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“And bring the police. What did you do with all the supplies in the barn?” Hakim watched Ahmed shrug and then flinch as he heard Karim call his name from the front of the RV. He was obviously driving.

“I will come back and check on you later.”

“What about their vehicle?”

Ahmed didn’t understand.

“The car that the hunters drove?”

Ahmed shrugged his big shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” Then he was gone.

Hakim slowly rolled his head back to his left. As he closed his eye and tried to rest, he wondered how long it would take before the police figured out who had been staying at the house. He doubted they would remain at large very long, and part of him was fine with that.



RAPP woke up on descent, about an hour out, as he almost always did. Takeoffs put him to sleep and landings woke him up. He’d never figured out exactly why, but he guessed it had something to do with the way takeoffs kind of pinned him back in his seat. The end of the flight was easier to understand. When the pilots eased back on the throttles and started their descent it was as good as a flight attendant placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.

On this flight, however, there was no flight attendant. Just two sixty-plus-year-old former Air Force jocks at the controls, and Rapp riding in back. All three men knew how to keep their mouths shut. That left fifteen open seats. Rapp had logged countless miles in the service of his country, and at least early in his career, they were rarely in such comfort. The Gulfstream 550 was a beautiful bird from top to bottom and a far cry from the noisy C-130s he used to fly around in. The old military transport had been in service for over fifty years, and while it was robust and dependable it was not designed for comfort. Zero noise suppression, minimal insulation, web seats along the sides, a latrine that consisted of a curtain on a wire and a funnel on the side of the plane, plus four of the loudest turboprop engines known to man. Rapp had flown all over the damn world on the things and the end result was always the same. The thing vibrated so much it shook your senses right out of you. It was a wonder units could deploy on them and still shoot straight.

It was all those darn C-130 hops that had enabled him to take this new development in stride. In the days after 9/11 Rapp understood almost immediately the full extent of what had happened, and where it was all headed. He knew the public outcry of his countrymen would be nearly uniform, and for that delusional 5 to 10 percent who wanted to blame America for the attacks there was nothing he or anybody else could do to convince their illogical brains otherwise. But Rapp had read enough history that he could see part of the future. The population’s support for the War on Terror would wane over time, and it had, but the one thing he never fully expected was just how low the politicians would stoop. This little trip to the middle of the Atlantic was proof that their actions had far-reaching and unintended consequences.

Just a few years ago all of this could have been handled with a secure conference call or an encrypted message. Those sanctimonious politicians, however, with their chant that the people deserve to know the truth, had turned the intelligence community on its ear. The British and French had been crucial in the war against Islamic extremism, far more so than the American people and most politicians in Washington understood. In many ways they had done the heavy lifting. They had more experience in dealing with some of these characters, and at least in the case of the British courts, they took a more pragmatic view of what the people deserved to know.

With the politicians in America and their various left-wing special-interest groups demanding investigations, hearings, and trials, the British and French, and a good number of other allies, began to reassess what they were willing to share. They had participated in many of the same terrorist interrogations. The far left was now screaming to see the tapes and notes of those not-so-pretty sessions. It is a fundamental tenet of any intelligence organization to keep its means and methods a secret, so when federal judges starting ruling in favor of the ACLU and other groups’ requests for the release of information under the Freedom of Information Act, some very important allies in Paris and London got nervous.

Kennedy and Rapp flew to both cities and met with their counterparts. Each group of professionals was worried about the same thing. The stuff the ACLU was asking for was damaging enough, but it paled in comparison to the mountains of highly sensitive encrypted data that had been sent back and forth between the three intelligence agencies—stuff that was hidden or destroyed with the understanding that the information could start a world war if ever leaked. They all trusted each other, but there was one glaring problem. America’s National Security Administration captured almost unimaginable amounts of signal traffic. As with one of those big commercial fishing trawlers, it looked as if their nets might bust at any second. They might be looking for tuna, but they caught everything else, big and small. They all knew that somewhere in the NSA’s vast files, their own highly sensitive and encrypted traffic sat like an ancient cipher waiting to be solved.

So the flow of daily information slowed to a trickle and a handful of trusted men and women who had earned their spurs in the field began meeting face to face. Rapp dreaded the trips at first. It seemed there was always something else that needed his attention, but after a few of them, he realized they were a bit of a blessing in disguise. For starters, they allowed him to unplug. The planes always had a secure comm package, and he would usually take an hour or two to catch up on the more mundane stuff, but in general he turned everything off and used the silence of the long flights to crack some of the more stressful problems they were dealing with.

With all of the damn technology around today, strategizing was in danger of becoming extinct. The other bonus was that he no longer felt the need to plod through twenty-plus pages a day of cable traffic that was rarely germane to what he was most concerned with. Now, they’d meet face to face two or three times a month and go over the most important information.

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Rapp put on a fresh pot of coffee in the galley and then brushed his teeth and washed his face. Since his hair was only a quarter inch of black stubble there was no need for a comb. When the coffee was ready, he poured himself a cup, took a few sips, and then changed back into his dark suit and a fresh light blue dress shirt. The closest in-flight screen told him they would be landing in approximately ten minutes. Rapp turned on his laptop and used it to skim forty-one emails. Thirty-nine of them were pretty much useless chatter, but two jumped out at him as things he would need to deal with.

Rapp slid back a wood compartment and retrieved the handset for a secure satellite phone. He punched in the number for Kennedy’s direct line and thought about the best way to convince her that his plan was sound. After six rings Rapp knew the call was rolling over to one of her assistants.

“Director Kennedy’s office.” The woman’s voice was neither polite nor rude—just efficient.

“Kristen, It’s Mitch. Is she around?”

“She’s on the phone.”

“Can you interrupt her?”

“Let me see.”

There was a click as he was put on hold and then a few moments later Kennedy was on the line. Rapp said, “You know that meeting we had this morning?”


“I’m on board.”

“You sure you’re up for all the attention?”

“No . . .” Rapp said, making no attempt to hide his lack of patience. “I’m talking about Mike.”

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