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Kennedy presented the medal to Maggie, who took it from the silk-lined case as if it were an ancient family heirloom. She gently looped it over her husband’s head and kissed him on the cheek. Next came photos. Lots of them. First as a group and then individual shots and then finally the Nash family. When they were all finished Nash was in for one more surprise.

The president approached him and said, “Director Kennedy thinks it would be a good idea if your family stayed in here while we step outside.”

Nash wasn’t quite following, but he got the sense it wasn’t good. “What’s outside?”

The president glanced toward the glass door just behind and to the left of his desk. “The press. They’re waiting for us.”

You would have thought the president had asked him to address the nation. “I don’t do press, sir.”

Kennedy appeared on cue along with Secretary of State Wicka and Secretary of Defense England. Wicka said, “Nonsense. You’re exactly what we need right now. A good-looking hero.”

“And a retired Marine officer,” England added. “Don’t forget that part.”

“Don’t worry,” the president said. “We’ll do all the talking. Just stand there and be yourself.”

Nash looked at Kennedy for help. Once he walked out that door there would be no turning back. “Irene?”

“Just let it go, Mike. This is bigger than just you. Think of all the people at Langley who get kicked around in the press every day. They’ll all be able to go home tonight and hold their heads a little higher knowing there’s honor in what w

e do.”



WHEN he awoke in the morning, the sun was filtering in through the sheer white shades. Hakim blinked several times before he could focus. There was a DVD player on a shelf under the TV. Four small blue numbers stared back at him. If the device was right, it was nine-forty-one in the morning. Hakim looked down and saw the blood on his shirt. He opened his mouth and felt the dry, caked blood on his lips. He remembered the coughing fit and the blood and the dead man on the porch and the woman in the bedroom and knew he hadn’t dreamed any of it. Not with Karim around. He was a living breathing Angel of Death.

Hakim didn’t have the strength to get up, so he grabbed the remote sitting on the end table and pressed the power button. A moment later two anchors from a twenty-four-hour news channel were on the screen. Ahmed must have heard the TV. He entered the living room with glass of water and a washcloth.

“How are you feeling?” he asked softly.

Hakim wasn’t sure. He was all beat up inside, but his breathing was better than it had been yesterday. “I’m alive.” He glanced over Ahmed’s shoulder and asked, “Where is Karim?”

A frown came over Ahmed’s face and he said, “He is outside.”

“Doing what?”

“He is very upset.”


“You.” Ahmed shook his head. “He thinks you are causing us problems.”

Hakim told himself not to get angry. He wasn’t the one who had gotten them into this predicament. “What kind of problems?”

Ahmed shrugged his big shoulders and tried to remember the exact words. “He said you have become an operational liability.”

“Me?” Hakim asked with genuine surprise. In better times he would have laughed, but not now. “He thinks I am the problem. What do you think, Ahmed?”

“It is not my place to think. I am trained to follow orders.”

“Are you a monkey? If he orders you to shoot yourself will you do it?”

Ahmed took the washcloth and dabbed Hakim’s chin, “You look horrible.”

“And you did not answer my question.”

Ahmed worked on a crusted piece of blood. “There is enough arguing between the two of you. You don’t need me to join in.”

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