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Memorial day, p.24
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       Memorial Day, p.24

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  The driver simply shrugged his shoulders and threw the car in park. Most of his fares made sense, but not this one. Picking someone up after midnight at the Ritz in Buckhead and taking him to a low-budget motel by the baseball stadium didn't make a lot of sense, but as long as the guy paid, he could care less what was going on.

  The cabbie grabbed the large suitcase from the trunk and set it on the curb. When the fare had paid him he got back in his car and left.

  Zubair stood nervously on the curb and watched the cab drive away. In the distance he could hear the noise from the freeway and the sound of a dog barking. The Pakistani scientist looked around anxiously and then set his computer bag on the ground. The big red Coca-Cola machine was right where it was supposed to be. Following the orders he'd received over the phone, Zubair grabbed a dollar bill from his wallet, smoothed it out, and fed it into the vending machine. He pressed one of the ten buttons and then reached in and grabbed his can of soda, along with a room key that had been left for him. Zubair looked at the number and slid it into his pocket.

  He stood there for a moment, next to the soda machine, and took a few swigs while he casually looked around as if he was waiting for someone. After clearing customs in Los Angeles, Zubair had found the rest of the journey less stressful. Flying to Atlanta had still been nerve-racking, but the knowledge that he was done having to lie his way through customs made everything easier. The most difficult part after landing in Atlanta had been taking the gigantic escalators down to the underground train and then up again when he'd arrived at the main terminal. If it wasn't for the fact that he'd been swept up in a sea of people and virtually shoved onto the sadistic metal stairs he doubted he could have made it to the baggage claim area.

  His recruiter had taught him only the basics of spy craft, but Zubair took them seriously. He'd stopped to use the bathroom twice in the airport, both times checking to see if any of the same faces either entered or waited outside for him. When he was confident no one had followed him, he left the airport, and as instructed by his Saudi handler, took a cab downtown to one of the major hotels where he walked through the lobby, out a side exit, and down the block to a second hotel where a room had been reserved for him and paid for in advance by a fictitious corporation.

  Zubair stayed downtown and out of sight on Monday night. On Tuesday he took a cab to the airport, and then instead of getting on a flight he jumped back in another cab and was taken to the posh Ritz Carlton in Buckhead. On Tuesday evening he ventured out to the local mall where he spent most of his time marveling at the items in two electronics stores. America was a very seductive place. The breadth and availability of consumer goods was amazing. Zubair could have spent an entire week examining the electronics, but he was so disturbed by the atmosphere of the mall that he had to go back to his hotel and pray. Only through prayer could he block out all the distractions and temptations and try to regain his purified mind.

  He had finally seen with his own eyes just how corrupt America was. Young girls walked about in public with barely a stitch of clothing and no male escort. They roved around the mall like packs of dogs, flirting with boys, and no one did a thing about it. Here, indeed, was proof that America was an evil place. It was a country firmly in the grip of Satan himself, and if something wasn't done, the Americans would drag the rest of the world down with them.

  After praying for several hours, he'd slept well through the night. The next morning he awoke late and ordered room service. While eating he turned on CNN and was alarmed to find out that the U.S. government had intercepted four ships headed for America. Zubair spent the entire afternoon in his room glued to the news coverage of this unfolding story. He did not know the specifics of his entire operation, but he did know that the weapon was being transported to America by ship.

  It was just before five in the evening when the phone in his room rang loudly. Zubair answered tentatively, and was both relieved and frightened to hear the voice of his handler. There had been a change of plans, and the man gave him specific instructions concerning them. Zubair tried only once to ask what had happened with the ships, but had been so severely admonished that he dared not ask again.

