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Memorial day, p.23
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       Memorial Day, p.23

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  "Fine," one of the men answered with an accent that Gomez couldn't place.

  As Gomez looked around he grew slightly concerned. The construction site didn't look as if it was ready for a whole flatbed filled with expensive granite. Whatever they were building didn't even have a foundation yet.

  "We have been waiting for you," said the other man as he looked at the load with a pleased expression.

  Gomez took this as a good sign and handed over his clipboard. "I need one of you to sign at the bottom where the redX is."

  The taller of the two men took the board and quickly scratched out his name. Gomez took the clipboard back, tore off one of the copies, handed it back to the man who'd signed, and asked, "Where would you like me to drop it?"

  "Right there is fine."

  Gomez looked at the trailer and frowned. It was kind of a funny place to leave it, but he wasn't going to argue. The sooner he dropped the feet and unhooked it, the sooner he could be back on the road. He did just that, and a couple of minutes later he was up in his cab and pulling back onto the road. Without the heavy trailer the truck felt like a sports car. Not more than a mile further on, Gomez started shaking. He flipped down his visor and looked at himself in the mirror. There were red blotchy marks all over his face.

  Shivering, Gomez got back on the highway and headed for the distribution center. The thought occurred to him that it might be a good idea to find a truck stop on the outskirts of Atlanta and grab a couple hours of sleep. The only problem was, the temp was supposed to hit the mid-nineties, which meant sleeping in the truck wasn't an option. He'd have to get a room, and that wasn't in the budget.

  No,Gomez told himself,he'd tough it out. He probably just had a little bug that he'd picked up in Mexico. He could hear his wife talking to him. Telling him to lay off the coffee and drink a lot of water. Up ahead he saw a sign for a truck stop and decided to top off the tanks and get some water and food.

  The chills had passed by the time he'd pulled up to the diesel pumps and had been replaced with another wave of fever. Gomez got out of the rig mopping his glistening brow and neck with his bandana, and cursing the wave of nausea that was sweeping over him like a bad dream. As he staggered to the pumps, the thought occurred to him that he was really lucky that he'd decided to pull over when he did, because this one didn't feel like it was going to pass.

  He put one hand out to steady himself, and then the sickness rose up from within him like a big unstoppable wave. A spasm gripped his entire body and then he projectile vomited a good six feet. Gomez tried to lean forward to prevent any of it from getting on his shoes. There was a slight pause but he could tell he wasn't done. Another wave was coming, and in preparation for it he told himself this was good. His body was just trying to get rid of whatever he'd caught in Mexico. That thought carried him through the next three gut-wrenching heaves, and then he dropped to his knees in unimaginable pain. Gomez knew something was horribly wrong when he saw the blood on the ground, but there was nothing he could do. He felt himself losing consciousness. His last thought before going limp was that he might miss his son's baseball game after all.

  * * *

  Fifty

  WASHINGTON, D.C.

  Skip McMahon found himself sitting in a room with three people he did not like. One of them was a terrorist, despite what the man's attorney was saying. McMahon would bet his entire pension on it, and the smug little prick was sitting in front of him claiming that he was completely innocent, that he was only doing his job, and that he had no idea what was inside the container he was picking up in Charleston. McMahon could tell that he was lying.

  It was easy enough to understand why he didn't like the other two people either. They were both lawyers. One of them, the really flashy one, represented the terrorist. His name was Tony Jackson, aka the Mouth of the South, and he was a civil rights attorney, a plaintiff's attorney, and a defense attorney all rolled into one. He was formidable, polished, obnoxious, and very good at his job. Barely fifty, the native Georgian had amassed a small fortune by winning several highly lucrative class-action lawsuits, the largest against a national food chain for race discrimination. Jackson had become one of those ever-available talking heads on the 24/7 cable news outlets. Refusing to leave his beloved Atlanta to go represent the various high-profile misfits in L.A. and New York, he nonetheless felt free to comment often and unhelpfully in regard to said misfits and their persecution and poor legal representation.

  The man had style, McMahon had to admit. He would be very difficult to beat in front of a jury. Six and half feet tall, he kept his afro short and allowed a touch of gray to show at the temples. The effect was to give him the appearance of a wise old sage. His suit, tie, and shirt were in impeccable taste, his cuff links and watch expensive. He understood the importance of appearance and exuded an air of complete confidence and competence, even if at times he could seem a bit outrageous and over the top. McMahon had seen it all before. In front of the right jury this man would be extremely formidable.

  The fourth and final person in the room was Peggy Stealey, and McMahon was beginning to think that she had aspirations to try this case herself. There were many more experienced prosecutors than Peggy over at Justice. He could think of at least two who would go ballistic if they were passed over for his trial, but such was the unpredictable and often cruel world of Washington. Politics was the lifeblood of the city, and Stealey was the attorney general's golden girl. She lacked the real trial experience that Jackson had, but she was no fool and she was attractive, tenacious, and smart. It would be quite the courtroom battle.

  The case, contrary to what Stealey had originally thought, was not a simple slam dunk. McMahon had warned her that the CIA would be loath to share its methods of collection and information in open court. He hadn't even bothered to guess how Rapp would react when he found out that this clown had a lawyer, but he knew for certain it wouldn't be pretty. Stealey had thought they would find all the incriminating evidence they'd need at the trucking company in Atlanta, and at this al-Adel's apartment, but so far they had come up with nothing.

  The smug little Saudi immigrant had covered his tracks very well. The only slam dunk so far was holding the other man in the truck on several gun charges. Neither man was cooperating, and as long as the Mouth of the South was their lawyer, he doubted they would start any time soon.

  "When are my clients going to be charged?" Jackson asked for the third time.

  "If he tells us why he erased the hard drives on his computers, we might just let him go." Stealey looked from Jackson to his client.

  Al-Adel looked at her in disgust. "You will stop at nothing to persecute me and my people. What have you done to my computers?"

  McMahon shook his head scoffingly at the accusation.

  "What are you laughing at, you racist?" Al-Adel stared at McMahon. "You people are nothing but fascists and thugs. You planted that gun on Ali, and you have ruined my computers. I have known him for years. He has never owned a gun and would never buy one. Your people planted that weapon on him, and you know it."

  McMahon looked at the terrorist and said, "Ahmed, you and I both know who the liar is, so let's dispense with the theatrics and move on. Now where were you going to take that container?" The federal agent picked up his pen as if he assumed the prisoner would actually answer the question.

  Jackson's arm shot out. "Don't answer that question. For the last time, when is my client going to be charged?" The lawyer looked at Stealey. "You'd better say tomorrow."

  "There are certain special circumstances surrounding this case." Stealey smiled, knowing there was no way Jackson knew the truth about his clients. Because if he did, he'd already be on a plane headed back to Atlanta. "I'm expecting the arraignment to take place on Tuesday at the earliest."

  "You can't do that! That's seven days away!" Jackson bellowed in his deep voice.

  "Actually I can. There are national security issues at stake here."

  "And there's also the law.
I swear, if my clients aren't formally charged before a federal judge by tomorrow at the latest, you are going to have a huge media disaster on your hands."

  Stealey knew she had the ultimate ace in the hole. A twenty-kiloton nuclear warhead. There weren't many jurors who would be sympathetic once they found out al-Adel was arrested while in the process of trying to pick up a nuclear bomb.

  "Tell me, Ahmed," Stealey said, "where were you planning on taking that trailer?"

  "This is over." Jackson waved his hands in the air. "Don't say another word," he warned his client.

  "You haven't told him what was in the trailer, have you?" McMahon looked right at al-Adel.

  "My client doesn't know what was in that trailer, and this interview is over."

  McMahon wanted to give the self-righteous little al-Adel something to think about. He picked up his file and stood. "The CIA wants to question you, Ahmed. Don't be surprised if you get woken in the middle of the night and transferred to a different location."

