Memorial Day, p.4Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
Kennedy followed the president into his office past the Secret Service agent standing post by the door. Hayes walked straight to his desk and looked at his schedule. After a moment he asked, "How much time do you need?"
"Fifteen minutes uninterrupted."
Hayes nodded thoughtfully. Kennedy was not the type of person to waste his time. He pressed the intercom button on his phone and said, "Betty, I need fifteen minutes."
"Yes, Mr. President."
Hayes came out from behind his desk and walked across the office. He unbuttoned his suit coat and sat on one of the couches by the fireplace. Looking up at the director of the Central Intelligence Agency he said, "Let's hear the bad news."
Kennedy sat next to him and brushed a strand of brown hair behind her ear. "As you know since 9/11 we've developed some fairly elaborate statistical models for tracking certain economic indicators. We've identified key banks, brokerage houses, and financial services institutions that handle money we have reason to believe is linked to terrorism. In addition to that our Echelon system tracks millions of e-mails and phone calls on a daily basis. Due to the sheer volume of data that we're talking about, and the fact that much of it is encrypted, we're not able to track these trends real-time."
"What's the lag?" asked the president.
"The financial trends we usually have a pretty good handle on by the end of the business day, but Echelon intercepts can sometime take a week to decipher, and then up to a month to translate. Although if we're targeting a specific e-mail account or phone number, the information can be decrypted and translated in near real-time."
"So what have you noticed that has given you cause to worry?"
"It started at the end of Friday with the financials. The first trend we picked up on was the price of gold closing up four dollars and twenty-six cents. This by itself is nothing to get alarmed about, but the next trend we noticed was that the dollar closed down eight cents. The Dow was off by fifty-six and the Nasdaq closed down sixteen. None of this on the face of it is an unusual day in the financial markets, but when we began to look at the specific institutions that we think have ties to terrorism some unsettling trends showed up."
Kennedy pulled a piece of paper from a folder and handed it to the president. She pointed to the first line with her pen. "The jump in gold was started by a bank in Kuwait that sold two hundred eighty million dollars in U.S. stocks and bonds and dumped all of it into Swiss gold. Over the weekend we discovered four other accounts at various institutions that had liquidated their U.S. investments and purchased gold. Those accounts represented nearly two hundred million dollars."
The president studied the sheet of paper. "What are the chances that all five of these accounts are getting the same financial advice?"
"It is a remote possibility, but it assumes that there is a respected financial advisor out there who would suggest a wholesale conversion of assets at a time when there are no economic indicators that would necessitate such a drastic move. My people tell me the chance of this is extremely unlikely."
Hayes frowned at the sheet of paper. "So that gets us back to the fact that five flagged accounts all placed bets last Friday that the U.S. economy is about to take a hit."
"Correct," nodded Kennedy. "In addition, we also discovered another handful of smaller flagged accounts that made similar but less drastic moves."
Hayes stared at the sheet of paper, reading the various names and countries. "Anything else?"
"Yes." She cleared her throat. "Mitch has come across some very valuable intel." From her bag Kennedy retrieved the file that Rapp had given her only hours ago. She laid it on the glass coffee table that sat between the two couches and opened it to display a sheet with the faces of five bearded men on it. "I know you've been shown these photos before, but to refresh your memory they are all on the FBI's most wanted list. They represent what we think is the reconstituted leadership of al-Qaeda."
Kennedy flipped the page, revealing a map of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. "For the last six months we have been tracking several of these individuals as they've traveled through the mountainous region of Pakistan. A few weeks ago two of them met up in Gulistan." Kennedy pointed to the city on the map. "From there they were tracked to a small village eighteen miles to the west."
She turned the page again, to a satellite photo that showed a village of approximately one hundred dwellings plus outbuildings. The town was spread out along the base of the mountain with one main road leading in and several cutting across the axis. "The village has been watched day and night for the last five days. Yesterday this convoy pulled into town."
A new image appeared, showing eight pickup trucks and several SUVs. Four of the pickups had large antiaircraft guns mounted in the beds, and all of them were overflowing with heavily armed men. "Four hours ago we had a high-altitude reconnaissance drone circling at forty thousand feet, and we were lucky enough to get the following pictures. These three individuals getting out of the trucks we believe to be Hassan Izz-al-Din, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, and Ali Saed al-Houri."
The president picked up the black-and-white photograph and stared at the three faces circled in red. These reconnaissance photos were rarely completely clear to him, but he knew there was a small army of analysts and a supercomputer that somehow made sense of it all.
"All of them had a hand in 9/11," Kennedy added.
The president took a second hard look at the photograph. "You're sure these are the same men?"
"Mitch has an asset in the region who told him this meeting would be taking place."
Hayes set the photo down and took off his reading glasses. "They're in this village right now?"
The president grinned. "So I assume you want me to call General Musharraf and get him to go clean out this rat's nest."
Kennedy shook her head emphatically. "Absolutely not, sir. General Musharraf is a good man, but he has too many radical fundamentalists in his government especially up in the tribal areas, to trust with something this important. Mitch thinks that the second we bring the Pakistanis in, these men will be alerted and disappear into the mountains."
