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Karim stayed in the right lane, slowing with the merging and exiting cars. At the Fairfax County Parkway exit he looped around and headed north. He took his second right turn at Fair Lakes Parkway and then followed it straight to the big mall. The place was huge, with rows and rows of cars to choose from. Karim pointed out several cameras as well as a mall security vehicle parked close to one of the main entrances.

“Remember,” Karim said, holding up the phone. “Turn yours on and we will use the talk button on the side.”

“I remember.”

Next to a grassy boulevard with a row of trees, Karim brought the big RV to a stop. Ahmed exited the vehicle and crossed the boulevard. Ten seconds later he was wading through a sea of cars, working his way toward the Macy’s entrance just like the thousands of shoppers who would attend the mall on this sunny Saturday afternoon. Karim drove a hundred meters and parked in the area farthest from the mall. The parking lot was about 70 percent full. He glanced down at his digital watch. Every man on his team had been taught how to steal a car. They focused on the most common makes and models and knew exactly what wires to clip and how to disengage the steering lock. Even so, Karim’s heart was racing.

His phone beeped and for an instant Karim thought Ahmed was trying to talk to him. He looked at the screen and saw that the message light was blinking. He stared at the phone, wondering if he could listen to the message and still receive a call from Ahmed. He knew the message was from Hakim, and the pull to find out what he had said was too much. Karim pressed the message button and waited for voice prompts.

Karim’s eyes scanned the parking lot while the quiet voice of Hakim played over the tiny speaker. “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 . . .” the words were followed by mocking laughter. “It should be the Lamb of al Qaeda.” Karim’s jaw clenched. “It’s too bad you don’t have the genitalia to fight a real man face to face.”

Karim let loose an unbridled scream of anger that echoed through the RV, while he smashed his fist repeatedly down on the dashboard. When he was done he looked around to see if anyone was close enough to hear and then repeated the process. He didn’t think he had ever wanted to kill anyone more in his life. Karim replayed the message one more time and then pressed the button to reply. At the beep, he said, “You are a coward and you have always been a coward. You have proved it once again by running away and leaving me to fight. I will prove to the world that I am the lion and you are the lamb. My only regret is that I will not be able to kill you with my own hands, but do not worry . . . I will make sure that you are marked as a traitor to Islam and hunted to the ends of the earth.”

Moments after he left the message the phone crackled with the voice of Ahmed. “I am pulling up behind you.”

Karim checked his side mirror and saw a dark blue pickup. He pressed the button on the side of the phone and said, “Follow me.”

They left the mall lot and went back down Fair Lakes Parkway. Karim remembered seeing an office park not far away. It would be mostly empty on a Saturday afternoon. He took a right at Fair Lakes Court and pulled into the tree-lined lot a few hundred meters ahead on his left. He was pleased by the absence of security cameras. Karim parked the RV, climbed out of the driver’s seat, and went back to the kitchen area where two bags were packed and waiting by the door. He went out the side door and locked and closed it behind him. Ahmed had already opened the rear-side storage compartment. He took two bags from the compartment and placed them in the back of the pickup before going back for a third.

Ahmed then climbed back behind the wheel of the Ford F-150 while Karim jumped in the passenger seat. Karim pulled the map from his pocket and checked their location one more time before telling Ahmed where to go. He led him back toward the mall and had him take a left on Ox Road. They wound through some plush residential neighborhoods until they found themselves on Stuart Mill Road. The rolling tree-lined street held some of the county’s most expensive homes. Karim, however, was not impressed.

The house was ahead on the right. Karim instantly recognized the gate even though it had been nearly a year since he’d looked at the photos. Before leaving Pakistan they had spent weeks going over every detail of the plan. Originally this place was to serve as the staging area for the attacks. The hilltop estate was shrouded in trees and was big enough to house a battalion of men. Over thirty-thousand square feet of opulence owned by Saudi Aramco. It was used to entertain and house the man who ran the Saudi-owned national oil company’s Washington office. Karim had been assured the executive would be out of the country for the week before the attack and the week after. The staff would also be given time off.

They pulled up to the gate and stopped. Both men looked up the long, paved driveway. From their vantage they could glimpse just a portion of the house. Karim glanced over at the keypad and remembered the code. It was simple enough. “The four corners,” he said to Ahmed. “One, three, nine, seven.”

Ahmed pressed the numbers and the gate slid open. They drove slowly up the driveway, continued past the circle that led to the front door, and went around the right side of the house where the garage doors were located. Karim drew his gun and spun the silencer into place before jumping out of the vehicle. He found the keypad on the first of four doors, punched in the same code they used for the gate, and then hit enter. The door began sliding smoothly up. Karim moved off to his right and looked around the corner of the house to the backyard. It was landscaped in such a way that his view was blocked. He moved back to the edge of the garage and bent to look under the rising door. The space straight ahead was open, but the other three were occupied. Karim was pleased. He ducked under the door and moved across the gray floor. Ahmed put the truck in drive and followed him.

When the vehicle was clear of the door Karim pressed the button and lowered it. Ahmed turned the truck off and jumped out. Before Karim had to tell him, the Moroccan drew his pistol and quickly spun a silencer onto the end of it. Karim placed his hand on the doorknob.

He’d been told it would likely be unlocked, but if it wasn’t there was a key hidden behind the garbage can. He tried the handle and it moved. Both men stepped into a back hallway and turned their attention to the buzzing keypad on the wall. Karim punched in the code, but in reverse this time. The buzzing stopped a split second later and they both breathed a sigh of relief that did not last long.

Footsteps could be heard down the hallway and then the voice of a man called out. Karim leveled his gun and glided down the hall in near silence. Ahmed trailed two steps behind. The wide hallway had doorways on the left and the right. Karim bypassed both of them, leaving them to Ahmed. A modern oil painting hung on the wall straight ahead and there were open archways to the left and the right. Karim moved to the right side and took a quick look into the room on the left before springing back to his left so he could get a better angle on the room where he thought he had heard the voice. There was movement. At least one person. Karim charged ahead, his gun ready to dispatch any threat. A man was seated at the kitchen table in a white robe and a woman was standing in the middle of the kitchen, also in a white robe, frozen like a statue with a coffee cup in one hand and a saucer in the other.

Karim would never know if it was the dropping of the cup and saucer and the way they shattered on the stone floor or the woman’s earsplitting scream that caused him to squeeze the trigger, but he did know that it happened without any forethought. The bullet sailed clear through her open mouth and

blew out a good portion of the back of her head. An instant later she was on the floor twitching among the broken white ceramic shards of her coffee cup and saucer. Karim glanced at her and then his eyes traveled back to the white cupboards that had been behind her. They were covered with brain matter and blood and looked amazingly similar to the modern painting he had just passed in the hall. His eyes traveled next to the silent man at the table. He was in his fifties and was undoubtedly Arab. The woman could have been his daughter.

The man swallowed hard and then with a quivering lip said, “Please don’t kill me.”

Karim nodded and asked, “What is your name?”

“Khalid,” he said. “Khalid al Saeed.”

“You run the Aramco office in Washington.”


“You are supposed to be out of the country.”

He nodded. “You are the Lion of al Qaeda.”

Karim was caught off guard. “How would you know such a thing?”

“Your photo is on TV. Both of you.” He pointed over Karim’s shoulder to Ahmed.

Karim felt his gut twist. He tried to stay focused and asked, “Why are you here? You were supposed to be gone.”

“I decided to return early.”