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“I won’t.” There was a pause and then Butler asked, “Do we have confirmation?”

Rapp looked down at the small leather duffel bag and grabbed both passports. The photos matched the sketch Butler’s man had provided. “It’s him,” Rapp said. “Nice work, George. We owe you big.”

“Maybe you could get me one of those medals like Mike got yesterday.”

Rapp laughed at Butler’s dry attempt at humor. “I’ll do one better. I’ll make sure you get knighted.”

“That would be much better.” Butler laughed. “I’ll talk to you in a few hours. Nice work.”

“Thanks.” Rapp pulled out the earpiece, took the small radio from his belt, and set it on the table in front of him.

Coleman looked at him and smiled. “Is there any feeling better than this?”

Rapp returned the smile. “Not in our line of work.” The plane reached the end of the runway and didn’t even pause. It spun around, put its nose into the wind, and kept going, the two Rolls Royce turbofan engines propelling the plane forward like a rocket. Seconds later they were airborne and banking to port over the water. Rapp looked across at Coleman and said, “One down and two to go.”

“Yeah. We’d better wake him up and see what he knows.”

Rapp looked over his shoulder at the rear pressurized cargo door. “In a minute. I wanna go through this stuff first and then I should call Irene.”



THE bodies were dragged to a basement closet and Ahmed sopped up the blood with some towels while Karim quickly searched the house to make sure they were alone and checked to make sure all the doors were locked. Then they set about researching their opponent. The internet was an amazing thing. Computers were sparse where Karim had grown up and the internet was strictly forbidden. His spiritual leader, Imam bin Abdullah, had warned them all that the internet was Satan’s invention to corrupt the world. Ahmed, however, had spent much of his youth surfing the world wide web and knew his way around. They started out with the two newspapers that they found on the kitchen table. They were filled with propaganda about Mike Nash and his career.

They settled in the Saudi’s opulent office. He had two computer screens on his desk and a bank of large flat-screen TVs on the far wall. There was not a single mention of them or the bodies in Iowa, but the TV and internet were abuzz with speculation. The two photos were everywhere. You couldn’t watch five minutes of a cable news program without their images being splashed across the screen. They were the lead story of every online newspaper Ahmed checked. They had already figured out Ahmed’s name and there was significant speculation that the other photo was none other than the Lion of al Qaeda. Karim had been alarmed at first, but now he saw the benefit.

He had successfully pushed Mike Nash off the front page. He was the story and they were only in the early stages of this match. After tonight, he would be the story for years to come. He would prove to the world the audacity and bravery of the Lion of al Qaeda. Hakim would be shamed and hunted to the far corners of the world. After tonight no one would believe his lies.

Ahmed showed him how they could access public records to get the information they needed. Karim was shocked what they could find out with just a name. Where people lived, how much they paid in property taxes, when they purchased their home and for how much, phone numbers, where they went to school, it was all there. There was no privacy. There was even an online encyclopedia that had a brand-new page devoted to Mike Nash. It gave his full bio. Where he was born, his athletic accomplishments, when he joined the Marine Corps, when he got married and to whom. It listed his four kids by name and age. Karim was dumbfounded that such things could be so easily unearthed.

They were able to pull up some clippings from local and school newspapers about the two oldest kids. The daughter, Shannon, had been in several plays and was part of a dance troupe that had won a big competition, and the older son, Rory, was a football and lacrosse standout. They found two of the son’s team photos online. It was hard to say for sure, but from the shot he seemed to look a lot like his father. There was one good photo of the daughter that showed her performing during her school’s performance of Macbeth, and then they came across her MySpace page and hit the jackpot. American teenagers were very busy. Karim could not believe they would allow their daughter to do so much unsupervised. They had even better luck with the wife. There were a couple of photos in the paper where she had been standing in the background, but online they found more than a dozen shots. Her company’s website offered a full bio and headshot. A search of her name pulled up another half dozen society photos from various charities she’d been involved in. Ahmed printed everything they found and put it into a file for Karim to read.