  Now he found himself standing in this dark parking lot in a city he did not know, following the orders of a man who scared him to death. Zubair took another swig of soda and looked at the various rooms of the L-shaped motel. Only a couple of lights were on, otherwise it appeared everyone was sleeping. As instructed, the Pakistani scientist threw the rest of the soda in the garbage can and looked at the number on the key he held. As luck would have it, the room was on the second floor. Zubair extended the handle on his big suitcase and began dragging it up the stairs one step at a time. When he reached the balcony he stopped, slightly out of breath, and looked around to see if anyone was watching him.

  Room 212 was at the end of the balcony. Zubair slid the key in and held his breath. Perhaps his handler would be waiting for him in the dark, or perhaps the game was up and it would be the police. He opened the door and turned on the light. The room was a far cry from the one he had just left at the Ritz, but it was still better than almost anything he'd find in his native Pakistan. The scientist closed and locked the door and then checked to make sure no one was hiding in the bathroom. Grateful to be alone and having been given no further instructions, he sat down on the bed, turned on the TV, and began to wait.

  * * *

  Fifty-Three

  Mustafa al-Yamani waited in the shadows for more than an hour. Despite the general malaise caused by his radiation sickness, his survival instincts were as keen as they had ever been. They had to be. He had come too far, and sacrificed too much, to fail. Yet, despite his best efforts, something had gone disastrously wrong. He, too, had seen the television coverage concerning the ships. Even al-Yamani, who always planned for the worst, was shocked by the completeness with which the Americans had thwarted his plan. Intelligence disasters struck in two ways, or often a combination of both. Either you were penetrated by your adversary, or someone from within your group leaked information, wittingly or not.

  Since leaving Charleston, al-Yamani had revisited this issue from every conceivable angle, and he had little doubt that there had been a leak. There was no way the Americans had penetrated al-Qaeda. It was far more plausible that someone had spoken too freely of the plan, and that their words were intercepted by American spy satellites. Al-Yamani had warned his colleagues of this possibility, but he knew that despite his best efforts they had ignored him. He was told there were finances to consider. Benefactors needed to be warned. If the plan succeeded, American investments, even abroad, would be decimated. Large amounts of money needed to be moved to safety. They had told al-Yamani that it could be done without the Americans noticing, but he had been skeptical.

  Even worse, the Saudi knew all too well the inflated egos of his people. Stature was everything, and the temptation to brag to others that something big was about to happen would be very hard to resist. As a countermeasure, al-Yamani had launched a campaign of disinformation to try to mislead the Americans, but obviously something had gone wrong and the Americans had sensed that something was amiss. While following up on their suspicions, they must have captured and interrogated someone fairly high up in the organization. He saw no other way. If the Americans had intercepted all four ships, they had to be operating off of specific information.

  Everything al-Yamani had put together was now in jeopardy, but at least he had been very careful to keep the mission compartmentalized. The left hand did not need to know what the right hand was doing. The Americans had dealt him a serious blow, but this operation was far from over. Al-Yamani didn't travel all the way to America with his hopes pinned on just one plan. He was a military tactician, and the best strategies were always multipronged.

  After leaving Charleston, al-Yamani had driven to the airport in Columbia, South Carolina, where he had gotten rid of the Ford Taurus and picked up a rental car using a Florida driver's license and credit
card. He left Columbia immediately and headed for Atlanta. On the way to Atlanta he heard that overnight the president and other leaders had been evacuated from Washington. It was later that he heard about the ships being stopped.

  He had memorized the address of the trucking company his group had fronted, and when he reached Atlanta he approached the area with great caution. It was only midafternoon, and as he rolled to a stop at a light a block away, he looked to his right and paused briefly just as any normal person would have done. There was no mistaking what was going on. Police cars had the street blocked. Al-Yamani took his foot off the brake, accelerated through the intersection, and never looked back. There was nothing left to salvage. An entire year of work and the deaths of many of his brave Muslim warriors had amounted to nothing.

  Al-Yamani did not let his anger get the best of him. There was no time for it. Someone had betrayed them, but he quickly resigned himself to the fact that he would never know who that person was. There wasn't enough life left in his poisoned body to go searching for those answers. No, he had come to America to die, and he was going to take with him as many infidels as possible.

