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Cheval shook her head. “Not according to my man. One of the men is still alive.”

Rapp leaned in a bit. “One of the three we are looking for.”

“Yes.” Cheval ran her ring finger along the edge of the file and flipped it open, revealing a photograph. She spun it toward Rapp and said, “Look, but do not touch. No reason to put your fingerprints on any of this.”

Rapp nodded. “Who is he?”

“Ahmed Abdel Lah. Twenty-four, born in Casablanca, spent the last three years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“And you’re sure he’s still alive?”

“As sure as one could be considering the situation.”


“He sent his brother an email yesterday.”

Rapp lifted his eyes from the photograph of Ahmed. He had a you-have-to-be-kidding-me expression on his face. “What did he say?”

“He told his brother not to worry. That he is alive and well and that his mission was a total success.”

“Did you get a fix on it?”

She shook her head. “Only that it originated from a server in America.”

“What about the other two?”

“We have some ideas, but I think George should fill you in on what he has found out first.”

Butler cleared his throat and said, “We think we know how they funded their operation.”

“Saudis.” Rapp had found over the years that nine out of ten times the money trail led back to Saudi Arabia.

“No. Surprisingly enough, we think it was South American drug money.”

This piece of information caught Rapp off guard. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Butler continued. “I’ve been able to piece together a strange string of events which I think will explain how this cell managed to get into your country.”

“South American drug money?” Rapp repeated himself, still not quite buying the idea. They had looked into the possibility years ago due to the opium trade coming out of Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. The rationale was that if the cartels could run drugs and sneak them into the country, they could easily do the same with terrorists. “They’re all Catholic down there,” Rapp said, referring to South and Central America. “And I mean old-school Catholic. The Church has made it very clear that it’s their continent, and the Muslims aren’t welcome. As strange as it sounds, the cartels are very loyal to the Church on this issue. Plus it would be bad for their business if we found out they aided a terrorist group. The leaders know it’d be a good way to get a two-thousand-pound bomb dropped on their heads.”

“I’ve seen the same reports, and I agree with your assessment,” Butler said, “but this is something different. This third cell,” Butler said in an admiring tone, “they’re smart. They decided to do something none of them have tried before.”

“What’s that?”

“They unplugged.”

“Unplugged?” Rapp asked with a puzzled look. “What in the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“They cut all ties to al Qaeda. Strict operational security.”


BUTLER went on to explain what they’d discovered. The other two cells had stayed in contact with al Qaeda’s senior leadership during their training. They sent back regular reports and received orders from their commanders. Targets were adjusted and modified based on the success of the training and the ability to smuggle explosives and weapons into America. “But this third cell,” Butler said, “they went dark. No one had heard from them in months. That is, until the bombs started going off last week.”

Rapp wasn’t here to punch holes in his colleague’s stories, but on this point he couldn’t resist. “That’s normal operational security.”

“For us, yes, but there is always a failsafe. We always keep in place a way to contact each other in case the mission needs to be modified or scrubbed.”