Karim looked with thinly veiled contempt at his friend. He was like a sick dog that needed to be put down, and if he didn’t do it quickly, the disease was likely to spread to Ahmed. They were going to have to leave this place. The woman was still in the bed. He’d considered moving her but the pillow, sheets, and mattress were soaked with blood. The old man and the dog were in the corner of the garage under a tarp. He might as well kill Hakim in the leather chair and leave him there. Maybe even make it look like a suicide to confuse the police. That was a good plan. Trash the place, shoot his friend in the side of the head, and put his gun in his hand. Karim was considering how he would move into position without alerting Hakim when Ahmed stepped between them and pointed at the TV.
“It has started,” Ahmed said.
They all turned their attention to the TV and watched as the American president stepped up to an outdoor podium. He began reading a prepared speech. Karim scowled at the man and briefly imagined what it would be like to kill the president of the United States. That would surely earn him eternal glory in the eyes of Allah and his fellow Muslims the world over. The president droned on about the hard work, duty, sacrifice, and perseverance of the rescue workers, emergency personnel, and law enforcement over the past week. Karim noticed, not for the first time, that leaders the world over loved to hear themselves speak. It was as if they were a walking thesaurus. Descriptions came in threes, when one adjective would do just fine. He supposed it made them feel smart.
The president went on to talk about the losses they had suffered. He choked up at the mention of some of the friends he’d lost in the explosions and went on to talk briefly about the funerals he’d attended for much of the week. In a more commanding voice he listed half a dozen tragedies that had beset the country over the past eighty years and gave examples of how each time Americans rose to the occasion and persevered. Then he moved onto a topic that grabbed Karim’s interest.
“In regard to the cowardly attacks of last week there is an untold chapter that I had decided to keep from you until now. The reasons for not coming forward with this sooner are complicated, but in essence involve issues of national security. In addition to the three restaurants that were bombed last week a federal facility in Virginia was also attacked. There has been no shortage of rumors in regard to the facility itself and the attack on it. I’m here this morning to put those rumors to rest. The facility that was attacked was the National Counterterrorism Center. As the name would suggest, this relatively new building houses elements of the both the FBI’s and the CIA’s counterterrorism units as well as personnel from over a dozen other agencies and organizations. The building is the nerve center for the battle against terrorism. Just hours after last week’s cowardly attacks in Washington, D.C., a . . .”
Karim pointed at the TV and began screaming. “Cowardly! He puts pilotless drones in the air over Pakistan and fires on villages with women and children and he dares call us cowards.”
Hakim thought about pointing out the fact that the reason those missiles were fired was that al Qaeda liked to hide behind the skirts of the very women he was describing, but he thought that might finally put his friend over the edge, and all things considered, he wanted to live long enough to hear the president’s side of the story.
The president continued, saying, “A black Suburban disguised as an emergency vehicle showed up at the gate of the National Counterterrorism Center. Inside were six heavily armed men masquerading as SWAT personnel. They shot and killed a number of guards and then entered the building, where they proceeded to the top floor of the facility where the Counterterrorism Operations Center is located. The six men forced their way into the operations center and opened fire on the unarmed employees who were so diligently trying to aid the men and women involved in the rescue operations. Fortunately, there were a few employees who were armed. One such individual is with us here today.”
The president stopped and looked over his shoulder to a younger man in a dark suit who was wearing a medal around his neck with a tricolor silk ribbon. “I’d like to introduce you to Mike Nash. Mr. Nash is a retired Marine Corps officer, and until very recently an undercover operative for the CIA’s clandestine service.”
Karim pointed at the TV and yelled, “That is the snake who was sending his agents into our mosques.”
