“Adam! I was wondering when you would pop up. I received some very nice deposits for your account this week. Quite a bit more than you told me.”
“Yes,” Hakim said, thinking of the two pallets of drugs. “My importer decided to double their order at the last minute.”
“That’s a lot of coffee.”
“Yes.” Hakim thought he sounded normal and was apparently still buying his story that he was a coffee bean importer. “Even during a recession people need their caffeine.”
“I know. I couldn’t live without it. At any rate, I must thank you. My boss is very happy with your deposits. You are making me look very good. Now I suppose you will want to move it.”
“Not before I give you the chance to try to sell me some investments.”
“Good. Are you free for dinner?”
“Possibly . . .” Hakim honestly wasn’t sure. He needed to put something on the table so he didn’t surprise Christian too much when they met. “I was in a car accident and am not feeling 100 percent.”
“Oh, my gosh . . . I’m sorry to hear that. How serious?”
“Some broken ribs, but mostly bruises.”
“Can I help? Are you on the island? Do you need to stay at my place?”
“I am. I just arrived. I planned on getting here yesterday, but wasn’t well enough to travel.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Well . . . I need to get something out of my safety deposit box. I’m leaving tomorrow, and I remember when I purchased the box you told me that for special clients access to the box could be arranged on weekends as well.”
“Absolutely! You are one of my best clients. When would you like to access your deposit box?”
“Would an hour from now work?”
“Absolutely! And I hope you will allow me to buy you a drink. And we need to get our fishing trip planned. Remember . . . you promised me.”
“We will,” Hakim said with a laugh. “Don’t worry. I will see you in an hour.” Hakim hung up the phone with the confidence that his cover was secure. He picked up the remote and turned on the TV. He flipped through the channels until he found CNN and then he froze. Plastered across the screen were two passport photos that Hakim instantly recognized. They were headshots that he had had Karim take while he was training the men in the jungle near Ciudad del Este. Karim then emailed him the photos and Hakim used them to purchase two fake passports, one for Karim and the other for Ahmed. They were the passports that he had placed in the backpacks and had stashed in the barn back in Iowa. The same barn that Karim was convinced had been burned to the ground.
THEY passed through Centerville on Interstate 66 just before noon. The plan had been to reach the outer-ring suburb at 8:00 A.M., but they had taken a wrong turn in Tennessee. The quickest route to Washington would have brought them back up through St. Louis, and Karim reasoned the last thing they wanted to do was head back in the same direction they had come, so they swung down south and took a very confusing route. That’s what Karim kept telling himself, because the alternative was to take the blame, and that simply wasn’t going to happen. He had been at the wheel when the mistake was made, while Ahmed was in back sleeping.
Karim was tired and irritable, but with Washington on the horizon the prospect of revenge helped lift his spirits. He was a man of action. Cowering in a farmhouse did not suit him, although the betrayal of his closest friend was weighing heavily on him. He knew that was the real reason he had missed the turn. He had been absorbed in his own self-pity. For the benefit of Ahmed, he was trying to act as if none of it bothered him, but it did, and in ways he could have never imagined. The betrayal, the words, the deeds of someone so selfish. He had given Hakim so much and this was how he repaid him. How could he not have seen it earlier?
All of his careful planning, his bold moves, his bravery, all of it was on the verge of being destroyed, by one man, a man who was supposed to be his friend. Looking back on it now, though, the signs were obvious. Hakim had never been a true Muslim. He had always questioned their teachers and their clerics. He had been poisoned by all of his time in the West. His obsession with American literature and sport fishing. All of it should have been a warning to him, but he wanted to believe his friend did it only for show, so he could blend in and pave the way for his elite group to strike Washington. It had been Hakim’s idea to flee to Iowa and wait for the storm to blow over. He had named him the Lion of al Qaeda. He had planted the seeds of doubt in regard to the al Qaeda leadership. Hakim had whispered in his ear not to trust them. That they could finance the operation on their own. Karim could not believe he had been so naïve as to not see the true selfish motives of his friend.
And now the coward had run away and was threatening to spread lies, complete fabrications that would make him the laughingstock of the Muslim world. Karim had spent much of the night behind the wheel of the RV telling himself that Hakim either would not go through with it or was not capable of pulling it off. As the miles ticked by, though, he knew that he was wrong on both counts. Hakim had helped create the Lion of al Qaeda, and he was surely capable of destroying the carefully constructed legend. At one point, when Karim was sure Ahmed was asleep, he actually wept. It had been the first time in years. The tears flowed over the injustice. How could a fellow Muslim do such a thing? When the tears finally stopped, Karim turned the anger on himself. He had allowed his friendship and affection for Hakim to blind him. For too many years he had allowed Hakim to get away with things he would have never tolerated from another warrior.
Early in the morning, as they passed over an unknown mountain range, Karim was greeted
with perhaps the most beautiful sunrise he had ever seen, more beautiful than all the sunrises combined that he had witnessed before going into battle against the Americans in Afghanistan. Fog clung to the valley below and it looked as if they were in paradise looking back down on earth. It was in that dazzling, beautiful moment that Karim felt Allah calling for him. Hakim had deceived him and distracted him from his destiny. He had robbed him of his deserved glory, of the honorable death of a commander leading his warriors in battle, standing by their side and dying with them. The tears came again, but this time they were tears of anger, not self-pity. He thought of his brave, beautiful warriors charging into the teeth of Satan himself. Not a single one of them hesitated or even looked back. It was the bravest thing he had ever seen.
And the American president called them cowards. Karim gripped the steering wheel so tightly he thought he might break it. He had lied to the world and flaunted the inflated tactics of his own people—this Mike Nash and his meaningless medal. Every time he recalled the orchestrated press conference he wanted to scream. The American president couldn’t open his mouth without spewing lies, yet there was the press, complicit in every way, repeating and amplifying the lies. Karim would wake them up. He would give them something to remember him by. He would make his men proud, and he would show the world that America’s president was a liar.
Karim had the address as well as the phone number memorized. It had been emblazoned on his subconscious nearly a year earlier. It was part of the original plan orchestrated by al Qaeda’s senior leadership. They were not far from the safe house, but first he needed to get rid of the RV. Karim called for Ahmed to join him up front.
“Two more exits. Are you ready?”