s it going to be?”

“Read it. Please.”

Bert read it. “Sounds like somebody called off a birthday party. Wait one,” Bert signaled the intercepts officer, asked “are we following this number, the one our guy called?”

“Not yet, but we can.”

Bert returned to the phone. “Viper, we can watch the new number. Do you want it?”

“Yeah, I want it. Send it all to Paris Station, my attention. I’m going to be busy for the next couple of hours. What’s happening on the Paris Police net?”

“Not much. They’re looking for a Saudi named al-something and a guy named Cameron, but it’s all background stuff. Nobody’s said anything about ‘em for the last hour.”

“Anybody mention an airport called Aérodrome de Toussus-le-Noble?” Ripley asked.

“Not that I recall, but I’ll ask the guy who worked it and call you back.” He tossed a wad of paper at the back of a sleeping head, the head turned, Bert made a hand signal, the man went to work on his keyboard.

“Good. If they did, send it to the Station, I don’t need it now. Any heat from the Boss?”

“Nope. I woke him just after 4 with your initial report. No fireworks, I guess he knew what you were up to. Anything you want me to pass on before the telecom at seven Langley time?”

“Nope, the other guys will handle that, I’m just a professional killer.” Ripley replied. “Anything else?”

“Nope. Ops out.” Bert killed his end of the line. “Asshole,” he said to nobody in particular.


Anderson sipped the excellent coffee and munched on fried bacon as he read the morning paper. That was the thing about his housekeeper. Sure, she was from Guatemala, but she could fry bacon better than his mamma and damn sure she could make coffee like a pro. “Must be that whole Juan Valdez thing,” he mused.

The phone rang precisely at 0700; he heard his security guy answer in the study, and was up from his chair and headed that way with coffee cup in hand when he heard “For you, sir,” from the other room. Anderson ran a pretty loose ship here at home.

The study was an enormous room, nearly forty by twenty feet, with a row of four arched windows from floor to just below the top of the ten foot wall. The walls were paneled in a rich pecan, each window was dressed with heavy draperies in deep blue velvet. The cathedral ceiling soared eighteen feet overhead, with beams that spanned the space and from which hung a series of antique flags, US, the flag of the house of Bourbon with its three fleurs de lis on a blue field, the royal flag of the house of Windsor, the Cross of Saint Andrew, and another with quartered arms that nobody but Anderson’s family would recognize. On the wall opposite the windows stood a massive fireplace, above it was a portrait of George Washington in military uniform. The remainder of the walls were covered mostly in pecan bookcases filled with books, but these spaces were punctuated by hung swords of various sizes and shapes, as well as elaborate silk carpets and the occasional oil painting, all dark colored. The floor was of pecan to match the paneling, but it was mostly covered by two enormous Persian carpets from the region of Heriz. There were two burgundy leather sofas and two chairs in front of the fire place, and at the end of the room, facing the door and the sitting area, stood a massive desk, behind and above which hung a spectacular Isfahan carpet from Iran.

The DDO dismissed the security man with a wave and “Thanks, Chuck,” and the man left, closing the French doors behind him. Anderson picked up the phone, noted the green lights, and began.

“Anderson, who’s on the other end?”

“Jones, sir, and Allen is with me from Langley and Ripley, the station chief in Paris.”

“Right, well, you guys have been busy, and I’ve got a long day, so let’s have the short version quick as you like. Who’d you take, what do you know, and where’s Phoenix?”

Jones took it from there, talking for about eight minutes with occasional interjections by Ripley. Allen remained completely silent, and the Boss did not interrupt. When Jones finished everyone was quiet for a quarter of a minute.

“Very good, very nice,” Anderson finally said, still mulling things over in his own mind. “Is the guy with the leg talking to anyone yet as far as we know?”

“No sir, not as far as we know. We left him alive primarily to give the French something to work with. They may get something out of him, and hopefully we can get it from them when the time comes. He may be able to compromise more people in Paris or better yet, elsewhere in France. Same with the Egyptian, Salah. A foot soldier, but once he comes out of his drugged stupor,” at this Jones glanced critically at Ripley, “he’ll also keep them busy and may end up giving them and us something more than we have now. We also can keep tabs on the little guy Kisani for as long as we like.”

“Good, good. Nice touch, Ripley. Now, what’s the plan with Phoenix, and when do you expect to hear from him?”

Ripley beckoned for the phone—they could hear the boss on speaker, but only speak through the handset—“Sir, this is Ripley. Phoenix is headed for Saudi Arabia by way of Amman, Jordan. No precise timetable yet, and no clear itinerary once he gets to Saudi. I’m supposed to hear from him later this evening or perhaps tomorrow. Nobody’s had much sleep the last three days, and he’s earned some. The General, Falcon, is arranging transportation from Amman into northern Arabia, Phoenix is comfortable with that although I’m less so. However, he agreed to have Jones and Allen meet them in Amman and provide some equipment for the trip. I think they’ll accompany him into the Kingdom as well, we’re working on visas right now.”

“What’s he plan to do in Saudi?”

“Not real clear, but at least he wants to make sure his friends get back OK, and then perhaps talk some about what to do about the nephew that got wind of this whole plot in the first place. You got that brief, sir?”

“Yeah, I got it and we’ve got people working on a list of Saudis with US Passports. What have you got on this guy Ibrahim?”

“Not much yet, sir. Actually, Jones and Allen searched the guy’s apartment. We have a photo, the voice prints of course, I figure he’s dumped his cell phone by now, nothing else, but that’s a start. We’ve already sent it to the Intel guys back at Langley, they’ll know in a couple of hours whether we know him or not.”

Anderson was still thinking. “Last question. What do you guys think of Phoenix?”

Ripley still had the phone, but he looked at the other two, read their faces. “Sir, Ripley here. He’s a natural, like nobody I’ve ever heard of. Aggressive, smart, learns very quick. He can take care of himself.”

“OK, good. You guys have done well. When you talk to Phoenix today or tomorrow, pass my compliments, wish him good hunting. Jones, you and Allen make sure that boy keeps his skin and his head and the rest of his body parts where the good Lord put them. Got it?”

Ripley said, “Got it, sir” for all of them, and the line went dead.

Anderson sat at the desk, his gaze migrating from the phone to the carpets, then the whole room, which made him feel pretty good. He rocked back in the chair and risked a moment of self-congratulation on his Phoenix project, not of course for the first time in the last week. “Well”, he said aloud to the books on his left, “let’s see just where he runs this thing and what he stumbles into next.” He made a mental note to mention to the DCI, and maybe the President, that he had an agent loose in England, just in case.

XVII. London

Just after seven p.m. London time, the Al-Auda family and Paul Cameron met in the lobby of the Hilton Green Park Hotel, just a block north of Piccadilly Circus on the edge of the chic Mayfair district. The women were quiet, the two men and Mohammed greeted each other with hugs and the ritual kisses on each cheek. The boy seemed to Cameron to have come out of his rebellious indignation, but there was still something dangerous behind the eyes. He would bear watching still. The little boy Aziz held his father’s hand and gazed around open-mouthed, still apparently amazed at the last several days of his life.

They left the lobby through the revolving door and walked north along the wide sidewalk, Cameron and the General leading with Aziz between them, then the ladies, and Mohammed brought up the rear. It was only a short block to Curzon Street, a turn of the corner, and then a few yards for the turn into Shepherd’s Market. Once there they took three tables upstairs at the King’s Arms, overlooking the square below.

It had been another long day. The uneventful flight across the Channel ended with a textbook landing at Luton airport outside London. Uneventful, except it completely restored the spirits of the little family, as tousled as they were by having to tumble out of two different hotels in two nights, hunted by fiends intent on their demise. The women had chattered excitedly all the way, pointing out the windows and giggling, all traces of fear gone, lost in the vistas of the clear day. Puffy cumulous clouds like widely-spaced balls of cotton had been both below and above them during the crossing, but they could see the cliffs of Dover from the French coast, and they’d watched and counted the ferry boats and other craft on the water. The airplane had been flawless, of course, Cameron had taken just a short nap, but it had been worth it. The chance to fly had visibly taken the strain out of General Fahd.

From the airport they’d booked a limo service into town around noon, so they were spared much of the notorious London traffic. Still, it was a bright Spring day, and the whole family had remained glued to the windows during the drive. Fahd had finally given in to sleep. Cameron himself chose the hotel—he’d stayed there only a year earlier when he’d come to London to speak at an Air Power conference—and he and the al-Auda parted company there. Cameron went round the corner for lunch and an internet café at a Kinkos that he knew of, and then to bed for a good long nap.

He had, of course, also taken the opportunity on his lunch jaunt to walk past the Saudi Embassy, which was just one block beyond the turnoff to Shepherd’s Market in a magnificent old marble-clad Georgian mansion. It sat there, quiet as he remembered it, not much traffic on the street around it, no cars in the wide loop of drive that wound from one gate to the other in front of the tall façade of the building. The Kinko’s was three blocks east of the Embassy on the same side of the street. He’d sent a note to his wife, sidestepping how and why he’d come to London with a vague reference to “another opportunity for the Air Force”. He felt guilty about that, but told himself he’d clear it all up on the beach in Grand Cayman in a few weeks once this mess was well and truly sorted out.

He’d also called Ripley in Paris to report their safe arrival. Ripley’d passed on the DDO’s admonition about his body parts, which got a laugh from all concerned.

Now Cameron looked through the old windows of the Arms at the yuppy crowd in the twilight square outside. To his right there was another Pub, the crowd spilled out onto the cobbled walk where young professional men and women flirted over their happy hour drinks. Across the square there was a Turkish restaurant, he’d eaten there last time he was here, and he could see that crowd was a little less British looking, but not much, and still upscale. On his left were the bakery and an ice cream parlor, mostly empty at this hour. He knew but could not see that further along on his side of the square to his left there was an Italian café with excellent pizza and pasta. The center of the square was in constant motion with trendy people going to and from dinner, drinks, or headed for their homes elsewhere in Mayfair.

The waitress arrived with a broad, flirtatious smile for Cameron and two large glasses of Pepsi, and Fahd raised his in a toast and said in English “May God give you life, Abu-Sean, and thank you for this excellent day, my friend.”

“God gives you life, Abu-Mohammed,” Cameron replied automatically in Arabic, raising his own glass. “Nothing quite like flying your own airplane to put the world back into perspective is there, General?”

“No, there is not, Paul, there is certainly not. You surprise me again, however, as I mentioned on the flight. You say you’ve been doing a lot of this sort of thing at home?”

Cameron grinned and set the glass down. “Yeah. As I started to tell you before things got busy, about a year and a half ago we decided to buy an airplane. Ours is not as big as the Saratoga we flew today, in fact it’s a Mooney and quite a bit smaller. But it goes twenty knots faster on about half the fuel per hour, and it’s big enough for me, Elizabeth and the kids. I’ve been flying it quite a bit on Air Force trips around the Eastern US, and we’ve used it for family vacations the past two summers.”

Fahd thought for a minute, looking out at the square himself. “But you said it’s an old airplane, Paul? Doesn’t your wife, how shall I say, worry about that a little?”

Cameron laughed, thinking of how it’d taken Elizabeth a while to get used to the Mooney. “Well, I’m not sure it’s the age, Fahd, but it did take her a bit of time to get comfortable in the thing. It was built in 1978, so it’s 33 years old, but it has all new electronics, a big GPS like the one we had in that Saratoga we flew today, and an engine that was overhauled just seven years ago with thirteen years or so left to fly. It’s a good, solid machine. Sometime in the next couple of years I hope to have it re-painted and get the interior re-covered in a nice leather, that’ll make it almost like new. In any case, it’s a classic and they say these little airplanes last forever. There are plenty of them still flying that were built all the way back in the 50’s, believe it or not!”

“Well, that is amazing, and may God protect you and your family, my dear friend. Now, let’s have something to eat!” He waived at the waitress and they ordered the English classic roast beef dinner for all three tables, Miriam and Fadia at one and Mohammed and Aziz at the third.

As they ate they talked about old times, and recent times. At one point Cameron asked how their shopping had gone that afternoon, and Fahd put down his fork, mumbled something in Arabic, and then made a face and gesture to indicate that he was much poorer today than he’d been yesterday. For the sake of the women and the boys, they did not talk about what had happened at the Hotel De Vue Saule the night before.

When they pushed back from the table Fahd began the business for the night.

“Paul, we need to talk about tomorrow, and then the day after that. I need to firm up the plan for our transport on the Amman end, and it will take at least a day to get it in place.”

“Yes, I know. How do you want to handle tomorrow?”

“I think we should start early. The Embassy is just there,” Fahd gestured, and then his face showed recognition, “but I’m sure you knew that, now that I think of it. By God, you are like a jinn, Paul. Anyway, I believe they will be open by nine-thirty, I would like to be there at that time. I can take your passport with me to get a visa put into it.”

“You can do that without me there? What about the family’s documents?” Cameron looked incredulous.

“It’s not a problem,” the General shrugged. “In Saudi Arabia, it means a great deal to be an Air Force Brigadier. I’ll march right in, make my introductions, and the consular staff will be more than happy to put a visa in your passport on my recommendation. As to the family, there is no need for any of us to do anything new—we can use our own passports to leave England, our trouble was with France, was it not?”

Cameron thought and then his face showed recognition. “Of course, not sure why I didn’t think of that. May I suggest that I watch the embassy for a while before you come, Fahd, just in case? I’d hate for anything unlucky to happen at this point?”

“That’s fine Paul, fine. Suppose you and I meet for breakfast, at about seven? We can go to that little place on the corner, just at the turning into this charming little square. It has a window that looks out onto the street with a likely view of the embassy. When the time comes I can walk down the street, and you can watch me go to make sure I don’t get into any trouble. Will that work?”

“It’ll work, General, it’ll work just fine.” Cameron looked at his watch, time had gone quickly and it was nearing nine o’clock. He signaled the waitress to bring the check, and Fahd produced his wallet with a flourish.

“This one is mine, Colonel, I insist. Gift of the Kingdom if you need an excuse.”

“I don’t,” Cameron surrendered. “I’m tired, I imagine they are too,” he waved at the other tables, “the thrill of the flight has to be wearing off by now and nobody’s had much sleep for the last three nights.”

Fahd yawned. “I am too, and yes, we all are. It’s bed for all of us. You are not up to anything strange still tonight are you, Paul? If you are, I insist on coming along!”

“No, no, no, Abu-Mohammed,” Cameron was waving both hands. “No more spy games for me. I need sleep, ten hours of sleep with no interruptions, and if we hurry I may just get it before our breakfast tomorrow. How will we join up with our transport in Amman?”

“I almost forgot about that. When we’re done at the embassy, we’ll use the concierge at the Hilton to book flights, something will be available I’m sure. Once we have that information, I have only to make a call to al-Ha’il and things will get moving pretty quickly. It’ll take them a day to get to Amman, another for us to make the return trip.”

“Hmmm. Fahd, can you ask them to come with room for two more? I sort of asked for some “help” to accompany us from Paris, the guys who helped us with, uhh, things there. I think it’d be a good idea. They’re handling their own visas and stuff like that.”

“It’ll mean another vehicle, probably, but maybe not. Yes, Paul, we can handle that. Their visas will be correct, though? I don’t know for sure what influence we’ll have at the border crossing, and you know how our immigration police are about visas.”

“They’ll be correct, Fahd. I suspect our Embassy in Paris worked it out today, tomorrow at the latest.”

“Fine then, it will be done,” the General declared, as if it was already so.

The waitress returned, Fahd signed, and they left. Turning right onto Curzon street Cameron glanced at the small bistro where they would breakfast, at present stuffed with people eating elegant dinners by candlelight. There was a good view of the front of the embassy compound a block to the West, and only one side street in between, running North. “Queen Street,” he read. They turned right again and walked back down Half Moon Street to the Hilton and sleep.


The next morning could not have been more unlike the day before. The high, clear sky had been replaced by a steel-gray sheet that seemed to hang just above the rooftops. Heavy mist fell steadily out of it, and a remarkably cold breeze blew out of the north. An awful day for April, but very English.

Colonel Cameron woke before his alarm, feeling refreshed and rested for the first time since he’d crossed the Atlantic. “Whenever that was,” he mumbled, smiling to himself. In thirty minutes he’d done two hundred pushups and six hundred abdominal crunches. Thirty minutes after that, precisely at seven, he met Fahd in the hotel lobby. They made the short walk to Shepherd’s Market in silence, each huddled against the cold and the wet in a coat that was not made for the rain.

But the little restaurant was warm and dry, and the manager was a wonderful, motherly Italian woman who clearly lived for her work. They were the first of the morning, she seated them by the window where they could watch the traffic, and put steaming, thick coffee in front of them in less than a minute. The day was getting better even if the weather looked like the Great Flood would return that very day, forty days, forty nights, the whole deal.

It was at this point that Cameron began to wonder what Fahd would have for breakfast. He himself was practically slavering for a “proper English breakfast,” but he’d felt a sudden pang of guilt at the notion of eating thick rashers of bacon and sausages with eggs with his very Muslim friend right across the small table. The wet and cold suddenly felt like it was creeping under the door and into his bones as the weight of this disappointment started to sink in. He picked up the menu, began to look for plain eggs, oatmeal, or something suitable.

“Proper English breakfast, I hope abu-Sean,” Fahd said, in high good humor as he looked over his own menu. “You know, I was here for pilot training, up in the English countryside up North? Those British lieutenants, amazing thing they’re not all dead from heart disease or hardening of the arteries or whatever it is that you people get from eating too much pork. Oh, not you, Paul, of course. Much too fit for that. Me, I’m going to have eggs, scrambled, some bread if they have some of that good, solid English stuff, or Italian looks more like, it, eh? Orange juice. I find they usually squeeze it fresh here, Paul. . . .What?”

“Nothing, abu-Mohammed, nothing at all. Mashallah.” Cameron grinned, the lines at his eyes smiling with the rest of his face and the sparkle keen in the steel-blue eyes. “By the Grace of Almighty God, abu-Mohammed, a proper English breakfast it is for me, and the orange juice, too.” He waved at the matronly Italian woman and ordered for the two of them.

Fahd was a little confused, but he could see his friend was happy. “Ah, well, yes, never mind,” he said. “By the Grace of God it is. I gather you slept well Paul?”

“Very well indeed, my friend. This is excellent coffee. And you? And the family? How is Mohammed coming along?”

“Fine, fine, they slept like camels, all of them, and Mohammed seems to have brightened up along with them. Perhaps Paris did not agree with them. Paul, I’ve been thinking. How much are these airplanes you’re flying? Say, one like what we flew, for six people? I think I may check and see if one can fly them in the Kingdom.”

“You’re not serious?” Cameron said, surprised. “You think they liked it that much?”

“Them?” Fahd looked stupefied. “Me! I loved it. Well, sure, they loved it too. You see what it did for all of them! You know I’m stationed in Dhahran, and it’s a long drive, hot, dusty, from there to al-Ha’il, and we do it often. Think of just flying there in, what, two hours, three, instead of eight or nine on the road? Now that’s freedom, Paul. Really, what do you think it would cost?”

The breakfast came, Cameron unconsciously sawed off a huge chunk of the thick bacon and began to munch, thinking. He sipped coffee, went for the eggs, came out of the reverie, looked at his friend. “For a Saratoga, probably a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a late seventies airplane. For a new one, not that you’re thinking of that, close to five hundred thousand I would think.”

“So little?” Fahd said, drawing a quizzical look from Cameron. “What?” Fahd asked for the second time that morning. “Oh, that. Paul, it’s a matter of what they call ‘family money’ here in England. You have something similar in the States. The Al-Auda are a very old family in Arabia, older than the Al-Saud really, we go back to before the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him. We aren’t as rich as the Al-Saud, nor the Al-Rashid, they’re definitely the second family of the Kingdom. And of course there’s the bin-Laden’s; I think in the States they would be “new money.” There are others, I suppose. Who keeps track of such things? Anyway, half a million only? Hmmm.” He spread butter on his bread, heaped egg on top, and took an enormous bite.

Thus they set upon their breakfasts with the heartiness of two good sized men who had had a tough three days without enough sleep or good food. At some point Cameron remembered there was a good reason for this breakfast and he began watching the foot traffic pick up out on Curzon Street. For an hour after breakfast he saw nothing at all unusual, first sparse and then steadier streams of very English looking men and women walking to work or to their morning shopping. There was nothing at all happening down by the embassy, everything quiet, nothing to spark interest at all. The woman of the house kept the coffee full and hot. Outside it remained a dim, dull grey, the mist alternately lightening for a time and then increasing to a steady, heavy drizzle.

By nine they’d pretty much exhausted the subject of light airplanes, including the possibilities of parking, servicing, and maintaining one in the Kingdom. But neither knew if any of it was possible or even legal, it was all speculation, and so they moved on to more urgent matters in time.

“Fahd, have you thought much about what we can do once we get to Al-Ha’il?” Cameron asked at length.

“I’ve been thinking about that a little, but not a great deal,” he motioned with his coffee cup for another refill. “At a minimum, I want to talk with my nephew and see what he can tell us about the people he met in the desert. I’ve decided I’m glad your two, how shall I call them? “Colleagues” perhaps?” Well anyway, that it’s good that they’re coming. I think we can use the professional help, no offense, Paul.”

“None taken. I’m just a poor, dumb fighter pilot like any other,” followed by the smile lines at the corners of his eyes. “I was thinking along the same lines in any case. We let the professionals talk to your nephew, we debrief him as it were, and maybe the guys can feed anything they get back to Langley, get some analysis in return, maybe that points us to what we do next in Saudi, if anything? Or maybe it points to other questions and more information from your nephew. Or maybe everything just goes back to normal; maybe these guys are spooked and will leave you alone.”

“It’s not much of a plan, is it Paul?”

“Not as much as I’d like, I guess, no. At least we have you back in a safe spot, although I’m not sure how long you can stay there.” This drew a look that was neither hopeful nor despondent, but he knew Fahd would have to head back to Dhahran to run the base in a relatively short time, a month at most. “Still, my friend,” he said, brightening, “I have a gut feeling something will happen once we get you home that will point us in the right direction to go next. For now, I think we just play it as it comes.”

“I agree,” Fahd said after a short pause. Brightening himself, he glanced at his Swiss watch. “And now, I think we should begin. It’s nine-fifteen. Let me settle the bill, Paul, and I’ll make sure this lovely woman keeps you in coffee, may God bless her forever. A breakfast like that really sets you up, don’t you find, Colonel?”

Fahd was standing now and sorting through Pound notes. Cameron admired his resilience, his spirit, and he could see in the face above him the determination and confidence that seemed to be born into every fighter pilot he’d ever known. “Fahd might seem like just a mild-mannered Saudi,” he said to himself,” but I’ll bet he flies like a tiger and I’ll bet he’d be hell in a fight on mother earth if it came to it.” He’d always liked Fahd, it was obvious why. Aloud he added, “it does that, General. You have your cell phone? Good. Take a look down that street for me as you walk past, on this side of Curzon at first, please, and if you see anyone or anything that doesn’t look right, get quickly indoors. Either back here or into the embassy, whichever is faster as you see it if it happens. Call me on that,” he indicated the phone, “before you come outside on your way back, please.”

“Right, Paul. I imagine this will take thirty minutes, maybe a little more if someone’s still asleep. I’ll call just after ten I should think.”

They shook hands and Fahd left. Cameron moved his coffee to the other side of the table and changed chairs so he could easily look West. He really didn’t expect to see anything happen, there should be nobody who knew they were here—after all, they could and might be anywhere, if they’d left Paris at all. There was no way the opposition could know that in any case. He was being overly cautious, he thought, but he was trying to keep his head in the game, and he figured he could use the practice. Besides, there was the slightest nagging of something deep in his head, like a single neuron firing a warning shot, inaudible in all the noise of the rest of his brain but adding to it in a way that seemed to stand out just a little.

He saw Fahd walk directly away from him along the sidewalk on the South side of Curzon Street. He came abreast of the side street, Queen, that ran only North from here, and he saw the head turn and look that way for a long stare, and then he just continued walking, finally looking back to his front. Twenty yards or so further on he moved between the row of cars parked at the curb and was lost from sight for a moment. He re-appeared and ran across at an easy trot at a break in the light traffic. Fahd stopped at the closed gate, and Cameron could barely see him working what must be an intercom box to announce himself and gain entrance.

That had not yet happened when something else did. The fence line around the Embassy compound ran what looked like fifty meters East of where Fahd stood, then there was another Victorian-era house, not as large, and then the corner of Queen Street. A man appeared at the corner of Queen and Curzon, holding what looked like a cell phone to his head, but looking directly at Fahd, who was too busy with the intercom to look around. Even in the dim grey morning light, despite the mist and distance and the man’s stocking cap, Cameron could guess that his hair was black, his skin browned by a desert somewhere. Arab.

“Shit,” he hissed under his breath. He calculated and then debated the distances, the possible courses of action, their likely outcomes, un-intended consequences, cleanup. None of it was pretty. He was almost out of his chair but sat back down. The man moved further out onto the sidewalk, held up his phone, and obviously took a picture of Fahd. It took another thirty seconds and Fahd was inside the gate and moving fast across the drive, the front door opened and he disappeared inside without looking back. The watcher put his phone back to his ear and walked back north on Queen Street out of Cameron’s sight.

Cameron took a sip of his coffee and sat back in the chair, his eyes focused a long way off, his breathing deep, slow, and controlled. After just a few seconds he got up, reached to the chair across the table and the inside pocket of his coat. Cell phone in hand, he returned to his chair and slowly dialed a number from memory, waiting while it rang.

“What’s up in Jolly old England, Colonel?” Ripley’s voice came over the line, crystal clear from Paris. “I suppose you slept in and have called to gloat over the English breakfast you’ve just had? Rolling in sausages and bacon, I’ll bet, and me up at the crack of dawn this morning with only a cheesy French croissant?”

“Very funny,” Cameron replied, “but you are correct, son. I forget how good English bacon is, but it’s probably too rich and fatty for a kid like you.” This brought a chuckle. “How are things there?”

“Interesting, but not too much so. The FBI guy here and the Regional Security Officer had a call today from the FNP about our caper night before last, wanted to know if we had anything to do with it. They sent a guy over to talk to them here, we got a picture, one Renee LaPlante, FNP. Jones and Allen marked him as the guy who picked them up at the airport two nights ago. We figure he’s probably the guy you avoided when you came in as well. Anyway, he’s pretty sharp, you were right about that. Eyes all over the place, I cold almost see him building a catalog in his head as he looked around the Embassy. I’ll bet he has a photographic memory. He’s got quite a reputation around town, too, A-list player according to our FBI liaison. The French are offering to share what they have on the corpses, and of course on the big guy and the guy with the knee. By the way, he’s doing fine, but he’ll need a peg leg if he ever sees the light of day again.”

“Great. You think that’s likely? That he sees the light of day again, I mean?”

“Depends, but I doubt it. The French have a somewhat, uhhh, “liberal” attitude toward this kind of thing when it happens on the home turf. They get a bad rap on toughness on account of the unfortunate problem of surrendering to the Germans twice last century, but they can be pretty nasty bastards when it comes to it and they have absolutely no rules, none, on these matters. I think the guy’s history when they’re done with him.”

“Good riddance. He shoulda known when he signed up. Listen, Patrick, I have a problem here.”

“What, again?” the other side, chuckling.

“No, a real problem.” Cameron explained quickly, trying to keep his voice low. “I think I need a little backup, at least for cleanup. Can you get the Agency guys in London on with us, three-way?”

Alert now and moving fast, Ripley said, “Right, Boss, wait one.” There was a soft click and Cameron was on hold. He turned to check the restaurant, everyone else had left and the owner was busy back in the kitchen somewhere.

It was a long hold, fully five minutes, then Ripley was back on.

“Colonel, I have London Station on the hook, I’ve given them a brief outline of who and what you are, but not your mission or name. Phoenix will do. When I bring them on, tell them what you need and when and where. I’ll interrupt if I think you need to, ahh, shut up. OK?”

“Yep, let’s go.” There was a series of clicks, and Ripley said, “London, you on?”

“Yes, we’re on, this is Johnson.”

“I’ll bet,” Cameron chimed in, and everyone laughed. “OK guys, listen up. I’m in a café in Shepherds Market, just down from the Saudi Embassy. A guy I’m with just went in to get a visa for me, and there’s this guy a block away, Arab, on Queen Street, who pops out, takes pictures with a cell phone for nearly a minute, then pops back out of my sight. I’d like for those pictures to not get where he wants to send them, so I need to move fast.”

“What do you want to do?” it was Johnson.

“Take him down,” Cameron said simply. “I’ll take him, but I need you guys to show up right away so I can stash him. Can you do it?”

There was a low whistle over the 3-way line, and Johnson said, “Pretty risky move in London. We’re tight with MI-5, but this is not exactly according to the arrangement we have worked out with them. Might cause a bit of a stink. I don’t know . . .”

“Phoenix works for the DDO, right out of Langley,” Ripley cut him off in mid-sentence. “I was on the line with Himself this morning, and he told me directly that Phoenix gets what Phoenix wants, or heads roll. I’ll vouch for him, he’ll take the guy down nice and clean. Now, can you guys be there to pick up the pieces?”

“If you say so. Do we get to keep the guy?” asked Johnson.

“You keep him,” Ripley said, “share with MI-5, should be no problem, and I get everything raw here in Paris, hourly, as you work him over. That way I can support Phoenix as he moves. Agreed?”

“Agreed. Phoenix, when and where?”

Cameron checked his watch, it was a quarter to ten. He said, “Wait just a minute.” He got up, walked to the café’s counter, and plucked a tourist map from a rack sitting near the end. With the map spread on the table as he checked the corner of Queen Street again, he saw an elbow sticking around the corner, but nothing more. Hyde Park was four blocks West, which might be perfect, but he’d never been there. It could be narrow trails lined by high hedges, perfect, or it might be wide open. No way to tell, too risky, and he could not name a place for the cavalry to meet him. Green Park was a block South of course, but he’d have to go past their hotel before taking the guy, and he knew Green Park well enough to know it was too open anyway. That left the street, but where? He looked up again at Queen. He could see about ten yards of this side of the Victorian house on the corner, no idea what lay across the street where the bad guy presumably stood, no idea what else might be there. Time was wasting, but then he thought, “No, it isn’t really,” and he said, “Johnson, can you get a van, to Queen street, about halfway between Curzon and . . .” he traced his finger on the map, “Charles Street. Be on the East side of the street, preferably with the side of the van facing a blank wall of a building, not someone’s front door or windows if you can. What color and make of van, Johnson?”

“We can be there in fifteen or twenty minutes,” the man replied. “Dark green Ford van, we’ll find a spot. Are you armed, Phoenix?”

“No, but that won’t be a problem,” Cameron said. If there had been anyone in the room, they’d have seen a dark look on his face, a cold, almost reptilian gleam in the steel blue eyes. “You guys have a cell phone, I’ll call you to make sure everything’s ready?”

They exchanged numbers, Cameron thanked Ripley, and they rang off. He glanced again at the elbow at the corner of Queen, hadn’t moved. He stowed his phone and walked to the counter, where called for the waitress back in the kitchen and asked for a large glass of grapefruit juice.

The juice came and he alternately studied the map and watched the corner and the Embassy. At ten after ten, his phone rang and he answered, “Fahd, how good to hear from you. Are you finished?”

“Yes, Paul, it’s done, and praise be to God. I’m just coming out and back to the café. Is there any coffee left?”

“Plenty, my friend, but don’t come just yet. We, err, have a small problem.” He explained quickly.

“In the name of God, who are these damned people? They’re really starting to piss me off.” Fahd said quietly. An embassy clerk sat at a reception desk only ten feet away in the hall. “What should we do, Abu-Sean? I want a piece of these people.”

“Eventually, Abu-Mohammed, but not this time I think. Here’s the plan.” And he told him.


It was twenty after ten when a green Ford van drove right past Cameron’s window going West on Curzon and turned right on Queen to be lost from view. He could not see, but the van continued to the end of the block, made a U-turn at the corner, and returned, parking on the East side of Queen half-way between the door steps of two gorgeous town houses. The passenger got out, crossed the street and disappeared through the fence and then around the back of another townhouse. All this was watched by the Arab in the stocking cap, Selim Khan, who was twenty five and not Arab at all, but rather Pakistani. Selim was bored, he’d been out in the cold and rain for way too long, and he wished this Saudi would just come out so he could follow him to his hotel and quit for the day. The pictures had been sent to the number he’d been given. He didn’t think anything about the green service van parked a hundred meters to his right.

Five minutes passed, and Selim tensed as the Saudi came out the front door of the embassy and crossed the drive. He came out of the gate and turned directly toward the waiting tail, Selim was surprised and a little shocked by this, but he had no idea where the man intended to go, after all. So he simply looked bored and took out his phone again, pretending to make a call. He took a step out onto the walk along Curzon and turned to the East, faking a conversation. Traffic was light, just a few people walking on either side and very few cars. He turned back West as the attractive woman he’d chosen to watch passed the alley into Shepherds Market and a man came out the same way.

The Saudi was turning the corner onto Queen, so Selim stood fidgeting on his side of the street for a moment, still faking his conversation, and then he began to amble northward, slowly at first, letting the distance build up until is man was about twenty-five meters ahead on the opposite side. At this point he closed the phone and began to walk casually along, matching pace with the taller man he followed.

Cameron was twenty paces behind when he rounded the corner on the East side of Queen, but he was walking faster, silently, flowing, as Fahd had said after the encounter in Paris, like water down the cobbled walk. His wool coat was buttoned to the top, collar up, seemingly against the cold. His breathing was deep and even, his hands were open wide and swung naturally at his sides as he walked, closing the distance, needing to time it perfectly. Now that he was close he could see that his opponent was fairly slight, but wiry looking, he walked heavily, probably not trained very well if at all. “Good he thought, just another few paces and it begins.”

