Mustapha’s Daily Goods
June 15, 6:54 p.m.
I went downstairs and out through the back to meet Abdul Jamar. Twilight brought the cool breezes and birdsong that are the rewards for anyone who survives the blistering heat of the day. I stayed in the shadows as a three-year-old Runna X12 pulled to the curb. I noted that the dome light was rigged not to come on as he opened the door.
Abdul was dumpy little man with face like a tired accountant and glasses with thick lenses. You’d never pick him out as a dissident operative working with the CIA to overthrow Ahmadinejad, which I suppose was the point.
He looked me up and down with apparent disinterest. “Cold for this time of year,” he said.
“More like January,” I agreed.
He sighed as if the simple exchange of code words was a burden and a pain in the ass. He glanced at Ghost, who was poking his head out past my thigh.
“Friendly dog?” Abdul asked, beginning to reach out for a quick pet.
“Not today,” I said. Abdul whipped his hand back. He opened the trunk of his car and produced a zippered laptop case and a blue gym bag.
“For you,” he said to me, keeping an eye on Ghost.
I took the items and handed him a plain white envelope that I had borrowed from Jamsheed. It was sealed and folded several times around the flash drive.
“For the pouch?” Abdul asked.
“Yes. I’m not joking when I say that you need to protect that with your life.”
Abdul managed to look deeply unimpressed. Without another word he got back into his car and drove away. Charming guy.
I checked that the alley was empty and went back inside. Jamsheed was in his store, so I took my gear to the bedroom and locked the door. The briefcase and valise I’d taken from the vampire hunters were on the bed. I told Ghost to guard the door and he did so by flopping down in front of it and falling asleep.
The laptop was a DMS tactical field computer. Ultrasophisticated, hardened against EMPs, rigged with 128-bit code scramblers, with a powerful satellite uplink. I turned it on and punched in the proper passwords.
The other bag included party favors. A Beretta 9mm with a Trinity sound suppressor and four extra magazines loaded with subsonic hollow points. A nylon shoulder rig was included with a fast-draw holster, and it had slots for two of the mags. A Rapid Response Folder, which is a nifty tactical knife that clipped on to my right pants pocket and hung out of sight. A snap of the wrist flicks out a 3.375-inch blade which, though short, allowed a fighter to cut and slash at full speed with no drag at all on the arm. There were four flash-bangs and four fragmentation grenades. And a Smith amp; Wesson Airweight Centennial, a hammerless. 38 revolver in an ankle holster. As I unpacked it I could feel my body happily pumping out testosterone. If I ran into another Red Knight, it was going to be a substantially different encounter, no matter what Church or Violin thought about my chances. I felt like saying “Fuckin’ A” or “Bring the pain,” but I knew Ghost disapproved of that kind of rah-rah crap.
I strapped on the Airweight and clipped the RRF in place, then shrugged into the shoulder rig.
The computer case had a few extra goodies, including a new set of earbuds with a pocket-sized uplink booster. The receiver looked like a mole and affixed to the inside of my ear. The mike was a pale freckle on my upper lip. The technology is a couple of giant steps ahead of what’s in all of the holiday catalogs for the covert-ops community. Mr. Church has a friend in the industry, and he always has the coolest stuff.
There was also a smaller zippered case containing a complete toolkit useful for everything from rewiring a toaster to, for example, de-arming a booby-trapped briefcase.
Back when I was a cop, we had specialists to come in and do this sort of thing. They were very brave men and women who had jobs I never envied. In the Rangers I had some basic bomb-handling courses, but it wasn’t until I began working for the DMS that I learned how to do this sort of thing for real.
It did occur to me-now, I mean-that it would have been more practical to have searched the cars and then asked Krystos for the combination before I shot him. Can’t unring a bell, though.
I took the toolkit and the briefcase into the bathroom and closed the door.
I removed a tiny electronics detector and ran it over the case. As expected, the locks were wired. The question now was whether they had a simple intrusion trigger or a dead-man’s fail-safe. I ran the scanner over every inch of the case and matched the readings against the unit’s stored records of over three thousand trigger variations. The reading was not one hundred percent, but it was weighted heavily toward the locks being simple antitheft. They’d blow if the wrong combination was entered too many times on the coded touch pad, or if the locks were tampered with.