  It was now two in the morning on Thursday. Al-Yamani had been extravigilant in arranging this meeting with the Pakistani scientist who was crucial to his tattered but still salvageable plans. Al-Yamani had spent two hours checking the perimeter of the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead to make sure the Pakistani wasn't being watched, and then after making contact he had followed the cab from a safe distance to see if any one else might be tailing him.

  As al-Yamani looked through the window of his rental car, he decided it was time. He picked up the cell phone he'd purchased earlier in the day and dialed the number. The nervous little Pakistani answered before the second ring.

  "Hello."

  "I want you to get rid of the large suitcase. Bring only what you need and be down by the soda machine in five minutes." Al-Yamani pressed the red button and noted the time on the clock. Four minutes later Zubair appeared outside the room with his shoulder bag and hurried along the balcony. When he reached the soda machine, al-Yamani watched for a few minutes and then started the car. He stopped in front of the hotel and rolled the window down.

  "Imtaz, hurry up and get in." Al-Yamani could tell by the look on the scientist's face that he did not recognize him without his beard. "It is me, Mustafa." In a more authoritative voice he added, "Get in, you fool."

  Zubair finally recognized the eyes of the man who had recruited him. He jumped in the front seat and stared at the Saudi in semi-disbelief. "You never said you were coming to America."

  Al-Yamani checked the rearview mirror to see if any new cars had pulled out onto the empty street. "Very few people knew of my plans."

  "What happened today?" asked the disheartened scientist. "How did they know?"

  All the Saudi could do was shake his head. "I have no answers." If he thought for a second that the Pakistani had betrayed him, he would kill him, but that was impossible. Zubair knew none of the details about the four ships that had been intercepted.

  "What do we do now? Do we go back?"

  Al-Yamani glanced over at the young scientist and smiled. "No, we do not go back, Imtaz. Allah still has work for you. The Americans may have scored a victory, but we are far from done."

  Zubair was more than a little surprised to hear this. "What is your plan?"

  Al-Yamani shook his head. "I am done discussing my plans. Too many good Muslims died digging up that cursed weapon. I should have never allowed so many people to know about it." He shook his head again. "No you will see soon enough, and until then you will just have to trust me."

  * * *

  Fifty-Four

  WASHINGTON, D.C.

  Rapp hadn't slept all that well, and he thought he knew why. After tossing and turning for most of the short night, he gave up on sleep and got out of bed at 6:00 a.m. His mind wouldn't shut down and his body, which was used to working out at least six days a week, was screaming for exercise. So he left his air-conditioned house on the Chesapeake Bay and went for a run.

  He had no problem loosening up in the humid morning air, and his shoes pounded out their rhythm on the gravel shoulder of the county road at a pace that was closer to a sprint than a jog. Sweat poured down his shirtless chest, and he could literally feel the toxins leaving his body. Before the run, he'd considered going for a swim instead. It was easier on his joints, and lately he'd begun noticing some new aches and pains. The years of sports and competing as a world-class triathlete, not to mention his work for the CIA, had taken their toll on his body.

  He was glad he'd decided on the run, though. When he reached his midway point he felt strong. He looked down at his watch and noted the split. He'd maintained a six-minute pace, despite the travel and lack of sleep. It wasn't too long ago that he could keep a five-minute pace, but those days were gone forever. Paces like that were meant for younger lungs, younger hearts, and most importantly, younger knees.

  The second half of the run didn't go as well. His energy waned and his splits steadily worsened, to the point where the sixth mile was twenty-two seconds off his pace. As was his habit, he sprinted to the finish line at his driveway and then continued past it for about fifty yards slowing to a jog and keeping his clasped hands behind his head and his elbows up so he could breathe better. He walked down his long driveway cursing himself. He was starting to slip a bit.