Selim approached the van, saw the driver nod a greeting to him, which he returned. Then something happened—the van driver looked beyond him at something, and at the same time he heard a footstep. By reflex, he turned quickly, his right hand found the small knife in his coat pocket just in case. What he saw was a man, European, dark hair, deep, blue eyes, who came to an abrupt stop two paces away, and said, “Assalamu alaykum, sedeek,” “Peace be upon you, friend.”

Something about the man did not look right. His feet were oddly placed, one slightly ahead of the other and about shoulder width apart, his arms hung loose at his sides, his stare was intense and dangerous. He’d used Arabic in London, which was definitely not normal. He did not speak again. Selim did not like this. In English he said, “and upon you be peace, good day.” He started to turn, but as he did he noticed the man just start to move, and at the same time he heard and sensed movement to his rear. Again, by reflex, his right hand came out with the knife, and he pivoted to his right rear to place the wall of the building to his back.

He was penned in, another man now to his right, bigger, and the first one to his left, the green van completing the trap to his front. Selim took a short step backward to get more space. The dangerous-looking man said in English, “Now, my friend, we simply want to talk with you, there is no need for the knife.”

But Selim had indeed been trained, at least for the six weeks he’d spent in the Afghan camp, and he thought he knew who or at least what these men were. It was all happening in slow motion, but really rather fast. Ten seconds had not passed, including the last remark, when he remembered the training on ambushes and what was to be done if caught in one—Attack!

This he did, taking two quick steps toward the man in the dark coat, swinging the knife in a wide arc at throat level, reaching out to find the target. He began to smile—it would be a good cut, this one would be dead and he’d pivot on his right foot, continuing the circle to his left to engage the next opponent who he could just hear already beginning to move behind him. His smile evaporated, though, just as the man did, just enough so that the blade missed and skimmed the surface of the thick wool of the collar of the coat, but not deep enough. There was no spray of blood from the severed neck arteries, no shocked look in the eyes, no familiar feel in the knife, only the same cold, hard look, and Selim felt his bowels loosen.

Completely in control, Cameron let the knife pass, glad he’d thought of the collar, watched the man’s expression turn to one of panic as he finished the first slash and began the second, cutting now from left to right. Cameron moved into the attack, so that his neck was even with the elbow of the outstretched knife-arm by the time it would have taken him, well inside the arc of the knife. As he pivoted on his left foot his own left arm came up forcefully under the Arab’s triceps, stopping the swing of the arm, the hand with the knife momentarily stopped in mid slash and the man lifted slightly off balance up and to his own front. Cameron’s right hand reached up and grabbed the stationary wrist, his own palm up, controlling the knife. Then a smooth, forceful move, he pivoted his hips and feet 180 degrees to his right, away from the man, and at the same time took the wrist down in a circle to his right while his left hand pressed on the man’s elbow. This propelled Selim in a circle around Cameron, but a descending, spiraling circle led by his knife hand, and the walk came up fast. He hit the cobbles with a thud, scraping his face hard and barking his knees. Cameron was in a controlling position above him, the wrist pinned to his right knee and his left hand putting breaking pressure on the elbow. Selim groaned at this and involuntarily relaxed his grip on the knife, which Cameron whisked out of his hand and put into his own pocket. Seizing the now empty hand from the rear so that he pinched the thumb with his own and bent the wrist at a right angle to the forearm, Cameron made a small twist to allow a little bend in the elbow, but leaving no slack in the connective tissues. Then he just dropped his weight, and his left knee, onto the back of the triceps, and the arm broke cleanly at the elbow with a soft “crack” and a short yelp from the Arab, who immediately passed out.

“That’s for the coat, dirtbag,” Cameron said, standing. He took a reflexive step back to clear the area, saw the Agency man standing a few paces away.

“What did you do that for?” the man asked, clearly in shock at the brutality. "You broke his arm."

“Pissed me off,” Cameron said. “It’s been that kind of week and my sense of humor is just done.” Fahd was just coming up the walk himself. The man on the ground groaned, starting to come to.

“Let’s get moving,” Cameron said, and the freeze frame broke. The van door slid open, the driver stepped out, and the two CIA guys picked up the semi-conscious Pakistani and tossed him into the back like a sack of potatoes. Cameron waived and began to walk North, intercepting Fahd and turning him around to also walk North. The driver zip-tied the man’s hands and feet, his passenger closed the van door and went around to his side. The van fired up, turned right on Curzon, and sped away. The whole evolution had taken just forty-five seconds.

Cameron and Fahd walked briskly for two blocks to the corner of Charles and Queen, then turned East. The weather had closed in again, mist falling in a heavy curtain that bordered on drizzle, and they would be miserable soon. Fahd decided that this would not do, and stepped out onto the street to hail a taxi. The black car pulled in at the curb and they piled into the warm, dry interior. They gave the address of their hotel and sat there, silent.

Traffic was heavy and it took ten minutes, but when they finally reached the hotel they went straight into the small restaurant and asked for a table at the back, and coffee. Only when it was steaming on the table in front of them did either man speak.

“Paul, who are these people? And where did you learn that?”

“Second question is easier,” Cameron replied. “It’s the aikido thing that I started when we were at school together. I could never let it go, I still go to class two or three times a week. Never really expected it to come in so handy, I just liked the exercise. But that’s it. Now the other thing. They’re obviously al-Qaeda, they’re obviously interested in you, which has to be because of this thing with your nephew. Two things about that are clearly worrisome. First, they’re damned well organized, and they have pretty fast communications to have managed to have someone onto us in London so quickly. Second, they want to find you pretty bad, which to me means they think you’re onto something very big that they very much want to keep secret. They sent four men to kill all of you in Paris, Fahd.”

“I know, I know, but don’t tell the rest of them that.” Cameron could see heat behind the eyes. “Paul, you think they’re going to use these boys with American passports to do something in the US, don’t you?”

“Yes, Fahd, I do, and I suspect you do, too, and I’m pretty sure you’ve thought so all along, haven’t you?”

“Truly? Yes, although I did not want to believe it. It’s all so stupid. They can’t accomplish anything beyond killing some people and getting themselves killed. Oh, I suppose with the right plan and the right support they could do something spectacular like the World Trade Center. But in the end, what did that accomplish? Two Muslim governments toppled, many people dead, their headquarters in Afghanistan denied to them forever, I suspect their leaders are either dead, living in caves, or getting along very unpleasantly at some unknown location hosted by some very angry Americans. And on top of all of that, they’ve made Arabs and Muslims the subject of hatred, suspicion, and prejudice all over the world. To be honest, Paul, I’m ashamed of what they have made of us all, and I’m angry.”

“Amen, my friend. But I have a feeling their plan this time is less spectacular, but still very dangerous. How big a town is al-Ha’il, Fahd?”

“Not big, maybe fifteen or twenty thousand, not more. Why?”

“What about businesses, shopping, police, security, that kind of thing?”

“Well, there’s a gold market, of course, and a small shopping center, the usual kinds of stuff you find in small towns everywhere I guess. There would not be many police, perhaps twenty or so, crime isn’t much of a problem in the Kingdom, Paul, you know that. And, everybody knows everybody, most people are al-Auda or related to someone, so what could you do without everyone knowing? And we have a pretty effective way of dealing with violent crime in the Kingdom.” He made a chopping gesture that landed with a thud on the table top.

“Hmmm, not much different in the US, the police department might be a little bigger, and there might be more small businesses. People wouldn’t be as related, and they probably wouldn’t know each other well. Still, close enough. Now, Fahd, what do you think would happen if say fifteen terrorists armed with automatic rifles, maybe grenades and RPGs, showed up in your hometown, and if they were trained pretty well in small-unit infantry actions? What could they do?”

Fahd thought a moment, then said, “I don’t know, Paul. It would depend what they tried to do. Certainly if they wanted they could shut down the city center, the police couldn’t handle it in a small town; kill a lot of people in the beginning before the streets cleared, put business to a stop for the day, God forbid they should attack a . . .school, Paul?”

“God forbid. I hadn’t thought of that, wouldn’t have thought of it, but they did in Russia a few years back. I was thinking of the business, to be frank, but the school scares the shit out of me, beg your pardon, now that you mention it. Now suppose you have six or seven teams of fifteen men, Fahd. What if they did this in as many small towns across the Kingdom, either all at once, or better yet I think, one at a time over a period of three weeks or so? I can tell you what I think would happen in the US. Nobody would send their kids to school, nobody would open their businesses, people wouldn’t go shopping unless they had to, things would just shut down. It would take a long, long time and a lot of convincing for the public to regain confidence that it wouldn’t happen in their town. In the US you’d probably see actual troops, armed, in the streets or at least publicly known to be in every little town, just to give the impression that the government was doing something. We’d look like a garrison, a police state. People would be afraid. The people would start carrying their own guns openly, just to feel like they could protect themselves. It’d change everything, at least for a while, maybe for a very long time. And the backlash against Arabs and Muslims in America would be horrible.”

“One thing they could not do in al-Ha’il, they could not take over any of the major family homes. They all have a wall, Paul, and like yours, our people are usually armed, especially in the small towns way out in the desert. It’s a tradition. Once the shooting started, people would defend their homes. The bigger compounds like my family’s would hold out easily if very many people were at home.”

“A little different in the US, I’d think. Individual homes would be easy, one at a time. Eventually someone might put together an organized defense of people with hunting rifles and the like, but it would take time, and leadership, and courage. Sheesh, something like this could get out of hand very, very quickly in the US.”

“You think this is what they plan to do, Paul?” Fahd asked soberly, still thinking hard and not liking what he saw.

“It’s what I’m afraid they may plan to do, Fahd.” Cameron was still thinking of all the implications and he liked it less and less. “Well, we’d better get on with it. I think I’ll call my friends in Paris again when I leave you, but we have things to do. Fahd, I need to go buy some clothes for Saudi, didn’t bring the right kind of thing with me. Can I leave the booking of tickets to you? I think we can assume you’re safe in London as long as you stay away from your embassy. The more I think about it, I think our enemies simply made a lucky guess.”

“Yes, I’ll take care of the tickets, Paul. I think it should be tomorrow if there are seats—do you agree?”

“I agree, the sooner the better, but not today. If you go out, Fahd, may I suggest that you take Mohammed with you? Two might be better than one on the street, just in case, and the boy is probably curious, it would make him feel, well, engaged?”

“Good idea. The women and Aziz will be fine at the hotel. Anything else?”

“Nothing I can think of,” Cameron said. He looked at his watch. “OK it’s nearly eleven. I’ll go see if I can find what I need, make my calls. I’ll call you around, say two o’clock and see if there’s anything else we need to do or coordinate. Let’s plan on dinner again tonight all together if you think the ladies would like that, your pick of time and place?”

“I think I can guarantee Fadia will love that. She’s become very fond of you, abu-Sean.” He got up, “your treat this time, Colonel,” smiling.

“My pleasure, General,” Cameron smiled back. Fahd left through the door, while Cameron paid. A few minutes later he was outside for the short walk to the Green Park tube station, from there to Harrods’s where he knew they would have what he needed.

On the train he checked his phone for a signal and found a seat away from the sparse mid-day crowd. When Ripley answered he gave a short description of events and the plan for the rest of the day. He finished with “I’m not certain, but I expect we’ll find tickets to Amman for tomorrow afternoon, my guess will be arrival late that evening. Christ, what day is it Patrick?”

“Wednesday. I’ll get our guys working on tickets, let me know as soon as you know for sure. You have transportation squared away on the other end?”

“Yep, the General’s handling it. Your guys have any trouble with the equipment I asked for?”

“Nope, they’ll have it ready in Amman. Can we assume departure by road from there the next day, or would you leave tomorrow night if that works out? I’d prefer daylight . . .”

“No, I think the next morning. We have the two women with us and the little boy. Ripley, who the hell was “Smith”, the guy I was emailing when I arrived in Paris on Sunday morning?”

“Well, you’re going to think this is crazy, but it was the guy “Jones” that was on the park bench at Versailles yesterday morning. You met him as you left.”

Cameron just laughed. “You guys and names, so creative. OK, so if Smith-Jones is in Paris, who’s running this op at Langley, or maybe I’m not spook enough to know how these things usually work?”

Ripley was quiet for a moment, then said, “Good question, you’re right, there’s usually someone back at Langley to coordinate support and the like. You need something else? I can sling the DDO’s name around some more if you want, seems to work pretty well and I like watching people jump.”

“Not exactly, just wanted to run something by somebody. Might as well be you. Tell me what you think of this . . .”

Cameron first looked to make sure there was nobody within easy earshot on his train, then gave a detailed explanation of his theory about the Saudi-Americans and what their plan might be. When he finished he asked, “Crazy, or what do you think?”

“Hmmm. Not really my area, Colonel, strictly speaking. From a small-unit infantry point of view, though, I think you make a good argument. We don’t know who or what we’re really talking about here, but if they’re even remotely competently trained, they’d chew up a small town police force pretty bad. The strategic utility of a target like that is way out of my league, they usually go for something more obvious and with bigger casualties that will make the news. But my gut tells me your theory has pretty strong logic on the real impact of this kind of thing. I know if I was married with kids in a small town after several of those I’d be awfully nervous. Hell, if it was me, and if the police would tolerate it, I might be organizing a neighborhood watch that was armed, maybe a rifle on the roof 24/7, stuff like that. Kinda gives me the creeps.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Cameron agreed. “So, how would we pass this kind of idea back to the guys at Langley, or would they care?”

“Oh, I think they’d care, Boss. Can you imagine the ass that the DDO would have if this went down and he found out you’d thought of it ahead of time? And I’m sure you’d tell him, wouldn’t you?”

“Damned right I would, if I could figure out how. So what do we do?” Cameron finished.

“Leave it with me. I’ll talk to Jones, he’ll put something together to email to the DDO personally, I’ll make sure he does it. What? Just a minute, Colonel.” After a brief pause Ripley came back on the phone. “Whatsup with the broken arm? Knife attack? What’d you do to this guy? You didn’t say anything about that a few minutes ago!”

“I gather you’ve heard from “Johnson?” Well, that was quick. Hey, the guy came at me with a knife, a little yokomen uchi gokkyo was all that came to mind,” he said, giving the Japanese name for the aikido technique he’d used. “The arm was extra, he almost cut my throat and ruined a perfectly good coat in the process. I’ve had a hard week and I’m a little pissed off. It should be a nice clean break, it’ll heal.”

“I guess. Well, like you said, he shoulda known when he signed up, and I think once the Brits are done with him the arm will be the least of his worries if he has any at all. At any rate, you hit the jackpot again. This dirtbag is Selim Khan, Pakistani. He’s on a “list,” you don’t need to know which one. Nobody knew he was in the UK, which is kinda embarrassing for both us and MI5. Good news is that MI5 are very happy we happened to pick him up, the arm notwithstanding. According to Johnson, the guy’s cell phone was crammed with numbers, Brits are running them now, if you watch the news tonight in London you’ll probably get to see the results of your handiwork. Night of the long knives for Al-Qaeda in Britain I’ll bet. Bad news, of course, is that you’re very anonymously a one-man train wreck for those bastards. You want to make sure you travel as Michael Callan the rest of this trip, Colonel, and someone besides yourself if you ever work for us again. You don’t ever, ever, want to become un-anonymous to that crowd. You got that, sir?”

“Got it, Ripley, and I’ll certainly do exactly that.” The train was pulling into the station at Knightsbridge, where he needed to get off. “Anything else, I have to navigate the London tubes and I can’t do that with this phone in my ear?”

“Yeah. We got a match on the photo Jones and Allen took out of the apartment in North Paris night before last. Guy name of Ibrahim Sultan al-Otaibi, Syrian we think, but maybe Saudi, spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, very nasty piece of work. From the stuff we found laying around over in Afghanistan at one time or another he seems to be something of a protégé. Pretty big cheese, shame that we didn’t get him. However, we’re going to keep a watch on Kisani’s phone, you know, the little guy that got beat up? If the French don’t reel him in first, we might get lucky and Ibrahim will call his old pal from a new line and we’ll have a new track on him. That’s it for now.”

“OK, thanks. Let me know what you can about my theory at Langley. Cameron out.” He shut the phone, now standing on the platform to look at the system map. Then he walked quickly to the escalator and rode up to the street. Harrods was just less than a block away, and he needed clothes and shoes for the desert.

XVIII. Virginia

Bobbie swept into the room at her usual high velocity, leaving a perceptible breeze in her wake. Anderson could swear that the pages of the magazine on the nearby coffee table lifted and ruffled as she passed enroute to his desk, but the surface of the coffee in the cup she carried was as tranquil as a millpond in winter, even when she deposited it without ceremony on the desk in front of him.

“What are you gaping at, you look like a beached fish with your mouth hanging open like that, boss,” she said.

Anderson’s mouth closed with a “plop” and he reddened noticeably. Recovering, he said simply, “thanks for the cup of Joe, Bobbie, you’re the best. Decaf?” he said, hoping for the real thing.

“Decaf,” she said, a scolding frown on her face. “We’re at war, Mr. Anderson, and we must all put service above self. In your case, I’ve decided that your service is more important to the United States of America than the caffeine that might otherwise kill you. I have your doctors’ orders to back me up. Now, you would not want me, a humble secretary, to be found guilty of single-handedly losing the war on account of dereliction of my clear duty. Would you? Can you just see the history books?”

“No, of course not, but a man can hope once in a while.” He considered, then, with his best imitation of what he thought an eight year old boy would look like in the same situation, he asked, “any chance there’s a donut around, or maybe a chocolate biscotti?” He cringed a little in anticipation of the blast.

It didn’t come. “I knew you’d want one today. There’s a steward bringing down a small selection from the dining room in a few minutes. I’ll send him right in after I search him for contraband coffee, so don’t get any ideas.”

At this he brightened up, and it seemed like the sun shone stronger outside despite the broken cloud cover over Langley. He smiled and picked up the cup, took a sip. “Old son,” he thought, “it’s decaf, but damned if it doesn’t taste as good as the real thing, and real cream and sugar, perfect cup of coffee.” To Bobbie he raised the cup in salute. “Awesome, Bobbie, Thanks.”

“No problem, Boss,” she said, and before he could say anything else he felt the breeze as she moved again, headed out the door. “Don’t get too involved in anything, you have a guy from NRO at ten past eight, and the rest of the morning is full.”

“Great,” he yelled out the now empty doorway. He returned to his email and noted the time at the bottom of the screen said 0745.

Not two minutes passed, he was sipping the coffee and plodding through a report of some interesting stuff from Southeast Asia when the phone buzzed. He punched the speaker button, and heard Bobbie’s voice again.

“Boss, it’s your French alter ego calling from Paris. You have thirteen minutes, do you want to take it?”

Anderson considered. On the one hand, it was likely that Henri Broussard, his counterpart at the DGSE in Paris, was pissed as hell and assumed that the little trouble there two nights ago was a CIA operation. That might take quite a lot longer than thirteen minutes to solve, and he did not like to keep people waiting. On the other hand, he’d done a lot of work to cultivate relationships with all his counterparts around the world, and particularly the French guy, with some considerable success. Hard as this might be, being “out” just now would probably cause him bigger headaches later. After all, it was a CIA op that had trashed a Paris hotel suite and left 4 men dead or nearly so, with a trail of other questionable items cutting an even wider swath across town. This was not after all a call he hadn’t expected to come. Looking at his watch and the calendar, he congratulated himself that it had taken this long.

“Boss?” Bobbie yelled through the door.

“Yeah, sorry. I’ll take it,” he said, coming out of his reverie.

The phone line flashed, he pushed a button, and picked up the handset. He heard the chirps, beeps, and ping of the encryption devices negotiating, saw the notation on the small screen on the instrument indicate that they were “secure” and the name of the Director of DGSE clearly displayed.

“Randall, are you there? Henri Broussard calling.”

“Good morning, Henri, or good afternoon in your case. How good it is to hear from you. How is the weather in Paris?”

“Not as nice as it has been earlier this week, I might actually say it’s turning dreary, but it’ still warm by April standards. And in Washington?”

“A fine Spring day here, Henri. And how is your lovely wife?” It was always a necessity not to rush with people from the other side of the “great water,” even though it was often tedious. He thought he could sense that on this occasion Henri would have preferred to dispense with the pleasantries, but both men were too old and too experienced at the game they played to break the rules and get right down to business. So the dance continued.

“She is well, Randall, although I feel I should soon own half the boutiques of Paris. This week she is at our country house in Lorraine where I hope she can do less damage. How is your garden?”

“Thriving, Henri, thriving. I’ll have magnificent watermelons to show you the next time you come over.” The decent interval had elapsed, but he decided to wait and let Henri make the first move. An uncomfortable silence settled in for nearly ten seconds before the Frenchman cleared his throat.”

“Well, excellent Randall. Listen, we have had a rather exciting week here in Paris, and I, err, wanted to share some information with you, perhaps see if there is anything you might add to what we know. . ." He paused, and when Anderson said nothing, continued. "Three days ago there was a mugging near the Eiffel Tower, the victim was a Moroccan national who is here on a student visa but who now appears is not enrolled in any school. At first we thought this was a simple crime and the police were handling it in the usual way. Now of course our immigration people are also involved. Anyway, the following night, or more properly in the small hours of the morning of the next day, four Arab men walked into a hotel, where it appears from the ballistics they killed the night clerk, and were then killed themselves in a third-floor suite. They had no identification, but we have identified them all as wanted members of al-Qaeda, albeit small fish. They were all on “the list” we’ve been sharing—I have provided the names to your legal attaché, I’m sure your people will have it soon as well.” At this there was another brief pause. “Now, it appears to us that at least three interesting Americans also entered France in this same time period, but all of them have since vanished. Airport records show names like Smith, Jones, and Allen, which I’m hoping will ring a bell, as you would say, for you.”

Henri stopped here, and Anderson allowed another silence while he thought. It would have been very bad form to have asked directly if the operation had been done by the CIA; using the names was dangerously close to bad manners, but not quite over the line. It was well done, actually. He had not mentioned Cameron, which was good, although Anderson knew he’d traveled under his own name and the wily Frenchman certainly would know this. That meant they clearly suspected Cameron, which could be awkward for the boy someday, but not much to be done about that just now. It might be the subject of a deal later, and he put this away for future use. He decided that Henri sounded more curious than angry, perhaps interested in helping, but one could never be sure. He elected a middle ground.

“Hmm, well Henri, I’m sure there were hundreds of Americans entering Paris this week alone, maybe thousands, and God knows how common those names can be. I must congratulate you on your good fortune with the four Arabs, however. Have you any further leads to pursue? A pity everyone was killed.” Anderson had not said “no” to the veiled question of whether it had been a CIA op, but he had not said “yes” either. He could not of course confirm that it had been the CIA, but Henri would make his own conclusion. One of the things Anderson loved about this game was its complexity, it’s subtlety, but it could be a real bore with someone who didn’t know the rules. Henri knew.

“We have some items of interest we’re looking into in collaboration with the FNP. And we have the mugging victim under surveillance, including his telephone. We have tracked the supplier of the weapons the Arabs brought to the hotel, and we have that source under surveillance. Let me change the subject, Randall, to a delicate question. Are you people, uhh, how shall I say, concerned about anything in particular just now? It might help me to know what to look for if you need any assistance.” Again he stopped abruptly and quiet settled in.

Anderson reacted with an instant double-riposte. “Nothing in particular, Henri, and I appreciate your offer to share the “take” from your two or three remaining sources in this matter.” He paused for effect to let the obvious offer of the “three” settle in. He was referring of course to the Egyptian that Ripley had interrogated and left in the hotel in St Germaine, but who Henri had not mentioned in his litany of the Moroccan and the people from the shot-up hotel. This would either tell Henri that it had indeed been a CIA op, which was OK as long as it was only an assumption, or it would worry Henri a little about the Agency’s ability to know what was happening in Henri’s backyard, which was also rather a nice touch. He could almost hear Henri’s smile across the fiber optic telephone line.

“Well, Randall, I appreciate your making time to talk on the spur of the moment like this. We’ll let you know if we develop anything significant from our three sources, just in case it might be interesting for you. I have a meeting now and I’m sure you are also busy. Good day, my friend.”

“And you, Henri, thank you for calling.” Anderson replaced the phone. The Frenchman had taken the offering of the third source, and he seemed to have picked up the “nothing in particular” in the way it’d been intended. “Nice bit of work, Randy,” he congratulated himself aloud. Bobbie must have seen the lights blink out on her phone, because the dining room steward appeared in the doorway with a tray of donuts and a glass of grapefruit juice. He could just see Bobbie standing behind eyeing both of them to make sure there was no coffee hidden someplace she hadn’t already checked. Behind them both, he could see his eight o’clock appointment fidgeting, anxious for his audience.


Henri Broussard gazed across his large office at the eighteenth century paintings on the gilt wall opposite his desk. As he’d really already known, it had been a CIA operation. The Egyptian called Salah had been a peace offering of sorts, as had Kisani in all likelihood, and the wounded assassin who’d since died of his injuries just after identifying his associates. And of course, someone named “Ibrahim,” whereabouts unknown for now. He took a final look at the binder in front of him that was still open to the page holding a facsimile of Mr. Paul Cameron’s passport. The broad smile and piercing blue eyes, slightly lined at the corners, stared back at him out of a ruggedly angular and very American face.

XIX. Saudi Arabia/Jordan/Langley

The city of Taif sits high in the mountains of western Arabia, about forty kilometers to the southeast of and nearly five thousand feet above the holy city of Mecca. For centuries it has been the summer playground of kings; in the mountains it is cool, green, and comfortable even when the temperature in the lowlands and across the central plateau reaches over 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The city is not large by Western standards, but it is busy, particularly in summer, when the Royal Court moves there from Riyadh to escape the heat. There is a flourishing souq or “market” district dealing in all kinds of gold jewelry, carpets, incense and sandalwood, baskets from Asir to the South, other traditional crafts, as well as consumer goods and electronics from all over the world.

It is not uncommon to pass a small stall in the souq and to see a Pakistani shopkeeper sitting on a stool, sipping scalding-hot tea flavored with sugar and mint, watching a plasma-screen television or surfing the internet while he waits for his next customer. Many of these customers will be American or British expatriates or other Westerners, all of whom live and work in Taif either for the government, the Royal Saudi Air Force, or any number of large commercial conglomerates doing business in the Kingdom. Over the course of more than half a century since about 1950, this has been completely normal. The expats are the grease that makes Saudi “industry” run, and they become rich on their generous salaries, immersed in the exotic culture, charmed by the hospitality and generosity of their Arab hosts.

Khalid al-Shahrani checked his watch again, four-fifteen on Thursday afternoon, and sipped a cold Pepsi with ice as he surveyed the souq from his small table in the corner restaurant. It was a beautiful weekend, the sky above a clear, stark blue, and the temperature in the mid-60s Fahrenheit: it was almost too cool for his tastes. The foot traffic, as it always did, confirmed his belief in his cause. European men in blue jeans and polo shirts, accompanied by their women who generally wore black abaya but without covering their hair or faces, dominated the scene. True Arabs were perhaps only one quarter of the people he could see. Another quarter were the laborers and shopkeepers from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Egypt. The rest were Westerners, blond haired, often blue eyed, tall, shameless, and too proud. It took an effort to prevent himself from becoming enraged. He reminded himself that he had been more successful than he’d hoped.

His drive from Riyadh had been pleasant, if long, but his work had gone very well. Over the last two days he’d finished the buying of his tickets, and through a network of go-betweens and websites the word had gone out: prepare to move. By tomorrow at the time of the weekly Friday noon prayers every one of his men would have transport arranged, and by the next day they would begin to move West, into the heart of the Enemy’s homeland. After long thought, he’d decided that the best place for him to be in the next few months was Sudan. Accordingly, he had a ticket to Khartoum via Jeddah and Cairo on reserve, departing on Tuesday. A wave of pleasure warmed him at this thought. In the Sudan, slavery was still very much alive, and as he would be received in a manner befitting a high-ranking member of the Brotherhood, he expected that there would be a nearly endless supply of young and nubile women from which he would have his pick. Beyond this, Sudan was not his favorite place to be, but this compensation would make the other discomforts bearable. He smiled and sipped the Pepsi, then tore off a chunk of the flat bread, dipping it in the spicy babaganush before taking a mammoth bite and focusing again on his lingering problem.

He was still working out what to do about the General and his family. On the one hand he was tempted to let that whole situation pass, such was his confidence in the plan to move his men quickly. After all, once they were gone, there was little damage the General or the troublesome nephew could do. But yesterday Mohammed had telephoned from al-Khobar to relate his discovery of the al-Auda family’s move to their compound in al-Ha’il. This bothered Khalid, not so much because he cared one way or the other for that northern oasis town, regardless of its reputation for scholarship of the Q’uran and the Hadith, but rather because of the timing of the movement the family had made. The flight from Dhahran, timed as it had been, and just a day before he would have killed them all easily, was unsettling. It made this General seem much more dangerous, less predictable, more resourceful, in a way determined, than Khalid had expected. It was in a way proof that the man was thinking, planning, playing the game of strategy against an enemy Khalid would have hoped he neither knew nor suspected.

Even this, ordinarily, would not have worried him excessively. But last night as he checked his email for the final time of the evening, he was referred to a website, from there to another, and finally to a message and a photograph that was most unsettling. The photograph was of the General, at the Saudi embassy in London. He should have been dead in Paris four nights ago, but instead Ibrahim was somewhere in Germany and still incommunicado, and the General was in London. Why? And how? It was the resourcefulness of this move, and the unpredictability of it, coupled with the prescience of the family’s move from Dhahran, that bothered him. Together these things bespoke a man who was not to be trifled with, not to be underestimated. He appeared determined to survive. More than that, Khalid had the creeping feeling that the man himself believed he was on the offensive, the hunter rather than the hunted. That would never do.

Last, there had been disturbing traffic on the usual websites throughout the day today. Brothers were not checking in as planned across a wide swath of England, queries went unanswered, expected intelligence on the movements of the second Enemy had not arrived. Something was wrong there, and his superiors in Pakistan had asked for his opinion, clearly concerned that some disease from Paris had spread to London. Khalid had searched for news media reports of a major counter-terrorist operation to arrest the Brothers, but the major outlets were silent; there was nothing. And yet there was the General, yesterday morning according to what he’d been told, in London, followed by a silence that was too much like that which had accompanied the known catastrophe to Ibrahim’s network in Paris.

Taken together, Khalid concluded, these were ominous signs indeed. As he reached this conclusion, he also decided that he would have to do something about the General after all. The man was too dangerous, and the way to reach him was through his family at al-Ha’il, especially the nephew. That one must absolutely be liquidated before he could pass on any names, or descriptions of faces, of those men who were now so crucial to Khalid’s great plan. After thinking about this for a few minutes more, and finishing the bread and Pepsi, he made ready to leave. Sunset was a little over two hours away, and with it would come maghrib the evening prayer that would close everything. He needed an internet café, and quickly.

His walk was slowed by the foot traffic, which annoyed him. At one point he had to wait stationary while a large British family stood motionless across the entire, narrow street while the man haggled with an Afghan shop worker over a small brass coffee pot. It took ten minutes to reach his car, it would take another fifteen to drive across town to the computer souq where the internet café’s were clustered. Once he was moving he thumbed the speed dial on his phone, and waited for the reply.

“Nam?” came the answer of Mohammed’s voice from the other side of the Arabian Peninsula.

“Marhaba, ya Muhammed, hello Mohammed,” Khalid replied. “It’s Khalid your friend. And how is your weekend coming along?”

For his part Mohammed was less than pleased to hear from his friend again so soon. His cell phone was starting to make him nervous; he, too had been surfing the internet today and had noted the alarming silence from London. But his duty to the Brothers was his duty, and he replied, “Khalid, how good to hear from you again so soon. Where are you today, my friend?”

“Never mind that, Mohammed. Listen, I think my brother, by the grace of God, should have a birthday party after all, you know the one we planned for several days ago? But he and his family are at their compound in the North, as we discussed yesterday. I would like you to go and make my respects, and I’ll send gifts for you to present.”

Mohammed thought about this and didn’t like it. He still had the five other men, including the twins, but he had never seen the al-Auda family compound. He knew of their wealth, however, from general talk throughout his youth. The compound would almost certainly be relatively large, there might be many people there, and they would resist any attempt to take the nephew. He said, “Khalid, what kinds of gifts will you send? It will be a, uhm, rich party with many people attending. We will need a suitably large group to greet them properly.”

“Yes, I have thought of that Mohammed, that is exactly what I have in mind. I have thought to have some people meet you at al-Buraydah with the gifts. I think perhaps something like twenty-five would do. What do you think?”

Mohammed whistled almost aloud. “Khalid, I should think that would do, if God wills it. Are their gifts to be, err, so heavy?” He was trying to ask about weapons, but could not be explicit over this cursed phone.

But Khalid was nothing if not astute. “Yes, Mohammed, the gifts are very heavy, but also I want my brother to be impressed by my respect for him. Now, when do you think would be a good time, so that we may set the meeting at Buraydah and from there you can lead the party onward? For my part, I will need two or three days for organization, inshallah.”

“As God wills, Khalid, in two or three days I could be there, and I will come with a few friends also.”

“Good, very good Mohammed. Let us say then that you will meet, as God wills, at Buraydah on the afternoon of al-Ahad, Sunday. I will telephone my brother and tell him that you will call for the surprise party that evening. Is it agreed?”

“Yes, Khalid, bismallah, in the Name of God, it is agreed. And I will lead the party myself, for the respect of your esteemed brother.”

“Excellent, then, so be it. Peace be with you, my friend,” and without waiting for a reply, Khalid hung up. In five more minutes he parked the car and walked two blocks to an internet café he had not used on this trip, ordered tea, and began to work his computer. He had people to notify, pieces to move on the game board, weapons and equipment to organize. He worked steadily until the tenor voice summoned him to prayer two hours later. Before he logged off and paid his bill, he made a new reservation for his flight to Khartoum, but for Monday morning instead of Tuesday.