At five o’clock Karim gave Ahmed the first glimpse of what he wanted to do. The Moroccan didn’t ask a single question. He knew better. Part of the plan, the last part, if it worked perfectly, involved something Ahmed had already trained for. It was a contingency plan that Karim had put into place months ago. It was not difficult to prepare for. Not for a trained sniper like Ahmed. The first part of the plan was an entirely different story, though. Ahmed could tell by the passion in Karim’s voice that he would not be dissuaded. He had seen him like this many times before and had seen what happened to anyone foolish enough to ask a question, or worse, point out a potential flaw. All he could do was pay attention, nod, and remind himself that it was not his place to doubt his commander. Doubt created hesitation and hesitation gave the enemy the advantage.

The briefing took nearly an hour. Maps were checked and rechecked. If they made it to the second part of the plan, they would use the radios on their phones to communicate. They checked their rifles and pistols to make sure they were in optimal working condition and then they composed the brief letter that Karim wanted sent to the media. It was short. Karim wanted it that way. He would not stoop to the level of the snake-tongued American president. He composed it with one eye on the American audience and the other on the Muslim world. It read: I am the Lion of al Qaeda. A son of Mohammad. I do not run. I stand and fight. I have killed your hero and sacrificed my life for Islam, knowing that an army of brave Muslim warriors will pick up my banner and fight in my place. Allahu Akbar!

Karim eyed the words and knew what they would produce. No amount of deceit from Hakim could undo this. He would be venerated in every Muslim home the world over. A modern-day Saladin. In death he would finally achieve the greatness he so richly deserved. There would never be enough time to fully prepare for this plan. Karim did not want to wait. Not even a day. Someone could return to this house at any moment. Every law enforcement expert on TV claimed they were on their way to either Mexico or Canada. A few thought that they might have fled farther West, but no one thought they had doubled back to Washington. The element of surprise was on their side, and this Nash would be so full of himself that he would never see it coming. Now was the time to strike. With everything prepared, they took a moment to pray together. Karim had never felt closer to his creator. Even in the fading light he could feel the warmth of Allah looking down on him. He was enveloped in pride and a righteousness of purpose. Karim knew he would not fail.

There were three vehicles in the garage in addition to the stolen pickup—a bright-red Ferrari, a silver Mercedes Maybach, and a black Suburban. It was not a difficult choice, although Karim at one point considered the benefits of the big silver sedan. In the end, though, one vehicle was clearly best suited for the job. They loaded their gear into the Suburban and then went upstairs to see what clothes they could find. Karim found a dark-gray suit in al Saeed’s gigantic closet. It fit reasonably well, although he had to cinch the belt a few notches. The black loafers fit nearly perfectly. Ahmed had a much harder time trying to find something that worked. He moved on to the other rooms and eventually found a blue sport coat that was a little short in the sleeves, but otherwise fit.

In the kitchen pantry they found a box of power bars and grabbed some water. Ahmed climbed behind the wheel and punched the address into the navigation system. The computer plotted the course and told them their destination was 15.3 miles away, travel time, twenty-three minutes. Karim gave the okay and they pulled out of the garage. They waited for a minute to make sure the door closed and then started down the driveway and into the darkening night.



NASH opened the front door and stepped outside. He was wearing a white dress shirt and black slacks. Charlie was on his left hip, already bathed and in his pajamas. Rory was out in the middle of the street with his two friends and Jack was playing whiffle ball. Nash checked his watch. The reservations were for eight, and they hadn’t been easy to get. The manager told Nash that they were full, but he could wait in the bar and see what opened up. Nash gave him his name to put on the waiting list and the man practically lost it. “Is this the Mike Nash? The one who was given the medal by the president?”

Nash reluctantly confirmed that he in fact was that Mike Nash, and then the man went berserk. He offered the best table in the house, any time he wanted, and insisted on paying. It was about the only good thing that had come out of his public outing so far. Maggie came down the stairs in a little black cocktail dress and a wrap. She joined her husband and Charlie on the front stoop. She was all done up for the evening and she looked great.

“You look fabulous, honey,” Nash said.

“Thanks, so do you.”

Charlie smiled at his mom. Nash yelled, “Come on, boys! Everyone inside!”