“What are you talking about?”
“I think I will tell everyone that the Lion of al Qaeda likes little boys and is afraid to kill real men with guns. He must kill old men and women in the middle of the night like a common criminal.”
There was a long silence. Hakim could hear his friend breathing heavily on the other end. He knew he had him near his breaking point. Hakim smiled to himself and laughed at the phone. “I will tell them how you send other men to their death while you take all the credit and then shoot unarmed boys. I will tell the world that you are an evil little man.”
In a voice seething with anger, Karim said, “I will kill you if it is the last thing I ever do.”
“You will have to find me first, and since you are not very smart that will prove impossible.”
“Maybe I will tell the police about the car you are in. Report it stolen.”
Hakim laughed out loud this time. “Have you ever heard the phrase, it is better to keep your mouth closed and have people wonder if you are stupid than open it and remove all doubt? If you report the car I am driving stolen, and I am arrested, I will simply tell them everything I know about you. I even have a nice photo I could give them.” Hakim laughe
d again and then, knowing it would drive Karim insane, he rushed to get in the last word. “I have to catch a plane. Maybe I will call you later. Try not to kill any more innocent people. Good-bye.”
Hakim hadn’t felt this good in weeks. He flipped over the phone and pulled out the battery. Several hundred miles to the north, he imagined Karim breaking more things and throwing another fit. After a moment he thought of Ahmed and hoped his petulant friend did not take out his anger on the Moroccan. Hakim looked down the long, smooth highway and said, “I am free. Free from the torment and stupidity of a man who never should have been my friend.”
CIA, LANGLEY, VIRGINIA
AFTER they had managed to collect themselves and stop laughing at their friend’s misery, Harris asked Rapp, “Did you get the photos?”
Rapp had forgotten all about them. He pulled out his BlackBerry and found the email Harris had sent him several hours earlier. He waited for the photos to come up on the screen and then scrolled down. The first man he didn’t recognize, but the second one looked an awful lot like a certain Moroccan he’d seen in a photograph provided by Catherine Cheval. Rapp scrolled back up to the first photo and wondered if it was possible. Could this be the Lion of al Qaeda? He felt as if he were holding the winning lottery ticket.
Harris saw the change in Rapp’s expression and asked, “What is it?”
Rapp lowered his BlackBerry and tried to figure out how much he could reveal. There was no way he could sit on this information. Iowa, he thought to himself. The bastards had gone to the middle of the country to hide out.
“What do you know?” Harris asked impatiently.
“Let me check with a few of my sources.”
Harris studied him with the eyes of a career lawman. “You’re holding back.”
Rapp hesitated. That he was holding back was obvious. Here they were at the tangled and mangled intersection of politics, law enforcement, and international espionage. He could trust Harris, but the FBI did everything with one eye on a possible prosecution and court date and right behind them were all the lawyers over at Justice. They would be obsessed with following the trail of evidence, knowing that any defense attorney would do the same in an attempt to punch holes in the government’s case.
This was exactly what the president and Dickerson were afraid of. He was screwed both ways. If he brought them in and told them everything, it would eventually blow up in the face of the French and further damage their cooperation. Rapp would lie through his teeth before he’d let that happen. But he needed the FBI’s help. He simply didn’t have the manpower to do what needed to be done. At some point they were going to need a lucky break, or they would have to go public with these photos. Rapp suddenly thought of something else and it turned his mood foul. If it came out after the fact that he had sat on this information, even if it was just for a day or two, he and the CIA would be crucified.
Rapp eyed Harris and thought of the FBI’s rapid deployment teams. He couldn’t remember how many they had, but he thought there were at least six. “You still have that rapid deployment team in Chicago on standby?”
Rapp wavered for a minute. “I think you should deploy them.”
“I need a reason to deploy them,” Harris said, pushing for information.
“Twenty-plus years of experience. You’re not a janitor. Tell everyone to snap to and make it happen.”
Harris resisted. “New development since we last talked. The director sent out an edict this morning. We’ve been getting false leads for a week, Mitch. These teams have been flying all over the country. They’re at their breaking point. The director told us no more chasing ghosts. Keep the teams home until we have some hard evidence.”
“I’d say two dead bodies, a bunch of military-grade C-4, and two sets of fake IDs with photos of two men of possible Middle Eastern persuasion is a decent start.”
“What aren’t you telling me, Mitch?” Harris asked.
“Art, you know how this works. I can’t tell you what I know right now, because you guys are going to make me sit down in front of a bunch of lawyers and put me under oath and ask me how I know what I know.” Rapp shook his head. “That can’t happen.”
“But, Mitch . . .”