History has washed over and around Amman and the little kingdom that is now Jordan since at least 4000 years before the “Common Era”. In around 1300 B.C.E, the Ammonites had their kingdom, until about 600 B.C.E., with the city of Rabbath Ammon as their capital. They were a Semitic people, who had much commerce of one kind or another with the early Hebrew Kingdom. One of the sons of King Solomon is said to have had an Ammonite mother, which is the more pleasant kind of commerce; but the two kingdoms also often fought. By about 270 B.C.E. the area was conquered by the Ptolemy’s and the city was renamed Philadelphia. Around a century and a half later it fell into Roman hands, and by 324 of the Common Era , Philadelphia was the seat of a Christian Bishopric of the Byzantine Empire. In 635 C.E. the rapidly advancing Arab Muslim armies conquered the area, but by about 1300 C.E. there was no need for a large city at the site, so close to Damascus, Baghdad, and Jerusalem, and the place became all but deserted. The Ottoman Turks settled some Circassians there in 1878, but this was only a small village. Not until the modern Kingdom of Trans-Jordan was established from the spoils of WWI did Amman really come back into vibrant growth. That vibrancy has of course not erased nearly six thousand years of history: in Amman one finds the remains of a Roman amphitheater and those of Greek temples and ruined palaces of many ancient civilizations alongside the bustling modernity of a major national capital.

Queen Alia International Airport is one modern jewel located about twenty-five kilometers south of downtown Amman. Over forty airlines transship more than five million passengers a year, a multi-variate stew of peoples from all over the world making the eons-old trek across the route that has served trade with the Far East for as long as history remembers.

On this Friday evening it was no different. For reasons that baffle the Western traveler on every such occasion, several international flights from Europe all seem to be scheduled to arrive at nearly the same time. This introduces a mass confusion of baggage, customs and immigration queues, taxi shortages, and utter mayhem conducted in a mixture of Arabic, English, German, and even French. This is both good and bad. It is of course frustrating for the honest traveler, which is not so good but cannot be helped. It is good, however, if the traveler is not so honest, and better still if he has truly sinister intent. This precise situation had been much too common in Amman since the middle 1990s. As a result, there was always a wide array of watchers at the airport, some working for Jordanian police and intelligence services, and others working on the opposite side of the law. The latter might be there to spot potential targets or to collect fellow Brothers or smugglers of one kind or another bound for Iraq or elsewhere. The hunters and the hunted were nearly always here, in nearly equal numbers. Precisely who was who depended solely on one’s point of view.

And so, several sets of eyes noticed the family that came off British Airways flight 6337 from London just after eight-thirty p.m. local time. The official watchers noted the faces and the time; one of them sidled over to an immigration clerk and whispered instructions to make copies of the obviously Arab passports he suspected would be Saudi. As he stepped away to resume his place he noticed that the man walked like a soldier: back straight, head up, eyes roaming the hall. He was light skinned for a Saudi, but many from the North of the Kingdom would be that way. He decided to keep an eye on this group and follow them at least out to the ground transportation area, just to see if anything happened there. Returning to the crowd mingling near the baggage claim area he noted that most of the passengers looked very British, nothing remarkable about them at all.

Another watcher was already making a phone call from his seat at the small restaurant just outside the security cordon. He had been here all day to cover the ten flights that arrive from London every day, he would have been here all day tomorrow except for this marvelous luck. When the line picked up he spoke just two quick sentences, heard only one in return, and hung up his phone. He resumed drinking his coffee and pretending to read the newspaper.

It happened that several sets of eyes in the throng of passengers were also unusually observant. One, a British SAS man on his way to his embassy for a security consultation, took notice of the uniformed and plainclothes security men, but was unconcerned. He had solid diplomatic cover and had nothing to hide in any case. He was very slightly offended, in the classically understated British way, by what he thought were no less than three and possibly four unofficial watchers lurking beyond the security line. He was mildly curious about two of his fellow passengers as well, one of which he’d lost track of somewhere in the crowd, but none of this was anything to worry about. He made some quiet apologies in Arabic as he shouldered his way toward the baggage carousel to find his bag. He would deal with any problem children if and when the need arose, which he half-hoped would be on his way into town. He was in a bit of a mood after the six-hour flight.

The passenger who’d slipped out of the SAS man’s gaze wore a pair of loose khaki trousers, a light blue button-down shirt, and lightweight suede hiking shoes. A navy blue blazer slung over his left shoulder. He‘d noticed the very observant, obviously British man, but he was much more concerned by what he was sure were two men who did not really belong where they were at present. Through the crowd he was using for cover, he could see the man at the restaurant who’d been staring at the same newspaper page for far too long, unless he was illiterate, which would only make the newspaper thing worse, he thought. He’d also seen what he thought was a look of recognition that preceded the cell phone call, and that was most certainly not good. He took a quick look at the baggage carousel, saw nobody from his flight reaching for a bag yet, so he fished out his own phone and speed-dialed a number. An answer came quickly, and in whispered English he spoke a few short lines, nodded when he heard the reply. Then he ended the call.

The other man that worried him was out of view—he’d wandered across the front of the secured area looking in, but he didn’t fit the other people waiting outside to pick up arriving passengers. He could not place just what didn’t fit, but instinctively he thought the man was not right. The government men did not worry him.

There was yet a third man with whom the man in the blue shirt should probably have been concerned, but he’d missed him. Dark hair, brown eyes, European-looking, he blended in with the crowd but stayed back from the carousel as he waited. He, too, had seen what the others observant men on the flight had seen, but with the exception of what he though was a Brit, nobody had really noticed him. He found the blue button-down shirt curious, but Europeans were not his brief on this trip. What he wanted were the watchers outside.

Bags began to spill onto the rotating carousel and people pushed and shoved their way to its edge to claim their bags. Soon a surging crowd was queuing for the immigration and customs booths, and into this anonymous mass the alert Europeans all blended, losing sight of each other and of the men outside. Once past their checkpoints they blended as much as possible into the milling groups that now filled the transportation lobby waiting for rides into Amman. Except for the blue button-down shirt. He walked into the restaurant and asked for a table near the back. He ordered coffee, sat back into shadow, watched, and waited.

It took ten minutes, but the Arab family finally came through, pushing a cart with their vast luggage ahead of them. They didn’t linger. Moving fast for a large group, they went straight ahead, scattering other people as they went. Out on the concrete walk the tall Arab man looked left and then right, looked frustrated, then turned abruptly left and walked rapidly, the rest of the family in tow. As he walked he dialed another call, spoke in short, harsh sentences, then hung up. He did not stop walking.

The watcher from the restaurant exited the same door, but forty-five seconds behind the Arabs, and turned to follow. As he did, he finished transmitting the photos he’d taken with his phone. He walked just fast enough to keep pace until he saw the Arab family reach the end of the transportation area and stop. Inconvenient. He himself was required to walk another twenty paces, getting closer than he’d like, but then he stopped at a waiting taxi, leaned down, and pretended to argue with the driver over the cost for the ride into town while he waited to see what would happen next.

The man in the blue shirt came out the same exit next. He turned left, immediately saw what was happening, and turned to the first taxi in the line. He, too, began to argue with the driver in a combination of pidgin Arabic and English, with the occasional gesture in place of a missing word.

The SAS agent stood against the concrete wall fifty yards further east, his luggage at his feet, waiting for the pickup he expected from his embassy, watching this interesting parade and wondering what the devil these people were about. One Arab following an Arab family, himself followed by this other fellow, and, by Jove, who was this interesting gentleman coming out of the terminal building door halfway between the two? It was almost comical, he thought, except the new arrival on further inspection looked like he might be a right rough old bastard, and something about the blue shirt did not seem as much a buffoon as he wanted to appear.

He marveled at this comedy for thirty more seconds, during which the dark man did a fine job of looking innocent, and then things began to happen. A pair of black Suburban SUVs arrived at the curb in front of the Arab family, four Arab men in traditional dress piled out, and in very short order the bags and the people disappeared inside. The vehicles pulled out into traffic and accelerated away. He saw his ride arriving, a Land Rover, and flagged it down. At the same time, the Arab follower boarded his taxi and sped off in pursuit, blue shirt did the same immediately after. The SAS man piled into his car as quickly as he could manhandle his bags into the back seat, and said, “Right, follow that taxi, there’s a good lad. This will be interesting.” The driver made no reply, but stepped on the gas and roared off in pursuit.

Last in the otherwise amusing train came the dark-eyed man in his taxi.


At Langley it was just after two in the afternoon, and a very pissed off Brian Jones was back at his desk, “running” the Phoenix op instead of living it. The email from Paris to the DDO had done it. It had taken the Boss just about thirty minutes to decide that the right guy to keep the operation supported from headquarters was Jones. Someone had to coordinate. There had been no haggling.

His route back had been less than direct, however. He and Allen had been made by the spooky French guy LaPlante at De Gaulle airport, so there was no way they could leave Paris by air any more than Cameron could have. Instead, Ripley rented a car. Jones drove South and East across the countryside and into Switzerland. At Geneva he turned in the car, spent a lavishly comfortable night at a five-star Swiss hotel, and hopped the Delta/Air France flight direct to Washington at two in the afternoon yesterday. Remembering this, he grinned at the irony of the Air France bit. From the airport he’d made a short stop at his home in Arlington, and had been in his office by eight yesterday evening Eastern Time.

Allen took a train from Paris, South and West across the Pyrenees into Spain. From Barcelona he flew on Royal Jordanian Airlines to Amman, arriving late Wednesday night. He’d flown first class, which meant he, too had eaten and slept lavishly. Jones took some comfort in the thought that while Allen was still out there in the game and he was sidelined, the beds in the visitors quarters at US Embassy, Amman left much to be desired.

Snapping back to the present, Jones noted the time and that the British Air flight carrying Cameron and the General would be in Amman by now. He was musing about this when his secure phone rang. He picked it up with a simple “Hello?” In the window on the face of the instrument he read “AMEMB Amman, Jordan SECURE.” His face bent into a frown.

“Jones? Allen here. We have a problem.”

“Shit, what now. Did you kill someone already? Christ, Allen, can’t you . . “

“No, no, I swear. I’m at the embassy numbnuts. Listen. It’s the Colonel. He called me on my cell just now. He and the General and all are enroute here from the airport, but they’ve grown a tail already.”

“Shit. Who the hell are these fuckers? What’s he want to do?”

“That’s the problem, sort of. The plan was the whole bunch of them were going to stay at some family compound about a mile from here. Colonel says that’s not happening now, he wants us to let the whole bunch of them into the embassy compound. They’re enroute, probably get here in about fifteen minutes.”

“Okay, so let ‘em in. What’s the problem?” Jones asked.

“Uhh, well, the guys here say they can’t let Saudis into the compound. The Regional Security Officer guy’s a Nazi, the Ambassador is in Europe, Deputy Chief is at dinner other side of town with the Brits and isn’t answering her phone. The station chief here tried to get the Security guy to do it, but he’s a real shit.”

Jones thought about this. “So, you want to kill him?”

“Very funny, asshole. No, I don’t want to kill him, not yet anyway. How about you pull some big cheese headquarters act and roll this guy. Come on, we don’t have any time!”

“OK, you got the guy there?” Jones asked. “Put him on.”

The phone changed hands at the other end. Jones knew the instrument there would have a window like his did, except it would read “CIA Langley, SECURE.” Instant credibility.

“Hello? This is the RSO, Frank Capaccio. Who’s this?”

“Sounds like a pencil-neck geek,” Jones thought. “Hi, this is Mr. Jones, Langley,” he said as nicely as he could muster. “We really need your assistance. The Saudis my, err, colleague told you about are of personal interest to the DO here, as is the American citizen who will be with them. We’d really appreciate it, and I’m sure he would, too, if you’d just let these people into the compound, find them someplace nice and private for the night, and we’ll make arrangements to move them tomorrow or the next day . . .”

“Nope, no way. Who do you guys think you are anyway?” Jones held the handset away from his ear as the geek ranted for twenty seconds or so. When the noise stopped he put it back and waited in silence another full ten seconds.

Then, in a voice he calculated to be low and dangerous he said, “Listen, pal. It doesn’t matter a bit who I am—read the ident on your phone. Now, my colleague there is a pretty nasty piece of work, and he’s taken a liking to these people, as have I by the way. So, aside from the fact that the CIA Deputy Director of Operations is going to have your ass on a plane back to the US by next Monday if you screw this up, you want to think about what kind of life you’re going to have if these people don’t find a safe spot to sleep tonight. In the Embassy Compound. Do it. In less than an hour the Comm Center there will have a FLASH message direct from the DDO ordering it to be so, trust me. Meantime, you let them in and you get them set up. You keep those people waiting outside until that message gets there, or if you screw around at all, your ass belongs to us. Sooner or later. What’s it going to be?” Silence.

“Nice,” came the reply. It was Allen. “Don’t know what you said, but it worked. What a geek.”

“You think he’s got it, then?” Jones asked.

“Pretty sure,” Allen replied. “Thanks, gotta go. I want to be outside on the street when this caravan arrives, see if I can get a look at the garbage tailing the Colonel.”

“Right. Let me know if the RSO gives you any more crap. I’ll ping the Boss right now.” They both hung up. Jones’ fingers were working on the email.


The two black Suburbans screeched to a halt at the concrete jersey barriers in front of the American Embassy. The Jordanian policeman at the checkpoint approached the driver’s side of the lead vehicle and asked for identification. He was immediately immersed in a rapid-fire conversation in Arabic, which alarmed him. He stepped back from the vehicle two paces, and was about to sound the alarm when three Marines in desert camouflage walked up, armed, along with an Embassy civilian. The latter said something quiet in Arabic, the policeman’s face went from alarm to understanding. He stepped aside and waived the two vehicles forward as he turned and waived for the gate to be opened.

The American civilian noted the taxi that came up the street toward the compound and then turned right before it got there. He watched it closely. About halfway down the quarter-mile length of the compound wall he saw the brake lights come on, the car stopped very briefly, then moved on. He whispered something to one of the Marines, and the three of them turned and followed the Suburbans through the gate. The civilian just stood there, waiting.

Shortly, another car approached, but this time drove right up to the checkpoint. A man got out, tugged a large rolling duffle from the backseat, paid his fare and dismissed the car. He wore a blue blazer over a blue button-down shirt, khaki slacks and those new suede hiking shoes. The civilian watched him closely as he walked forward, careful to keep his hands in plain view. The man stopped two paces in front of him. From behind he heard the policemen take a step to one side as he shifted the machine pistol that hung from a webbed strap around his neck.

The man in front of him was right at six feet, athletic-looking, dark hair, eyes that were probably blue in daylight. The face looked cold, dangerous. As he watched the man slowly raised his empty right hand, palm forward, until it was even with his ear. Then, very slowly now he moved the hand toward his chest in a large, obvious, circular motion, reaching into the inside pocket of the blue blazer. The policeman’s weapon moved again, the stranger’s cold gaze shifted to the Jordanian for a moment. Slowly again, he withdrew the hand and reached forward to pass the familiar blue booklet of an American passport.

About this time a Land Rover came up the street. Everyone looked as the car paused in the intersection for a couple of seconds, then it turned left. The Embassy man watched for a second, then looked in the book, read “Michael Callan” and noted the face matched the man in front of him. He looked up into the eyes, smiled, and said, “Mr. Callan, welcome to Jordan.” Colonel Paul Cameron smiled back and walked forward through the checkpoint, onto American soil.

David Allen watched all this from his position in the doorway of a small shop across the street from the embassy wall and perhaps a hundred meters from where the first taxi had dropped its passenger. He could still just see the man. He was wondering about the Land Rover and about what the man would do next when a third taxi appeared in the intersection in front of the embassy gate. After a second’s pause, it turned right and came slowly up the street. Allen was just getting uncomfortable with this development when it happened.

As the car came abreast of where his soon-to-be-quarry was standing it abruptly stopped. The passenger-side door flung open, and faster than Allen thought a human being could move a dark figure leapt out. The man on the street just started to turn and run, but he had no chance. The dark man was on him, there was a quick scuffle. Allen’s feet started of their own accord, he wanted this guy. But it was too far. As he ran, he watched in horror as the limp figure was literally tossed into the open back door of the taxi. He hadn’t covered half the distance when the engine roared, tires spun. Allen pressed himself into the nearest doorway, but there was no need. The car found the middle of the road and accelerated rapidly away.

In the car, the dark man breathed twice, deeply. Without turning he said in a reptilian voice and beautiful French, “l’ambassade, rapidement.”


“Allahu akhabaaaarrrr, alllaaaaahhhhh u-akhbarrr . . .” a man’s tenor voice was singing somewhere, in Arabic, with a loudspeaker to boost the volume.

Paul Cameron came fully awake with this realization, struggling to take stock of where he was and what was happening. A glance out the window revealed just a faint tinge of light to the clear night sky, in his room it was still quite dark except for the light from the digital alarm clock on the bedside table. Four-forty-seven. His mind still swimming, he lay back again and blinked. The voice outside continued to sing, “God is Great, prayer is good, come to prayer” he translated, and this done, he sorted out where he was and what was happening. “God is Great” he said softly aloud. “Morning prayer call, Amman, Jordan.” He’d slept very soundly. Still, the noise would be over in a few minutes, the faithful would pray, or not if they were not so devout, and then most of the city would go back to sleep for another three or four hours.

He lay there enjoying the haunting singing. The man had an excellent voice, after all, the minor key was striking, the words simple, the command powerful. He thought for what must have been the thousandth time that it was no wonder there were so many of the faithful the world over. It had been nearly six years since he’d traveled in this part of the world and heard it, but it struck him deep as it always did. “Too bad so many of them have gone nuts,” he mumbled. “Otherwise I’d bring Elizabeth out here, maybe the kids as well, lots to see, so much history . . .”

He sat up in bed and took stock of the room. The American Embassy in Amman is large, with VIP quarters on the compound to ensure a secure place for senior US visitors, often the Secretary of State, rarely the President or one of his close advisors or personal envoys. None of them were here today, and none expected anytime soon, so he’d been given a very nice suite. He wasn’t sure if that was because he was a full Colonel in the Air Force, or because of his connection with the DDO. There were several large carpets on the wide tiled floor, most of them Persian he noted with interest and admiration, but three were Turkoman tribal rugs from Afghanistan and the surrounding “stans” where the vast Turkic tribes roamed or now lived in villages and towns. These carpets were his favorites, each one unique but still similar in their simple color schemes of madder red, indigo, white, cream, black, and occasionally just a little bit of green wool. Rolling off the bed, he walked over to the nearest of these and sat down, examining the stiff, short pile and the intricate design. This one had a large, octagonal-shaped figure repeated regularly in two lines running the length of the rug, gold-colored wool woven into the borders, with geometric figures in red woven through the indigo background, and an occasional diamond or triangle of white for accent. “Kizil ayak,” he said to the empty suite. He owned one of these himself, it decorated his office floor back in Ohio. “And that one is Sarouk, this one is Salor, very nice,” rounded out the appraisal of the other two Afghan rugs.

The call to prayer had ended, and quiet had returned to the world for the moment, but the sky outside was lightening. It would be a clear day, probably hot, but fine for travel. A long day. Changing his mind about going back to sleep, he rose, padded over to the bathroom. When he emerged he found a clear space of tile between two exquisite Persian rugs, and began his ritual calisthenics.

Fahd would be at prayer, he thought, as the pushups piled up. Likely the older kids, too, but they would go back to sleep until at least eight. He’d meet the men, including his new traveling companions, for breakfast in the cafeteria a bit after that. Not much time to get to know them last night, just introductions and then off to bedrooms for everyone. The new men were sharp-eyed, sharp-featured, light-ish skinned like Fahd, with quick smiles and easy laughs. They’d greeted him with considerable respect, called him “Aqid” which is “Colonel”. Fahd must have briefed them. Cameron smiled.

Switching to sit-ups, he wondered whether Allen had learned anything more overnight about the guy in the last car. He’d missed that show of course, already inside the compound, but there’d been a quick debrief last night. Good that whoever was following “someone” was off the street, but there was clearly more than one “side” in the game now, followers following followers, very strange, things getting complicated. They’d have to sort that out somehow before setting off today, maybe even set up some kind of diversion to slip away out of town without growing a tail. It’d be awkward if someone set upon them in the desert between Amman and Ha’il, probably messy, too with Allen along. That was not a guy people wanted to screw with if they knew what was good for them.

This also made Cameron smile, but while the thought was amusing, the less diabolical part of his brain interjected that the idea was to be stealthy, not leave a trail of bodies halfway across the Middle East. “Did enough of that across Europe” he mumbled aloud, but the smile was still there. “Six hundred,” for the last situp. He lay on his back now on the Persian Kashan carpet, staring at the ceiling as he caught his breath and let the stomach muscles relax a bit. After two minutes he got up and turned on the shower, maybe the last he’d have for a few dusty, hot days until they reached al-Ha’il. After the shower, he was going to find Allen and the Chief of Station, see what they knew, and sort out some kind of plan for the day.


The other “sides” were also up and about as morning prayer ended.

Ten blocks away, in a stone-lined room in the lowest cellar of the French embassy, the Arab hung limp by the shackles around his hands. A small camera near the ceiling in one corner fed this image to a much more comfortable room down the hall, where two Frenchmen were reviewing what they knew with their boss in Paris. They were tense—the “Boss” on the other end of the phone was their Director, Henri Broussard, and this was not a usual thing.

The dark man finished reviewing what they’d been able to extract from the Arab, which was not much. He was Jordanian, his name was, in fact, on “the list”, but he was a small player. Had spent some time in a camp in Afghanistan in the nineties, but that was it. No active ops anyone knew about, apparently he was used solely to watch the airport, report on the movements of people of interest, shuttle fellow brothers from there into Amman, facilitate their movement onward to wherever they were intent on going—Iraq or Afghanistan, most likely, but often in the other direction, toward Europe.

They’d already sent the list of all the numbers from his cell phone to Paris, and had already put a listening watch on several of them. The watch would rotate through the list throughout the day until they heard something that would key them to the most interesting numbers. The photos the man had taken with the phone’s camera were also in Paris for analysis.

“Good,” Broussard said, shuffling through the file on his desk where he found the three 8 X 10 glossy color shots. “Who are these Arabs he was photographing?” he asked the speakerphone on his desk.

In Amman, the two men looked at each other, each gave a Gallic shrug, and the chief of Amman station answered, “we do not know, director. Jean saw them, of course, but there were many Arabs on the flights that arrived about then. Nothing unusual about this family, except perhaps that the man, the tall one, is probably military. The walk, you understand, Director?”

“Ah, yes, I understand,” Broussard replied, thinking. “And they are at the American Embassy now, yes? Well, I hope I don’t need to suggest that we need to know more about these people, gentlemen. Anything else for me just now?”

Jean spoke then, a low, liquid voice that was both calm and menacing. “Only this, sir. There were a number of odd players in the game last night. I believe there was another American on the flight that arrived with the Arabs, although they were not obviously together. He is probably at the embassy also, but it was dark so I cannot be certain. Then there was another operative watching the street along the wall across from the compound when I arrived to take our man—I barely beat him to it and he nearly interfered with me. Very fast, very discreet, very professional. Last, I believe there was a British agent involved somehow. A Land Rover drove between me and the Arabs along the same route from the airport, and turned off in front of the American embassy in the direction the British mission, several blocks away. I do not think it stopped, nor do I think they observed me. That is all.”

There was a long pause as Broussard thought in Paris and the two men in Amman squirmed uncomfortably, waiting. Finally the Boss said, “Very good, gentlemen, very good. Jean, my particular compliments on your work last night, it is very helpful. Now, I have much to do so I will go. But do what you can to keep an eye on this interesting caravan of people, and please keep me informed. We’ll send you anything we have here that comes from the data you’ve provided today. Any questions?”

The Chief said, “No, Director,” raising his eyebrow at his companion in both a question and a plea. He wanted this to be over. The other shook his head very slightly.

“Goodbye then, gentlemen” came Broussard’s voice, and the secure phone went silent.

The two men looked at each other for a long minute, each keeping his own thoughts. Jean looked at his Amman counterpart, then glanced with emphasis at the TV image of the Arab down the hall.

The Chief gave the Gallic shrug again, both eyebrows raised this time, and just the lightest trace of a smirk on his face.

“Bon,” Jean whispered. “I’ll take care of it. You take care of setting up surveillance on the Americans, and God help us. The man I saw on the street is dangerous. Send your best people and tell them to be careful.” He left quietly, headed in the direction of the cold stone room and the Arab, who would not see another dawn.


At Langley it was just after midnight, but Jones was hard at work, putting the final touches on his briefing for the DO in the morning. It was, he reflected as he finished looking at his electronic charts, a fairly complete picture.

On the main area of concern, they’d made considerable progress. State had provided a list of Saudis who held legitimate US passports, which was good. Not so good but not much of a surprise, there were several thousand. However, Jones and a sharp young kid down in the Directorate of Intelligence had worked for the last several hours on that list, and managed to reduce it to about a thousand men of what he considered “military age,” between sixteen and about forty-five. Still a large group, but that’s where Intel had really done it’s duty. There were about a hundred who were known to have spent time in Afghanistan during the Soviet jihad, mostly now getting up there in age, but still important. Another couple of hundred had certainly not entered the US anytime in the last five years, another group in ten, etcetera. Presuming that the people he was most interested in would not have been in the US recently, a ploy he would have used to throw off just such an analysis, he would focus on this group. So, they were looking at maybe two hundred, possibly three hundred-fifty if you wanted to look at some of the older guys. A big list, but manageable with the new systems that State and Immigration had brought online since the 911 wakeup call. The list was already out there, and any of these guys trying to enter the US would be flagged and detained for some special attention.

Cameron’s thoughts on a small-unit infantry attack were also helpful, not something anyone had thought much about. Again, the Intel guys, once they’d warmed up to the idea, had produced some good stuff. They’d put together a computer simulation to illustrate the impact of one or several such events in small-town America, and the results were surprising. Taken together, the total effect appeared to be much more worthy of the effort on the part of the terrorists than anyone had previously thought, and therefore much more worthy of some hard thinking and preparation on the part of American security people. FBI was now working on that along with the team over at the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center. A cryptic and probably not-too-helpful note had gone to all the police departments in the country. That would probably draw some fire from the press: another non-specific warning about a terrorist attack “somewhere” that nobody would be able to do anything about. But Jones knew a few things about small unit actions that the press did not, and he knew that across the country police and sheriff’s departments would read the warning and at least think just a little about “what if in my town?”. That by itself could make a difference if it came to it, but he hoped to do better with some more time to work.

He turned to his computer and switched to the next section of the briefing. The phone-intercept picture was pretty complete by now, and had been remarkably productive. The roll-up of the terrorists in Paris had been pretty big, the biggest ripple-effect anyone had produced since Fall of 2001. The take in London and across Britain had been even better, and now there were lots of people in custody, guests of MI-5 or Scotland Yard, and he knew they would provide even more good intelligence, eventually.

But one of the down-sides of success was that things began to get quiet very fast. Since London, his phone contacts had pretty much gone silent. Even the multitude of numbers on the twenty-five or so phones taken in England weren’t talking, to say nothing of anyone in Paris that started this whole thing. And the Saudi connection had recently gone dead, too.

He opened a file and found the latest transcript from that most interesting but most un-disciplined suspect, Khalid was his name. He read through the short conversation again, wondering. Well, Saudis were big about parties, especially for family no matter how extended. Could be that’s all this is, just a party for his nephew in Ha’il. Still, it might be worth checking, maybe he’d get lucky. He opened another application on the computer, and was soon staring at the National Reconnaissance Office’s classified “Overhead Asset” intelligence request site. It took a few mouse-clicks and five minutes to fill in the online form, but by the time he pushed the “Submit Request” button at the bottom, he’d done all the paperwork required to get high-resolution photographs of the town of al-Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, on the next available pass of a suitable satellite. He didn’t know when that might be, yet: he hoped for sometime Saturday. Whenever the space-cadets decided when and what “next available” was in his case, he’d get an email. It would have to do, but if it didn’t happen by Saturday, he made a note to ask the DO to see if he could bump up the priority. That done, he added a couple of bullets to the last chart to describe the “overhead” plan.

Last, he summarized what they knew of the French connection. Their Gallic friends had Salah the Egyptian and were, presumably, having an entertaining time at his expense. Nothing had happened for two days on Kisani’s phone, which might mean he’d gone silent, too, but it might be he was just sleeping off his beating. Jones smiled unconsciously at this and shook his head, picturing the small Moroccan getting pummeled by a bunch of Paris thugs, with Cameron listening a couple hundred yards away and out of sight. Man, what’d he’d have given to have thought that one up. Brilliant. “It’s getting late,” he said aloud, jerking himself out of this reverie and returning to the briefing. He added a few bullets about the French operation in Paris, the likelihood that Cameron was compromised in France, his own deduction, something that would have to be “fixed” at a high level once this was all shut down. Cameron would certainly want to travel as a tourist in France again someday—his passport history clearly indicated that he and his wife had a thing for Paris—and it would never do for the French to arrest him on his next trip and put him on ice. Not at all. The DDO would have to fix it, or maybe State, perhaps even the President. No worries. Finally, he noted the report of the events in Amman, and his suspicion that the mystery agent in the cab had likely been French. “Nothing much to that, just a hunch,” he thought, “but it would fit. What Anderson said about his chat with the DGSE chief just made him feel like the man in Paris probably was fully in the game by now, and playing hard. He wondered what his Boss would think of that in the morning.

Jones scrolled back to the top of his presentation and went through it once more, making sure the story flowed as he wanted, and that he’d left nothing out, trying to guess what questions might be asked by the Boss, and by others he thought might attend. Finally, satisfied, he logged off and closed down the machine for the night. Tomorrow would bring something new in this game, he was sure.

XX. The Desert, Northern Saudi Arabia

Colonel Cameron took another long pull on the bottle of water, then poured some on the neckcloth he’d removed a few moments ago and swabbed his forehead. It was just before noon Friday, and he thought briefly of the call to prayer that would just be getting under way in the cities and towns. Here, two and a half hours east of Amman, there was nothing but open desert in every direction, bisected by the long, straight ribbon of asphalt that reached to the Eastern horizon.

He turned and cast a worried eye Northwest, but there was nothing to be seen. He’d not seen a car or anything else on the road behind them for more than an hour. That meant that their diversion had either been successful or unnecessary, and it didn’t really matter which. It had been fun, though, he had to admit.

He’d found Allen and the Chief of Station in their ops room, had been allowed into that most sensitive and secretive space in all US Embassies the world over, and there they’d talked for over an hour. The diversion was simple, yet ballet-like in its intricate interplay of moving parts. The Embassy owned three Suburbans, all black. They were each a year older than the two the Saudis were traveling, in, but that would have to do. Only a practiced admirer of GM vehicles would know the difference, especially if they were moving fast. The plan was to be moving fast.

Everything was loaded and ready to go by nine, Cameron had been impressed by the industry and speed of the Saudis who’d come to collect them. They were smart and quick, and surprisingly hard-working. They’d made some adjustments to the plan that made good sense.

The morning was really “made” by the appearance of Ripley, which Cameron had not expected, but he was pleased. The DDO concluded sometime late last night that Allen needed another hand along to ride shotgun, and Ripley got the nod. An all night flight on a chartered jet delivered him to the Embassy about 6 this morning. For his part Patrick was beaming. Not his part of the world, he’d said, but he’d grown fond of the Colonel as he put it, and looked forward to a run across the desert and whatever might lie at the other end of the trek.

The Company did its duty in the equipment line. There were two Iridium satellite phones, the ones that used the commercial satellite constellation that Motorola designed, built, and launched as a commercial venture in the early 90s, but which had failed to find a market. The whole system was now owned by the US government and used mostly by the Defense Department, and it provided cellular-like coverage anywhere on the planet. There were also two handheld GPS units, much like the ones hikers and hunters used everywhere these days, but with an important difference: these contained “Blue Force Tracker” transponders that allowed the units not only to know where the bearer was to within about 3 feet anywhere in the world, they also transmitted this position back to the nearest satellite and from there to whatever US operations center might be interested in where they were. Langley would be interested, of course. Last came the Station Chief’s personal vehicle, a lightly armored Suburban in silver, with a 454 V-8 that made it go like a rocket. This was to be the Ripley/Allen ride, and it had special “hides” for weapons and other stuff that needed to be kept private. Into these went four Smith & Wesson 10mm automatic pistols and 10 boxes of ammunition, 500 rounds in all. On the other side in a larger compartment there were two Heckler & Koch MP-5/9 submachine guns, each with a silencer and night vision sights. Allen had beamed at these, mouthing “we own the night” as he tucked the last of the ammo into the compartment and closed the cover. A final smaller compartment contained four sets of tactical radios and spare batteries, Special Ops equipment with earbuds and boom mikes that allowed communication while keeping the hands free for weapons employment. Two sets of night vision goggles. Ripley was very pleased, Allen looked like a kid at Christmas. Cameron remembered thinking that they’d be running a modern remake of the John Wayne film “War Wagon” if anyone tried to make trouble.

At precisely nine-forty-eight three black Suburbans roared out of the US embassy in Amman in close trail, and began a serpentine dance around town. They immediately grew a tail, which was quickly identified as French by alert watchers posted on the Embassy roof. Five minutes after this departure three other Suburbans, two black and one silver, left the Embassy grounds and turned in the opposite direction, also making a twisting, turning pathway along the surface streets of Amman, finally joining the main motorway heading East out of the city. And so, here, nearly 290 kilometers East, they sat waiting for the Saudis to pray along the side of the road, the Americans drinking chilled bottled water, taking turns looking West for any signs of pursuit.

Ripley pulled his wide-brimmed safari hat down over his brow, and turned to face Cameron. “Colonel,” he said, “have you been this way before?”

“Nope, can’t say that I have, Patrick. But I know the general route, not many choices out here after all. It’s about 600 miles by road from here to where we’re going, the town of al-Ha’il in northern Saudi Arabia. We cross into Saudi in about another thirty minutes, I think, at a place called Kaf. Not much out there. From there, we go a short way, then make a left turn to reach al-Turayf, where we pick up the Tapline road. That stands for Trans-Arabia pipeline, Patrick—the road parallels the pipeline that used to take Saudi oil across Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea somewhere on the Lebanese coast. Not since the 1973 war, though—Israelis shut it down. Anyway, the Tapline runs all the way along the Saudi border, parallel to the Iraqi border and then the Kuwait border but about 30 miles south, before it heads south toward Dhahran and al-Jubail on the coast of the Arabian Gulf. . .”

