American Airlines had the busiest counter. Hakim wrote it off to the six-o’clock flight to Miami. He got in the coach line and waited a few minutes before it was his turn. The woman behind the counter looked at him with a combination of shock and concern.
“Oh, you poor dear,” she proclaimed. “What happened to you?”
“Carrr assssident,” Hakim mumbled through his cotton-stuffed mouth. He handed over his passport.
“I’m so sorry,” the woman said as she took his passport and punched his name into the computer. “I have your reservation right here, Mr. Andros. You’re on the six o’clock to Miami.” She tapped a series of keys and looked at the screen for a moment. “You know what I’m going to do for you. First class is wide open. I think you’ll be more comfortable up there. Now once you get to Miami you’ll have to check with the gate agent. The computer isn’t showing what aircraft you have for the next leg of your trip, so I can’t assign those seats. Would you like to check your bag?”
Hakim smiled and said, “Pweeeze.”
The woman took the bag and handed him his boarding pass. After he was done thanking her, Hakim hobbled over to the security line. Only one metal detector was open and again the security people looked about as alert as the cop by the front door. No sense in turning back now, he thought to himself. He showed the TSA agent his passport and boarding pass. The agent, a fifty-some-year-old man with bloodshot eyes, made sure the name on the passport and the boarding pass matched and that was about it. Hakim kicked off his flip-flops and very slowly bent down to pick them up. He placed them on the conveyor belt and tossed his money, watch, phone, and car keys in a dish. A female TSA agent standing on the other side of the metal detector asked him if he could walk without the cane and he nodded that he could. He placed the cane and his zip-up hoodie on the belt as well and slowly made his way through the detector. On the other end he picked all of his stuff up without a problem.
He felt so good after clearing security that he had to remind himself to slow down. Using the cane, he made his way over to the closest coffee shop and was about to get in line when he remembered the cotton balls. He picked up two newspapers instead and then headed down to the gate. On the way he extracted a few of the cotton balls and placed th
em in his left pocket with the others. A twenty-four-hour news channel was on an overhead TV near the gate. He stopped and watched for about five minutes. There was nothing new except that the director of the FBI had announced a press conference for 11:00 A.M. Eastern.
Hakim boarded early with the only other first-class passenger and settled into his seat. When the flight attendant came by with a glass of champagne and orange juice, he decided things were indeed looking good and he took her up on the offer. That was when he decided to call Karim. He removed a few more cotton balls, turned on the phone, and then hit send twice. Surprisingly, the phone went straight into voicemail. At the beep, Hakim turned toward the window and in a quiet voice said, “It’s too bad you didn’t trust me. I’m already on my way out of the country. I suppose you’re stuck somewhere in the middle of America getting ready to kill another innocent woman. The Lion of al Qaeda.” He laughed. “It should be the Lamb of al Qaeda. It’s too bad you don’t have the genitalia to fight a real man face to face.”
Hakim ended the call and removed the battery as a precaution. He couldn’t help but smile at the thought of what the message would do to the thin-skinned Karim. He sincerely hoped the idiot would meet his death in a hail of bullets. Hakim hoped he could read about it on a beach somewhere. He would put the madness of al Qaeda behind him and start a new life.
RAPP was wearing a black Nat Nast bowling shirt with a couple of vertical cream stripes, linen pants, and black loafers. His face was clean-shaven and his eyes were concealed behind a pair of dark aviator sunglasses. He saw them sitting at the outdoor café as he ambled down the street, glancing in the windows of the high-end shops as he went. Sidorov’s detail knew who he was and expected him, but the general had brought along two men of his own. Rapp had no idea if they were armed or not. It was highly possible that they had carried their weapons through customs in a diplomatic pouch just as he had. Gunplay was to be avoided. If the Cubans got rough, Coleman, Reavers, and Wicker were just up the street in a minivan and Butler and his men were at the other end of the block sitting at an outdoor café.
So Rapp moved down the street with relative calm, casually taking in the surroundings. There were banks on all four corners of the block and between them a spattering of jewelry stores, cafés, art galleries, and French and Italian designer labels. There wasn’t a cobblestone out of place or a speck of garbage to be seen. Rapp had walked down streets just like this in dozens of cities the world over. The ultrarich who wanted to avoid taxes flocked to cities like Nassau with their strong banking-privacy laws. Along with them came a smaller percentage of men who made their money in the illicit trades of guns, drugs, and organized crime. Rapp had spent a great deal of his career tracking these modern-day pirates, and the trail often led to these tiny island nations.
Rapp stopped next to the outdoor café and pretended to check out the display of Panerai watches in the window of a jewelry store. Through the reflection in the large plate-glass window he could see five bodyguards, three for Sidorov and two for the general. He was close enough to smell the smoke from the general’s cigar and could faintly hear him talking to Sidorov in English. Rapp nonchalantly stepped over the rope that divided the outdoor seating for the café from the rest of the sidewalk. He kept his right shoulder to the building and his eyes on the bodyguards. If they reached for a weapon, Rapp would raise his hands and let Coleman and the Brits come riding in. With the bodyguards out of the way, Rapp could focus on Ramirez.
Not a single bodyguard reacted until Rapp was next to the table. Sidorov and Ramirez were sitting across from each other. There were two more chairs and Rapp stepped behind the one that had its back to the building. “Peter,” Rapp said in a friendly voice, “good to see you.”
Sidorov stood and offered his hand. “Mitch, very nice to see you. Please join us. I’d like you to meet General Manuel Ramirez.”
The general stayed seated. He looked up at Rapp from behind his reflective glasses, his upper lip pushed out while he sized up this new person. After an awkward moment, he offered his hand.
Rapp clamped down on the general’s thin hand and squeezed hard. “General, I’ve been looking forward to this for some time.”
The general just stared. “I’m afraid I don’t know who you are.”
Rapp shook his head while he pulled back the chair and sat. “No reason for you to know me. Peter was kind enough to set up this meeting.”
“What are you talking about?” He removed his sunglasses and gave Sidorov a disapproving glare. “I do not like surprises.”
“Then you’re going to hate this,” Rapp said, not wanting to give Ramirez a chance to get rolling. “As you’ve probably already guessed, I’m an American, and while that might not interest you too much I think this will . . . I’m a counterterrorism operative for the CIA, which is a nice way of saying I kill terrorists and the scumbags who help them.”
If Ramirez was impressed, he didn’t show it.
Rapp pressed on. “I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the terrorist attacks in Washington last week. A lot of Americans were killed, and my president isn’t very happy about that. He has given me the green light to kill anyone who had anything to do with the attacks.”
Ramirez remained stoic. “And just how would this concern me?”
“Well . . . as it turns out, the terrorist cell that hit Washington used your island as a staging area for their attacks.”
“I don’t believe you,” the general said, glancing over his shoulder at one of his bodyguards.
Rapp ignored the denial and said, “Last week a plane landed on your island and you ordered your men to help off-load a large amount of cocaine onto two speedboats and one truck.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”