Chapter Twenty-Eight

Homa Hotel

51 Khodami Street, Vanak Square

Tehran, Iran

June 15, 9:14 a.m.

Violin nibbled a callus on her thumb while she waited for her mother to call. Oracle had forwarded her urgent request, but Lilith was always handling urgent requests. Especially now that the Red Order was so aggressively active here in Tehran. The mosque bombing, the assassinations… so many things impacted Arklight.

When her phone rang Violin jumped and dropped her cell but she darted out a hand and caught it before it struck the floor. Bad nerves, good reflexes, she thought as she punched the button. Story of my life.

“Hello, Mother.”

“I was in an important meeting, girl,” growled Lilith. “There had better be a good reason.”

No hello, no inquiry about her safety. Another part of the story of her life.

“I know you probably haven’t had time to read my field report,” began Violin, “but the mission was scrubbed.”

“By you?”

“By the client.” Violin waited for a reply, got none, so she took a breath and plunged in. “You were correct, Mother, Rasouli was looking to hire an independent hitter, but we were wrong about the target. Rasouli wasn’t gunning for Charles LaRoque.”

“Who was the target?”

“President Ahmadinejad.”

“ What? ”

“It wasn’t a kill. He wanted a near miss. Something to scare him and shake things up.”

Iran was involved in a very discreet internal war between Ahmadinejad and Rasouli. In public they were friends, happy and smiling for the press, always shaking hands, clearly men with a shared agenda. In truth Ahmadinejad was losing favor and losing ground and was trying to repair his position by removing key political opponents. A near assassination might wipe the smug smile off of Ahmadinejad’s face, and do so publicly. If the president showed fear-and there would be hundreds of press cameras to record every expression that crossed his face-the perceived weakness would greatly strengthen Rasouli’s position.

Lilith grunted. “What do you infer from that?”

Her mother was not asking for advice or an opinion; this was a test. It was always like that with her.

“There are two clear possibilities,” said Violin, who had been preparing her answer since Rasouli contacted her. “Both possibilities are tied to Rasouli’s political aspirations and to the offer made to him by LaRoque.”

“Tell me.”

“The first is that Rasouli is going to accept the position of Murshid and sign the Holy Agreement with LaRoque and the Red Order. Ordering a hit on Ahmadinejad would be a demonstration of his commitment. Also, he’s been very vocal in denouncing the mosque bombing and the spate of assassinations. By now he must know that the Red Order is behind all of that, and yet he hasn’t said anything. That in itself could be a message to LaRoque and the Order that he can keep their secrets.”

“And the other possibility?”

“If Rasouli is not going to sign the Agreement, then it’s likely he was going to use the bungled assassination attempt to begin the process of exposing the Red Order to the world. He would need to do this in a big way-so big, in fact, that LaRoque would not dare to have him killed. Exposing the Order could be orchestrated into a rallying cry to unite all of Islam against the West. Pretty easily, too. It would emasculate European power in the Middle East, and by association irreparably damage the United States. And it would give religion itself a shot in the arm if Rasouli exposed who and moreover what the Red Knights are. The Catholic Church, the Upierczi, the Inquisition… that could spark a true jihad that would put Catholicism and probably all Christians in the crosshairs. Islam has never been truly unified against the west, but this could do just that.”

Lilith made a small sound that might have held an ounce of approval. “Which scenario do you think is most likely?”

“I don’t know,” admitted Violin, though she hated to show uncertainty. “The first serves Rasouli directly, and his profile paints him as severely ambitious. The second would make him a hero of Islam, and although that would give him more power, it would tie him more securely to the ayatollahs. Rasouli would be a hero of the faith, and he’d have to live that role. His psych profile, however, suggests that his personal faith is more political than actual. He’s never a fundamentalist unless the cameras are rolling.” She took a breath. “We need more information before we can decide how he’s playing this.”

“Yes.”

“We do have some new information that might give us a fresh perspective,” continued Violin. “When Rasouli scrubbed the hit on Ahmadinejad, he offered me a bonus to provide security for a meeting with an American agent.”

She told her mother about the meeting in the coffee shop and about trailing Captain Ledger to his hotel.

Lilith was silent for a while and Violin could almost hear the wheels turning. It had taken Arklight seventeen months of careful work to get the right credentials in place for Violin’s team of shooters to be considered “first choice” for quiet political hits. It meant actually doing some hits, though luckily none of them had been saints. Far from it.

“I… ran a search with Oracle on Ledger,” ventured Violin. “In case he was a traitor or a suspected agent of the Red Order.”

“And-?”

“He works for St. Germaine.”

She heard a sound that sounded like a gasp; but that was impossible. Mother was far too controlled, too cold, to have such a human reaction.

“Mother-?” she prompted gently.

“Follow Ledger,” barked Lilith. “Find out what Rasouli gave him and what he knows. I don’t care how you do it, you find out.”

Before Violin could say another word the line went dead.

Violin stared at the device for several seconds, totally confused by her mother’s reaction. She set the phone down as gingerly as if it were a sleeping scorpion. Then she bent to her sniper scope and studied Joseph Ledger with intensified interest.

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