However, when I ran the scanner over the front and back of the case there was no electronic signature. I smiled a larcenous little smile and set the case on the closed lid of the toilet seat and pulled my RRF. The blade flicked into place with hardly a sound, and I took a breath and then stabbed the case. Not all the way through, only enough to cut through the side, then I sawed a line through the leather and compressed cardboard. Nothing blew up.
“Amateurs,” I sneered.
This sort of thing was typical of people who didn’t quite grasp the philosophy of security. These are the kinds of people who will spend ten thousand dollars on security alarms and locks for every door and window on the first floor and completely ignore the windows on the second or third floor. Crooks count on that kind of thinking.
So do guys like me.
I cut a rectangular piece out of the center of the case, making sure to stay well clear of the locks and the trip wires; then I lifted out the panel and tossed it into the trash can. The resulting hole revealed several file folders and a few assorted items. A pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Passports for each of the people I’d killed at the CIA safe house, and IDs for four more men whom I had not seen.
I set those aside and removed the folders and flipped open the top one. There was a sheaf of documents held together with a clunky metal clip. I removed the clip and put it in my shirt pocket. The top sheet had an official seal that matched the tattoo on Krystos’s arm. The seal of the Holy Inquisition. The content of the letter and all of the attached papers were written in Greek. I can speak a little of the language, but I can’t read a word of it.
It was a speed bump but not a dead end. The field computer had a detachable wand scanner. I ran it over every page in the top folder and set it aside. The second folder had more of the same, as did the third. It wasn’t until I opened the fourth folder that I realized that I had found something that literally took my breath away.
Beneath the same sort of official-looking cover letter was a series of eight-by-ten glossy surveillance photos of me, Top, Bunny, Khalid, Lydia, and John Smith. On the back of each was a handwritten note in English that included a brief physical description and a summary of our military or police training.
I recognized the handwriting. I’d seen it a million times on reports from Terror Town and on evaluations of potential staff members being vetted for top secret clearance.
“Shit,” I said aloud.
There was more, and it was worse. Much worse. A thick sheaf of printed pages held together by a heavy binder clip. I stared at the information on the lists and felt an icy hand punch through my chest and close its fingers around my heart.
I dropped everything and called Church right away.
The Kingdom of Shadows
Beneath the Sands
April 1231 C.E.
Sister Sophia clutched at the tatters of her habit, pulling them to her to try to hide her nakedness. It was a hopeless task. Her clothes were little more than streamers of black and white. Grimed with dirt and filth, caked with blood.
A metal grate in the iron door clanged open and a pale hand shoved in a bundle wrapped in cloth and a leather pitcher. Immediately she could smell bread and cooked meat. The grate slammed shut and she listened to hear the soft footsteps fade into silence. Then Sophia sobbed and crawled across the floor toward the food and tore open the bundle. A small loaf of coarse black bread and a leg of something-she could not tell what animal it had come from. The meat was bloody raw inside and charred outside, but it was the first food they had given her in three days. She wept hysterically as she tore at it with her teeth.
After she’d eaten as much of the meat as she could stomach, she drank from the pitcher. The water was cold but it smelled of sulfur. Then she sagged back, once more trying to hide herself with her rags. It did not matter that there was no one there to see her uncovered skin. She was ashamed in the eyes of God. Ashamed for what she had become.
She closed her eyes and prayed to Mary, to Jesus, to the angels and saints. Not for rescue-Sister Sophia did not believe that she could be rescued. No, she prayed for death. If it were not a mortal sin she would have taken her own life, or at least tried. She contemplated smashing her head against the rocks, or taking her rags and making a rope of them.
But that would be suicide, and she would slide further down into the pit if she did that, her soul lost and unredeemable.
And… worse still, it would be murder.
She could not bear to touch her stomach, but she could feel it growing, day by day.
In the other cells along the hall, she could hear babies crying. She could hear the mothers. Some crying, others praying. A few cackling in nonsensical words, their minds broken by the horrors.
“Mother Mary,” she prayed, “please…”
Inside her womb, her baby kicked.
It was sharp and sudden. Vicious. But what else would it be? How could she expect anything but that from a child of a monster?