“Where the hell is that, Colonel? I’m not a big geography guy, and this isn’t my part of the world, but isn’t it the Persian Gulf?”

“Depends on whether you’re an Arab or a Persian, doesn’t it?” Cameron smiled. “Anyway, you’re interrupting. We don’t go that far. We go to a small town called Rafha, where we’ll stop for the night, probably have to camp, I’ve never been there but am sure there isn’t going to be a Holiday Inn Express. That’ll be about 450 miles out of our total of 600, done today. We get gas all around. Tomorrow we try to make the rest of the distance, but it’ll be slow going. Last map I remember shows only a desert track for a road between the Tapline and a little town called Baq’ah, about 120 miles at a speed I figure will never top 30 mph. The last 30 miles should be paved road into al-Ha’il, but it’ll have been a long, hard day by the time we get there tomorrow night.”

“You think we’ve got the right equipment for that?” Ripley asked, looking at the Suburbans with a critical eye?

“Yep, all set,” Allen said matter-of-factly as he rounded the corner of the silver vehicle. “The Arab guys have done a good job—their vehicles have tons of bottled water, they have some portable food, but that’s not going to be a problem, either. We camp tonight at someplace called Rafha, another 300 miles East of here along the Tapline, but more of the General’s people meet us there with camp equipment, food, the works.”

Astonished, Ripley looked from Allen to Cameron, and back, then shook his head. “How the hell do you know that?”

“Asked ‘em” Allen said, shrugging. “Even professional killers should speak Arabic, Ripley.”

“Yeah, but how come the Colonel here knew the route without asking?” Ripley looked accusingly at Cameron, and Allen followed suit.

“What?” Cameron asked. “So I got a thing for maps. You don’t get to be an old fighter pilot being stupid, my laddies, nor careless, either, and don’t you youngsters forget it. It’s not that hard, anyway, there’s really only one way to do this in this country. I didn’t know we’d have more company, though. I think we’re in for a treat.”

“How’s that?” the other two said at once.

“Well, it wouldn’t be fun if I spoiled the surprise, now would it?” the Colonel answered with a smile. “Let’s just say for now that camping in the Saudi desert means something completely different from your average Boy Scout or US Army experience, at least as I’ve seen it done. We’ll just have to see for tonight. Now, I’ve got to piss before we hit the road again, and this prayer will be over soon.” He looked around. “That’s my dune over there. Don’t leave without me.”

The Saudis remained at prayer for another fifteen minutes, a little longer than expected, but then the Al Auda were a devout clan and well known for it all the way back to the time when Auda bin Abu-Tayyii had made war alongside T.E. Lawrence in the First World War. It took another ten minutes to put the carpets back into the vehicles, to distribute snacks and water to everyone, and to get the people loaded back and the caravan moving again.

But once moving, they really moved. The three Suburbans ran right up to one hundred –sixty kilometers per hour and cruised there, about one hundred miles per hour. At that speed it took just a little under twenty minutes to reach the border station to cross into Saudi Arabia.

Cameron was now sitting beside General Fahd in the back seat of the lead vehicle, one of the Saudis had taken his place in the last truck with Ripley and Allen. Looking ahead General Fahd said, “Paul, here we go. This should not be hard, as most of these people are probably relatives, but one never knows these days. We should not have any trouble with the crossing—your papers are all in order—but let me handle it.” He winked, with a smile to punctuate it all.

“No problem, amid,” he replied as they coasted to a stop just in front of the barricade across the road. There were no other vehicles waiting to cross.

On either side of the highway there were small buildings built of concrete blocks, rather shabby and unkempt looking with window air conditioner units droning in the still air. Beyond the building on the right side of the road Cameron saw there was a dusty parking lot containing two 4x4 vehicles, Land Cruisers they looked like, but old and hard-used, painted the same dun color as the surrounding desert, the palm and crossed-swords insignia of the Royal House of Saud stenciled in black on the front doors. Beyond the parking lot was a tall steel tower with antennae on the top. Other than these things, there was not any sign of life or civilization as far as the eye could see, only the faint shimmer of the heat above the vast emptiness of the desert, rocky, sand-strewn, with little vegetation or feature to break it up at all.

They sat there with the motors idling for what seemed like several minutes before the door on the building to their right opened and two men came swaggering out. They were chatting nonchalantly in Arabic too fast for Cameron to understand, but they were also trying to tidy up their wrinkled khaki uniforms as un-obtrusively as they could manage. Cameron thought the eyes of both men looked sleepy under the bushy black brows and the black berets that crowned their heads, the latter also appearing hastily applied.

The two walked together between the lead and number two vehicles in the little caravan, and then both appeared at the driver’s window which Faisal, who was driving, let down with an electric whir to admit a stifling blast of hot air into the cool comfort of the truck’s interior. A rapid flow of Arabic passed back and forth, of which Cameron caught only a few words, before Fahd said “Papers” and Cameron produced the passport in the name of Michael Callan, handing it forward.

The policeman scrunched up his brows and stared at the US passport, then peered into the dark of the truck to look at Cameron. The photo matched, of course. Cameron realized with some mirth that the man probably couldn’t read anything in the little book besides the Saudi visa, which was partly in Arabic. He affected a tiny smile and waited. After what he must’ve thought was a decent and intelligent-looking interval, the man handed all the passports back into the car, said “daghiga, daghiga, min fadlak,” which is “one minute, please,” and passed toward the rear to check the third vehicle while his partner stopped at the second. It took another five minutes of polite Arabic and polite waiting while the papers were given their required hard looks, and then the bigger man returned. “Marhabteen, ya amid” he said, “many welcomes, brigadier”. He then saluted as best he could and turned for the guard house to raise the barrier and let them pass.

The bar went up, the three big vehicles rumbled to life and crossed into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, leaving a thin swirl of fine, dusty sand in their wakes. The two guards watched for a moment in silence, both knowing these were the only vehicles they were likely to see at this lonely crossing today: not much of a break in the long, slow routine. They turned in unison to head back to the air-conditioned office to listen to music or watch Bollywood movies on the Star Network. On the way back, the thinner one veered right, mumbled “hammam”, and headed for the latrine building. The other waived him off with a grin.

The latrine was not air conditioned, but hot, dry, and rancid. Khalil was used to this, however, and without so much as a wrinkle of his nose he produced his cell phone and dialed a number in Dhahran, a land line with the prefix “03.” He waited while the phone rang, three, four, five times, and after the sixth there was a simple beep. He took the phone away from his ear and looked at it, then put it back and spoke quickly. “An Air Force Brigadier just crossed into the Kingdom at al-Kaf. He travels with his family: two women, a teenager, and a small boy, four Saudi men, and three Americans. They’re moving in three GMC Suburban vehicles. The time is ten-thirty.” He hung up the phone and left, and was seated in front of the TV a minute later.


In Riyadh, at the central telephone exchange, a computer noticed the call because of the key words “Brigadier,” “Americans,” and “border”. The brief message was recorded digitally, along with the 03-number in Dhahran, the number of the cell phone that dialed it, and the location and identifier of the antenna transponder that originated the call at al-Kaf on the Jordanian border. The entire packet then went into the cue for “special interest” attention of the Ministry of the Interior and Saudi Intelligence. The computer that received this dutifully recorded it on its own disk drive, and updated its counter of messages with the same attention flag—the new total was 10,358.


At the same instant at the NSA in Fort Meade, Maryland, a similar sequence of events was happening. This time, however, the computers noticed the original wording was in Arabic, correctly translated he words “Brigadier” and “Americans”, as well as most of the rest of the message. The system created a transcript of its translation and sent it by email to an Arabic linguist on the staff along with a recording of the original voice content. It recorded that the linguist had just one hundred unread messages in his Inbox. It added this small nugget of information to its transcript of the conversation and the original recording, and noted it in it’s own log, incrementing its counter just as its cousin in Riyadh had done. This counter, however, now numbered just over ten billion records.


On the road again, Ripley and Allen road silently for a while in the silver vehicle at the tail end of the convoy, which was making a hundred miles an hour again along any piece of highway that would bear it. They struck the Tapline road about where they figured the Colonel predicted, and after the big turn to the left, with the SUV settled at 160 kph and the driver fixed just two lengths behind the rig in front of him, Allen turned to Ripley and asked.

“So, I’ve been wondering-this Colonel is really something, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, he is a piece of work,” Ripley said in return.

“What can you tell me?” Allen looked as curious as a schoolboy, Ripley had the most fleeting of thoughts that somehow that didn’t fit with the cold, efficient killer he’d seen in Paris—what, two days ago? Three?

He shook his head, then gave up trying to figure that last part out. Instead he thought a moment about what he did know about Cameron, then he decided. “I know enough. Interesting guy.” He told some of the history of the Phoenix program, the connection to the Big Boss, the long period of quiet, and then this summons a month ago that brought the whole action into play. Allen listened attentively, saying nothing.

“ . . .so then by utter coincidence, someone found out he was an aikido student, and they sent me out to take a look at him at this seminar a few years ago. The only time I met him before this week, and I didn’t make the connection myself until I saw him in Paris the other night. He was good back then, although a fairly new aikido guy, but learning fast, good power, good speed, excellent control—lacked a little polish was all. Unusual progress for his amount of training time at that point. Then after we met, whatever night that was, I asked for a bit more background on him. He’s a real live Colonel in the Air Force, the commander of something-or-other at this base in Ohio, the unit’s supposed to be the equivalent of an Army brigade command, so if you’re ex-Army you have that for comparison—he’s a player, I mean. It’s not a flying unit, but he spent his first 13 years or so as a fighter pilot flying F-15’s. Works for a 3-star at this place in Ohio, is well liked, respected. Word is he’s a good guy to have as a friend, fiercely loyal to his people and unit, but a nasty guy to cross if you’re a bureaucrat and get in the way of his mission or try to screw with his people.” Ripley looked at Allen--he knew nothing about this guy’s background, either—hoping for some clues in the face, but there was nothing. He resumed, “so again, if you’re ex-Army or any kind of ex-military, he sounds like he’s the kind of commander you like to have—kicking down doors that piss you off, riding the staff weenies hard to do their jobs and letting the troops do theirs without too much hassle. ‘Course, that sort of checks with what I’ve seen of him the last few days: easy going, good guy to hang with, but a hard guy when he has to be.”

“Hmph,” was all Allen said, but he nodded perceptibly, which gave nothing away at all. As an apparent afterthought, though, he said, “Well, that checks from what I see, too. Took down that guy on a London street in short order, quick thinking and gutsy move—he doesn’t lack guts, for sure. And the arrival act in Jordan was as good as I’d have expected from one of our guys. No training at all, you said?”

“None, zip,” Ripley said.

Allen pursed his lips as if to whistle, and shook his head. Without a further word, he produced a paperback novel from the large side pocket of his pants, and settled down to read in the light filtering through the tinted window.

Ripley turned to his own thoughts, rolling the small GPS unit around between his hands, and staring out the window. Outside the highway was two lanes each direction, and endless ribbon of blacktop that stretched ahead over the occasional low hill to a horizon that disappeared in a brown-ish haze. Between there and the SUV, the world was a monotonous, tan, flinty wasteland. No dunes here, no windblown patterns or waves in the sand, not a scrap of vegetation to be seen anywhere in any direction. He imagined this would be what the world must look like several thousand years or more after a nuclear explosion wiped everything out—nothing left but blank flatness, not even big rocks, just splinters of loose stone, the powdered sand, and nothing. There was the stray thought that Lot may not have been far from here when Soddom and Gomorrah went up, so to speak, and he wondered if that was your nuclear event and this the aftermath. He tried to calculate the number of years, wondered if a body could become a pillar of salt if it was burned instantly by the flash but was far enough away not to be obliterated by the shock wave a few seconds later . . .and with that last thought he was well and truly asleep.


They rolled into the tiny village of Rafha just after four in the afternoon with the late April sun still fairly high in the Western sky, but the heat dimming noticeably. In the lead vehicle General Fahd ended the call on his personal cell phone and issued a short series of directions in Arabic that Cameron did not catch much of. Then Fahd said in English, “Paul, our people have been working on the camp for about thirty minutes. We’ll just find some gas for the cars here in the town, then carry on to the south a little way into the desert.”

“Fine,” Cameron said with a yawn, stretching and looking around. The town was not much to look at. The buildings were all pretty shabby, and there was a liberal sprinkling of trash along the streets and against the sides of the houses and shops. Everything was coated in dust, a casualty of the wind, mostly. There was little traffic, fewer pedestrians, not much sign of commerce or prosperity. He wondered what these people could possibly be living on out here in the middle of nowhere, or how long this place had been here—did it predate the road, or did it grow up around a gas station afterward? He looked out with new concentration, searching for pens that might hold sheep or goats for the night. There, he saw a few, in fact most of what he took to be homes had crude pens at the back made from ancient sticks of wood, or less ancient steel fenceposts and wire. Bedouin, then, maybe. There were no women on the street. Maybe another indication. The few men all wore the checkered shamak on their heads, desert Arabs, but of course that was no guarantee, either. City Arabs were typically supposed to wear a plain white one, but he’d learned years back from a friend with a gold shop that lots of city folk wore the checker as an ethnic cultural icon. Cameron smiled—Majid had actually compared it to Urban Cowboys wearing Stetsons and boots in downtown Dallas, or worse yet, Chicago. But these guys looked like the real article, he thought the rough leather sandals probably made the case. Shoes again. He looked at his watch for the date, which he wasn’t sure made sense, tried to count the nights again, settled on Friday for today. Day of prayer, day of rest. Shops closed after four, usually, the people in their homes with family for the evening. It was weird being in Saudi Arabia again, but oddly familiar at the same time.

“Abu-Muhammed,” he said to Fahd, “what kind of camp are we to have this evening?” He did his best to raise one eyebrow and affect a quizzical, suspicious face.

“Why, abu-Sean, a Saudi camp, of course. A proper Saudi camp. We’ll have . . .”

“Enough,” Cameron cut him off. “I know, and I can hardly wait to see it. I suspected as much. I’m pleased for my colleagues, though. I’d hoped we would show them some of the charms of the Kingdom.”

“That we shall, my friend, that we shall. I am surprised you even had to ask!”

XXI. Riyadh/Northern Desert

Mohammed stared into space as he munched on the warm bread, seasoned with garlic, rosemary and onions, melted cheese over all. It would have been pizza but for the lack of tomato sauce, but Mohammed had never eaten pizza, so it was no great loss. He finished chewing and swallowed heavily, drank off a long draught of lukewarm Pepsi, and carried on with another huge mouthful.

To his left, right and front at the little square table three of his six men were doing the same—the twins and the man Jabreel who he did not know too well, and who was at his table the better that this should be corrected. Mohammed had no great experience of actual bloody combat, especially not against a potential party of active and determined defenders, but from what little he had he did know it was imperative to know one’s comrades in such a case, and he meant to know how this man would behave if it came to that.

He’d satisfied himself in the first ten minutes of waiting for the food that all would go well with Jabreel, however. Now his mind was far away, thinking of how he might do a reconnaissance of the target compound, how the plan might be put together rather quickly, how the men should be divided into teams, who should lead and what tasks each group might be assigned. Most of that he had in hand, he thought, and he was wondering about the one thing that vexed him: who Khalid would send to join him, what kind of men they would be, and most important, who would presume to be their leader. Discipline was not all that could be wished with the Brothers when it came to that. And he was aware that often young men who were very excited by the nervousness before action for the first time could be prickly and proud, defensive of their honor lest they should appear to be afraid. It would be a delicate business to take command, to quickly forge a unit that could act as one, and to do the thing fast enough to get away before any force of authorities could muster and then destroy him. This last he put aside with the self-assurance that with the arms Khalid had promised to send he would surely outgun both his victims and any local police or interior ministry troops who might be in al-Ha’il. It would be enough to get away, whatever thing might arise.

He came out of his daze with this thought fading from his mind, noticing at the same time that his bread was finished and his plate clean. The light can revealed the Pepsi was all but gone as well, and a quick toss destroyed it entirely. A brief glance over his shoulder at the other table—the other men were finishing up—and he said to his people, “That was excellent, by the grace of God. Gentlemen, let us be on our way.”

Outside the Riyadh air was like a blast furnace, the one hundred twenty degrees magnified by a steady breeze from the northwest. Mohammed shrugged with some pleasure after the chill of the air-conditioned restaurant. He felt the briefest beginnings of sweat form on his arms under the thob that covered them, and then all dried away in an instant, giving way to that curious dry-desert cooling effect of evaporation under light clothing. He walked to the nearest of the two vehicles they traveled in, the Land Cruiser, and the twins and Isa their cousin joined him. Jabreel walked around to the Nissan SUV with the others, and in a few moments they pulled out into traffic. They rode just the two blocks north on King Abdulaziz Road, entered the roundabout under the overpass that carried the six-lane Riyadh-to-Mecca highway, wound around it two hundred seventy degrees, and up the entrance ramp. By the time they reached the motorway and merged with the traffic the speedometer indicated one hundred-thirty kilometers per hour.

Mohammed turned off the radio and glanced meaningfully at Isa in the passenger seat. “Listen, now, all of you, and I will sketch out the beginnings of the plan that we will carry out tomorrow or the next day. We will have five groups of six men each, if our friends come as they have promised, each of us leading a group and the last led by whomever it appears is in charge of the newcomers . . .


Gas tanks full to the brim, the convoy of Suburbans back-tracked a little through the town of Rafha, and just to the west of town the lead vehicle turned left off the paved road onto what Cameron saw was the familiar type of desert track he’d seen many times on weekend outings years ago. Wide, flattened by years of use, devoid of the low brush and scrub that grew here and there out of the flinty sand. He saw as his car passed it the large stone placed at its junction with the main road to mark it’s location—otherwise, he might have passed the track a hundred times looking for the damned thing and never found it. Maps out here were useless, and in the days ten years ago when hand-held GPS receivers were only available to the military and vehicle mounted systems an un-imagined future, the only way to find things like this was to have a narrative description in a book one kept, or inherited from someone who knew, that began at some landmark in Rafha in this case, and ran “ . . .turn West on the Tapline road, marking your odometer, and drive 3.7 kilometers. There look for a large flat-topped rock on the south side of the road, turn here . . .” or something to that effect.

This brought a wry smile and a bit of nostalgia. Despite the fact that it had been a long year, living in Riyadh without Elizabeth and the kids, working in the Saudi Air Force Headquarters, it had after all been fun. There’d been two other F-15 guys with him there: one who he knew well from before, the other who’d been a student under him at the F-15 school four years earlier. They’d got along extremely well, and together with a large group of radar controllers whose job in town was to fly with and train AWACS crews at Riyadh Air Base, they’d all been checked out in scuba diving and spent much of the year’s free time running all over the Kingdom. Scuba, good food and carpet shopping in Jeddah and up and down the Red Sea coast. Weekend day outings in the desert in every conceivable direction from Riyadh, finding tracks like this to the most remote places, but finding what was probably some of the most striking desert scenery in all the world, seldom seen except by expats working in Saudi since there were no tourists allowed in the country. Weekend “camps”, often with the Brits who especially liked to organize them and were exceptionally good at it, with huge fires, enormous dinners, prodigious amounts of moon-shined liquor, beer and wine. More rarely the camps with the Saudi officers, different in many ways and yet very special. And always the clear night sky that fairly blazed with the stars, a cold, hard desert sky that was more blue than black with all that blazing light. Staying up into the small hours, talking, drinking, telling stories, discussing religion and politics with the Saudis, their favorite topics, thinking often of home and yet enjoying the company.

The memory was pleasant, and anticipation welled in his mind. This would no doubt be a spectacular affair tonight—when he’d lived here he had not been that close with Fahd, and they had not camped together that he could remember. He was sure, however, that Fahd intended to show lavish hospitality, on the one hand because they were very close now, had been since School, and on the other hand because he was near his home: he had his family and tribe to do well by—it was a matter of family and tribal pride.

The town was behind them, beyond a low hill and a mile or two distant, and all around the little convoy was an unbroken sea of sand, an odd color: tan as one would expect, but there was just the smallest tint of red in it. Here and there it had drifted into dunes, some fifteen and twenty feet high. In other spots the ground was bare, hard, with scattered fragments of flint strewn on the surface. To the west the sun had touched the horizon which was beginning to glow red. Somewhere near the zenith overhead the sky turned a darker blue, blended through purple and was utterly black on the left away East. It looked like it would be a black night.

Another two miles, the track was mostly level, but now they were bouncing along a good deal as they crossed spots that had drifted over with fingers of sand a foot deep or so, and the pace had to slow. The driver shifted into four wheel drive, the convoy slowed to a snarling crawl. Fifteen minutes took them only ten kilometers down the road, a sad, painful, jarring, monotonous fifteen minutes that seemed much longer, but then a bend in the road with dunes to left and right, turning left between them, then right again as another dune loomed in front out of the growing dark, back left and there was the camp.

“Ah, we are here Paul,” Fahd offered matter-of-factly, but anyone could see he was pleased by the look on his face.

Pleased because of the look on Cameron’s. His mouth agape, Cameron was staring at the camp arranged in a broad rectangle, six enormous Bedouin tents ranged along four sides, with a gap facing north. In the center a large fire was burning high, along the inner perimeter there were electric lights on head-high poles at every tent corner. That piece seemed so out of place it took him a moment to remember a similar occasion, and he suspected that over beyond the dune to the east, or perhaps that one to the south, there would be a truck or a trailer with a very large generator to supply the power. He chuckled out loud. The last time he’d seen that, there’d also been another truck with a cabin on the back, the cabin containing four full bathrooms with running water and all the comforts of home.

“Well, Fahd, I am amazed,” was all he could say for now.

“Excellent, I’d hoped you would be.”

But now they’d parked at the western end of the camp, and they piled out with all the rest. Men were coming out of the tents, greetings flying everywhere, and Cameron noted some of the people made the shallowest of bows when they greeted Fahd. This went on in a confused lump for a minute or two, and then Fahd issued some instructions in a kindly voice. The camp men split into two groups, one heading for the tents on the north of the square—one had to be the kitchen tent, Cameron guessed—the others for the suburban with Fadia and the family. Soon baggage was carrying across the sand, the women were moving, swathed head to toe in black, and all disappeared into the tents the far side of the square.

Ripley came up and said quietly, “I don’t really think this counts as camping, Colonel. Where they hell are they getting the electricity?”

“Well, I’m guessing, but probably the other side of that dune, or that one, you’ll find a generator. They place them like that so you can’t hear it, works pretty well if the location is right. This is perfect.”

“Really perfect,” injected Allen, as he joined. “Very good site selection for defense, too. See how it’s covered on all sides by the dunes? And notice the lights have shades on tops, no light into the sky. I never even saw the place until we rounded the corner. These guys know their business. You think there’s going to be dinner, Colonel?”

“Oh, I should think we won’t be hungry at all, but it might be awhile. Saudis dine late. There should be some snacks soon, though—I think that guy over there is cooking pita bread. Let’s get our gear, gents.” He walked over to where Fahd was talking to one of his cousins, for cousin he was, and said, “Fahd, which tent shall I take with the other guys?”

“I was just asking Musa the same question, Paul. These two, closest to the vehicles, are for you and your people. The family and I will be across the way, other side of the fire. The servants in those two on the north, the rest of the men in the two end tents on the south, there. The middle tent with the side open to the fire is for the majlis.”

“Ah, so it is,” Cameron saw now that inside this tent there were carpets covering the sand, and its inner walls were lined with cushions.

“It is such a fine evening, though, Paul, I’ve suggested we dine outside. I hope you agree.”

“Of course. Now, let me and the brothers Grimm stow our gear, and we’ll meet you over there for some tea, I imagine.” He paused for an awkward moment. “Uh, Fahd, should we be armed, for any reason? I’m not sure of the situation, to be honest.”

Fahd laughed. “Right again—I had just gotten Musa’s opinion on that as well. No, I don’t think so tonight, Paul. They saw no one on the drive here from al-Ha’il, and Musa took the precaution of having a vehicle wait an hour or two at one point hidden behind a dune off the road, to see if anyone was following out of sight, and there was nothing. The men have all come up now, and we have a good position here as you can see. But there will be lookouts tonight anyway, one can never be sure about people and goods smuggling into Iraq since the war, but we think we are quite safe. There’s no tea just yet, sorry, it is not ready, and there will be about two hours before dinner. You will find some bread, dates, and Pepsi in your tents, though, and water to wash off some of the dust of the day. You may find a nap is just the thing after that. I will send someone for you if you oversleep, but we will probably see dinner around 7:30 or 8. Now, I’m going to settle the family, so I’ll see you then.”

“Thanks, Fahd, this is marvelous, see you at around 8 then.” They smiled and parted. But Cameron grimaced. He was hungry, and he worried that 8 might become 10 before dinner was served. It would be a big meal to be sure, but he hoped there was a big pile of bread in the tent as he rounded the back of the Suburban to get his bag and looked at Allen, a large man looking very hungry. This shock reminded him of how soldiers could eat, and animal instinct took over. He grabbed his things and turned fast toward the tent while Allen and Ripley stirred around in the gear in the back of the truck.

It was still warm in the tent, but not as hot as it was in the sun. His eyes adjusted quickly to the relative gloom and he surveyed the space. Along the two sides and the back wall there were carpets topped with a variety of cushions. Near the center at the back lay a neat stack of the curious faux-fur blankets that seemed to be everywhere in a Saudi department store, garishly colored in animal prints, Hollywood movie themes, and the like. The sight reminded him of his last camping trip, where it seemed all the Saudis had one of these, and used it instead of a sleeping bag for his bed. Cameron shook his head thinking of the oddity of this choice, the strangeness of the Kingdom in so many ways. But right in the middle of the tent there was a circular aluminum platter about three feet in diameter, and on it the pile of flat pita-like bread, a large bowl of dates, a smaller bowl of nuts looking like pistachios, and a pyramid of canned colas. He tossed his pack and gear into a pile near the blanket stack and sat crosslegged at the platter, looking toward the door, and began to eat.

Ripley and Allen walked into the tent through the square of dazzling sunlight a few minutes later. They too paused briefly to adjust to the dimness, but grasped the situation immediately and tossed their things in heaps to left and right. The pile of bread diminished fast, the dates disappeared, nuts crunched away, only the Pepsi, lukewarm and no ice, looked likely to survive. Satisfied for the moment, Cameron rolled toward his bag and a blanket. “Dinner at around eight, gentlemen, and someone will come to wake us. Siesta time.” He was out and very deep down in what seemed like no time at all.

XXII. Langley/Taif

Jones emerged from his briefing with the DDO and crossed the outer office, smiling at the pleasant secretary who seemed to have a face that could both snarl and smile back at the same time. Outside he crossed the hall and got on the elevator heading for the second floor.

His pitch had gone pretty well. The Boss contributed a couple of things he didn’t know—that the French service was actively engaged and had indeed been the guys that bagged the suspect outside the Amman embassy; that they bagged a few more bad guys around town using the data on his cell phone, and that since about midnight last night local time traffic on most of their cell phone contacts had gone pretty much silent. He now had an overhead image of the town of al-Hail, and he thought he could identify the compound that Cameron and party were headed for. The analysts were still looking at the picture, but he didn’t think there was going to be anything earth shattering to come from that.

There was nothing yet on any of the American passports they were looking for, or the Saudi men who held them. That was one of the seams in the system that wasn’t quite solved yet. There was not any concrete way to randomly request anyone to monitor the hundreds of airlines in the world for the appearance of any of up to a thousand men and their US passports. Instead, what the US government wheedled out of its allies was the provision of lists of passengers after they boarded. These lists were necessarily a little late to the party from Jones’ point of view as it was, but even worse, he had to wait for them to make their way through the national government in the country of departure, usually the aviation ministry, and from there to the FAA in the US and sometimes but not always simultaneously through the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence. Even if those steps happened with the best will in the world, and with the most enthusiastic spirit of cooperation between agencies, it could not happen in less than a few hours. Often, it was at least a day. The flight from Heathrow to New York or Boston took just over seven hours, to someplace in Canada it would be even less, and then it was often an easy and short drive across the border. Amid that good news there was always the less-often-considered option of a nice, slow cruise ship from Europe to the US—uncommon, expensive, slow, but infinitely less susceptible to monitoring. And then there were the possibilities of booking passage on a freighter from just about anywhere to just about any US port, with a Captain or a company that might be more or less honest, and the difficulties boggled the mind. Every half-witted intelligence agent on the planet knew that it was easy and perfectly legitimate to travel the world in a merchant fleet cabin, in fact, it was a relatively common way for elder Europeans to see the world, and it was cheap. And then the Mexican border did not even bear thinking about . . .

Jones turned into his office looking sour, took a seat in the chair and swiveled to stare out the window, across the lawn at the now sunlit forest. Hard to believe he’d been staring into the darkened forest just three days ago, or was it four, hoping to get into the game and now right back here. “Well, no use complaining about that,” he said aloud. He focused instead on the edge of the forest, trying to see what was moving out there among the trunks or in the air between the branches, and trying at the same time to sort out a way to find his Saudi needles in the enormous haystack of the global transportation system. He was sure they were out there, sure that he knew who they were, and almost sure that the train wreck called Phoenix was likely to have spurred them to act, or at least to move, sooner than they’d planned. He hoped that also meant sooner than they were ready. “But hope is not a plan,” he mumbled.


Just about twenty miles due East at Fort Meade, Maryland, a room stuffed with Cray supercomputers hummed away, working hard on their task to sort, categorize, prioritize, interpret, and route telephone intercepts to and from all over the world. Well, almost all over. Technically, the NSA was not allowed to record phone calls originating in the United States without a warrant from a court somewhere. Technically.

The third machine on the left, the one the day shift had nicknamed “Fluffy”, finished it’s current call, deciding it was of no immediate interest to anyone, and moved on to the next one, which was provided by its nearest neighbor, incongruously named “Ingrid” by its own set of geeks. Fluffy compared the English text of the transcript to its list of words of interest and discovered that there were ten word matches in the forty-one-word transcript referring to an Air Force General and some Americans and Saudi Arabia. It noted that the original audio had been in Arabic, which set another flag. It noted that the call had originated with a cellphone at a Saudi tower and that it was placed to a landline in Dhahran. Neither line was under deliberate surveillance according to the data in the record. Fluffy was not possessed of any great intuition, in fact none at all, but that final discouraging fact was not enough to overwhelm the other interesting characteristics of the call. Instead, it only dropped it from FLASH importance to a fairly high-priority for the attention of a linguist/analyst at NSA, and Fluffy duly sent it to one of its neighbors, which in turn routed it to a cue that would come to the attention of the analyst team at some point. If the call had been rated FLASH, it would have gone direct to the Counter Terrorism Center, to the CIA Intel Directorate, to the DNI, and to Homeland Security immediately. As it was, the cue for the analyst team at NSA was running about two days wait time, occasionally less depending on volume and manning. But it was also Friday afternoon, and the majority of the team was heading home. The weekend watch crew was smaller and therefore slower.


Khalid woke from his afternoon nap as the call to Isha, the last prayer of the night, died in a slow echo down the narrow street outside his hotel room. He’d overslept, he’d intended to go to the prayer, but now it was too late to go to the mosque a block away. Instead he got up and stood on the floor facing North toward Mecca and began to recite the verses as the imam would be doing at the mosque.

When he was finished he sat on the bed again to collect his thoughts. He was hungry, but that would have to wait: nothing would be open around town on a Friday night anyway, and the men in the small hotel restaurant would not be back from prayer themselves and re-organized to produce any food for at least another thirty minutes. Thirty minutes to think, then.

The afternoon was not as pleasant as the day started. Something had definitely gone horribly wrong in England after that bloody-minded General arrived. It was like someone rolled up the entire bottom and middle layers of the al-Qaeda network all over the bloody country, just like Paris only a day or two earlier. There was too much damage done in too short a time for the presence of the General in both places to have been a coincidence. Everyone’s cellular phone had gone quiet. He’d discarded his after erasing all the numbers in memory, and bought a new one. Cash. Prepaid. No account. Khalid was a little worried.

Then, there was the message on the website at around four o’clock today, with a photo of the General and his family in Amman, Jordan, saying they’d arrived the evening before. There was no more information, and since then the original source of this tidbit had disappeared somewhere in Amman, along with a fair number of other operatives who were normally reliable, although low level. So the disease spread with this General, and this General was getting around too fast. Khalid once again saw that awful picture of the square, the grate, and the sword as it swam through his conscious thought and had to be suppressed.

Dismal as it was, the picture galvanized him into motion. He rose and slipped into his sandals, pocketed his wallet and left, heading for the lobby. The hotel was not one of the big Western chains, so it didn’t have a big internet cafe, but it had a small closet of a room with a sign out front labeled “business center” in Arabic and English, and inside was one desktop computer tied to the internet. There was nobody there, so he held up a hand to the clerk at the desk and stepped inside. It took just a few moments to link to the site he wanted, to link from there to another, and to find the third. Then a couple of clicks and he found the message board that would tell him the latest news in a code he knew by heart.

The Amman story was not improving, it was getting worse, but the new bit was that someone thought the French had done that, not the Americans, and that made things worse still. It was one thing to fight the Americans, who despite their corruption were devilishly clever and completely relentless. It was a similarly difficult thing to fight the British, who were even more clever and quicker to act. But the French? Khalid had only once been to France, but he knew a few things about the French. They had no notion of “rules” like the Brits or the Americans for one thing. Everyone in the Brotherhood knew the stories from Lebanon in the 80’s, when someone got a little carried away and kidnapped a prominent French citizen when they were kidnapping just about everyone else. It was a costly mistake. Seven well known and pretty high-ranking members of the Hezbollah group were found hanging from street lights along a major public highway. All of them were missing their hearts and their penises—and nobody ever found the missing body parts. The Americans would be patient, refuse to negotiate, apply political pressure everywhere, but they were relatively slow to act and not really ruthless. The Brits were a notch up. But the French? You did not screw with the French unless you were willing to play very, very hard. Having them in the game and playing hard gave Khalid a headache.