The president suddenly saw where she was going and his demeanor turned cautious. "Are you suggesting we handle thiswithout talking to the Pakistanis?"
"That's correct, sir."
"And what am I to tell General Musharraf when he calls to find out what American troops are doing conducting operations in his country without his permission?"
"I'm hoping it won't come to that, sir," answered Kennedy with more optimism than she honestly felt. "Mitch thinks we can conduct the bulk of the operation without being noticed, but at some point the Pakistanis will certainly find out. And when the general calls I'm sure that if you explain the circumstances, and possibly offer him a little more economic aid, he'll understand."
Hayes grinned and shook his head. "You know, you're probably right, but there's a couple of thousand people over at the State Department who would disagree pretty vehemently with you."
"The State Department has different, less immediate, concerns than I do."
The president turned his attention to the photograph and the three red circles. He could handle Musharraf if things got ugly. In fact, the general would probably thank him for keeping him out of it. "Irene, is there any direct link between these men and the financial stuff you were talking about earlier?"
"No that is, nodirect link, sir, but we do think these accounts are controlled by either al-Qaeda sympathizers or supporters."
"Most of them."
The president's expression turned sour. The Saudis were the furthest thing in the world from a good ally, but nothing could be said publicly, and very little could be done privately, to get them to crack down on members of the royal family who funded terrorism.
"So you want to go in and grab these guys?" asked Hayes.
"That's correct, sir."
"What's your time frame?"
The president's mood remained pensive as he thought about it. "I don't know, Irene. This thing is a big gamble. A lot of people in this town will be upset that they were left out of the decision-making process."
Kennedy had intentionally held back one card. "There is something else you need to know, sir. Mitch has an asset that says these men are meeting to discuss what to do after the bomb is detonated."
Hayes didn't speak at first. The wordbomb could mean many things. "What type of bomb?"
She shook her head. "We don't know. That's why Mitch wants to go in with the task force and see what he can find out."
Hayes took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. "I suppose you want my approval immediately."
"That would help," answered Kennedy.
"This isn't the first time I've been told an attack may be imminent."
"I know," Kennedy agreed, "but I have a feeling that something very serious is about to happen, sir, and I think that whatever it is, it will be crippling enough to send our economy into a major recession." She had intentionally chosen to emphasize the economic aspect of the situation. "I think we need to do something decisive. We need to make our own luck, and we need to do it quickly."
With Hayes's reelection campaign starting in a few months, none of this was anything he wanted to hear. A little flap with the Pakistanis over a border raid, he could survive. A major terrorist attack and an economy in the toilet, he couldn't. In the three years since President Hayes had known Kennedy, though, he'd never heard her talk like this.
He took in a deep breath and then said, "You have my approval, but tell Mitch to get in and out as quickly as possible. I'd like to be able to play this off as a border skirmish rather than a full-blown operation."
* * *
The Qantas 747-400 floated downward, flaps extended, its four powerful General Electric engines throttled almost all the way back. The tarmac at LAX shimmered in the May heat as planes maneuvered to and from the gates picking up and disgorging passengers. From the air it looked like absolute chaos to Imtaz Zubair. In the upper business-class cabin he closed his eyes and silently muttered the wordAlhumdulillah over and over to himself. The phrase meant,Praise be to God, and was part of atasbihs, or Muslim rosary. They had taken his beads away from him, so he rubbed his thumb and forefinger together as if he was holding the well-worn, dark wooden instrument of prayer in his hand. They had told him to show no signs of his faith in public until he had completed his mission, but he could not help himself.
Zubair was a wreck, a ball of frayed nerves with a stomach full of bubbling acid that had resulted in a scorching pyrosis. Even though he was a man of science, he hated flying. His education was rooted in the comforting, ordered logic of mathematics and physics, but it failed him here. Wing mass created lift, engines provided thrust, and planes flew. It was all proven theory, and it was applied thousands of times all over the world every day, but the scientist still fretted. He couldn't accept it, and so he tucked it away deep down with all of his other phobias.
When one of his bosses had told him once that he needed to seek therapy, Zubair had been deeply offended. He was a genius; he knew things, sensed things that very few people could even attempt to grasp. Who was to say that his phobias weren't simply caused by a heightened sense of awareness and a deep understanding of the universe and his relationship with Allah? Zubair suspected things. He talked to God and looked into the future. His role in the battle for his religion was one of great importance. He'd never discussed this with his fellow scientists, for they were too one-dimensional. Religion was a farce to them, a way for simple people to cope with their mundane lives. But not to Zubair; science was proof to him that his God existed. Such magnificence could only have been created by his God.
The touchdown was so gentle that Zubair didn't even realize they were on the ground until the front landing gear was rolling along the tarmac, and the large plane began to slow. He opened his eyes and looked out the window, relieved they were out of the sky. With a smile on his face he muttered a quick prayer of thanks. Unfortunately, his calm didn't last long. As the plane neared its gate, Zubair's smile vanished and his thoughts turned to his next obstacle.