  Rapp went down to the dock and took off his shoes and socks as well as his fanny pack, which contained a water bottle and a compact Glock 30, 45 ACP. He dove in and after relaxing in the water for a good five minutes and allowing his body temperature to cool down, he decided to head into the Joint Counterterrorism Center before his meeting at the White House. He went back up to the house, showered and shaved, and put on a light-gray summer-weight suit. Before leaving the house, he had a quick breakfast and filled his travel mug to the brim with piping hot black coffee.

  By 7:40 a.m. he was standing in the office of the FBI's Deputy Director for Counterterrorism. Rapp and Skip McMahon had known each other for only a few years, but they understood one another well. Certainly well enough for Rapp to see that McMahon was behaving a little oddly.

  Rapp sat down in one of the two nondescript chairs in front of McMahon's desk. The space smelled like fresh paint and new carpeting. Rapp was not surprised, but nonetheless amused, to see that McMahon was wearing a short-sleeved white dress shirt and a loose tie. Fortunately, his fashion sense had no bearing on his abilities as a federal agent.

  "You're back," was all McMahon managed to say.

  Rapp nodded and took another sip of coffee. He noticed an uncharacteristically nervous expression on the FBI man's face. Something was going on, and he thought he might know what, but first they would have to indulge in some ritual ribbing. Rapp remembered what Khan had said to him last night.

  "Skip, you don't look so hot."

  "Well we can't all be pretty boys."

  Rapp laughed. "Yeah, right." The counterterrorism operative turned his head and drew his finger down the thin vertical scar on his cheek.

  "You still whining about that thing?" McMahon shook his head in feigned embarrassment for the younger man. "That's nothing. You should see the scar from my vasectomy. It's at least a foot long."

  Rapp laughed and said, "Any truth to the rumor that you're leaving?"

  "Where'd you hear that?" McMahon asked cautiously.

  "We have all your phones tapped." Rapp kept his poker face on. "I've known about your vasectomy for years."

  McMahon smiled for a second but then asked, "Seriously?"

  "Irene told me."

  McMahon turned and looked at the blank undecorated wall. It was obvious he had asked her not to tell anyone about his plans for the future.

  "Don't worry," Rapp offered. "It came up because I heard Reimer over at DOE was thinking about taking a job in the private sector."

  "Really?" McMahon looked both comforted and surprised at the same time. "Who
with?"

  "I'm not sure."

  Their situations were similar. Both men had put in thirty-plus years of service to the government, and even though mandatory retirement was right around the corner, they'd both been promised extensions due to the importance of their jobs, "Well I can't say I'll blame him if he gets out." As an afterthought he added, "He sure will be missed, though."

  "You both will be," Rapp said with sincerity.

  McMahon dismissed the comment with a doubtful expression. "A month after we leave, you guys will have forgotten all about us."

  "That's not true and you know it. We would all prefer you guys to stay right where you are, but we'll certainly understand if you decide to grab the golden ring."

  Rapp knew McMahon had been offered a job as the head of security for a casino syndicate based out of Las Vegas. His expense account alone would be twice that of his government pay, not to mention all the other perks and a significantly increased salary. The guy deserved it.

  "Yeah well, I haven't decided anything yet."

  "You wanna know what I think?"

  McMahon leaned back and placed a hand under chin. "Sure."

  "As I said, I'd like you to stay. There's very few people at the Bureau as talented as you are. At the same time, however, there's a part of me that hopes you take the job. You've put up with enough bullshit. I'd like to see you get a little taste of the good life while you can still enjoy it."

  McMahon smiled. Those were his sentiments exactly. "I appreciate that. It's not an easy decision."

  Rapp shrugged. "It'll be easier than you think." Changing the topic he said, "As long as you're still employed by the government, would you mind bringing me up to speed?"

  "Sure. You got in late last night?"

  "Yep."

  "Well I've been up all night trying to sort this mess out, and it just keeps getting better."

 
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