Nothing else from Europe, though, so he hoped that might mean the worst was over. He found his messages and read them. One was interesting—there was a phone message waiting for him somewhere. He looked at the number, very wary. He didn’t want to call any cellular phones at this point, at least none he’d ever called before. But this number was a landline in Dhahran, he could tell by the area code, “03”. He rocked back in his chair and thought a moment. Deciding, he dialed from his new cellular and waited.

Five rings, and an answering machine picked up. He recognized the voice, thought quickly, remembered the code, entered it on his keypad. A series of beeps and then a voice in Arabic: “An Air Force Brigadier just crossed into the Kingdom at al-Kaf. He travels with his family: two women, a teenager, and a small boy, four Saudi men, and three Americans. They’re moving in three GMC Suburban vehicles. The time is ten-thirty.” Khalid stabbed the “end” button on the phone and rocked back in the chair again, stunned. “The General, the damned General, may he burn in Hell. He’s back in Saudi Arabia! What day would that have been, I wonder?”

It took a little thinking, but he decided it had to have been yesterday. The General was in Amman on Thursday night, and then the network there began to go down. So this must have been—today? Not yesterday, that was Thursday. Today at ten-thirty in the morning. But where is al-Kaf? He’d never heard of it. He turned back to the computer and looked for a map, found the place easily. A border crossing in the far northwest, Jordan. So, they are traveling on the Tapline Road, but going where? Ahhh. A smile lit his broad, brown face. Finally, Allah smiled with him. “The General is going home to Al-Ha’il, to meet his family, possibly to return to Dhahran, or possibly to make trouble for me here in the Kingdom. Well, my friend, I will have a surprise for you. My people will be waiting, and I will be rid of you. Who is ahead in this game now?

His people would indeed be there. Mohammed and he spoke much earlier this morning, and he knew that they would meet his larger party tomorrow at Buraydah, they would move to al-Ha’il and be waiting. In two days the General would be gone and Khalid's plan would be secure.

That would have made a much finer ending to what had been a relatively miserable day of news for Khalid, except replaying the taped message in his head he came upon an inconvenience he’d overlooked. The tape had said “three Americans,” had it not? Who were these Americans, and what were they doing with a Saudi General out in the middle of the God-forsaken desert? Why go to al-Ha’il with him, why go that way? There were easier ways—why not fly from Amman to Jeddah or Dhahran? This was a dangerous thing. The thought of slave virgins in Khartoum sounded suddenly much better to him that it had even a day or two ago. He looked at his watch, felt his stomach grumble. Time for food. But first he found his travel website and exchanged his Monday flight to Cairo for one on Sunday at noon. The connection onward to Khartoum could not be fixed for the same day, but the connection for Monday would be all right. As long as he was out of Saudi Arabia before Mohammed took the compound on Sunday night . . .


At Fort Meade, “Ingrid” received the new record from the nameless machine to it’s left, against the wall, nameless for the sole reason that it could not be seen from the control consoles where the geeks usually sat. The record went into the cue. It would have moved immediately, or one would assume so, if there was anything in the programming that was designed to detect duplicate messages, or if anyone had put a listening watch on the landline in Dhahran, or even if the analyst team had had a chance to see the original message, or if the NSA would send its raw intercepts with some level of interest on to other agencies for them to analyze. But none of these things were so, they made another invisible “seam” in the great intelligence and counter-terrorism “system” in the United States. Instead, “Ingrid” sent other calls onward to “Fluffy” and her fellows for consideration and classification, and this message waited. If anyone had known to ask, “Ingrid” would have told them that she thought it would be about nine hours before this record would get a turn with “Fluffy” or one of the others. At best, Fluffy would send it to an analyst, but not necessarily the same one as the original. If luck played a part, the same analyst would see both, and see them in a small enough span of time to remember they were identical and to think that strange. If luck did not smile this time, nobody would ever make the connection at all.


“Smith,” Jones growled into his desktop phone. He hated that damned thing when it rang while he was thinking.

“Nice talking to you, too, old buddy. Whatta they feed you geeks at Langley these days?” It was Allen.

“Stuff it you snake-eater. Where the hell are you, and how’s my Phoenix holding up?” Jones returned. Allen’s voice across the sat-phone, way out there in the middle of the action, really did nothing to improve his mood.

“Blooming, blooming,” Allen replied, catching the problem immediately and determined to make the most of if. “We’ve had the scenic drive of the world today, across half the effing desert into Arabia. Crossed into Saudi at a place called “Kaf”, like in a cow with a “K” instead of a “C”, about 1030 local this morning. Right now we’re camped about ten clicks south of the Tapline road and about a hundred fifty clicks north of Al-Ha’il. Looks like we’re gonna have quite a feast, too. Huge tents, light trucks, luxury mobile latrine, great scenery . . .Hey Jones, you ever been to a real live Saudi camp with someone filthy rich? You really gotta do this sometime!”

Jones chuckled knowing Allen was just needling him, but he had to admit it was working. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. Any worries about security there?”

“Nope, I don’t think so. The General’s got some guys that met us in the village a little way north of here, they have the equipment we need and they picked a good spot. A couple of them look like they’re pretty squared away, I can see a lookout on top of a dune about three hundred yards out that I’d have picked if I was setting up the perimeter. We’re pretty well tooled up, too, if we happen to need to be. Do you have anything new for us?”

“Nothing of immediate interest really. Oh, the French were the ones that nabbed your guy on the street last night in Amman. He seems to have sung directly, the French are telling us they’ve rounded up quite a few people around town, with the help of the Jordanians of course. They’re probably not telling us everything, but as these things go they’re being pretty free. On the AQ side, just about everyone’s phone we had on our list has gone dead quiet, so they know someone’s up to something. I’m not certain anyone’s tied our General and Colonel to the problems they’ve had in three major world capitals this week yet, but it won’t be long before they do. The guy the French took in Amman had a picture of the General on his phone, and he’d sent it onward, so sooner or later someone in AQ is gonna put it together. No photos of the Colonel, though, so that’s good for him.”

“Right. I like that guy. Kinda an amateur, but pretty squared away, you know? Hey, he just woke up, you wanna talk to him?”

“No, no need, just give him my regards. I also got an overhead of the General’s compound, or at least the area. I won’t know for sure if I’ve pegged the right place until I see your blue force tracker and can match it to these coordinates. Unless you or the general knows the coordinates off the top of your heads?”

“I asked him, but he didn’t know, so that’ll have to wait until we get there. You watching for anything special, Jones? I didn’t think we thought there was gonna be any trouble?”

“Nothing special, I just like to know what and where things are happening. No hunches either, not really, just situational awareness. It’s a big place if I’ve picked the right one, there’s several big ones there but this one’s the biggest. Gotta be half a mile deep inside the perimeter fence, eight or ten big houses along a central lane with what looks like a mosque in the middle at the end, opposite the front gate. The fence looks solid, probably concrete block, I guess eight feet high from the shadows. You should be secure there unless a big infantry unit takes an interest in our friends. Speaking of which, has either of them talked any more about how long they think you’ll stay?”

“Not much, but neither expects to be there more than a day or two, three at the most they said. Won’t take the first day to interview the nephew thoroughly I think, so we’ll probably just be doing the social thing after that. Once that’s done we’re on a plane from Jeddah connecting through Zurich, the Colonel back to Cincinnati and me to Langley. Ripley goes back to Paris direct from Jeddah. Any thoughts on that?”

“None,” said Jones. “That’ll wrap this thing up, although I expect the Boss will want to have Phoenix into Langley sometime soon to have a little chat about how things went. He’s pretty stoked about the take on all this. Look, I think I’m going to call it a day, hit the gym and get home for a nap, it’s been a long haul from Paris. Make sure you keep power on your GPS/Tracker so we know where you guys are, I’ll match you to the compound when I get in tomorrow—when you think you’ll be there by the way?”

“Colonel says late afternoon at best, it’s all dirt tracks from here for about a hundred of the hundred-thirty clicks to al Ha’il. We’ll be creeping along at ten or twenty clicks top speed for most of the day and be happy to be tucked into the compound before sundown he says. Anything else? Colonel’s signaling that the dinner bell is ringing.”

“No, that’s it. Keep in touch, don’t eat too much goat, Jones out.” He hung up. There actually was something bothering Jones, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. This was a nice, simple ending to an unusually lucky and active week he told himself, but it looked like it’d be a dull ending. That feeling was out there, though, nagging, just beyond conscious reach. He shook it off as useless worry and old age, and started to shut down. With luck he’d be home in bed by two and sleep right through to tomorrow morning.


A real Saudi desert camp is something to behold, and Saudi hospitality, Bedouin hospitality, is something even more to behold, particularly when the host holds his guests in very high esteem and wishes to show this in an unforgettable way. However, there are some things about the ritual that strike the novice as inconvenient or downright odd, as Ripley and Allen were about to discover.

Emerging from their tent, they walked directly to the center of their rectangular compound where the large fire had burned down to a rosy glow of coals. Around the perimeter outside the tents flood lights shown down at the ground from atop their seven-foot stands. This gave the camp enough light to easily navigate, but it wasn’t as who should say “bright”. Quite the contrary—the light was diffuse enough, and dim enough, that it did nothing at all to diminish the cold, hard brightness of the stars in the sky that had long since lost any trace of the day.

Around the fire there were four immense carpets, but no chairs. Ripley looked most uncomfortable at this development, but Cameron and Allen sat down where the General indicated, on his right in the place of honor. He was dressed as a desert Arab, in long white thob and checkered red-and-white shamak, as were the rest of the men of his household who were standing in their places. They shook hands and lapsed into small talk, Ripley catching all the English but none of the Arabic, which was about half the conversation. Since nobody seemed inclined to translate this for him, he lost interest in the tide of babble going back and forth around the fire and started to look around as his eyes got really accustomed to the light.

There wasn’t any obvious “dinner” that he could see, although he could smell it cooking somewhere, probably behind him on the north side of the compound. Along the front edge of the carpet he was sitting on, nearest the fire, there was a series of plates, some empty, and on some there were raw vegetables: tomatoes, celery, carrots, something that looked like sliced radishes. A dish of a white creamy sauce of some kind, two dishes of some other kind of sauce or dip, he guessed, one looked like pureed vegetables a little chunky like salsa, the other looked like refried beans or bean dip or something, brownish and thick. Looking to the left of this one he saw a plate piled with what looked like flour tortillas but thicker, which he knew was the traditional flat bread that was a staple from the Turkey and the Levant right across Asia to China. But nowhere any meat, nothing that looked like a proper meal, he hoped that didn’t mean . .

“Mister, ahh, Patrick, shall I say?” General Fahd was looking at Ripley. “Yes, Mister Patrick will probably be best for you. Please have some water . . .” a bottle appeared behind Ripley’s left ear and he reached for it with his right hand. And then Fahd said, “Where do your people come from in America, and where did they come from before that? I know it is a source of interest for most Americans to know their ancestors’ country of origin.”

Ripley had to think about this a moment. As a rule, CIA people are pretty close when it comes to family details, regardless of who they’re talking to. On the other hand, he knew General Fahd and the Colonel were pretty close, so he could probably be trusted with just about anything. Then again, he wasn’t a big geneologist in any case, so that wasn’t going to be deep water where he was concerned. “Someone way back came from Ireland I guess,” he said with a shrug, “but nobody in my family talks much about those first people or where they came from specifically. There was a family farm in the mid-1800’s in the Carolinas somewhere, but I’ve never been there and it hasn’t been in the family since before I was born. Earlier in the 1900’s my grandfather was some kind of import-export merchant or broker, buying quantities of cotton and other stuff, maybe tobacco and the like, selling it in bulk to other companies overseas, and then I guess buying from the overseas people and selling their stuff on to companies in the US.”

“Oh,” said Fahd, looking very interested and with a broad smile like he was about to make a very funny joke, “so he may have been the original discover of the “B to B” concept?” He chuckled to himself and switched over to Arabic to explain the quip to the rest of his men. This took longer than expected and drew no more than polite smiles, completely unsatisfactory compared to the English version.

Ripley, however, thought it a good stroke, and he warmed to Fahd. “Yeah, General, I guess you could say that, but I think there were lots of guys doing more or less the same thing. Anyway, the trade pretty much evaporated in the Great Depression, so the business died and he died, too, in the late 30’s.”

“And what did your father do, Mr. Patrick?” Fahd asked.

“Oh, he was an Army officer, artillery, missed World War II but saw Korea, was in Vietnam very early on. Lives in . . .” Ripley stopped there on the verge of saying something he should never say.

“Well, Bless Him,” Fahd said, covering the lapse. “And now I think we will have our first treat for the night. Gentlemen, let us have some coffee.”

Two Arabs appeared, rather rougher looking men with leathery skins but good smiles. One carried a stack of small ceramic cups with no handles about an inch in diameter and about as deep. The other carried an exotic looking pitcher, roundish at the bottom but with a distinctive looking curve toward the middle ending in a narrower top. On one side was a long handle, which was how it was carried. On the other a long, narrow curved spout. The man with the cups began handing them out, beginning with Ripley on the end and moving along the lines around the fire, and behind him came the pot, which poured steaming hot liquid into the little cups. In the dim light Ripley could just tell that it was almost green, but most obvious was the smell. It was like nothing he’d ever smelt, the strangest collection of spices he could remember. He thought he smelled cloves, maybe cinnamon, but something else he could not name and had never smelled before.

When everyone had a small steaming cup, Fahd raised his and said in Arabic, “Bismallah ar-rahman, ar-rahim”, “in the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, we give thanks for our friends and for a safe journey thus far.” He tipped his little cup and drank it off at a single gulp. Everyone else did likewise, and Colonel Cameron looked at Ripley with a satisfied gleam. Doubtful, Ripley tossed his down.

It didn’t taste as strongly as it smelled, but it was unusual. Not much like coffee at all. Strange. Bitter. He still couldn’t place the spice smell, but it sure didn’t taste like much. He looked back at Cameron for approval.

The guy with the pot was back, and began pouring again with Ripley, who wasn’t sure he needed another but one look at Cameron’s raised eyebrows told him there was no choice. So the whole exercise was repeated, everyone downing another full little cup, and now here came the guy with the pot again. Ripley was sure he didn’t need a third—he could already feel something that felt like a caffeine buzz—and he looked at the Colonel. Cameron was holding his cup between thumb and index finger, and wiggling it side to side by twisting his wrist. Ripley did the same just as the coffee pot was tipping over the cup, and the man stopped before pouring a drop. He moved on, getting the same signal from each man, and behind him came the other guy collecting the cups.

Cameron beamed at Ripley, Allen looked quite satisfied. When the cups were gone, the two guys came back with bowls, these turned out to contain a variety of dates.

“These are Saudi dates,” it was the General speaking again. “There are about a hundred kinds I think, all different in texture, grown in our country. They are the gift of the desert, Mr. Patrick. Gentlemen, please help yourselves while we pour the tea.”

The dates were awesome, and the tea came on metal platters in clear glass cups that reminded Ripley of miniature beer mugs. When everyone was served he lifted his cup to drink and gasped as he scalded his upper lip and tongue.

The Colonel made a loud slurping sound and turned, grinning. “Second hottest substance known to man, Saudi tea. Right behind a chicken pot pie I think. Burn yourself, Mr. Patrick?”

“Yes I did,” Ripley shot back, “but this is really good, lot of sugar. What’s that other flavor?”

“Mint,” Cameron said taking another sip. “General,” he added, getting Fahd’s attention. “I had a very good friend once in RSAF Logistics, Colonel Ali al-Asiri, perhaps you know him?”

“Alas, I do not, Paul, but I have heard of him. He retired a few years ago as a one-star I think?”

“That’s him. Anyway, back around 1998 or so he was working in Dayton as the RSAF Liaison, Colonel at the time, and he always had tea at his office. His secretary would make it from time to time, but usually he made it himself, and the gawa too. He showed me his own technique. Patrick, you don’t use tea bags, but rather loose tea, and you put that in the pot English style and pour boiling water over it to steep. The sugar has to be in that pot, too, so it gets immediately dissolved by the scalding water, and the mint leaves go in on top. The pot is built so all the solids are kept in by a strainer at the bottom. What you get out is this nectar of paradise,” this while holding up his half-empty cup. “I remember once Ali and I were having such a good talk that we went from his office straight to his apartment, where he promptly plied me with the two cups of gawa, except they were rather large cups, and then I drank three or four cups of tea and ate about a half a pound of dates. When I left after about two hours, I was shaking all the way home as I drove, I was so strung out on the caffeine and the sugar!” He dissolved into laughter as Fahd translated, and all the men laughed too.

“I guess that explains why I already have the shakes,” Ripley added. “I don’t guess we plan on going to bed early tonight!”

“Not much before one or two I should think,” said Fahd. “It’s going to be a beautiful night. More tea? Try this kind of dates, Mr. Allen, they have a unique, creamy texture and an unusual nutty flavor.”

The three Americans dug into the dates and Fahd continued, “Did you notice the coffee, Mr. Patrick? What did you think of our gawa?”

Ripley said, “Interesting,” without a moment’s hesitation. “Was that cloves, and cinnamon in there? What’s it brewed from, and is there another spice? It doesn’t taste like much, but the aroma is like what I would expect an ancient Middle Eastern marketplace or souq to smell like: exotic, spicey, mysterious. Really amazing, General.”

Fahd smiled broadly and translated for the other Saudis, who looked in Ripley’s direction with increased interest and obvious approval, some smiling.

“Excellent, Patrick, excellent. We see you have an appreciation for the sublime! We use regular coffee beans, what Starbuck’s might call ‘arabica beans’, perhaps you know it was we who first brewed it, and it was brought to Europe by your returning Crusaders? Anyway, we toast the beans lightly in a heavy iron pan, but they are still green when we put them, crushed not ground, into the pot of boiling water. That is why the coffee is greenish and not dark colored like you’re used to. And into that we do put cloves, a little cinnamon, but the real exotic is the cardamom—that is what gives the strong aroma that you so rightly say evokes the image of the souq. I have not been there, but I have read that the spice, which of course also came with the Crusaders back to Europe, is very often used in Scandinavian baking! We Arabs globalized your Viking ancestors long before you golablized us! Ha ha!”

Ripley burst into a deep belly laugh, Cameron giggled, Allen slurped his tea and munched dates, Fahd translated, the tea pot went around again, the Saudis laughed and drank and talked. Then Fahd said, “Abdulkareem wishes to tell a story, gentlemen, but he does not speak English, so I will translate while he tells it in Arabic. Please, help yourselves to the bread and vegetables, the meal will be here soon.”

“I have this story from my grandfather, and he from his grandfather and so on, it is a very old story. In truth, it is a riddle,” Abdulkareem’s broad smile flashed brilliant white, and all the Saudis smiled with him and nodded. “There was a wise man, very rich, who had three sons. Despite his wisdom, he was puzzled. He was very old, and he knew that soon he would die and he would have to leave his money to one of the sons. The trouble was, he could not choose. All the sons were good men, all were great warriors, captains of squadrons of cavalry. This was at the time when Salah ad-Din was Sultan of Egypt, Damascus, and al-Quds . . .” Fahd held up his hand, and questioned Abdulkareem in Arabic. “Gentlemen, he says his ancestor knows this story from the time of the Second Crusade, when the English King Richard tried and failed to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims, when the man you know as “Saladin” was ruler of Jerusalem, which in Arabic is al-Quds. I am amazed, this story is over 900 years old!”

He nodded and Abdulkareem continued. “Well, anyway, the wise man was puzzled, but his time was short. One night he was entertaining one of his friends, a Frankish nobleman, and when their dinner was finished he discussed his dilemma with him. They talked long into the night, casting aside every suggestion, the Frank was certain it should be done in the European way, to the eldest son, in one way or another. But the wise man did not want luck of birth to hold his legacy, he wanted resourcefulness, intelligence, courage, and honor to prevail. The Frank grew frustrated as the night grew long, and finally he suggested that the man simply put his three sons against each other in a horse race. This was an interesting idea. But, said the father, if it is a simple race they will be tempted to cheat, or their rivalry will increase, there may be ill will, perhaps they will fight. And so, on they talked, until finally the wise man decided on the solution. He said to the Frank, “now I have it. It will be a horse race, but the inheritance will go to the son whose horse finishes last. But they will not know this until the starting time.” The riddle, gentlemen, is how can this be?”

Abdulkareem was smiling, and went silent. Fahd looked first at him, then at the Americans, and he fidgeted. This was awkward. What kind of race would it be? He looked at Cameron and raised an eyebrow.

Cameron caught on. “A difficult riddle, abu-Mohammed, my compliments to Abdulkareem. But it seems to me it will be a very slow race to last place.” He sipped his tea. “Indeed, unless the starting time was appointed by the father and could not be avoided, it might never start at all.”

Fahd was translating, the Arabs nodding and talking. Ripley said, “Could it be a long race, or a race over a certain course so that none of them could see who was ahead until each had crossed the finish line?”

Allen chimed in with another proposal, several others were offered in Arabic and translated, but for twenty minutes and another two pots of tea Abdulkareem smiled, shook his head, and polished his teeth with a 6 inch stick that he’d chewed on the end and used like a brush. Finally, out of ideas, the group fell silent, and Fahd said in Arabic, “Abu-Salah,” since AbdulKareem’s eldest son was named Salah, “we cannot guess your riddle! Well done!”

Abdulkareem sat straighter and drank off the last of his tea cup. “Abu-Mohammed, it was simple. The race was run in the usual way, with only one exception. Each son had to ride another’s horse, do you see? Each son would have prepared his own horse for a race to win, and then he would find out at the last moment, and he would ride as hard and as fast as he could on his brother’s horse, hoping in the end that his own horse would fail and lose, and that his skill would triumph, and he would inherit! In this way, each would employ his best effort and skill, none would have cheated, and if he did, he would lose the money! Ha ha ha!”

The Arabs burst into mirth again as Fahd translated, not sure the Americans would appreciate this complicated bit of Arab wisdom. When he was done he added, “Colonel Cameron is used to this kind of thing, gentlemen, but I will tell you this is typical of our kind of lessons. Perhaps you would call them parables or allegory. The more complex, elaborate, complicated, intricate, and ornamented a plan can be, the better. “Wisdom” in the old man in this case has a meaning that is particular in Arab culture, to some extent it means one gifted in creating plans that possess those attributes. This man was very wise indeed!”

Tea gave way to lukewarm Pepsi and bottled water, bread and vegetables were eaten, more stories flowed back and forth in both languages and time flowed on without notice. Eventually Fahd looked beyond the circle of light into the darker void on the north end of the camp and nodded, whereupon the two leathery Arabs came forward with a platter carried between them, about four feet in diameter, and laid it in the middle of the circle of men. On it was a whole animal of some species neither Allen nor Ripley could identify, laying on a deep bed of rice that seemed faintly yellow in the dim light, the whole thing smelling of the same cardamom that spiced the coffee, and what Ripley thought might also be saffron.

Cameron was looking carefully at the roasted creature, and eventually raised an eyebrow at Fahd. “Goat?” he asked.

“Very good, Paul, very good. Yes, it is a goat. I find lamb a little tasteless for this kind of thing and too greasy. Patrick, Mr. Allen, don’t let him trouble you. Here is how we do it.” Fahd inched forward toward the platter and Cameron and the Arabs did the same, and then Fahd reached to the meat and ripped off a morsel with his right hand and ate it. “Then, gentlemen, you’ll find that the rice will stick together if you mold it in your hand, and you can eat it like this from your fist,” and he demonstrated. “Or, if you prefer, I believe the servants have some silverware somewhere.”

Ripley was surprisingly not hungry, especially as he consulted his watch and discovered it was after eleven p.m. They’d been talking and snacking for over three hours. But, he sidled closer to the carcass and thrust in a hand, and began to eat as all the men did, and the flow of talk continued unabated.

At a resting point some time later, Ripley waited for Fahd to finish chewing and asked, “General, were you serious when you said Abdulkareem knew that he had an ancestor that was with Saladin during the Second Crusade? That’s more than eight hundred years ago.”

Fahd looked at him like he was an innocent child. “A little over nine hundred, and yes, Patrick, I’m sure it is true. You know, one of the things that makes you Americans unique in all the world is that you have a much different sense of history than most people on the planet. For most of you, not much matters that is older than about two hundred and fifty years or so, or at most four hundred years, the time the English first came to North America at Jamestown, I believe? But the thing is, even for most of the common people in Europe, the people who have always been tied to the land as farmers or herders from the deepest night of time, most of those people have been on the same land or in the same general neighborhood for at least a thousand years. Even in rural England it’s true, and certainly in Wales and Ireland, and let us not talk of the Scots of course. This is even more true for the Arabs of the Middle East. People forget that these people have all been here since before the time of Abraham, before Moses and all the rest. Religion has changed, governments and cultures have changed, empires and borders have ebbed and flowed. But many of the people have always been there, too small to be noticed by the great men, living on their land, changing as the times require so that they survive, and they remember many, many ancient things through stories. They are not much good to history, mind you, but they will have these memories that come down through tens, sometimes hundreds, of generations, and they are fiercely attached to the land of their fathers. It is their place, they know nothing else.” Fahd looked sad. “It is this, sadly, that confounds you Americans too often when you try, with the noblest intention in human history itself, to solve the problems in places you do not really understand. It is not that you are evil, or do not try, it’s just that your frame of reference is so fundamentally different, and . . .ahh, but I wander. Another piece of this delicious fine goat, Patrick? Perhaps you’d like one of the eyeballs—a real delicacy?”

Ripley took another bite and a handful of rice, stared over the head of the man on the other side of the platter from him into the night sky of Arabia, and thought for a long time.

XXIII. Paris/Buraydah/al-Ha'il

Nearly midnight in Paris, and Henri Broussard was almost finished for the night. He was reading a report on the Boeing Company, chief competitor to Europe’s Airbus, and parts of this report he would forward to the latter’s executives within the next few days. It was a good report, with details of the Boeing proposal to sell its 777 and 787 jets to Qantas Airlines of Australia. The pricing data in the proposal, along with the details of side deals Boeing would make with the Australians would make it easier for Airbus to win the competition with its own jets, the A340, the A330 or perhaps the new super-jumbo A380.

The phone rang and it was his assistant’s voice in the outer office, “Sir, you have a call from the embassy in Amman, Jordan. Will you take it tonight, or would you rather they call back tomorrow?”

“Oh I’ll take it Michel, send it through.”

A series of clicks and beeps as the call was connected, routed through the crypto devices, and the voice was now that of his station chief in Amman.”

“Misseur le Director, good evening. I hope I have not disturbed you this late?” he said.

“No, not at all, I was just finishing up for the day, but I’m pleased that you’ve called. I trust you have something for me on our American and Saudi friends there?”

This was awkward, since in truth he had lost the Americans, but he did know where they were, or at least where they’d been. He decided to risk dissembling a little. “Director, the party left the American Embassy here this morning quite early. They mounted a diversion, drove around town in two groups for a while, and eventually one of these returned to the embassy and the other left Amman heading south and east.” This was all true of course, but he did not say they’d had no idea of that at the time, not at least until the group they were following returned as he’d described. But it seemed to be going well, so he continued, “We did not follow them far on the road east, Director, since there is only one place for them to go in that direction, and that is into Saudi Arabia. Our people here did not have the right visas to follow, so we let them go.”

Broussard was silent, and the Chief in Amman grimaced as he waited for a storm he half expected, but only for a moment. When it didn’t come immediately, he pressed on, hoping it would not come at all if he could finish quickly. “However, our listening post in the embassy has the latest equipment, and we intercepted a cellular telephone call that was made from the Jordan-Saudi border crossing at al-Kaf. It appears an interior ministry policeman there made the call to report the transit of a group of Saudis, including the Air Force Brigadier and three Americans. That was about ten-forty-five local time this morning, thirteen hours ago. Do you have a map of Saudi Arabia within easy reach, director? I can wait while you find it, or I can describe where they are going for you.”

Broussard was working at his keyboard, he would find the map, but the man might as well go on, and he said, “Please continue.”

“Right, sir. Well, there isn’t much out there. The group will go east, make a few turnings, and then mount the Tapline Road that parallels the pipeline from the Persian Gulf oil terminals all the way across Arabia and Jordan to the Mediterranean. Once on the road, they go all the way to the Gulf, probably to Dhahran, Jubail, or Al-Khobar. The Brigadier is almost certainly stationed at the big Saudi Air Force Base outside Dhahran. We think the Americans are simply escorting him and his family back home. I think that means whatever their operation intended to do, they believe it is done, and they’re just winding things up.”

“Well, if they’re done, they have a right to be. The al-Qaeda networks in three countries are more or less all in a wreck because of them.” Broussard thought for a moment, then asked, “Jean, do you have any theories, what do you think their objectives were, and do you think they did what they set out to do, or are they just shutting the operation down.”

“No sir, no theory really. They seem to have had some really good information that they didn’t share with us, and all we got was the leavings here in Amman, and that only because we got to the airport Arab before they did. It was very close, they had an operative waiting, but our man . . .”

“Yes, I know all that,” Broussard cut in. His own opinion was that that this General maybe had some small tidbit of information, made contact with the Americans, and they put this thing together quickly not really knowing what would happen or having any great expectations. They’d all been very lucky, really, but that was often the nature of intelligence. The big breaks made things happen, all you could do was to be ready to take advantage of them when they came.

“Very well,” Henri said, “anything else, then? Any loose ends there in Amman?”

“None director, our guest has been taken care of in the usual way.”

The Amman people were efficient, anyway. You could still work that way in the East, and in Africa, it made things so much less awkward. “Bon,” Henri said, “goodnight, then.” He hung up the phone without waiting for a reply. He’d have to think about his next call to Anderson at CIA in the car on the way home. “Bloody Americans.”


A cool morning for late April in Jeddah, and a breeze sweeping over the Red Sea coast stirred the normally oppressive humidity away toward the escarpment to the east of the old city. The airport in Jeddah is the terminal through which nearly a million pilgrims a year enter the Kingdom on the annual Haj, the pilgrimmage to Mecca that is one of the pillars of Islam every Muslim must try to make once in his lifetime. At the airport there is a huge outdoor structure, white, tent-like, where these often poor pilgrims are held during both their inbound and outbound marshalling periods, and many people worldwide remember that shelter as the place where a small cooking fire got out of control in the nineties and something like a thousand piligrims died in the fire and the stampeding mass of humanity trying to flee it.

What most people in America don’t know, but might find ironic, is that the gate system at Jeddah International is almost exactly like the old system at Washington Dulles, the latter still partially in use. Huge vehicles move people between terminals high off the ground, at the height of the aircraft doorways, and these huge buses can change their height up and down as needed to match the aircraft for each load of passengers. The vehicles at the two airports are identical in every way. At Jeddah, passengers still board one of these at their departure gate, and then the vehicle takes them to their waiting aircraft somewhere out on the sweltering tarmac.

The airport was crowded this morning as it always was, and several flights were boarding their vehicles at a variety of “gates”. None of this was remarkable.

But unknown to any airport authority or policeman, terrorists were moving. Three of the flights boarding were headed for Europe: one to Rome, one to Athens, and one to Barcelona. Each of the large buses now packed and heading for their airplanes contained a determined young Saudi man, traveling for now on his Saudi passport, but in his pocket each also held an American passport. They were the first of Khalid’s men to begin moving West.

Five others would also go today, but they departed from Dhahran and from Riyadh. Two of those were actually going the long way around, East via Tokyo and then across the Pacific to Vancouver. Sunday there would be more who would leave. In less than ten days sixty trained terrorists would be in the United States, prepared to execute Khalid’s plan whenever he chose to order it.


Mohammad’s little caravan and six men drove into the hot, dusty town of Buraydah around ten-thirty. They found a small café where they drank water, juice, and had some bread for a late breakfast, and sat relaxing while they waited for the noon prayer, which would come around eleven-thirty on this day. After prayer they would have lunch and find some kind of hotel or boarding house, or if there was not one they would go to one of the larger mosques and ask for a room for the night. Their meeting with Khalid’s men was not until tomorrow, so they would have the rest of today to relax.

On the long drive from Riyadh it’d occurred to Mohammed that the plan with Khalid was not all that good. It would have been better to have met here today, and then to have gone on to al-Ha’il today so that the team could do a reconnaissance of the compound, get the lay of the town, plan their attack and escape routes. As it was they would have little time to do any of that, and some of what they did have might be at or after dark.

“Jabreel, my friend,” Mohammed said, seizing an idea. “Please go to the Nissan and bring me back the map, Brother.”

He did, and when it was on the table Mohammed studied it. The drive from here to al-Ha’il should take a little over an hour, maybe ninety minutes at the most if there was a lot of traffic. The road was good. It would be an easy thing to drive there after zohr prayer at noon, take a look around, perhaps find hotels or someplace where he could put the thirty men in smaller groups. He would try to find the compound, maybe drive by, and if there was time he would watch it for a while, to see who came and went, how the gates worked, maybe how many people were inside. On the way back, they could plan two or three routes out of town, maybe take a look at this road that left town to the north rather than south—perhaps they would split up to make their escape. Mohammed folded the map and said to his five companions, “after salat id-zohr we will go and make a reconnaissance, but we’ll be back here tonight. Let us see what we can find for a hotel for tonight now, before the prayer, and then we will be ready to leave as soon as it is done and we have eaten.”


The three Suburbans were snarling along in four wheel drive on the bumpy, rugged track, making no better than fifteen miles per hour at present. There had been early stretches that were flat and fairly level, and they’d done as well as thirty there, but the last half hour had been this slow crawl. The General was leading with his two “retainers” as Ripley had dubbed them, the women and children were in the middle with a driver. Cameron, Ripley, and Allen brought up the rear in the silver truck, Allen driving. The rest of the Saudis they’d left behind after breakfast and the sunrise prayer, they would break and pack up the camp and follow when they could.