Imtaz Zubair's native country had forsaken him, so he had returned the favor. A math prodigy, Zubair was educated at Pakistan's finest schools and then sent on to Canada and China for his postgraduate work. He was on the path to greatness. Even Dr. A. Q. Khan, the man who had developed and tested Pakistan's first nuclear bomb, had told him that he was the brightest star of his generation of Pakistani scientists. Zubair thought his skills alone would carry him to his chosen field, but they had not.
He found that politics and family connections were more important, and that his deep devotion to his religion created jealousy among his peers. He did not deny the fact that he lacked even the most basic social skills, but to his mind genius was what mattered, not one's ability to politic. Still, they had all turned against him and conspired to deny him his dream of working with Dr. Khan.
He'd still held out hope that his personal relationship with Dr. Khan would carry the day, but those hopes died the day General Musharraf and his band of military officers seized power in a bloodless coup. Musharraf was a secular pig and a lapdog of the Americans. Bowing to pressure from his patrons, Musharraf set about to cleanse true believers from the Pakistani nuclear scientific community.
Zubair had been one of the first to go, exiled to the dreadful Chasnupp nuclear power plant in Central Pakistan, where he was worked like a dog seventy, sometimes eighty hours a week. With his dreams dashed he grew increasingly bitter. He was near his breaking point when providence intervened. A messenger from Allah traveled to the remote region for the sole purpose of contacting him. He was leaving his ramshackle mosque one Friday afternoon when the robed visitor had come to him as if he were the angel Gabriel himself. Allah had a mission of great importance for Zubair, and he was to leave with the stranger immediately.
It had been the beginning of a pilgrimage that had taken him to Iran and the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan, and a poisonous desert, and then on to Southeast Asia, Australia, and now America. He was not a worldly man, but as with all of the difficulties in his life, the stresses of travel had brought him closer to Allah. He had witnessed firsthand the decadence of the secular world, and it comforted him that his cause was just.
The plane rolled to a stop, and almost instantly Zubair felt the resumption of his stomach's volcanic action. A film of sweat appeared on his forehead and upper lip. The scientist mopped his brow and then his upper lip with a handkerchief. He felt naked without his mustache, but they had made him shave that also. They wanted him to assimilate, to blend in as much as possible. His hair was cut short and styled for the first time in his life. His glasses had been replaced with contacts, and they had purchased for him a new set of clothes and expensive Tumi luggage in Australia.
The passengers began standing, opening compartments and gathering their things. Afraid to move and give away his nervousness, Zubair was in no hurry. Once most of the other passengers were gone, he retrieved his computer bag and made his way down the narrow stairs to the main body of the plane. He half expected to see a group of men in suits waiting for him, but thankfully there were none. He'd been warned that the Americans had gotten much better at intercepting people who were trying to illegally enter their country.
Two female flight attendants with whorish makeup and skirts that were far too short stood by the door. They thanked him for flying Qantas. Despite what his trainers had told him, Zubair ignored the women, refusing to look them in the eye. Fortunately for him his diminutive stature made him seem shy rather than hostile. Zubair was just five and a half feet tall, and weighed a svelte 142 pounds. With his mustache shaved he easily passed for someone five to ten ye
He stepped into the Jetway, joining the stampede for baggage claim and customs and sandwiched between the business-class and economy customers. The stress of the situation and the heat of the enclosed Jetway triggered the scientist's sweat glands, sending them into overdrive. Within seconds salty perspiration dampened every inch of his skin.
Zubair felt trapped, as if he was on a conveyor belt headed toward his own execution. There was no turning back. Passengers continued to pour off the plane, pushing forward, moving through the confined tunnel toward U.S. Customs agents who would ask probing questions. Zubair suddenly wished he had taken the sedative that they had given him to calm his nerves. He had thrown the pills away at the Sydney airport. Allah would never approve of him taking a mood-altering drug. Now he desperately wished he'd kept the little pills, just to get him through this part.
They left the Jetway and at least for a moment things got better. The extra space and cooler air of the terminal felt less confining. The stampede of people continued down a set of stairs to a boxed-in area where they began to cue up in multiple lines to present passports and port of entry/declaration forms to U.S. Customs agents. Zubair got in one of the lines being handled by a man. As long as he had the choice he would not deal with a woman.
When it was his turn he stepped up to the counter, his wheeled black carry-on bag in tow, and handed the agent his passport and paperwork. The man eyed the passport first, flipping through several pages to see where the visitor had been over the past few years.
"First time to America?"
"Yes," Zubair answered with his accented English.
"How long have you been an Australian citizen?"
"And your occupation?" The agent flipped through the paperwork for verification.
"I'm a computer programmer."
"Purpose of your visit?" the man asked in a no-nonsense tone.
Zubair couldn't believe his luck. So far the man hadn't even bothered to look at him. "I'm here for business."
Memorial Day by Vince Flynn / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes