“Where is it located?” Rapp asked
“Next valley over from the airstrip. About ten kilometers away as the crow flies.”
“So you think these guys hit the distribution center, loaded up a plane, flew it out of there, and landed in Cuba?”
“That is precisely what I think.”
Rapp was skeptical. “I know a little bit about the Red Command. They’re some of the most ruthless bastards on the planet. I find it hard to believe they haven’t already figured this out. This is their backyard, after all.”
Butler looked over the top of his black reading glasses and said, “Yesterday afternoon . . . in the Triple Frontier town of Ciudad del Este, a mosque was firebombed and burned to the ground, killing eighteen people.”
Rapp swallowed hard. “What else?”
“My source in Cuba tells me that the nine men who came in on the plane looked more Mediterranean than South American. And then there’s this last part that you are probably aware of. The day after this plane landed in Cuba, two speedboats approached your Florida Keys. Your Coast Guard scrambled a helicopter to intercept. It crashed at sea. Your rescue divers located the wreckage and discovered fifty caliber bullet holes in the engine.”
Rapp was slightly embarrassed that he hadn’t already made the connection. Thousands of data points had passed in front of him in the last week alone. Emails, text messages, voicemails, briefings, internet searches, off-the-record conversations with his counterparts at a half dozen foreign intelligence agencies, FBI reports, and of course, the not-so-little side show with Glen Adams. Rapp was suffering from sleep deprivation and information overload at the same time. It was time to strip it all away and start over.
He rubbed his eyes for a moment and then said, “All right, you’ve convinced me. What else do you have?”
Butler slid another sheet from the file. This one was white and had a sketch of a man’s face on the front. “This was the advance man who set everything up in Cuba.”
Rapp studied the drawing. The man was handsome. He looked to be in his late twenties. His hair was wavy and a little long but not mangy. “This was done off a photo?” Rapp said, referring to the sketch.
“You really are sure about this source?” Surveillance photos could be analyzed by experts who could tell you with amazing accuracy where the photo had been taken. By having an artist sketch the image one ensured that all those background clues were no longer a concern.
“Again, this is between the three of us. Nothing gets put in a file. My source in Cuba . . . I recruited him myself a long time ago. I would do anything to protect him.”
Rapp and Cheval nodded. They had both been in similar situations before.
“Do we have a name to go with this face?” Rapp asked as he looked at the artist’s sketch.
Cheval smiled and said, “Have you ever known us to waste your time?”
Cheval tapped the artist’s sketch and said, “George sent this to me and I had my man show it to a few of the prisoners. Two of them recognized him. Would you like to guess his nationality?”
Rapp looked at the d
rawing. It was black and white so it was impossible to pick up any skin tone. The nose and the cheekbones offered some clues, though. “If I had to guess I’d say Saudi or Yemeni.”
Cheval nodded and said, “Saudi. We don’t have precise dates but we think he fought in Afghanistan for at least a year. They said he was very cosmopolitan.”
Rapp frowned. Cosmopolitan was not often a word used to describe jihadists fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan. “How so?”
“He liked to read . . . especially American authors. He had traveled to your country before. And Cuba as well. His favorite writer was Ernest Hemingway. He talked of going to his house in Key West and in Cuba as well. As far as we can gather, he left the fighting a few months before the teams had been assembled. It was rumored later that he had been sent ahead to scout out potential targets.”
Rapp’s doubt was quickly dissipating. “Name?”
“Hakim al Harbi. Grew up in the town of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. And here is the really interesting part. As you know, most of these fighters sign up in groups. Hakim joined with his best friend, a man named Karim, who in a very short period gained a reputation as a fierce and capable fighter.”
Butler said, “One source says that he was barely one week in the fight when the Taliban mixed it up with an American hunter-killer team that had staked out a mountaintop position. The local Taliban commander ordered three assaults on the position . . . each one a complete disaster. This Karim and his fresh group of Saudi fighters were ordered to lead the fourth assault. Rather than lead his men on a suicide mission he shot the Taliban commander on the spot and took over.”