The president continued, “Mr. Nash was at the facility last week when it was attacked and watched in horror and confusion as the six armed men moved into the operations center in a single line and began killing his coworkers at near-point-blank range. A combat veteran and expert on tactics, Mr. Nash assessed the situation and acted decisively. Ignoring extreme danger to his own life, Mr. Nash did the last thing the terrorists expected . . . He charged the line of men head-on. His bravery and superb training caught the terrorists by surprise. In a matter of just a few seconds, armed with a single pistol, Mr. Nash shot and killed all six terrorists. If that wasn’t enough, Mr. Nash soon realized all six men were wearing suicide vests that were on automatic timers and were set to explode in less than two minutes. Thinking quickly, Mr. Nash and his colleagues managed to get all six bodies out a sixth-floor window. The explosives then detonated without further casualties. Mr. Nash’s bravery should serve as a reminder to . . .”
Hakim noticed the object flying through the air a split second before it smashed into the TV screen, punching a hole in the glass and sending a shower of sparks onto the carpet. He turned to see Karim standing with his fists clenched in rage and the tendons on his neck so taut they looked as if they were about to break free from his own skin.
“Lies!” Karim screamed. “All of it lies!”
Hakim stole a glance at Ahmed, who carefully had his eyes focused on the floor, too afraid to look at Karim.
“They speak of honor and courage . . . they know nothing of such things! Did you hear him? He said superb training!” Karim marched from one end of the room to the other and back, angrily stomping his feet and then kicking the leg of the glass coffee table so hard it shattered. “Superb training! I will show them. I will show them what bravery and courage and superb training is!” Like a feral animal he turned and faced his old friend. “And I will show you, too. You doubt my bravery! You said I sent them needlessly to their deaths! That I am too afraid to martyr myself. Well we wi
ll all martyr ourselves,” he shouted. “In fact, some of us sooner rather than later. We will go to Washington and we will show the world that this president is a lying dog. I will show this Mike Nash what it is like to fight a real warrior!”
WHEN the front door opened, Rapp was confronted with an unwelcome sight. There before him was the big Russian who less than twelve hours ago had come within an inch or two of tearing off his head. Rapp’s left temple began to throb just looking at the guy. The bodyguard had a bandage around his throat and a hell of a shiner from where Reavers had tagged him, but here he was at his post, which said a lot about the guy. After having your ass kicked like that, most guys wouldn’t be too willing to show up for work the next morning. The guy was either very devoted or extremely stupid. Rapp hoped it was the former, because guys who suffered from the latter were hard to teach a lesson.
This time the guy eyed Rapp a bit more cautiously. He pointed at Rapp’s waist and in a really hoarse voice that was English with a Russian tinge said, “Open your jacket.”
Rapp popped the one button and pulled open both sides, revealing the gun on his left hip.
“Leave your toys outside,” the man ordered.
“No thanks.” It was important not to back down. Rapp had no outward physical mark from their last meeting.
“Not a choice.”
“Fuck you,” Rapp said. “This is my town, not yours.”
The big Russian stared him down for ten seconds and finally said, “Wait.” Then he closed the door.
Rapp stood there and wondered how he was going to handle this if they came back and told him to hit the road. He’d told Kennedy in very vague terms where he was headed, just to cover his ass in case some other federal agency was running surveillance, but he had no real backup if things went south, and the Russians weren’t exactly known for playing by the rules. He’d learned long ago that you could never let down your guard and think you were okay without your gun. He didn’t even like handing it over when he went to the White House. He sure as hell wasn’t going to go in here without it.
The door finally opened. This time it was Sidorov. He was in bare feet, torn jeans, and a faded blue V-neck T-shirt. He looked more like a hungover rocker than a billionaire financier. The Russian whiz kid smiled and said, “Are you always so difficult?”
Rapp thought about it. “I suppose I am. No offense to you, Peter, but I don’t know you that well, and I have no idea who you have in there. I’ve made a few enemies over the years.”
Sidorov pushed the door the rest of the way open. “I can relate to your paranoia. I myself have had three attempts on my life.” Sidorov turned and moved across the black-and-white-checkered marble foyer.