In the back seat Cameron, who’d been dead asleep since shortly after they’d set out, stirred and slowly returned to the ranks of the living. Allen reached over and nudged Ripley to get him started in the same direction, and then just for fun said, “Long night for you old guys, huh Colonel?”

If not for the truth that he felt old this morning Cameron would have made a truly vicious reply. But he did feel old. Dinner and stories had gone on and on into the night, and bed after two a.m. only to wake three and a half hours later to get moving was not really his cup of tea anymore. When had it ever been? Instead of the instinctive “fuck you, too, David” that he almost let rip then, he stretched again and substituted, “well, son, you know us Air Force guys: we don’t show up until the showers are hot, the golf course is green, and the officer’s club is stocked and open, and we never make war on less than twelve hours of crew rest, so old or young, this ain’t the way the better half does it.”

He watched Allen’s face in the rearview, and was extremely satisfied to see that the “better half” story had settled the infantryman’s hash quite nicely.

But Allen’s sunny disposition, a marvel unto itself, was not to be quelled by this for long, and he had a leg up anyway. Punching Ripley again to stave off what looked like a determined attempt to go back to sleep, he asked, “well, while you two were getting your beauty sleep, did you notice anything peculiar happening in the camp in the small hours this morning?”

“Nope, sleeping like a baby, Cameron answered. “How ‘bout you, Patrick?”

“Nottadamnthing,” Ripley growled, “whatthefuck time is it anyway, and where are we?”

The other two laughed, but Allen more than Cameron. This was his triumph and he’d make the most of it, especially with Ripley. “Well, you guys almost coulda woke up dead is all.” He paused for emphasis, looked at both men, and took great satisfaction from their expressions of utter shock. “Yep, around three-thirty there was movement south of us maybe three hundred meters or so. I went out to take a look, found our Saudi sentry pretty nervous on top of his dune. We waited, and in comes a party of twenty guys on camels, armed to the teeth. We were having a bit of a parley with them when four of the General’s guys came to join us, packing AK’s and with vests stuffed full of extra mags. Me, I had one of the HKs and two of the pistols. The six of us made a better parley, I guess. After a couple of minutes haggling the guys hopped down off the camels, someone found a spirit-stove and next thing I know we’re sitting around it drinking gawa again.”

“I slept throught that?” Ripley groaned. He could see by the look on Allen’s face that his reputation as a night-stalkin’ killer was irreparably damaged, and worse, that Allen wasn’t going to let him forget it.

“Who were they, then, and where were they going?” Cameron asked, catching this dynamic and inwardly amused.

“Al-Rashid tribe, they said, and our guys say they were, too. On their way north into Iraq to bring supplies to relations up in the Sunni triangle. They were packing heavy, too, Colonel.”

“They’re riding camels all the way up there?”

“No, they have some Shi’a relations, distant eighth cousins three times removed or something like that, in Najaf, and they have vehicles for them there. I never have been able to figure how Arabs keep track of relationships like that, have you Boss?”

“Not me, but it is amazing,” Cameron replied. “So no trouble, then?”

“None at all. When the gawa was done, they loaded back up and headed North, but they scooted west several hundred meters to give our camp a wide berth. The 4 retainers walked along that way, too, just to keep an eye on them.”

Ripley was miserable. “So you were awake already at 0330?”

“Nahh, but I heard ‘em out there and that woke me up,” Allen said with a thoroughly satisfied grin that completely destroyed Ripley. “You look really well rested, though.”

This was hopeless. Changing the subject, Ripley twisted in his seat. “Colonel, did I dream it, or at some point did you say last night that you plan to retire soon and start a bed and breakfast thing somewhere?”

Cameron saw through this transparent change of subject and chuckled. “Nope, not a dream. I think this trip put the final proof on the notion that the Air Force doesn’t have a next job for me that I really want, probably just some staff thing anyway, so I think I’ll retire as soon as I can after I get back. Probably take six months. My wife doesn’t know the plan yet, though, and somehow I think that’s going to be a hard sell. We’ll see. Anyway, if I can do a little of this on the side and run a B&B thing, I figure my retirement, plus a little side pay from the Company, plus folks paying to stay might pay for a pretty grand house somewhere in just a few years. After that, I think I’ll just become a country gentlemen and have my friends visit from time to time. Maybe try farming something for a hobby; raise llamas or something goofy like that. You guys are invited.”

This was mostly true. The part about the Air Force was all true, sadly enough, and Cameron had never thought of himself as the kind of guy who would enjoy being a staff officer anywhere. He knew he wasn’t general material, either, and never would be. On top of that obvious limitation he’d been thinking since Paris and getting the new passport, and Jones pointing out that he needed to make sure he never became “un-anonymous” to the enemy who would be ruthless in revenge if given the chance. That thought had led to the notion that military bases and military towns were too easy to find, too predictable. If he was going to do any more of this kind of thing, and maybe even as a precaution after just this one mission, he needed to do something different, disappear into the huge, swirling boil that was the greater America. Become more anonymous, hard to find, not famous, his photo nowhere to be found on an Air Force website as commander of anything, anywhere. The B&B idea struck him as a perfect cover: it could be remote, in a relatively small town, off the beaten track or even in the mountains, in a place where Middle-Eastern men would be conspicuous and would be questioned by the locals. Probably in the South somewhere would be best. Maybe it could even be somewhat fortified, built of concrete or stone, just in case, with a killer security system. He wondered what the occupancy rate was for a B&B—he’d never stayed in one. “Probably a bad idea , likely go broke. . .” he was thinking.

“Well, I’ll come if you’re buying,” Ripley interrupted his thoughts, “although I’m not signing up for any llama farming. I hear they spit and bite like camels. Maybe you should build a castle or something, I always wanted to live in a castle when I was a kid. I guess it might be a little out of place in the US, though.”

“A castle?” Cameron asked. “You kidding?”

“Hell, I don’t know, Colonel, sure I’m kidding. On the other hand, though, lots of women would probably want to get married in one, without having to go to Europe that is, and maybe spend their wedding nights in one feeling like a Queen. Geez, now that I’m rambling about it, it sounds to me like it might just work. I’m a genius. That’ll be a hundred bucks for consulting, Colonel.” Ripley broke out laughing.

“Yeah, very funny,” Cameron said. “Well, you guys give me your business cards before this is all over and I’ll send you a postcard from wherever I do this when I’m open for business, that is if the Boss at home doesn’t exercise her veto power.”

Allen giggled. Nobody was giving anyone a business card—like they had any anyway.

They bounced, jostled, crawled, and shuddered along over the uneven ground for another thirty minutes, making small talk and joking. At a relatively level spot surrounded by dunes they stopped, and everyone got out to stretch.

The break lasted fifteen minutes, then they moved on, this time with General Fahd bringing up the rear with the Americans. Allen got right down to business with, “So, General, tell us about this house of yours.”

Fahd chuckled. “It’s not so much a house, as it is some houses, Mr. Allen. The family compound has eight villas in it, with a mosque and a garage at one end, and the houses in two rows on either side of a lane that runs down the middle . . .”


"Allahhhhhhhhhhhhh, hu akhbarrrr alllahhhhhhh, aahhhhh, hu akhbarr . . .”

Cameron sat bolt upright in the bed, confused, wondering where he was and how he’d come there. Outside the sound of the call to prayer continued in a fine, clear, high tenor whose quality was only slightly diminished by the loudspeaker system it came through. He thought himself dreaming, dreaming of the year almost ten years before when he’d lived in Saudi Arabia and the family was back home in Ohio. The memory was acute, friendly, comfortable, but he was surprised by it since in his time there he could not remember a room like this—except maybe that compound where the US guys lived in Dhahran? The rich draperies were similar, the cool polished stone of the floor almost as he should remember it, but the whole thing seemed in this dream to have been done with better taste altogether. Much more pleasant, even if that made it better than it’d really been. Still, it was a dream, his dream, and it was only right that in a dream one could imagine better carpets, better furniture, better art on the walls and decent sheets made of Egyptian cotton and not polyester.

But as the last notes of the haunting verses died and he continued to study the dream, his eyes came to rest on the window and the last bit of twilight slanting through it, and he was awake. Fahd’s house, or his compound and a house in it, and it was no dream. It was Saturday, late April and he was here, on what he had to remind himself was a very extraordinary piece of business that had nothing to do with the Air Force. He lay back to think, no hurry. Fahd and the Arabs would be at prayer for at least twenty minutes, the last prayer of the day would come in another hour or so, and dinner was therefore at least that far off.

The last four hours of the journey were a miserable, bone-jarring blur of desolate dunes and wide flat spaces of shattered flint strewn over the hard, bare ground, the vehicles snarling along in low gear and four-wheel drive, nothing to break the monotony of it once they’d exhausted all possible topics of conversation. Finally striking the paved road was like a reprieve from flogging, and another hour at nearly a hundred miles per hour had brought them to the dusty but tolerably large town of al-Ha’il. He’d had one fleeting glimpse of what had to be the old city wall, mud bricks and round turrets thirty feet high, and then all around him what he remembered to be the usual jumble of the old, the crumbling, the ratty and the brand new buildings all crammed together in odd juxtaposition, ancient stone next to worn sixties marble veneer, next to eighties or nineties steel, aluminum, and glass, everything covered with fine brown dust.

They’d gone straight through the central square, or what he supposed was a central square, then turned a couple of times, finally driving down a long, straight road toward a large compound in white marble on it’s northern edge, deep dry wadis setting the place off like a plateau, and on either side steep gorges forty feet deep or more. The exterior wall was tall, probably fifteen feet, and stuccoed in white, although in places he’d seen a few bits missing and the concrete blocks underneath showing through.

He looked at his watch: about 6:45 in the evening. It would be 10:45 a.m. at Langley, a good time to call Jones.

He rolled to the other side of the bed and reached for his bag on the floor, fumbled for the Iridium phone, and dialed. It made a bunch of strange beeps and squeaks, then a normal-sounding ring on other end, and he waited.

“Jones,” was the one-word greeting.

“Phoenix,” Cameron said, just to sound spook-like.

“Funny. How’s things there, Colonel? You guys settled in? Had a nap, maybe?”

“As a matter of fact I have, smart ass, and I hope you’ve been up since four this morning and no coffee.”

“Hey, I was kidding. I’d have taken a nap if I was you, that drive had to be a bitch.”

“Right, it stunk. Nice place here, though. How’s Langley?”

“Everything fine here,” Jones said. “Boss is happy, so everybody’s happy. You’ll probably be famous over half of the Eastern Hemisphere: he’s less happy about that, but whattya gonna do? French have been nice, but a little pissy as usual. I met their number one once, you know? Scary guy . . .”

“Yeah, great,” Cameron threw in. “Just what I need next time I try to take my wife to Paris. So, do you have anything interesting, or maybe worrisome, to tell us? Please, just say no, I’m ready for a nice, quiet couple of days.”

“Nothing really new. Your transponders show you at the compound I’d picked as the one from the overheads. By the way, which house are you in, figure looking down the lane from the gate toward the mosque for reference?”

Cameron thought. “From the gate, second on the right. Four bedrooms on the second floor, another for a maid on the third floor, empty, and a stairway to the roof. All three of us are on the second floor, fourth room will be empty. Roof is open and flat, parapet all around it about three feet high.”

“OK, got it. Looked to me like all four villas on the other side of the lane are occupied, and the two on your side closer to the mosque also. Anyone in the one on your side closest to the gate?”

“Not that I could tell, but I’ll ask Fahd at dinner. Hey, you expecting trouble?”

“No, nothing specific, just like to be thorough,” Jones said. “The DCI will have my ass if you even scrape your elbow. We’ve been getting an overhead shot or two every 8 hours for the last 24, everything looks nice and normal. We think we’ve got the “normal” pattern pegged for the street, so if anything really unusual happens we should know reasonably quickly. Is Allen there, or Ripley?”

“Have to look, wait one.” Cameron got up and slipped on a pair of khaki slacks. Out in the hall, he saw both the other guys’ doors were open, nobody inside. He called down the stairs, no answer. Into the phone, he said, “Nope, seems like they went out. Allen’s probably killed someone by now. I’ll have him call you back if it was anybody important.”

Jones didn’t even try to stifle the laugh. “Colonel, you are one in a million. Please do have him call when you can, I have a couple of professional questions to ask him, and if they’ve been out, they’re probably doing a little more recon to get the lay of the land. Are you, uhhh, armed, Colonel?”

Cameron was back in the room, he glanced to where he’d left the pistol on the nightstand and said, “Yeah, I’ve got one of the ten millimeter Smith’s. Jones, you’re not holding out on me, are you?”

“Nah, just checking to make sure the boys hooked you up is all. Like I said about the DCI . . .there is one thing, maybe. The cell phone we originally tracked down there in Saudi Arabia? Well, it moved from Dhahran to Riyadh to Taif to Jeddah in the last few days, and then it went silent yesterday. So did every number we’d got from tapping it. Safe to say the network there in Saudi knows they got blown hard in Europe and Jordan, and they’ve trashed those phones, got new ones probably. So we don’t have anything up-to-date-operational on them. Doesn’t mean they’ve got you fingered, but we don’t know what they’re up to, so it pays to be careful.”

“Great, but I’ll presume they’re clueless. Nobody followed us across the desert, nobody followed us into town. We should be fine. Anything on the passports for all those Saudi-Americans we’re looking for? I still got a bad feeling about that.”

Jones paused, then said, “Narrowed down to about two thousand possibles, Colonel. Relatively small haystack, but a haystack nonetheless. We’re still working on it. But, you can take some comfort in this: the experts at Langley, CTC, Homeland Security, DNI, FBI and everyone else got a look at some charts we made on your theory. The consensus is that nobody’d do it. Too small time, not enough news appeal, not enough publicity or glamour. Whatever these guys are up to, it won’t be that. Bad news is it’ll be something else, something bigger. Still, if they try to enter the US, we should find them all, or at least most of them. As long as they use the airports. I probably don’t have to tell you there are a lot of better, easier ways to slip in for someone who knows how and has the stones to do it.”

“God willing they have neither” Cameron hoped aloud. “I’ll have Allen or Ripley call when they come back in. See ya, Jones.”

“Later Colonel.” They both hung up.

Cameron sat on the bed, thinking. “Great, and nobody would ever use a truck bomb on a building, what idiot would crash a jumbo jet into a skyscraper?” A glance back at the gun on the night stand, and he reached for it. It was a big pistol, bigger than he liked. With his left hand he pulled the slide all the way back: a round ejected up and right and landed on the bed. “Have to talk to Ripley about that,” he thought. He let the slide come forward to chamber a new round, then thumbed the magazine release and dropped it out the bottom into his left hand. He reloaded the ejected round on top, pushed on that one just to check—room for another one. He got up to go see if Ripley had a box somewhere in his room, betting he did.


Mohammed tried to focus on the prayers, but he was thinking about the tactical problem and he couldn’t stop. So, he moved when his neighbors moved, and tried to remember to move his lips as though praying while he kept working on it.

It was not looking like an easy job to him. The compound was huge, even for a rich family in Saudi Arabia. He’d counted the roofs of eight villas inside a wall that had to be 4-5 meters high. Along the street the wall was all of two hundred meters long, with a gate in the center. The gates were stamped sheet steel, he was pretty sure they were rusty, perhaps the hinges also, but stout enough. On either side of this wall there were the deep wadis with their steep sides crowned by the same 5 meter wall running to the back of the compound. There was no way to get around to the back wall without being seen, which would be awkward, but he thought he could see the dome of a mosque centered at the back, perhaps another hundred meters, or maybe a hundred twenty, straight back from the gate. Big place, and a strong place.

The street in front of the gate was not much help—it was an empty street, no buildings on the other side until nearly a block to the south, on the next street away. So there was no cover from which to observe the place for any length of time. All he’d had was two drive bys, each in one of his two vehicles. That had told him nothing of what was inside, or how many people, or whether his entire target set was there yet or not.

But what he did know he didn’t like. First, there was only one sure way in and one sure way out, that was the steel-doored gate. He could breach the gate, he was sure, but it would be noisy and it would not necessarily be quick, so surprise might be lost no matter what time of night he struck. Once inside, he had no idea which villas would hold what people, or of course how many. Allah be merciful, EIGHT villas? To do it all at once he would have to assign just four men to each house, and he didn’t like those odds. With the length and breadth of the place as it was, he couldn’t do it simultaneously in any case—it would be a long, hard sprint for all the teams and some would arrive at the doors of their targets at least several seconds after the luckiest who drew the closer buildings. And all that after a big noise caused by getting through the gate. Breach the gate, maybe 20 seconds to get all 30 men through and into the compound depending on how clean the opening was, and then at least another 10 to 20 seconds before he had men at each villa. No time and no place to practice, and it would be very dark. Add another ten seconds to get people sorted once through the gate. It could be almost a full minute between the crash at the gate and the moment his men could get into houses and start killing. That would be a long minute if there were even ten men in the compound, and if they were even moderately well armed his larger force could be cut to ribbons before they even got into a house.

And even if he was lucky? The noise at the gate, a minute to reach the houses, figure three minutes to clear each house of 3 floors, another two minutes to get everyone back to the gate. Load the vehicles, and leave. Add something for confusion and adrenaline. What would it all take? At least ten minutes, all of it noisy in the middle of the night in a desert town in Saudi Arabia. Somebody with a gun would be moving and curious in less than 5, he was sure of that. He doubted he’d get away without being seen. He might be pursued. And, ten minutes, he reminded himself, probably was only a good estimate if there was no resistance in the compound. If there was a fight and he stayed to get the job done, it would take time, time, time, and he would leave dead men behind.

He didn’t like it. And then there were the men. The five with him he knew well enough, except for Jabreel, but he’d seen enough there that he thought the man would do fine. He had no clue what the other 25 Khalid was sending would be like. Any experience? What kind of training? How much, how recent? What was their discipline like? Could they handle the heavy weapons they were supposed to be bringing with them? Ahh, how heavy—anything more than a Kalashnikov would only slow things down.

The prayers had ended, men were standing up and shuffling toward the lines of shoes. As he did the same it occurred to him to think, “this is nuts. If we do this we break all the rules. No planning, no practice, no real intelligence, no time for the men to get to know each other.” He slipped on his shoes, draped his shamak and its igall over his head, walked out into the gathering dusk as the tide of the other faithful washed around him.

The others caught up and they walked together back up the street toward the small shwarma shop where they’d left their vehicles parked and where they’d eat their evening meal. Mohammed ordered and sat down with a Pepsi and some bread while he waited, still thinking. The others sat and said nothing.

He thought. Crash the gate with one of the vehicles? Dangerous. It might be damaged or stuck in the debris, and useless for the getaway. He didn’t know how many vehicles the twenty-five would come in, but he didn’t think it’d be enough to lose a vehicle and still get loaded up quickly. And re-allocating at that point would be confusing, a change of plan, would eat up time. Explosives, then? He wondered if Mohammed was sending any, and if anyone was competent at using them? He was not, himself. How to do the gates quietly? Maybe they could climb the wall? Some ropes perhaps, they might buy them in the souq tomorrow . Could all the men climb ropes. . .?”

The doors of the shop opened and two Europeans came in, chatting in what he thought was probably French. Each about six feet, fit men, they walked to the counter and switched to English to order a bag of a dozen shwarma. Back to French, or whatever it was. They leaned on the counter while they waited and looked about the shop. The bigger one finished a look around the room and then looked Mohammed straight in the face and didn’t flinch away. Blue eyes, light blue, cold and hard. And then a smile. Mohammed felt like something had just looked right through him. “I see you” that look seemed to say. He felt it very deep in his belly, and he had to suppress the urge to shiver and shift about. He looked at Jabreel and started to chat in Arabic about his mother in Ras Tanura.

This went on for three of four of the most uncomfortable minutes Mohammed could remember in his life. Finally, the men took their sack of food and left as casually as they’d come. He felt like he could breathe again. Jabreel looked at him like he thought he might drop dead. The cook came out and put three plates of food on the table. Mohammed took a long swallow of Pepsi.

And he began to eat, and went back to his problem. The Frenchmen were probably connected to some oil company, or they were construction engineers. Ropes . . .perhaps that was the thing after all. If they could get ropes, something to toss over the top of the wall and anchor there, the men could climb, and it would be quiet. They’d have all this evening and all day tomorrow to think about it, get organized, maybe go far out into the desert and practice with the weapons . . .”

XXIV. Langley/al-Ha'il

An amber glow settled into the treetops across the wide lawn from the Langley HQ, the last vestiges of what had been a crystal clear April day in the DC Metro area. Why exactly he was at Langley this late on a Saturday afternoon was pissing Jones off just a little, but he drew his eyes back from the now orange-ish trees to his monitor with the consolation that the day was almost done and tomorrow would be a Sunday to sleep in, laze around, watch some baseball, grill some burgers, and drink some beer. He was tired: tired of this Op, tired of his boss, tired of his office, and tired of the Agency. "That is not productive" he said to himself, which then made him wonder if he'd said that out loud, or inside his head. "Time to get out of here" he said, definitely aloud this time, recognizing that talking to yourself was a little weird, but talking to yourself and not knowing you were was actually pretty scary.

He was looking at the latest satellite photos from a pass just a few hours old over Ha'il, Saudi Arabia. There was not much to see. Shots that showed the team's arrival in the convoy of SUVs, all now stowed somewhere in a garage according to this slightly later photo. A person in the wide avenue between the row of houses in this picture, nobody outside in this one, but it would be hot there already during the day. There was nothing on either side of the Compound but deep wadis, and to the rear the wall and then nothing for miles, and though the angle of the photo didn't give him a view of the wall face, or the terrain at the base of it, he could tell from the depths along the side walls that there had to be a drop back there of at least ten, maybe fifteen feet, from the wall's base to the desert floor. Nasty place to have to take for a bunch of light infantry, if that's all you have.

Across the front of the Compound was that long, lonely street, with nothing directly across from it in the way of buildings. Traffic was light, most of his photos didn't show a vehicle on the street at all, apart from the one that showed the convoy's arrival. Two others did: on both it was a white vehicle, looked like a small SUV, probably Japanese but maybe Ford Explorer sized. Looking closer..."hmm, is this guy parked?" He zoomed in on the car. It was pretty close to the curb, and there was no other traffic, should have been closer to the middle of his side of the road, not hugging the right side. He looked at the other shot. Same vehicle, nearly same spot. Time of each shot: separated by just a few seconds. Nothing else.

Jones sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes, trying to think. "Same car, nearly the same spot, three seconds. Is he parked, or is he just moving slowly?" He looked at each shot again. There was nothing close enough in either photo to establish whether they were in exactly the same spot or not, at least to his eye. Maybe a photo specialist could figure that out. He made a note on his pad. Three seconds. Town road in a more or less, albeit sparse, residential area. Speed limit maybe 35 or 40? Do they even have speed limits in Saudi towns like this, and does anybody pay any attention even if they do? The next shot he had was 30 seconds later, and the car was gone. He tried to do the math in his head: "5280 feet, times 40 miles per hour, divided by 60, divided by 60 again..." He was too tired. How many feet per second is that? He opened the calculator on the computer: 58 feet per second, three seconds about 180 feet. He looked at the two photos again. Way closer to the same place than 180 feet unless the Compound was a couple miles wide, which it wasn't. "So, going way slower than 40 mph. On the other hand...looking at before and after shots, this guy wasn't there long, even if he did stop for a few seconds. Could have got out and taken a leak for all I know". This made him chuckle.

But it paid to be safe, he had guys in the field. So he switched to his email, addressed one to his favorite photo analyst, explained what he was looking for in which photos, attached them, and hit "Send". "Now I'm done" he said aloud again, noting he'd also just laughed out loud at himself. Not healthy. As he stood up and grabbed his jacket he noticed there was an email in his inbox about something called Fluffy. Really? No kidding? He didn't recognize the sender, and he figured it was another chain email of the kind that had gotten out of hand lately at the Agency. He wondered why nobody'd put a stop to it yet, but maybe someone higher up thought it was good for mental health to let the overworked Agency staff have a little fun on the email. He wasn't interested, at least not tonight. He stabbed the button that put the monitor into Standby mode, shut off his light, and headed for the parking lot. Fluffy, whatever the fuck that was, could wait until Monday.


Over at the NSA at Ft Mead, Fluffy and Ingrid were grinding away at their endless task of scanning phone calls, emails, and internet traffic that literally spanned the globe every second or so. Between them, they were beginning to notice an increasing number of connections to the phone calls recorded from somewhere on the Northern Saudi border a day or two earlier, even though the specific line they were supposed to be tracking in this instance had not been used again since that time. They were "noticing" this in the way that software "notices" of course: each had started a table that counted and catalogued the connections to that call. The tables only existed internal to their software, and would only provide a high-level alert to anyone or anything else once a threshold number of hits was recorded. This had not yet occurred. Ingrid had calculated that at the current rate the threshold in her software might be exceeded sometime on Monday afternoon, but the probability of this happening was only at 50% at present. Fluffy had amassed something a little closer to her threshold for this contact and had sent one automatic email to a CIA address provided earlier Saturday morning by an NSA analyst. Still, Fluffy predicted that her high alert threshold might be reached at about 3 a.m. on Monday morning. She was just over 70% confident that this would occur. Because of this, Fluffy was now running a special subroutine against this particular table, an innovation designed to speed up the alert process in cases where intuition might think something was significant before it was statistically significant. Thus, the arrival of each new bit of data was compared to the table, looking for connections of any kind to at least 5 existing table entries. The instant such a new contact might be found the subroutine would automatically set the high-alert warning to "True", which would start all kinds of external notifications regardless of whether Fluffy's threshold had been met or not.

Until that happened, Fluffy was not programmed to send any further alerts for this contact.


“Gentlemen, let us step out onto the terrace for some coffee and dates.”

They had finished dinner, Cameron, Ripley, Allen, General Fahd his second son Ali and the nephew, and a few of the retainers from the long trip out of Jordan. And it had been a long day. Cameron pushed back from the table as all the others did.

Fahd led them from the large dining room through the public living room and out a side door of the house, into the garden that surrounded the large villa in the center of the western row of houses in the compound. They were inside the wall of that house of course, but still the garden was big enough and full of plants and exotic trees, all watered daily by an unseen drip system. Everything was lush and in the dark still detectably green, and gave the place a cool feeling and a pleasant smell, welcome at any time compared to the harsh desert just outside the walls.

Outside it was cool, already dropping through the mid-60s by Cameron’s estimation. It would be cold tonight, probably high 40s. They reached what would have been the back yard at an American house, found a paved terrace surrounded by shrubs and covered with a series of carpets, and Fahd asked them all to sit. They did, in a small circle around a brazier that was in the middle of the carpets. Above them the sky was an infinite dome of a blue so dark it was nearly black, but not quite. Out of the dome the stars burned hard, bright, and cold in a way that they only can when there is virtually no man-made ambient light nearby. The house was big enough that the lights of the city of Ha’il to the south and ease were entirely shaded by its bulk. It was like being out in the woods in New Mexico, a million miles from anywhere, the last 10 men on earth around a fire that gave palpable heat but no light at all. It was stirring deep down, a primal feeling called up by instincts imprinted by a million years of evolution. Cameron shifted his weight and settled his legs Indian-style and looked about the circle. The starlight cast pale shadows here and there.

Fahd signaled one of the house men, and he came forward to the brazier and began to make coffee. As he worked, Fahd said “So Paul, what shall you do tomorrow?”

“Well, I think we should plan to move on Fahd,” Cameron said. “There are all those guys on their way to the US. We’ve had a long day discussing things, but there was not much to learn from your nephew, pity he didn’t know any of those other kids. And it looks like the whole group was pretty good about keeping their names quiet. Not much help at all. More to the point, not much else we can do here in Saudi Arabia. I think we can do more at home, working with our people there. They’ll likely be able to figure this out from all the cell phone numbers, and the…umm, people that got swept up in various places as we’ve moved from Paris to here. What do you think?”

“You are right of course,” the General replied. “We’ll be safe enough here. With what little I have learned I can alert the local authorities tomorrow. The compound will be looked after, and with the Air Police at Dhahran alerted as well I can return there in a few days and get back to my duties. We’ll have to be careful for a while, but I think as your government works on the information that they have, and if this is shared with our Services here, I think the danger will be put to rest relatively soon. ”

“Agreed, but I am sorry we were unable to do more.”

“Nonsense, Paul. Your people have been very helpful, and of course your Air Force has been generous to loan you to me for a week…has it been a week? All things considered we are in much better shape than we were when I flew to Paris. No, I think we’ve made excellent progress, and I am grateful that you could come. And of course, now I have your cell phone number on speed dial my friend.”

Cameron blushed a little. “It was my pleasure, and quite an adventure for men of our advanced age.” He glanced at Allen and Ripley to either side and noted the grins in the faint starlight. “Besides, these two savages have had a real education on the merits of Arab hospitality. Allow me to express our thanks for your generosity and that of your family and retainers. It has been an interesting and….educational week.”

“It is the least we can do. Now, let us have some coffee. Majid, where are those dates…ah, please pass them around to our guests…”

They ate dates and drank coffee and told stories for another hour or so, it was getting on toward midnight when all the coffee things had been cleared away and the conversation reached one of those awkward pauses that signaled a good time to call it a night. Fahd suggested they turn in, and the three Americans all gave a muffled sigh of relief. Despite all the caffeine they were tired. The group took their leave at the Villa’s gate, a solid metal affair with metal scrollwork welded to both outer and inner surfaces. “We shall see you all sometime after breakfast,” Fahd said, “but take your time in the morning. There is no hurry, and we will make a plan for your flights when you’ve had a long sleep with nothing to concern you for tomorrow’s agenda. Until then, good night Gentlemen.”

The sons and nephews and the retainers said their goodnights and melted off into the darkness toward their beds, the boys to the third villa on the Western side and the retainers toward the last one on the East side next to the mosque. The Americans entered their own enclosure and closed the gate, wordlessly climbed the stairs to the second floor. On the landing Cameron bid them good night and without waiting for acknowledgment he was into his bedroom and the door closed, leaving the other two there in the hallway.

“A long day,” Ripley said, an eyebrow raised.

“It was,” Allen caught the gesture. “What are you thinking?”

“Nothing very specific, just a feeling is all. You?”

“The same. Unfinished business, a lot of loose ends. Like we’ve missed something.” Allen paused. “What would you look for, if you were looking for this bunch of guys the kid said he met out in the desert?”

Ripley considered for a moment. “Arabs are not big, usually, but they’re usually pretty soft from what I’ve seen. Hmm, maybe if this group is dangerous at all they’d stick out by looking fitter than your average group of young Arab men. Like, if they’re doing any training that’s any good, you know? They’d be wiry, thinner through face and neck, less belly than the average guy you see in a thob maybe. Shoulders broader, waists narrower, they’d move softer. If the training is really good, maybe for their leaders, they’d have…the look. Like guys you see, you know, around Bragg or Lemoore, or Coronado, or in bars where guys like us hang out. The eyes give us away, usually. They’d be uglier than average, too, like you for instance.”

“Yeah, like me. Like the guy that got taken down right under my nose outside the Embassy in Amman. He had the look, I pegged him in the airport. Like the guy the Colonel pegged in London when he got there, and that was a nice piece of work with a big piece of shit. And that scary fucker I looked for with Jones in Paris: that is a guy that needs to be dead in a bad way. Scary loose end, that one. He’s gonna be trouble later, for somebody for sure.

“Amen. What else?”

Allen was thinking hard. “Something. Someone. Somewhere…can’t remember where, it’s been a wicked week for travel. Is it really Sunday?”

Ripley chuckled and looked at his watch. “No, actually Monday, it’s about a quarter past midnight. But I know what you mean. I’ve got the same feeling all around.” A pause again. “Well, safe enough here, big wall, lots of gates and locked doors. Light in about 5 hours, maybe less. We’re all armed, the Colonel’s got one of the pistols, you and I each with an H&K to go with it. As long as World War Three doesn’t happen while we’re asleep, what can go wrong?”

Allen didn’t look satisfied, but they were both tired. “OK, I must be getting old. Well, see you in the morning. I uhh…”


“Nothing. Sleep light, maybe, I don’t know.

“Sacktime, Allen. See you at breakfast.” Ripley slapped his new friend’s shoulder and in one motion spun on his heel, took 4 steps across the landing to the door to his bedroom and was through it, locking it behind him. He walked straight to his duffel bag though, lifted out the pistol and checked again that it was locked and loaded, safety off but hammer down for a long double-action pull on the first shot. Dropped the magazine, checked it was full. Fumbled in the duffel bag and found the two spares, also full. He set them all on the nightstand. Reached into the duffel again and brought out the MP5. It was actually an MP5SD5, the suppressed version that significantly reduced the firing noise while using full-up, supersonic ammunition. Quiet, fast and efficient, with selectable single shot, 3-round burst, or full automatic fire. One of his personal favorites for indoor work where things were up close and personal, not so much a favorite for outdoor shooting if you were trying to kill someone at a distance greater than 100 meters. For that he preferred an M4 with a suppressor, but the H&K would do for anything likely to happen here. The SD version’s one serious drawback at any time was that the forestock contained the suppression chambers and tended to become very hot, very fast. He rummaged in the duffel and found the pair of gloves he expected: nobody gave you an MP5SD without the glove for the off hand, and anyone who knew his business and didn’t know who the shooter would be provided a glove for each hand. Somebody knew his business.

It took him 5 minutes to strip, inspect and reassemble the MP5, then he removed all the rounds from his 4 30-round magazines and reloaded each of them. Once that was done he stripped himself, brushed his teeth, and went to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. It was 1230 on Monday morning.

