“No,” Hakim said honestly.
“Any news?” Karim asked, pointing at the small TV on the table.
“I did not turn it on.”
“Those same blasphemous American books you read when we were kids?” Karim asked with an edge of disapproval.
“I would hardly call For Whom the Bell Tolls a blasphemous novel.”
“Do you think Imam bin Abdullah would approve?” Karim asked as he grabbed the remote and turned on the TV.
Hakim thought of the imam of their local mosque back in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. The man was perhaps the most unenlightened cleric he had encountered in all of his travels. As much as he wanted to tell his friend just that, and then some, he decided to bite his tongue. The week had been peppered with these little fights. They were both on edge and Hakim was too tired to engage.
“Look at this,” Karim announced, as he pointed the remote control at the TV and began pressing the volume button.
Hakim looked at the screen. It was turned to one of the American news channels. It seemed that his friend could not get enough of the coverage of the attacks they had perpetrated the previous week. He took an almost perverse joy in keeping track of the death count and the names of those who had been killed. He kept a running tally in a small spiral-bound notebook. Two cabinet members and seven senators had perished in the initial explosions. The first part of the mission had gone with clocklike precision. Three car bombs in front of three of Washington’s most celebrated haunts all detonated at the height of the lunchtime rush. Those bombs alone had killed nearly 125 people. A fourth bomb was then detonated several hours later, during the height of the rescue operation, killing many more and dealing a devastating psychological blow to the satanic people of America.
At least that’s how Karim chose to describe it. Hakim, however, was not so exuberant. The secondary explosion had killed dozens of firefighters, rescue workers, law enforcement officers, and civilians who happened to be standing nearby. Hakim had argued against the tactic. He saw no honor in the use of such underhanded moves, and that was only the beginning. One of his greatest struggles within al Qaeda was trying to get his fellow members to take a less myopic view of the world. Very few of his fellow jihadists were widely traveled, and even fewer had spent any real time in America. They had no understanding of America’s sense of fair play. An explosion that was designed to target and kill rescue workers would enrage the American people. Karim and the others who thought such tactics would weaken the American resolve to fight couldn’t have been more wrong. Dastardly tactics like this would only drive young men to the military recruiting centers. This would prolong the war and hurt their cause in the eyes of the international community. Hakim had stated his case as forcefully as he dared, and once again he’d lost.
“Look,” Karim said almost gleefully. “This is why they will never win this war. I have been telling you this for years.”
“What are you talking about?” Hakim was more irritated than interested. As he stepped closer to the TV, he saw a picture of a man in his late twenties. The screen suddenly changed to a still photo of a smiling woman and a baby girl.
“He was supposed to meet them for lunch,” Karim said. “He works for their Treasury Department. Or I should say worked,” he added with a chuckle. “He was more than thirty minutes late for the lunch last week. The mother and daughter were killed in the explosion. He survived.”
“And why are you so happy?” Hakim asked.
“He just committed suicide.” Karim started laughing. “Can you imagine such a thing? They are so feeble.”
Hakim watched him take out his spiral-bound notebook. He scratched off the previous number, and with a self-satisfied smile, wrote down the new tally.
In a tired voice, Hakim said, “And you worry about what I’m reading.”
Karim, having not really heard his friend, closed the notebook and looked up. “Excuse me?”
“What do you think Imam bin Abdullah would think of your merriment over the pain of others?”
With a dismissive grunt, Karim said, “He would thank me for killing another infidel.”
Too tired to get into another heated debate with perhaps the most obstinate person he knew, Hakim ignored his friend and headed down the short hall to a warm bed and what he hoped would be a long and undisturbed sleep.
LAKE ANNA, VIRGINIA
MITCH Rapp looked down at the calm, glassy lake as a bright orange sun began climbing over the trees on the eastern shore. Pockets of fog clung to the inlets, but the middle of the lake was clear. Somewhere around the bend he could make out the whine of an outboard engine, more than likely carrying a fisherman to his favorite early morning spot. Rapp had been to this place often since the murder of his wife. It was always a bit conflicting in the sense that it reminded him of the good times they had shared but also of the harsh reality that she was gone.
The setting reminded him of both his place on the Chesapeake, where they had fallen in love, and her family’s place back in northern Wisconsin. He’d only been there a few times while she was alive and would not go back now that she was gone. He’d made the one trip to Chicago to apologize in person to her parents and brothers. He’d dreaded every minute of that conversation, but knew he would never be able to live with himself if he didn’t face them. Rapp hadn’t been the one who killed her, but he was the selfish idiot who had pulled her into his shitty little world where, all too often, innocent people got caught in the crossfire. He’d been a fool to ever think he could have a normal life.
He remembered, as he looked down at the smooth morning water, how she and her brothers liked to ski first thing in the morning. He thought of all those family photos that hung on the knotty pine walls of the cozy family cabin. Shots of Anna as a little kid, all legs, like a fawn, skiing knock-kneed on two old boards—her golden brown skin and the freckles around her nose. Those amazing green eyes that still haunted him every night. He’d never known anyone as beautiful, and would have bet everything he had that he never would again. He had decided after several years of mourning that it was hopeless to think otherwise. There’d been a couple brief relationships, but he still wasn’t over her, so each woman was doomed from the start.
The squeak of a screen door caught his attention and Rapp looked over at the main house. It was a story and a half with three big dormers on the second floor and a wraparound porch that covered three sides. The four-inch siding was painted white, and the trim around the windows and the doors matched the green asphalt shingles on the roof. The owner stepped out onto the porch and struggled with the zipper on his khaki jacket. After a moment he got it started and then stepped forward with the help of a cane. His name was Stan Hurley, a seventy-eight-year-old veteran of the CIA. He’d been officially retire
d for nineteen years, but unofficially he was still very involved. The irascible Hurley had handled much of Rapp’s training those first few years after he graduated from Syracuse University. On more than one occasion Rapp had wondered if the bastard was trying to kill him. Most of that training had taken place right here on the banks of Lake Anna.