  Jackson was out of his chair like a shot. "You just threatened my client with torture! That's it. I don't want anyone else talking to my client. You people are done, and when I tell the media, let alone a judge, what this idiot just said, heads are going to roll."

  McMahon ignored Jackson and kept his gaze fixed on al-Adel. Satisfyingly, he saw genuine fear in the terrorist's eyes at last. In that moment he could tell the Saudi was not a man who could handle pain.

  He turned his attention to Jackson and offered him a grim smile. "And when you find out the truth about your client, you are going to wish that the two of us had never crossed paths."

  * * *

  Fifty-One

  The G-V landed at Andrews Air Force Base just before midnight on Wednesday evening. The sleek jet taxied to a remote part of the base and into a simple gray metal hanger. As soon as the tail was clear, the doors closed. A few seconds later the stairs to the executive jet folded down revealing an extremely tired and unshaven Mitch Rapp. The CIA operative was still dressed in his combat fatigues and holster. With a bag under each arm, he exited the plane and walked across the smooth concrete floor. Four men passed him without comment and boarded the plane to retrieve the two prisoners he'd brought back. Rapp kept his bloodshot eyes fixed on Bobby Akram, the CIA's top interrogator. Once again, he was dressed in a dark suit and red tie.

  Rapp had spoken to him at least four times on the long flight home from Afghanistan. The focus of the calls was to develop a strategy for squeezing every last bit of information from the two captured terrorists. Akram was an incredibly thorough person who was adamant that the best way to elicit valuable information from prisoners was to start the interrogation with a well researched and thought out plan. Akram wanted to know, in advance, every conceivable detail about the subjects he was to question. Establishing the appearance of omnipotence was crucial to setting the stage for success.

  "Mitch, I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but you look like shit."

  Rapp walked right past Akram, to his waiting vehicle. "I feel like shit."

  Akram walked over to Rapp's car. "I thought you were going to sleep on the plane."

  "I couldn't." Rapp popped the trunk and threw in his two bags. "Every time I got close, that damn Abdullah would start moaning for more morphine, or CTC would call and want something. How's it going with the two guys they picked up in Charleston?"

  "I wouldn't know. I haven't seen them."

  "Why?" asked Rapp.

  "The Feds have them in custody, and so far they haven't offered us access."

  Rapp slammed the trunk shut. "What?"

  Akram could tell he was really pissed off. "Don't worry about it right now. Irene says she'll bring you up to speed in the morning. You're supposed to be at the White House at nine a.m. for a briefing." Akram folded his hands in front of him. "Until then, she wants you to go home and get some sleep."

  Rapp laughed in a mocking manner.

  "She said you'd do that."

  "Do what?"

  "Laugh at the thought of anyone ordering you to go home and sleep. Irene said it stems from your deep-seated problem with authority. I told her I understood completely, and we agreed that if you argued I'm supposed to order you to go to Langley and help with the translations, at which point she predicted that you would curse at me some, and then go home and sleep."

  Rapp laughed sincerely this time. Kennedy knew him too well. "All right you guys are real funny. I get the picture."

  The first prisoner came off the plane. It was Ahmed Khalili, the young computer man from Karachi. He had a hood over his head, but this time it was clean-nothing like the filthy burlap sack that he had sported in Afghanistan. Rapp and Akram had talked at length about Khalili. Either he was going to be extremely helpful, or he had completely deceived them to this point. He'd talked freely throughout most of the flight. Rapp had recorded everything, and then every few hours he would send the information back to Langley via an encrypted burst transmission.