Across the hall Allen completed the same ritual at about the same time, except while he’d laid down in bed, he was fully clothed and he did not fall asleep. Instead he lay on his back, staring at the ceiling, trying to work out what it was that was bothering him, what he’d missed. After a bit of this he looked over at the bedside clock: 1245 in the morning. He wondered if he should take a sleeping pill. In the end training won out. A crusty old sergeant had once told him that soldiers, especially special ops soldiers, only grew old if they paid attention to instincts. Allen’s gut told him something wasn’t right. So he climbed out of bed. Grabbed the duffel with his weapons and ammunition. Found a watch cap in his own backpack and pulled it down over his ears. Shrugged into his black fleece jacket, pulled on his boots. He slipped out into the hall, and lugged the duffel up the stairs, past the maid’s quarters and out onto the roof.

It was dark, and quiet, and cold, low 50s at most and falling fast. He sniffed, the air was dry like it should be for the desert, but there was the faint smell of water and dampness and green from the villa gardens all around the compound. He looked down the lane toward the gate, which he could just see about 75 yards away in the starlight. Palm trees lining the lane cast faint shadows.

He took out the MP5 and laid it on the roof decking, rummaged in the duffel and produced the two pistols. He stuffed one in each pocket of the jacket. Felt around in the duffel some more and found what he was looking for. Picked up the long gun and removed the laser optical day sights from the top rail with the two thumb screws that attached it. Fastened the night sights to the rail and tightened the screws. He switched on the optics and lifted the gun to his shoulder.

A starlight scope is not like the infrared things in the movies, where everything is a varying shade of green, with the hot stuff bright green and the background a dark green-black. Instead the world is what it is, except brighter. The ambient light is amplified, and with starlight like on this night, in crystal clear air, low humidity, it was like looking at a daylight scene except in black and white. The palm trees were crisp and clear, their shadows dark against the lighter ground either side of the lane. The gate was there, the top of the wall. He panned the scope and the gun around the whole perimeter, looking at the wall and whatever he could see beyond. Nothing, all quiet, all as it should be on a Sunday night in Saudi Arabia.

He felt a little foolish, but on the other hand, that sergeant was a grizzled old veteran. He’d survived some bad stuff, Afghanistan in the Soviet time, out in the bush with the locals trying to gut you and the Russkies trying to kill you from hundreds of yards away with their sniper rifles. If it didn’t feel right, it wasn’t right was what he said in training. So Allen turned off his scope and put the MP5 on the roof decking against the wall facing the gate. He put the spare magazines there next to the gun, then opened the duffel’s zipper all the way and slipped his feet into it and covered his knees. Then he snuggled into the corner of the parapet wall, slipped on both gloves, pulled the watch cap down further over his ears and forehead. He was warm, and he relaxed and went to sleep around 0100 on Monday morning.


At 6:30 pm DC time Jones was having a beer while steaks cooked on his neighbor’s outdoor grill. He’d had a relaxing Sunday. Up at a leisurely 7 am, a 3 mile run, about 150 pushups along the way. Breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, juice and some quality coffee. He’d watched the morning shows, read two DC papers and the Wall Street journal. Took a nap from 11 to 1, then watched the Nationals baseball game all afternoon. The steaks were thick, the neighbor was working the grill just right, ladies were in the kitchen doing whatever they were doing for the rest of the dinner, and things were looking pretty perfect in Jones’s world. The neighbor was just offering his opinion of the early season so far for the Nationals when the phone started to vibrate in Jones’s pocket.

He set the beer down and retrieved the device, looked at the number and gave an inward groan. He thumbed the “Talk” button and held the phone to his ear.

“Mr Jones?” a bodiless voice asked.


“This is Ops. There is a situation. Are you secure there?”

“No. What kind of situation?”

“Nothing hot. But warm. We think you should take a look. You have people on an errand somewhere?”

“Yes, I do, in a warm place. Is it warm there now?”

“Yes, it’s warm. We’re wondering if it might get hot there soon.”

Jones did the math. “Middle of the night there. How soon?”

“We don’t know. Putting the pieces together, but it could be any time, maybe even the next few hours. We think you should take a look.”

Jones rolled his eyes and looked heavenward. The steaks smelled divine. The beer was cold. But somewhere it was warm and might get hot. Very bad if something happened to the DDO’s boy out there and he was here swilling beer and stuffing his face after taking a call. No way out.

“OK. I’m about 40 minutes away, be there as soon as I can. If something happens, or even begins to smell like it’s happening, call me on this number again. On my way now.”

He thumbed the “End” button and stuffed the phone in his pocket. Apologized to the neighbor and walked into the kitchen. Kissed his girlfriend and told her he had to go out. That was the good thing about this girlfriend: they had an understanding; sometimes he had to go “out” at awkward times and she knew not to make a fuss. She started doing the cover up thing with the neighbor’s wife that she did so well, no big deal, business thing in China or somewhere that it was Monday morning already. He made a mental note to keep her on…maybe he was getting old enough to get married.

He made it to Langley in 35 minutes and was in the Ops Center in 40. The Watch Officer flagged him down as he came through the door, and he walked across the floor past all the duty staff at their computer screens and into the glass-enclosed conference room at the back. There were already 3 young kids in there.

The Duty guy introduced himself as Wayne, “and this is Shirley, and Max, and Ted. Signals intel analyst, satellite guy, and our integration guy on the night/weekend shift. They think they’ve fused something together that you should take a look at.”

Jones looked across the table at the three analysts: none could have been more than 24 years old, maybe a year or two out of school at most. Max had glasses so thick they looked like the bottom of coke bottles. Shirley was Asian, and Ted was a nerd of biblical proportions. They looked excited.

“So, tell me about it,” Jones said. He was pretty sure he’d just passed on a great steak for no reason at all.

The three kids looked at each other briefly, seemed to elect a spokesman just as quickly, and Ted cleared his throat.

“A few days ago we picked up a cellular call originating on the northwestern Saudi border with Jordan. Lonely place in the middle of fucking nowhere. About 2 cars cross the border there in a week from what we can tell…we uh, did some checking to make sure this wasn’t pretty, you know, normal.”

“Go on,” Jones said.

“Well, the call flagged some keywords that got it logged by some computers over at Fort Meade. But not enough of them to get immediate attention. So it didn’t get a look from an analyst over there until late afternoon yesterday.”

“Do you have the text of the call?”

“We do, and a translation.”

“Well, what did the guy say?” Jones was losing patience…did he have to play 20 questions?

“It said: “An Air Force Brigadier just crossed into the Kingdom at al-Kaf. He travels with his family: two women, a teenager, and a small boy, four Saudi men, and three Americans. They’re moving in three GMC Suburban vehicles. The time is ten-thirty.”

“Holy Shit,” Jones came out of his chair. Those are my guys. Where was this? Show me on a map!”

Max reached for a remote on the table in front of him, pushed a series of buttons, the lights dimmed and a projector fired up and a map of Saudi Arabia appeared on the screen at the end of the room.

“Here, at al-Kaf, border crossing with Jordan.” He pushed a button. “This is a satellite shot of the crossing.” He was using a laser pointer. “This is the guard house, sleeping quarters, small kitchen, probably a couch and a TV. You can see the satellite dish…” he zoomed in and moved his laser dot around on the roof. He zoomed back out. “Over here is the outhouse…looks like they don’t have indoor plumbing. You can see their water tank here on the side of the main building. Looks like it gets trucked in every couple of days.”

“When was this?” Jones asked.

“Friday, about 1030 local time there in Jordan.”

Jones looked at Shirley, the Signals analyst. “Do we know who took the call?”

“Yes. Landline in Dhahran, a guy named Mohammed, which doesn’t help us at all of course.”

“Anything else on that landline, since then I mean?”

“Yes, there was one outgoing call and one incoming. Outgoing was to a cell phone that didn’t answer; we think that one has gone out of service. Incoming was from another cell phone, a number we have nothing on prior to this, and he got the answering machine. Listened to the same message and hung up. Clearly knew the code for the machine.”

“You got an address in Dhahran for that landline yet? That’s key.” Jones said.

“Not yet, we’re working on it, but addresses are pretty wacky in Saudi Arabia. Mostly we get driving directions we don’t understand, we’ll probably have to send someone to look for the place and then put it under surveillance if anyone authorizes the assets to do that.” She held up her hand to preempt Jones’s next question. “The original cell number called outgoing from the landline WAS something we had before, got that number on the daisy chain of phones that was rolled up in Paris last week. Somebody named Saleh in Paris called someone named Ibrahim, also in Paris, and this Ibrahim called this guy named Khalid in Saudi Arabia on that mobile number. We checked backward, and Khalid’s been getting around. He was in Bahrain last Tuesday and Wednesday, then in Dhahran Wednesday afternoon, Riyadh on Thursday morning, Taif later that afternoon, and Jeddah on Friday afternoon. His phone hasn’t been on the network since Friday, we figure he guessed everyone had his number after Paris and ditched it. The new number on the incoming call to the Dhahran landline is a prepaid phone out of Jeddah. That suggests it’s this Khalid guy, right? A call to his old cell, then the new cell calls and gets the message off the machine on the same landline?

“Do you have any call history for this Khalid last week before he ditched his phone?”

“Yes, we have all of the history since we got the number, nothing before that since it wasn’t flagged before. And not the text of the calls, not set up for that until after this one on Friday afternoon when our computers got hold of the numbers. Before that he made several calls to the same mobile number in the Dhahran area while he was there, then he called that mobile number again from Riyadh a day later. Called it again the last day the number was on the network, Thursday from Jeddah. On Thursday he also made about 25 other calls from Jeddah in a short time to numbers in Western Saudi Arabia.” Shirley stopped there.

Jones looked at Ted. “OK, you’re the integration guy. Do you have a theory?”

Ted looked right at him. “We do. We think the guy at the border was an inside job, and he called the landline just to report something he thought might be unusual. But no reason for the landline guy, this Mohammed, to call Khalid on his mobile unless the Brigadier and the three Americans were of interest to him, right? So we think he called and got instructions. Where are your people now, Mr Jones?”

“At a family compound with the Saudi General on the north side of the city of Ha’il”.

“Right. Well, it turns out that a guy named Ripley out of Paris had been tracking the same mobile number, this Khalid, since things started happening there last Tuesday or Wednesday. We think Khalid has sent Mohammed and at least 25 guys to Ha’il to take out your friends there.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because he told us.” Ted shuffled his papers and came up with the one he wanted. “Thursday afternoon he talks to some guy in Dhahran, we think it’s Mohammed. They’re talking about a ‘birthday party’ they tried to attend the night before, but nobody was home. Khalid’s ‘brother’ it says. Mohammed says there was nobody home, but Khalid says now he thinks the nephew or whatever is in Ha’il, and he wants Mohammed to go there and pay his respects.”

“So?” Jones didn’t like this, but wasn’t sure where it was going.

“So, Khalid tells Mohammed and I quote: “yes, I have thought of that Mohammed, that is exactly what I have in mind. I have thought to have some people meet you at al-Buraydah with the gifts. I think perhaps something like twenty-five would do. What do you think?” and then Mohammed says “Khalid, I should think that would do, if God wills it. Are their gifts to be, err, so heavy? And Khalid says yeah, they are very heavy.” So we think Mohammed and a few guys, say 5 or 6 altogether for the aborted party in Dhahran, are driving cross country…” Ted nodded to Max who thumbed his remote. The map changed on the screen.

“They drive to Riyadh, then Buraydah, then a short drive about an hour and a half, to Ha’il. Khalid says his nephew and this birthday party is in Ha’il, Mr Jones. We think about 30 heavily armed Saudis are headed for your people and this Air Force brigadier’s compound. We think they were likely all in Ha’il on Saturday afternoon, about 33 hours ago.”

Jones was pale. “Do we know when? Did he say when?”

Ted looked straight at him and said: “he said Sunday night, Mr Jones. It’s about 0230 there now, Monday morning. What would you be doing?”

“Holy shit” and Jones was out of his chair. “I need a secure phone, have to call an Iridium number and warn my guys.” Jones was out into the Ops Center floor. “Comms, who’s the fucking comms officer??”


Allen woke up, suddenly completely alert, but he didn’t know why. Then he heard it again. The night was silent, cold, still, but wasn’t that a sound like metal hitting concrete? His brain was getting up to speed. Again. And that was three, he was awake now and that was the sound that had woken him. He moved, shifted the duffel off his legs and in a fluid motion was up on his knees with the MP5 in his hands. He fired up the night scope, removed the glove from his right hand, gripped the pistol grip and lifted it to his shoulder.

First the gate. All looked fine there. Then along the top of the wall to his left, he got about halfway to the corner and saw nothing. Panned right past the gate to the right side. He almost missed it, had to back up. About 30 feet to the right of the gate something was on the top of the wall. Black, curved, ugly. Grappling hook? He panned further right. Two more, all the same.

“Holy Shit” he breathed into the stillness. He started thinking about the tactical problem. Three hooks, three ropes. The wall was 75 yards from where he knelt, downhill from his third floor perch. But 75 yards away was a long way for supressed rounds from an MP5SD. Not ideal. He hoped they didn’t have body armor or he might as well have been using a BB gun. Three ropes. How many guys? Five each? Ten? Thirty guys would get interesting really quick. He looked down at the fire selector behind his trigger, switched it to single shot. No use spraying bursts around at that range. Slow, deliberate fire, one at a time, that’s the thing. See if they could be discouraged by some of their guys going down. He had 4 30-round magazines…

The night’s silence was shattered by the phone going off in the cargo pocket of his pants. He had to look down, reach in with his right hand, pulled out the phone, and ducked below the edge of the parapet. “Allen” he whispered.

“Allen, Jones calling from Langley. What’s happening there?”

“Nice of you to call. I happen to be on the roof taking the night air and three grappling hooks just landed on the compound wall, right front of the gate. I’m a little busy here…”

“Right, well you’re gonna be. We think there may be 30 of them, and they may have heavy stuff with them.”

“Like what?”

“Don’t know, but the word “heavy” was used on the intercept. We’re on the phone to the embassy watch officer in Riyadh to try to get you some local help ASAP. But this time of morning, and the distance…you may be on your own for a while.”

A noise from the front of the compound snapped Allen up to the parapet, where he held the scope to his eye with his left hand and the phone in his right. One guy was on the ground inside the compound, there were two more on the top of the wall and two halfway down the inside of it. Looked like all had AK-47s either already in hand or slung across their backs. He prayed that was all that “heavy” was going to mean, big enough problem there all by themselves.

“Jonesy, I’m gonna be real busy now, there are a bunch of nasty people coming down the inside of my wall. Do us a favor and start calling the other phone to see if you can wake Ripley and the Colonel, I’m gonna need a little help here. I’ll leave this one open for you, but don’t expect much talking from me.”

Allen put the phone down to his right and rose up to his knees. Not high enough to depress the sights down to ground level. He got to his feet and squatted to keep his head low to the parapet, the gun resting in his left hand and the hand on top of the wall. Four guys on the ground, three on top of the wall, two part-way down the inside. He thought, but faster than it seemed: “which one first? Which ones so that the rest don’t panic right away and start shooting? Gotta get a few before all hell breaks loose…”

And then he shifted aim to the guy on the right, part way down the wall. It was a long shot for a 9mm weapon, even longer for one that deliberately cut muzzle velocity down below supersonic so it’d be quiet. No telescope. He aimed for the top of the guy’s spine, then elevated to the middle of the back of his head, and squeezed off one round.

There was the sound like a telephone book being dropped on a concrete floor from about the height of a kitchen counter. Plop! Not quiet like the movies, but that was bullshit. But not the ‘crack’ of a rifle shot either, or the sharp bark of a pistol. He saw the round hit and the guy dropped like a sack of stones to the ground below. He shifted aim and shot another guy off the top of the wall, that one went back over to the outside. He shifted back down to the guys on the ground.

They were looking at the wall, apparently wondering about their clumsy brothers falling off. One headed right to look at the guy on the ground. Allen could hear another rasping some commands. Two more guys resumed climbing down the wall, two guys already down turned back to face inward toward the villas …

Allen shot them both in rapid succession, but it took two rounds for the guy on the right. Plop! Plop-plop! It was loud enough to him there on the roof, but 65 yards away, with some concrete from the parapet helping him, and the noise those guys were probably making trying to climb over…the guys were down 4 people and hadn’t figured it out yet. Another nice thing about the MP5SD was all the gas paths in the suppressor not only knocked the sound way down, it also cut the muzzle flash to almost nothing so if you didn’t know where to look, you likely wouldn’t see it. He liked the gun.

He shifted aim and shot the guy facing the wall and giving orders in the back of the head. He went down, but that was the end of the easy stuff. One of the guys on the ground must’ve been looking right at him, because he’d seen the muzzle flash and his AK was coming up fast. He yelled something in Arabic, loud, and was part way through “Allahu akhbar….” when Allen shot him in the face and the back of his head exploded.

But that was definitely it, because now there were 6 guys down but 4 on the ground still up and 3 more on the wall, and two guys opened up with their AKs. The night exploded, and Allen flattened himself on the roof deck as high velocity rifle bullets flew over his head, some pinged off the top of the wall and some chewed into the outer surface. He was pretty sure they’d come through the concrete wall pretty soon, too. It was likely made of cinder block, and from that range, the 7.62x39mm round from the AK-47 would make quick work of it. Bits of concrete were landing all around him, things were whizzing about above him, but with the angles he was relatively safe laying flat on the roof.

But there was no time for taking it easy. He grabbed the duffel and stuffed magazines and Iridium into it and started low-crawling toward the opposite corner of the roof where nobody was shooting. Halfway there Ripley burst through the roof door and promptly hit the deck when he heard the first rounds whipping past his ears.

“Where’s Cameron?” Allen yelled.

“Sent him down to the hallway to hold the door” Ripley replied. “What’s going on?”

“Probably 30 guys coming over the wall, all with AKs or maybe something heavier, but haven’t heard anything bigger yet. I put 6 of them down, so 24 to go”.

“How do you know how many?”

“Got a call from Langley right after their grappling hooks woke me up. Did your phone ring?”

“I’d just picked it up when I heard your first shot. Dropped it, pulled on pants and boots and headed up here. Jones?”

“Probably, told him to wake you up.” He looked at the parapet, still no fire on the right-front corner. “let’s crawl over there, full-auto, unload a mag each on these guys. Probably in a big crowd by now. Then we drop and scoot for the door and get off this roof before we get killed.”

“Right. How many mags you have?”

“This one has 23 left, I have 3 more full. You?”

“Four, full. Let’s do it. One mag each and we scoot.”

They moved quickly for men on their bellies. At the corner of the wall they readied. Just before they moved another AK opened up, but closer and to their right. “Someone on the roof across the lane?” Allen said. “General’s guys waking up I think, and into action pretty quick. We may live, yet.”

Then he counted “one, two, three” and the two of them rose above the parapet, sighted, and fired.

There was not one large group as they’d hoped, but six smaller ones. Some had 5 men, at least three were smaller. So the full automatic bursts of 2.25 seconds each were wasted initially, but they fanned outward from what they’d guessed would be the center of a large group and 4 more bad guys went down before their breeches locked open and they dove to lay flat on the deck as far from the wall as they could.

There was firing and bullets and concrete fragments everywhere, but there was definitely outgoing fire from at least one other roof.

“Now we’re outta here…GO” Allen yelled.

He and Ripley fast-crawled to the door and into the stairway, then down the stairs. They found Cameron at the bottom watching the front door from a nearby doorway. They started talking about how to go outside, make a flanking maneuver, get behind the attackers at the gate-end of the lane. Then the phone started ringing in the living room.

“You guys are better equipped than me for guard duty, I’ll get it.” Cameron said.

It was Fahd calling from his villa. Cameron listened for 20 seconds and hung up.

He walked back into the hallway. “That was the General. He says under no circumstances should we leave the villa. He’s thrown a switch that shoots steel bolts on the gates in the walls of each villa, so we’re safe enough if we sit tight. His guys are engaged from 3 rooftops, and the attackers are making a mistake: they’re working their way down the lane between the two rows of villas. Taking heavy casualties in the crossfire from the roofs of 2 and 3 on the West side and now just villa 3 on our side since you guys came inside. More importantly, there’s about to be a nasty surprise down by the…”

He was interrupted by a hammering outside that both Ripley and Allen instantly recognized. “M-60” they said at the same time.

“Yep. Two of the retainers got into the garage next to the mosque, armory under the mosque, and the M-60 is now hosing down the lane where all these guys are exposed.”

The phone rang again, Cameron went to answer.

BOOOOM! He never got there. Allen yelled “R-P-G” as he and Ripley found their way to the kitchen. “RPG” he said again, “and the M-60 has stopped. I think the tide just turned.” They could still hear AK’s firing outside…

BOOOOM! “Shit, that had to be one of the gates going down,” Cameron said.

“Yep, time for another game change,” this was Ripley. “We’re going out the back, gotta flank them and get rid of the RPG shooter, quick, or a lot of the General’s family are in the shit.”

There was no argument. He brushed past Cameron and headed for the back door of the villa. Allen looked at Cameron, reached into his pocket and handed over his own pistol. “You may need two” was all he said.

Cameron nodded in acknowledgment, then Ripley cracked open the door, took a peek outside. Nothing. Allen tugged it open and was first through, Ripley following and Cameron bringing up the rear. Nobody in the garden, wall tops clear. Across the yard to the back gate. Ripley on the gate, Allen ready, opening it a crack…

RRRP! Allen let go a 3-round burst. “GO, GO, GO…” he yelled, and was out the gate and moving. Ripley fell in just behind him, and Cameron went out last.

They were in a wide alley between the back wall of their villa’s garden and the outer wall of the compound. They hugged the garden wall, Allen looking toward the front gate, Ripley at the big wall, and Cameron back down the compound toward the mosque and garage end. They could hear the firing from the front side of course, but here there was nothing moving.

Allen scuttled along the wall, quickly reaching the corner but staying in the shadow. He got down on the ground and peered around the corner. “Two guys on the gate” he said, loud enough for the others to hear but not loud enough to carry to the gate over the noise. “Ripley, can you hit anything from this range with an MP5?”

Ripley was insulted. “Goddam right I can,” he said. “Together?”

“Right. I’ve got right side and you have left. Get up here.” They squatted together at the corner, Allen very low and Ripley hunched just above him. “OK, on three, we shuffle forward, sort, and take ‘em. Ready?” Ripley nodded. “OK…one…two…three…”

Cameron turned to watch. The two CIA shooters were like artisans. They leaned forward as one being, sighted just for an instant, then simultaneously loosed one round each, then they were back behind the corner.

“Down” said Allen.

“Down” echoed Ripley.

“You fuckers are dangerous,” Cameron said.

“Fucking-A” said Allen.

“Now what?”

Allen sat against the garden wall and looked up at him. “Well Colonel, there’s all hell breaking loose down the main drag out there. I got a look over that way…bad guys are holed up behind low walls either side of the lane, firing down toward the mosque at the end and upward at roofs, I guess. A lot of them I could see. I figure they’re down to maybe half their original number: those two make either 9 or 10 for Ripley and me alone. But it’s still nasty out there. We got no body armor, all you got is the two pistols…wait a minute.”

Allen got down on all fours and crawled low over toward the outer wall. Cameron noticed a lump out there for the first time, and realized it must be the guy who took the burst as they came out of the garden gate. Allen came back out of the dark with an AK and a vest holding several magazines.

“Colonel, you know how to use this thing?” he asked.

“Not a bit” Cameron said, “other than point that end and squeeze the trigger.”

“What about the H&K?” Ripley asked hopefully.

“That either” Cameron answered. “Guys, I’m just a fighter pilot. Pistols, yes. M-16, sure way back when, for all the good that would do me tonight. But not this stuff.”

Allen and Ripley engaged in a quick conversation about the virtues of either gun in the hands of the inexperienced. In the end, stealth won out.

“OK boss, this is what we’ll do,” Allen finally said. “You take the AK, and put this on,” he handed over the vest with the spare ammo. “Me and Ripley will use the silenced HK’s, try to take down more guys without them figuring out we’re coming. You cover our asses with the AK, don’t shoot unless you have to so we stay quiet as long as we can”.

“OK,” Cameron said. “But what’s the plan?”

“Well, we go out there and help I guess,” said Ripley.

“Right,” said Allen. “OK, we go around the corner, haul ass for that planted area short of the center roadway, dive into the plantings and hide behind the palm trees. Or a rock if you find one in there. We get set up, prone, and then Ripley and me start taking down these guys from their right flank. If we’re lucky, we get enough of them that the others break and start to run for the gate, and they never turn their fire on us. If we’re not…”

“If we’re not, you open up with the AK, sir,” Ripley finished. “Hold low, stroke the trigger, try for 3 round bursts or so. Pick your targets. Lemme show you how to reload this thing.”

He did, showing Cameron how to eject the magazine, insert a new one, close the breech, begin shooting again. “These hold 30 rounds each” Ripley tapped a magazine. “Try to keep track, and change in a lull if you can; you don’t want to run dry at the wrong time.”

Cameron swallowed hard. “OK, got it.”

The volume of fire over on the lane increased, and there was another “BOOM” from the RPG. Cameron wondered suddenly how long this had been going on…he’d lost track of time. Seemed like forever, but surely someone would have come by now if it had been that long. Or maybe the police were happy not to come toward something that sounded this nasty, way out in the boonies in Saudi Arabia?

“Ready?” Allen asked.

Nods from Ripley and Cameron.

“OK, let’s GO!” Allen was up, and he dashed around the corner, Ripley was 3 long strides behind him, and Cameron brought up the rear. They didn’t run, but walked fast, rifles up at their shoulders. Cameron looked right of Ripley’s right shoulder, along the villa wall. Ahead, Allen was scanning from front to left front. The trees were up ahead, and Cameron saw they would be scant cover…the hoped-for rock wasn’t there.

Ahead he could now see at least 10 or twelve men firing down the lane. They two were sheltered in the trees across the way, or in the shadow of a low wall that flanked the drive. The angle wasn’t good. But Cameron took the right flank, behind a tree planted on a small rise in the hard earth.

There was no warning, but the soft barks of the H&Ks started up as Allen and Ripley engaged the targets. He saw two go down, then a third, and a fourth. He saw the guy next to that last one, who watched his pal get it and keel over, and he saw him turn to his right rear and unleash a whole magazine in their general direction…

Suddenly there were bullets everywhere. Some hit the dirt in front of Cameron, but luckily they guy was surprised, or scared, or inexperienced, or all three, because his rifle rose on its own with the trigger held down, and after the first few they all were spattering in or through the trees above them. Without thinking, Cameron lifted his cheek off the dirt, sighted his rifle on the shooter, and squeezed the trigger.

One round, center of mass. The bullet struck near the middle of his chest. Cameron saw the mist behind the guy, although in the dark he didn’t see the color. At this range it hurled the limp body back two paces where it dropped in a heap. His rifle sailed through the air to his right and clattered to the ground next to another guy.

And then it was just madness. The attackers could tell by their comrade’s fall that they were flanked. Cameron heard a shout in Arabic, and half the remaining shooters turned their guns toward the Americans. Cameron kept shooting, conscious of the bullets everywhere, but strangely also not caring much. Later, he remembered a “WHOOSH” as an RPG flew over his head and a “BOOM” as it exploded against the compound wall well behind him. He was still stroking the trigger when he realized nothing was happening, and he wondered how long that had been going on.

He rolled left, flat on his back behind his tree, and fumbled to change magazines. He was thumbing the breech closed when Ripley yelled, “Colonel on your RIGHT!”

Cameron still on his back, looked to his left as three attackers came running out of the dark ten paces away. He started to sweep the rifle that way, through a 90 degree arc, while his thumb tried to find the fire selector to switch to full automatic. It all seemed to be incredibly slow. He could see the nearest guy suddenly see them, could see his rifle also coming around. Cameron’s brain did the math…it would be close, but it looked like he would be too late, he was going to lose the race. In a flash he decided to fire early, maybe distract the guy. He squeezed the trigger: one round, not full auto. He squeezed again. The guy on the left staggered and went down. Then the guy on the right went down too, which was strange since he wasn’t pointing that way. He fired again, nothing. The last guy fired, but low, the bullet plowed up a big dust cloud right in front of him. He fired again, and the guy was on him.

Cameron rolled right, once, twice, three times, and the guy went right over him. He heard him fall to the ground to his left, and then Cameron rolled his feet under him and he was up, throwing the rifle to his left and the big 10mm Smith and Wesson pistol was coming out of the pocket in his right hand.

The guy was also coming back up, and he was close. He saw the pistol, and he swept the butt of his own rifle hard across his front, striking the gun's muzzle before it could come up and knocking it from Cameron’s hand. He stepped in and tried to club Cameron with the rifle butt on the backhand return stroke. Cameron was in overdrive. He stepped into the guy on his right side and threw a hard left elbow into his nose, felt a satisfying crunch, then he continued to pivot to his right as the guy’s rifle butt came down between them. Cameron grabbed the top of the rifle just forward of the breech with his left hand, and punched the guy in the nose again with his right. He felt a little of the strength go out of him. Now he pivoted sharply backward on his right foot, twisting the rifle in the guy’s hands and throwing him down roughly onto his right shoulder. The rifle went off once. Cameron continued twisting, which rolled the guy onto his own front. He removed the rifle from the man’s grip, reversed the muzzle, placed it behind the guy’s right ear, and fired. His head exploded and he lay still.

Cameron looked around. It had gotten quiet, except for the shouts, all in Arabic. His ears were ringing. He felt a little dazed. Without deciding to, he sat down hard on his ass. He wondered about this. Then the world started to tilt, which he thought was very strange, and he landed hard on his right side and shoulder, and that hurt a lot, more than it should. He lay there wondering why for a moment, then closed his eyes and everything went dark.

“Medic! Medic here” Ripley was yelling. He squatted where Cameron lay. Allen got there just after. There was a pool of blood starting to soak into the dirt on the Colonel’s right side.

“Bad,” Allen said.

“Maybe, Maybe not,” Ripley countered. See if you can find where he’s hit.”

They picked sides, Allen the right, Ripley the left. Allen found it, right side low in the abdomen. “Got it,” he said. “Steady flow, not pulsing. Venous bleeding.”

“Through and through?”

“Don’t think so” Allen said. “Too damn much blood, can’t find a hole, just blood everywhere.”

Cameron groaned and flinched away from the probing hand.

“Roll him this way” Ripley said, “Gently”.

They did, got him on his back. It was too dark to really tell anything except there seemed a lot of blood. Cameron was back out, unconscious. “Pressure here” Ripley indicated, stuffing his shirt where he wanted it. “You stay, going for help”.

He stood and ran away fast, Allen pressed hard where he’d been told. “Stay with me, Colonel, stay with me. Dumb ass fighter jock, stupid thing to do. Fucking hand-to-hand unarmed combat against a guy with a fucking AK. Fucking stupid fucking officer…Just hang in there now…”

XXV. Epilogue: Northern Virginia

“Blue Line train to Franconia-Springfield,” it was the voice of the train driver over the intercom. The doors of the Blue Line train, Washington D.C. Metro system slid shut with a whoosh at the Van Dorn Street stop in Alexandria, Virginia. Inside the third car from the front of the train, an elderly man sat alone in the seat closest to the front door. He wore a shabby looking corduroy sportcoat with suede patches at the elbows, a tweed wool vest, and underneath a blue oxford shirt and red striped tie, all over a pair of charcoal grey flannel slacks. His shoes were worn-looking brown tassel loafers. His beard was three days old, and his head was covered by a grey tweed driving cap that almost matched the vest. He appeared to be dozing as he leaned into the corner where the seat back met the outer wall of the train, a wooden walking cane pressed against his left thigh, his left hand resting on the pommel.

The rest of the car was nearly empty. Toward the back there was a young black man with retro-afro hair that sprang out 3 inches all around his face, burnt orange 70’s style bell bottoms, sneakers, and a brown polyester shirt, the whole affair capped off by the white earphones in his ears, and an iPod blaring loud enough that anyone could have heard the rap from the other end of the car. About midway back, between the kid and the old man, sat a tired looking junior executive from the looks of his suit. It was a good suit, but not terribly good. The young man wore his hair close-cropped, almost military, and by the fit of the suit one could tell he was rather more athletic than is usual. Probably a recent college football star. At the very front of the car there was an elderly woman, also carrying a cane, with very dark glasses and a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over her forehead. She sat rather hunched, looking a bit afflicted by osteoporosis or some ailment of the upper back. Everyone was silent, except for the noise from the earphones and the iPod.

The train pulled into the Braddock Road station, and the doors whooshed open as the driver recited his litany again, but no-one got on or off the third car from the front. A short two minute ride later, the King Street station came into view, and as the driver began his announcement the old man was first to move, but slowly. He looked as though he’d wakened from a doze, then began straightening his tie with his free right hand, adjusting his cap, and bracing the cane to help himself rise. The doors opened on the left side of the car as it came to a full stop, and the old man levered himself to his feet, waited for the surprisingly quick old woman to pass through the door in front of him, and then walked shakily out himself, leaning heavily on the cane and limping, favoring his left leg. The athletic kid and the black guy stared into space, making no move at all.

The two elderly people made their way separately toward the same elevator, and as they boarded it to share the ride down to street level they made the obligatory nods at each other that pass for elevator etiquette, by unspoken agreement, everywhere in the United States. Neither made any further gesture, neither spoke—the usual contract. When the door opened, however, the old man made a chivalrous gesture for the woman to exit first, which she did, turning to her left where she immediately sighted her ride waiting at the curb. The old man walked straight ahead to the opposite curb, looked left and then right, searching for a taxi. At precisely that moment one appeared at the far entrance to the station parking lot, and seeing him, gunned his engine to arrive in front of the old man just as he began to make a gesture to hail. The car came to the stop, the old man got into the car a little more nimbly than he had a right to do, and in a moment the taxi roared away, East bound on King Street into Old Town Alexandria.