  Khalili's revelations were helping to peel back the layers of communication within al-Qaeda, revealing the way they used the internet to contact cells in America. They were getting much smarter, having learned the hard way about the power of American spy satellites. They still used high-end encryption software and placed messages within known websites to be retrieved by their disciples abroad, but for every two real messages, a fake one was sent to confuse the Americans. To frustrate the listeners and watchers even further, they'd also begun a campaign of disinformation, flooding sites that they knew were monitored with messages claiming that an attack was imminent. Khalili told of times they sat in cafes in Karachi watching CNN and laughed with hilarity as the terror alert in America was raised in the wake of one of their frenzied message-sending campaigns. These feints were classic guerilla tactics, designed to water American security forces down. Al-Qaeda was no longer one-dimensional. In order to survive they had been forced to adapt.

  Every system of communication had its weakness, and Khalili had given them a crucial piece of information concerning al-Qaeda's. In the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the al-Qaeda leaders no longer used phones or radios to talk to each other. The American satellites were always overhead looking down, watching and listening, spy drones could often be heard circling overhead in the dark sky with their distinctive low-pitched hum, and jet fighters and helicopters with well-trained commandos were never far off.

  To beat a high-tech enemy, al-Qaeda simply went low tech. Handwritten messages were couriered between commanders. This delivery system would often take days, and restrict the speed with which al-Qaeda could plan and react, but it was better than getting a 2,000-pound laser-guided bomb dropped on the place where you were sleeping.

  Khalili told Rapp they were now using a similar low-tech strategy with the internet. Instead of using high-end encryption software, which was all but useless against the National Security Agency's supercomputers, they were now communicating with their American cells using teenage internet chat rooms. It had been Khalili's idea. The volume at these sites was overwhelming and it wasn't encrypted. In Khalili's mind it was the last place the supersnoops in America would look. After a phone call back to the CTC, Rapp found out Khalili had been right.

  Rapp looked at his car keys and said to Akram, "I want Marcus to meet with him first thing in the morning." Rapp was referring to Marcus Dumond, the CIA's resident computer genius. "I understand maybe a quarter of what he's talking about, so for all I know he's been selling me a load of crap."

  "But you don't think so?"

  "No but what do I know?" Rapp shrugged. He was at the end of his rope.

  "You have great instincts," Akram told him. "Based on everything you've told me, I think you're on the mark."

  Abdullah was carried out of the plane by two men. It was obvious to Rapp that since the Saudi wasn't screaming, he was fully dosed on morphine. "I gave him another shot about thirty minutes ago." Rapp grabbed a piece of paper from his
pocket and handed it to Akram. "Just like you told me I wrote down every dosage and the time they were administered."

  Akram looked at the sheet. No wonder Rapp hadn't slept, he'd had to give the man a shot every sixty to ninety minutes.

  "Good luck with him," said Rapp. "I think he might be a pathological liar."

  Akram smiled ever so slightly. He loved a good challenge.

  Car keys in hand, Rapp pointed at his Pakistani friend, and said, "After you've got these two tucked in, I want you to take a crack at the two guys they picked up in Charleston, and if you get any crap from the feds, let me know and I'll expedite things."

  Akram nodded. A master at concealing his emotions, he gave nothing away. Kennedy had told him under no circumstances was he to tell Rapp of the events that had transpired between the White House and the Justice Department. Telling Rapp at this late hour would only ensure another sleepless night for him and anyone else he decided to roust out of bed.

  Akram reached out and nudged Rapp toward the driver's seat. "Don't worry about anything. Just go home and get some sleep. You look like hell."

  * * *

  Fifty-Two

  ATLANTA

  It was the dead of night as the cab drove past a dormant Turner Field. It continued east down Atlanta Avenue for three quarters of a mile, before it turned into the parking lot of a nondescript two-story motel. The neon vacancy sign was dark, as was the manager's office. A few cars dotted the relatively small parking lot, but other than that the place looked deserted.

  The cabbie turned around and looked at his fare through the smudged Plexiglas divider. "You sure you want to be dropped off here?"

  Imtaz Zubair swallowed nervously and nodded. He, in fact did not want to be left here, but his handler had called and given him specific instructions.

  "Yes, this is the right place," the Pakistani scientist said with more confidence than he felt.

 
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