Old Town is an interesting mix of the old and the new, a trendy juxtaposition of 18th century Colonial-era port city, the two hundred year old buildings containing slick modern restaurants and shops, old brick townhouses butted one against the other, some still multi-million dollar homes, others businesses, law offices, and political consultancies. King Street is the center of it all, and in the early evening, which it was just turning to be, it is busy with the well-off, professional, well-connected chic of Washington, jogging, stopping for a beer, or looking for a meal, or just out to see and be seen. Old Town is bisected North to South by the George Washington Parkway, which connects Crystal City, near the Pentagon, to George Washington’s estate of Mount Vernon about 10 miles south along the Potomac. One block West of the GW Parkway, about 8 blocks East of the King Street station, the old man’s taxi stopped and deposited him on the sidewalk in front of the La Tasca restaurant, a modest looking establishment in a nice brick building, the sidewalk tables huddled against the front window under a blue-striped awning, and above that three flags—American, Spanish, and curiously, the Scots national flag adorned with the Royal Lion of Scotland.

The old man limped across the walk and in by the front door. Once inside, his limp immediately disappeared and he stood upright, appearing to gain five inches in height, and he greeted the hostess in a beautiful aristocratic Spanish as he scanned the tables in the almost-empty space before him. He found the man he was looking for right away—athletic looking, dark hair graying at the sides, a long nose, sharp face, and steel blue eyes that were fixed on his own so tightly that for a moment he felt the glare physically, as though something was searching his soul. “Christ,” he muttered aloud, and then turning to the alarmed hostess he said in the easy Spanish, “my dear, I’m meeting this man, would you have someone bring me an Estrella, please?” The girl nodded and the old man walked confidently across the room to take a seat opposite his man.

“Colonel Cameron, I presume?” Randall Anderson said, leaning the cane against the wall and extending his hand across the table. “It’s good to see you more or less in one piece my boy. I heard about your little accident, if you’ll allow me to call it that just here, but it looks like you’re mending nicely. How are you, then?”

Cameron stared across the table at the old man, recognizing him after half a moment, a memory from a very, very long time ago. “You,” he muttered, trying to put it all together . . .

“Yes, me,” Anderson agreed. “So you remember? We have met before of course, at your Company interview, what, twenty-one years ago? You continue to amaze us all, Colonel, yes, you do. I would not have thought I’d have been remarkable at all on that occasion.”

Regaining his wits, the picture of the interview room now firmly in his mind, Cameron smiled. “You weren’t, errr, Sir, not really. I have this occasional curse of a memory is all, pictures that never leave me, damndest thing, and no telling when it will fire off. I did enjoy the interview, though, would have come to work for you guys if it hadn’t been for the war . . .”

“Yes, yes, I know, pity, that, but admirable, admirable. In any case, it’s all turned out fine in the end, you’ve come to work for me after all in a way, and things worked out pretty well I think, wouldn’t you say?”

“Well, I guess that depends on whether you’ve just had thirty stitches removed from your abdomen, and more important, whether your wife is about to throw you out of the house for being a reckless, thoughtless, idiot, numbskull sonofabitch.”

“Your wife said that? How is the, umm, wound doing? OK I trust?”

“It was just a nasty gash is what the surgeon said, 7.62mm round dug a 1/16 inch trench about 3 inches long across the right side of my abdomen. Messy but lucky. Someone said it may have glanced off one of the spare magazines in the vest I was wearing. The bullet came about as close to missing me as it could, without actually missing, was what the doc said. Great sense of humor, right? And Yes, she did say exactly that, and some other things I won’t repeat as I’m a gentleman and she a lady whose reputation I value even more than my own skin.”

Anderson smiled broadly at that, then began to chuckle, and Cameron followed suit, both of them laughing deep and hearty, pausing only to take up their beers when the hostess brought them. After each had taken a long drag, Anderson resumed “Well, sounds like my Amelia, actually, God rest her soul, I’ll probably love her. Elizabeth, right?”

Cameron was briefly stunned, but of course, he reckoned, the Boss would know everything about him. “Of course, Sir, of course. By the way, do you move around Washington un-escorted all the time?”

“Certainly not,” Anderson answered, a little put off himself, but recovering. “It’s not like the bad old days when my Soviet number would have given his family jewels for a fair crack at me, and God knows a few times they tried with my predecessors you know, but still, there are bad people who know who and what I am, so I take precautions. You see . . .”

“The old woman in the car at the curb across the street?” Cameron cut in, “and the driver, and I suspect that guy at the front of the restaurant at the table with the really striking woman with the black hair?”

Anderson chuckled, “Damn, son. We gotta find you honest work. All mine of course, except the black haired girl, I think my guy there is just having a date on my nickel, but nothing wrong with that in our business.” The waiter approached and he switched quickly to Arabic, saying, “aquid, do you know the food of the Caliphate of Andalusia? I recommend the jamon Serrano, it is quick, and I cannot afford much time with you, perhaps an hour, no more.”

“Aiwa, ya mushir”, which is “yes, Marshall,” Cameron using the highest military rank he knew in Arabic, which drew a smile from Anderson. Then, looking at the waiter and switching to Spanish, Cameron ordered four different plates of tapas, the Spanish appetizers that everyone who has ever been to Madrid has tried, and if they didn’t die of ecstasy on the spot, are in love with for the rest of their lives. The ham, blood sausage, salami, sautéed mushrooms with garlic, onion, and oyster, deep fried prawns wrapped in the cured ham, and spinach and cheese turnovers in filo dough.

“Perfecto, and two more Estrellas, por favor,” Anderson added. The waiter nodded and left. “So, you’ve done very well, Paul, for your first time out. Very, very well, actually, for any number of times out. The dominoes are still falling, but for now your take stands at fifteen operatives in France, nearly all dead now but some still singing. In England, Her Majesty is grateful for the thirty heads that she would have on pikes at her Fortress and Tower of London if it was fashionable to do so these days, according to my opposite number at MI6, and that in addition to the numerous others that are simply under surveillance. In Jordan, the French are very obliged to us, indirectly and quietly of course, for the privilege of rounding up another ten in Amman, with several more good prospects in Syria, of all places. And of course, there are the twenty-odd bodies at the compound in al-Ha’il in Saudi. We have some weak leads on a group of Saudis who seem to have begun to arrive in various places in Canada as well. You are, my friend, quite a train wreck where al-Qaeda is concerned this month.”

Cameron wasn’t sure where this was going, but he simply shrugged. “Had a friend in trouble, the rest was luck, and the top-notch services of Ripley, Jones, and Allen of course. Great guys, by the way. Do you guys, ummm, give medals or anything at the Company?”

“Not like you do in the Air Force, no, but we do give rewards where they’re needed, and the guys are being taken care of.” Anderson paused, not certain for a moment how to proceed, but then chose a direct tack. “What are your plans, Colonel? What will you do now?”

“To be honest, I’ve thought of that, and I think I’ll probably retire from the Air Force. I’m not going to be a general anyway, my current command is due to end in four months or so, and after that it’s nothing more than a staff job for me, I think, but I’m not that kind of guy. I’m ready—funny, they tell you in counseling at all our senior schools that ‘you’ll know when it’s time’, I never thought I’d know, but I do. It’s time to go.”

“Then what?”

Cameron paused. “I have a few ideas, nothing definite. General Fahd and I are thinking of a little business venture together, a boutique hotel, bed-and-breakfast kind of thing, maybe somewhere in the North Carolina mountains. Sounds crazy, I know, but I think I could use the independence and the challenge of doing something completely different, if you know what I mean. Plus, I’m thinking it might be good to sort of “disappear” a little bit.” He looked across the table with an eyebrow raised in silent question.

“I do, I do know what you mean, believe me, and yes you should. Honestly, I think the idea is perfect, but don’t you think that might be a little quiet for you?” Anderson said. A mercurial look crossed his face. “But . . .”

“You sure you’re a life-long spook?” Cameron interrupted. “Your face is easier to read than a six-year-old’s bedtime book, and you’ve got something sinister in mind.”

“Damned youngsters, don’t respect your elders anymore,” was the first thing that came to Anderson’s mind. “Well, where was I? Oh . . .” the food arrived. They arranged it and starting picking at the various dishes, sipping beer and enjoying the rich flavors of Spain, and then Anderson continued. “I was going to suggest that perhaps you could continue to serve, do what you want to do, and still, how shall we say, dabble a bit here and there, for the Company you understand. Just so things don’t get too quiet in the hills down there.”

Cameron chewed slowly on the slice of ham in his mouth, slowly enough to make it last while he considered a response. This was starting to feel like deep water, and he wasn't up for drowning today. He took a long pull of the beer, and said, “What do you have in mind, exactly? Elizabeth might not like it, and I’m not sure I’ll survive another tirade like this last one.”

“Well, I think she’ll like this. First, I have arranged a, how shall I put this? Oh hell, well, a promotion for you. Now, now, don’t look like that. It was the President’s idea, not mine, and who are you or I to deny Himself a bit of gracious thanks? His exact words were, “Randy, I want that sonofabitch promoted, least we can do, he’s a one man train wreck.” See, I’m not that original, I think he said that before I did. Anyway, it’s all arranged, your name will be on the next promotion list. It happens that the Air Force promotion board is meeting in just under a month, list will be released in three months or so after that, you’ll be on it.”

“You gotta be shitting me! But how? That’s ridiculous, My boss . . . the Air Force . . . I have that Promotion Form already, and it doesn't say. . .I’m not . . .the process doesn’t…”

“Yes, you are,” Anderson interrupted, “and the form has been, err, let’s just say "adjusted" by the President. It’s all above board. Sure, there’s a lot of guys whose records might look better to the Air Force brass than yours, but none of them is going to have a personal, hand-written note on a Promotion Recomendation Form, if that’s the right phrase, from the President himself, saying precisely what I just repeated to you. No shit, Cameron.” Anderson’s face turned completely serious. “You guys all serve at the pleasure of the President, you know. Himself knows it, too, and he’s made it perfectly clear to the gents that will sit on that board, all generals who want to stay that way, that his pleasure is that you’re promoted, or his pleasure will sort of “lapse” in their cases. You’ll be on the list.”

“Jesus. Well, I’ll be damned,” was all Cameron could say for a moment, and he sat there, fork in hand, a large piece of sausage perched on the tines, staring past Anderson out the window at the busy street life passing by. Anderson could see him thinking of other reasons why it wasn’t possible, then discovering quickly why it was, moving to the next objection, and the next, finally giving up as he exhausted them all. “If you do that, I’m going to be very unpopular with a bunch of people. It’s really, really cheesy. Guys will think I cheated somehow. That’s how it feels to me, anyway. But, you know, sir, there’s another problem,” he finally said. “Shortly after that list comes out, there’ll be a “draft” of sorts by the 4-stars around the Air Force where all the new Brigadiers will get farmed out to new jobs. What the hell will I get? Nothing I want, we’ve already covered that ground, and all the 4-stars will be pissed that I somehow jumped the line and got them a finger in the chest from the President of the United States. I’ll be PNG, ‘persona non grata’ with everyone in the Service above the rank of Colonel, and some more below that. No, thanks, sir, really. Like I said, it’s time for me to go, I’m ready for something new. You’re gonna have to tell the Boss . . .”

“Well, not really, you’re not ready, not until the great man says you are. Pleasure of the President, again. Truth be told, he has to approve your retirement anyway, starting at Colonel. True, such a thing is usually signed off by a General somewhere, or the service Secretary at most, but in your case I’m sure he’ll insist, and he ain’t gonna sign. Not yet. He’s bound and determined you’re going to serve at least the three years’ time-in-grade so you can retire as a one-star, coincidentally the same amount of time remaining in his term. But don’t worry about the job, I think we have something you’ll be OK with.”

Alarm bells were still going off in Cameron’s head, and now they got even louder and higher-pitched. He wondered if this would get him closer to killed than he’d been a month ago. “And what, pray tell, might that be?” Cameron asked, skeptically.

“By the way,” Anderson interrupted, changing the subject. “Why was Allen up on the roof to begin with? Very lucky he was, mind you. Our guys have done a simulation of the attack, and if he hadn’t started shooting, slowed them down, then got them shooting which woke everyone up…well, let’s just say it would not have been pretty, completely different outcome.”

“He had a feeling apparently, and a very good Sergeant way back that taught him not to ignore one in a situation like that,” Cameron mused. “He and Ripley talked about it before they went to bed, but couldn’t pin it down. Allen couldn’t sleep, so he just went up on the roof, set up his weapon, and dozed off there. Uncanny really—the first grappling hook hitting the top of the concrete wall 75 yards away apparently woke him up, next thing he knows is he’s looking through the starlight scope at all these guys coming over the wall, and then Jones calls, and the fight is on. And after it was all over, he figured it out. He’d seen one of the guys the previous evening at the shwarma shop he and Ripley went to in town. The guy had “the look” is what he and Ripley both said, but they couldn’t place the feeling. Later they said it was like “what’s a guy like that doing in a place like this?” We were lucky, but they were also really, really good.”

“Amazing,” was all Anderson said.

Cameron went on: “And back to the subject at hand, allow me to point out that Mrs. Cameron happens to outrank the President, and if you ask him, he’ll say he knows it just like you and I do.”

Both of them laughed again at this, both knew it was true, and Anderson knew the President would know it, too. Cameron was too damned smart for anyone’s good, that much was clear to him. “Well, here’s the deal, and this is the beautiful part. We want you to go into business with General Fahd, build the hotel, the whole thing . . .”

“How the hell did you already know about that?” Cameron blushed, slightly embarrassed.

“Ripley, of course, how else? You told him the story at some camp in the desert, right?”

“Well, yeah, but I didn’t know it was gonna happen. Turns out my friend Fahd is kinda filthy rich, and his family is so grateful for what we did, well, the rest is pretty straightforward. It’s just a loan, though, we’re gonna be partners, sort of.”

“Right, well, there you are. Anyway, you build it, run it, make money at it, enjoy it. You’ll be a pillar of the local community I’m sure. There’ll need to be some security systems, the Company will take care of that and the costs for it, and we’ll have some other unique requirements I’ll want built in while you’re at it. We’ll be a minor investor, sort of, but not on the record anywhere. I’ll have a contractor work with whoever builds this thing to get the design right. Meantime, I’ve looked into this Brigadier’s list deal, and I believe that there are very often jobs where the name is listed, with the job title as “Commander, Data Masked” or something like that, and the location is “Classified?” Well, that’s what yours will say. You’ll be Commander of a small, special unit, seconded to us at the Company. Not unique by the way, we always have an Air Force 3 star at Langley as Liaison. Bet you didn’t know that, eh? Meanwhile you draw 1-star pay for three years, then retire if you’re ready. During that time we send you some business, guests at the new place when we need someplace quiet and secure, and we pay the premium rate, just to make things get off to a profitable start. Plus, you’re working for us, so you and your staff do the things you’ve already shown you’re good at, an easy operation here and there when we need you, studies, analysis, some site observation, recon, planning, that kind of thing. NO shooting, at least no planned shooting. As for all those Air Force guys that might be pissed off at you—well, you’ll be out of circulation, as good as retired as far as they know, you probably never see them and they never see you, so no problem. Some of the things we might send your way will be a little easier if you’re a Brigadier is all: working with foreign services of one kind or another, for example.”

The bells were still ringing and getting louder for Cameron. “Staff? What Staff? What do I do with them, how many?”

“That’s for us to decide here today so I can get the ball rolling. You tell me how many you think you need to run the hotel, but be generous, ‘cause it might be less than what you need to run the Unit. But that’s really up to you too, just don’t skimp. You get to pick the guys, or we can pick ‘em if you like. They all live and work with you at the hotel, run it for you as their “cover”, and run the other part of the Company business from a secure spot inside or on the grounds. Speaking of which, I’d like you to pick a spot reasonably close to an airport, medium sized, you still fly, right?”

“Yes, I’ve got my own airplane, a Mooney, it’s . . .”

“Yeah, I know all about it. Big surprise, right? Sell it, I’m buying you a new one, or the Company is. We’ll title it in the name of your company, whatever that’s going to be. I need you in something new, reliable, fast, and well maintained, and we’ll take care of that part, too. You’re going to have to be available when I need you, I assume you’re not going to build this thing in Washington or close by, so I need you mobile and in one piece. We’ll depreciate the airplane using the new laws passed after 9-11, and when you retire from the service in 3 years we’ll sell it to you for a song and a whistle, another of the President’s suggestions, although I might have put the idea in his head.”

Anderson half-turned toward the front window, looked at the guy with the dark-haired semi-date, and snapped his fingers. The guy reached into a messenger bag, removed an 8x10 envelope, brought it to Anderson, and returned to the girl

“Shit, you kidding? That’s gonna cost someone nearly six hundred thousand bucks. Is this legal? It sounds fishy as hell. I don’t go in for that kind of thing, Mr Anderson, and I’m not ever going to be as Teflon coated as Oliver . . .”

Anderson held up both hands to ward off the assault, he couldn’t stand the name. “Don’t say his name, I know the Lieutenant Colonel well, as you can imagine, but yes, this is legal. I have a signed Presidential finding that says so, and you get a copy, for the safe, at this palace you’re building, did I mention that?”

He opened the envelope, and said “there are a few people I want you to meet in here.” He produced an 8x10 photo, color, poor resolution, probably a blow up of a passport photo. “Not very good, but have you seen him before?”

Cameron looked hard. Arab, that was clear. “Nope”.

“Good. Ibrahim bin Sultan al-Otaibi, Saudi national, a real hard guy, dangerous as hell. It was his network you literally destroyed in 3 days in Paris. Current whereabouts unknown, but possibly in Germany, we think Hamburg or Berlin, maybe Cologne. Next…”

Another photo, also grainy, clearly a Saudi passport photo.

“Nope” again from Cameron.

“Good again. Khalid al-Shahrani, Saudi national also. We’re a little less sure of what he is, but we very strongly suspect it was his network in Saudi, his guys at the compound, and more importantly, his guys who are now somewhere in the United States. For sure we know he was in Afghanistan in the old days, and at least twice in 2000 and early 2001. We think he caught a flight to Sudan the morning after the firefight at the compound. No sightings since, but he’ll be back. Next…”

Another photo. This one Cameron recognized. “The little guy, from that night in Paris?”

“Correct. Ahmed Al-Kisani, Moroccan but with Syrian ancestry, hence the names. Recovered from his recent mugging in Paris, and back to being a small time hood. Nice touch by the way. We’re watching him, tapping his phones etc, but we think he’s off the net until Ibrahim resurfaces in Paris. One more…

A fourth photo, bigger guy. “The Pharoah, Paris again. Ripley and I took him down a little way up the sidewalk from the General’s second hotel the night we moved him.”

“Correct again. Salah Razick, Egyptian. Now a resident at one of our more discrete locations in Eastern Europe. He gave us quite a lot on the Paris network, actually. Nice guy as long as he’s tied up. Probably will never see the light of day again.” He gazed into the emptiness past Cameron’s head for a second or two.

The he continued, “the point is there are a lot of guys on ice, but there are some nasty characters who aren’t. All in all, as usual, the nastiest aren’t. And while none of them has ever laid eyes on you, either, you caused them all some truly serious discomfort, and they’ll be looking for payback. It will take them some time, hopefully more time to find you than for us to find them, but they’ll be looking. So…I need you to take a concealed-carry course, and start practicing and keep practicing, and I need you to carry ALL the time. And, if you ever see these first two guys, ever…” he patted the shots of Ibrahim and Khalid, “you shoot ‘em right then, two in the chest and one in the head, no questions. Because if you see them, it’s because they’ve come for you.” Anderson collected the photos and put them back in the envelope.

“Therefore, you’re not flying commercial, at least not very often, since you’re carrying, and therefore you need an airplane that gets you where I need you and quick.”

Then he brightened up. “Anyway, this is not even close to being across the line, you’ll just need a little help preparing your taxes for a few years, but we’ve got people for that, too.” Anderson looked at his watch. “Shit, time flies. I have to get moving in a few minutes, and we’re not done. Think, now, Colonel, what do you need for the business and the unit, for starters at least? We can adjust some as we go, I figure the thing’s gotta take a year to build right?”

“Two years probably, maybe more,” Cameron answered, but he was thinking about the other problem. He was silent for a minute or more, sipping the last of his Estrella, then a swig of iced tea when that was gone. Finally he said, “OK here’s what I think. I need a guy who can be the “manager” of sorts, handle bookings, service management, subcontracting for maid service, horses, stables, groundskeeping, that kind of thing. It’d be best if this was an officer, Captain maybe, Air Force or Navy, Lieutenant in the latter case, not Army if we can help it. Seal or a PJ if we have the choice, just in case we need muscle. See if you can find a guy who’s interested in this kind of thing anyway so that he likes it to begin with, send him to a good college for hotel management while we build the place. He’s also the lead guy to coordinate support inter-agency when we do—well, whatever it is you have in mind for us to do. Next, someone to cook. This guy can be enlisted, especially if he’s a Seal, Warrant Officer maybe, but come to think of it either guy can be either rank, as long as there’s one of each. Send him to chef’s school, takes about a year, I have a brother in law that’s done that. Next, a junior enlisted guy, probably Air Force but not necessarily, Arabic linguist and intelligence background, solid communications experience. Last, another guy, don’t care whether he’s officer or enlisted, good at security, good with horses, a woodsman/outdoorsy type, weapons, Arabic, maybe Farsi and/or Dari if you can find it. And really last, obviously we need at least one solid CIA spook so we're not a complete bunch of amateurs. Someone who can keep us all from getting killed if we ever go out into the field again." He came out of his reverie, grinning. “I don’t need much, eh? Just a few simple, easy-to-find Joes. But you know better what you have in mind for us to be doing. Can you get them?”

“Sure, we can get them, if they exist anywhere. I assume you want to talk to them before we actually bring them on? That's only four guys plus my spook: is that enough?”

“For the business yes, and for your part, yes for starters, when we start working on stuff we’ll know what else we might need. These are the guys I need you to train for the business piece while we're building it. Also, yeah, I'd like to talk to them. Send them to Dayton, I’ll talk to them in my office there if you find them in the next three months, after that . . .hmm, where do you expect me to be for the rest of the time that the “palace” as you call it is a-building? I’m out of a job once my name’s on that promotion list, and it’s going to be really awkward if I have to hang around. Impossible, actually. I need to disappear from the Air Force. Like I said before, maybe that’s a really bad idea, anyway. I can still do this for 3 years as a Colonel and that keeps everyone I know from being pissed at me for life. . .”

“Give it up, it’s done, the President’s already fixed it with the Chief of Staff and the Director of Personnel. You don’t have to tell all your pals anyway, they can think you’ve retired as a gentleman of property in North Carolina or wherever. Now, where to be: at home there in Dayton is fine with us, “special assignment, data masked, classified”, nobody will give you a hard time about that. We’ll get you the airplane pretty quick anyway, and you can begin using that to supervise the project until you’re ready to make the move, maybe go find the guys and interview them in situ, whatever works for you. Come to DC to chat with me and the guys from time to time when we need to. Meantime, enjoy the semi-retirement with your wife for a while.”

Cameron looked a little sick. The promotion felt, well, cheesy, really cheesy. But he said simply, “Fine, Dayton is good until then. We have some scheduling stuff to work out, but I need to work on the building project a bit before we can firm that up: when the guys move, that kind of thing. Here’s an idea, since you have the President’s ear: ask him if my name can be masked on that promotion list, along with the location and assignment and all. That’ll help me pretend it never happened. Now, what else do you have, Herr Direktor?”

Anderson grinned. “I do like you, son. I almost forgot, there are two other small things. First, the President wants to give you the Silver Star next month some time, his people will call you to set it up. Here in D.C., bring your wife, you’ll stay with me at my place. Last, I noticed you took a trip to Grand Cayman with your wife? I trust you had a satisfactory time?”

Cameron’s face remained blank. Everything in Grand Cayman had been perfectly satisfactory. But he wondered what Anderson knew about that? It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the Company or his new Boss about the money he’d found in his account, which had quietly gone from the $800,000 that’d been there when the whole escapade started to a round $1,000,000 by the time he’d left Saudi Arabia. It was more that he wondered how traceable it all was, who else knew about it in the government, and whether at some point he might be vulnerable to pressure from someone, maybe through the IRS. So he’d done a little maneuvering.

Five days after the fight at the al-Auda compound he was relaxing by the pool at Fahd’s home in Riyadh. That’s when the offer had come to go into business with the hotel, but also when Cameron decided to make the move he’d been considering since his flight to Paris took off. So, he and Fahd had gone to the biggest office of the Saudi-British Bank, Fahd’s bank in Riyadh. There, they’d wire transferred all but $50,000 from Cameron’s Cayman account at the Royal Bank of Canada in Georgetown into Fahd’s personal account. At the same time, Fahd’s private banker, a very efficient Englishman in a custom Saville Row suit, opened a new numbered account for Cameron across the street down in Georgetown at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Three days later, with Cameron on a flight back to the US, Fahd walked into his bank, and ordered his man to wire transfer $950,000 to the RBS account in Georgetown. Cameron paid a comfortable visit to his new fortune with Elizabeth, who was delighted to have joined the spy business, the money having somewhat recovered her pique at his having been shot. In theory, neither the CIA nor anyone else now had a clue where the money had gone.

Getting no response to this innocent question, and guessing that none was coming, Anderson got up, as did Cameron, and they shook hands across the small table. “Thanks for all this, sir” the latter said, more than a little embarrassed. It was an awful lot, after all, he thought.

“Nonsense, you’re buying,” Anderson quipped, pulling on his cap with a look at the plates on the table. Then he turned serious. “No kidding, though, Colonel. You did good, really, really good, better than anyone could or would have expected. The President is grateful, I’m grateful, the nation is grateful whether they know it or not, which of course they don’t. There’s a lot of bad guys out there still, we’re at war, but you made war like nobody else has in a long time. We don’t hand out knighthoods like Her Majesty’s government, but we do know how to say “thanks” to guys like you when the chance presents itself. It has, and “Thanks”. President told me to be sure and tell you that. Now, I’m outta here. I’ll see you next month for the Silver Star.”

“Two last things before you go,” Cameron stopped him. An Anderson eyebrow went up. “OK, first, can I ever go to France again? Second, what’s the deal on the Saudis who tried to get into the States?”

Anderson glanced around quickly, there was just the two of them, his own guy by the window with his date, and the hostess at the stand near the door. Far enough. “OK. One, yes you can go back to France, but to be safe you will have a diplomatic passport, always, and we’ll make sure the embassy knows you’re coming every time. That’ll be fixed. However, I think it might be best to put off such a trip for a while, I’d prefer a year or more but we can talk about it. The French are going to be a little testy, best to let them cool off. Two, things are not quite as good. We found 5 of them trying to cross from Canada. They’re not talking, but we figure there may be as many as 25, possibly even 30 left somewhere. We have to assume they’re here and they’ve disappeared, waiting for instructions or something. That truly sucks, these are nasty people, but we’re working on it. Right now it’s not your problem, but if we have something for you to think about, you’ll hear from us right away. Now I really have to move. Next month, the White House, or else…we’ll talk more then.”

Then he turned away and walked briskly past the hostess stand and out the front door. Cameron watched as he transformed into the old man again out on the sidewalk, stooped a little, leaning on the cane, limping heavily. The traffic on King Street seemed to magically make a space big enough for him to cross to the car on the other side of the street at his old-man-pace, where the door opened and he disappeared inside. A moment later the car pulled into traffic and was gone.

Cameron was dazed, felt like wood, and sat down with a thump on the hard chair, still staring at the spot where the car had been. He took a big gulp of the iced tea, then forked another piece of the Spanish ham into his mouth, where it melted in a burst of flavor against his palate. He sat there like that for nearly ten minutes, staring like a shell-shocked soldier at something a thousand yards away, eating and drinking on automatic, but otherwise as rigid as though made of stone. At length he eased a bit, shrugged both shoulders in slow circles a few times, and looked around. The place was empty, even the dark haired girl and her “date” were gone, the server waited patiently against the wall on the other side of the room.

“Well, old son,” he said quietly to the empty room, “isn’t that quite the thing?” But the steel blue eyes were alight now, the face animated, smile broad, everything sharp and full of energy. He reached for his wallet right-handed and made the international “check” sign with his left, sending the waiter scurrying. In just 3 minutes he’d melted into the crowd moving east on King Street.


Khalid al-Shahrani left the young woman alone in the bed, pulled on his trousers and walked out onto the covered porch at the back of his new home. After nearly two months of slow, quiet, careful effort through very distant intermediaries, he was ready to make a phone call. He took a seat on the long chaise with his back to a wall so that he could watch the door through which he'd just exited the house. It would not do for the woman to wake up and interrupt this conversation. His hosts here in Khartoum were indulgent, but even they feared what the Americans might do if their "guests'" activities became detectable, let alone obvious. And women always talked to other women.

He looked at the new mobile phone in his hand, so new this would be the first call he'd made with it. The thought of its "virginity" made him smile after his long night with the young woman. Then he cursed what his enemies could, HAD done to him, with just a sniff of a few calls from a mobile phone. Entire networks of the Brothers were utterly destroyed in France, the UK, and Jordan. Much of the long two months since he'd fled here from Taif in Saudi Arabia had been spent carefully crafting new operational rules. Numbers could no longer be stored in phones, but had to be committed to the Brothers' memories instead. Phones and their numbers had to change monthly. Even the names they used on their calls had to change with each phone purchased. All this took time to coordinate via careful and obscure work on the Internet and sometimes by personal messengers who undertook dangerous cross-border travel. But finally, they were ready to return to operational status, and Khalid was ready to call his top operative in Europe.

He reclined on the chaise and dialed the number, using a country code of "49", which as far as he could remember he had never used before. He did not really know where it was, but somewhere in Europe he was sure. He waited.

The phone rang, and he let it ring. Another precaution. The receiving Brother would only pick up after a pre-arranged number of rings, which also changed, but weekly instead of monthly. More things to remember, but it would help to ensure that the person receiving the call at least was more likely not to be an enemy. Khalid waited, counting.

Thirteen rings, and someone answered. "Hello" in English.

Khalid did not speak English, but he'd had to memorize a few words to start off the call in that language. He replied, "Hi, this is Max. Is that Gunter?"

And the response came as expected. "Yes, hello Max, this is Gunter. How are you my friend?"

Khalid smiled to himself. He recognized his old friend Ibrahim al-Otaibi by his voice, but it was strange to hear him speaking in English. However, the Brothers' hope was that a few lines in English would make it less likely for listening ears to focus in on their calls, and now he switched to Arabic but retained the strange name.

"Ah, Gunter. It is good to hear your voice. I have been worried for you, I know that times are hard there. I hope that you are well and, err, returning to something like a normal schedule?"

"Max, it is good to hear from you also," Ibrahim said. He avoided the usual "by the Grace of God" he would normally add, another decision to limit the exposure of Muslim influence. "What news do you have?"

"I have good news, mostly," Khalid said. "As you know, market conditions have been very difficult for everyone, but the Board of Directors has been working hard to limit our losses and to position us for a solid recovery." Khalid had been forced to study Business for two months as well. "You know, I believe, that our losses from some of our most important profit centers reached as high as fifty percent. This was regrettable. On the other hand, I am pleased to report that the remaining fifty percent of my assets have been re-positioned to more fertile markets. We expect to be ready to begin explosive growth in our operations as soon as the Board decides it is it time to execute."

Ibrahim paused to take this in. His own network in Paris was destroyed: even the assets he had left there had to be considered lost, since all of them would now be known to French authorities, and likely under constant watch. Those assets had to be retired, never contacted nor used again. In London, from what he had been able to learn, it was the same, and in Jordan. But Khalid was saying that almost half of his original force, that force designed to carry out his grand plan in the heart of America, had arrived safely and could be operational at any time. This was extraordinarily good news.

"Max, that is wonderful news. My small team here will be heartened to hear it. We have all been concerned that these difficult times would put us completely out of business. Tell me, what does the Board say they wish me to do here? We are eager to start and move ahead toward greater prosperity."

Khalid was prepared for this. "Gunter, the Board wishes you to continue building your stock of suitable resumes. Their hope is that the deep and unused body of talent in your location will be useful elsewhere as we return to rapid growth and prosperity. They wish you to be able to provide the high-quality manpower we will need to sustain this growth. Since times are so hard there, they believe that your recruiting efforts will be very successful. They are prepared to compensate a large number of employees on a retainer basis for an extended period of time, such is their confidence in our near-term prospects for growth. Do you understand this objective?"

Ibrahim had expected this. "Max, yes I do, and I have already made a modest beginning. I anticipated that this would be the new task as we recovered from our setbacks. We will begin in earnest this week. Shall I report in the usual way as we make progress?"

"Indeed, yes Gunter," Khalid replied. Now the call was becoming long, so it was time to finish. "Please do, I will contact you again soon and expect a full report. The market is still difficult though, Gunter, so you are to proceed carefully. It is a question of balance and patience my friend, and prudent risk-taking. Now I will leave you for now. Good luck, and praise..." he caught himself, just barely. He recovered, "Please convey our encouragement to your team and our thanks for their ability to persevere through our adversity. We will do better for them, and we are grateful for their loyalty. Goodbye now until next time." He hung up without waiting for a reply.

In Cologne, Ibrahim stabbed the "End" button on his own phone. He had hoped for more information on the Americans who'd nearly killed him and who'd ruined him in Paris, so he was disappointed. Still, he knew people were working on it. He'd located an excellent prospective source of his own, close to the local Police department here, and was optimistic that this would bear fruit some day in the future. He would be patient, but he would hunt these men and kill them. Someday.

In Khartoum Khalid relaxed into thought. The battle in al-Ha'il had cost him his local commander, Mohammed, and 30 Brothers who should now be in the US. It might be a very long time before he went back to Saudi Arabia, maybe he would never go back. On the brighter side, he thought fully 30 of his original contingent were safe in the heart of the Great Enemy. He wanted them to stay quiet for now, for the trail to grow cooler and finally to grow cold. They would blend in, they would be quiet, and his enemy would grow tired of vigilance and become complacent. In time, perhaps a year or a little more, he would unleash them, and then his Great Enemy would bleed.

This thought pleased him so much that he found himself thinking of the woman again. He got up and went back inside. There was time to enjoy life before he again brought death to his enemies.



Text: Dave Moyer
Publication Date: 05-31-2016

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