Sedrick Fowler was a political party animal, the kind Thorpe detested most. Managing partner of a powerful law firm in Boston and courtier to three presidential administrations, Fowler and his connections in national politics went back forty years.
Those who knew him well called him Foul behind his back. His religion may have been liberal, but he didn’t slum in the wards with the unwashed masses.
His law firm had a long list of billionaires and gold-plated corporate clients. Between stints doing good works in government, and for a substantial fee, he could get regulatory agencies to bend and the IRS to genuflect. The mere mention of his name could seal an international trade deal and give your company a generational monopoly on government contracts. The by-product of all this nuclear influence was a radioactive amount of political cash. It fueled the revolving door to power, kept the donkey greased between campaigns, and fed the illusion of the party of the poor, money available for Foul’s friends and benefactors.
To Thorpe he was just a high-class fixer and bagman. But for the moment, none of that mattered. Fowler was now the gatekeeper, and there was no way to get around him. He was hardwired into the White House as the president’s chief of staff. He had Thorpe on a string like a yo-yo coming and going from meetings, railing at the bureau, and demanding to know why they couldn’t find the two NASA scientists. Now one of them was dead, and Thorpe had questions of his own.
He had requested this morning’s audience and thought they would be meeting alone. Instead Fowler had invited Henry Janda, a four-star army general and director of the National Security Agency. NSA was the government’s master code breaker. It was their job to gather signals intelligence, to listen in and read the communications of others, and to make sure they weren’t doing the same to us.
“Have a seat. I don’t have much time. I apologize for the hour, but it was the only time I could build you into my schedule.”
It was six o’clock in the morning. Much of the West Wing was still dark.
“I appreciate your seeing me on short notice,” said Thorpe.
Fowler looked up at Thorpe from behind his big desk. “You know General Janda.”
The two men exchanged tight smiles. The fact that the FBI was out of the information loop on critical details involving Project Thor had strained the relationship between the two agencies.
“You called the meeting. I assume you have something for us.” Fowler leaned forward in his chair and put his beady eyes on Thorpe.
“We have a lead. We’re checking it out. We’ll know more in a few hours.”
“You found Leffort?”
“Not yet,” said Thorpe. “But we may be getting closer.”
“Where is he?”
“If the information pans out, he may be in Mexico,” said Thorpe.
Fowler leaned back in his chair and shot a glance at General Janda. “What the hell’s he doing there?”
Janda shook his head.
“How good is this information?” said Fowler.
“We think it’s solid. It would help if we knew more,” said Thorpe.
“Where in Mexico?” Fowler ignored the appeal for information.
“That’s what we’re working on,” said Thorpe. “In the meantime, it might help a great deal if we knew who the other man was, the one who’s dead. Raji Fareed?”
The darting look in Fowler’s eyes as he glanced at Janda told Thorpe what he needed to know. This was one of the items they weren’t talking about.
“He worked for NASA,” said Fowler.
“It looks as if he was also working for somebody else,” said Thorpe.
“What do you mean?” Janda couldn’t resist.
“It seems that he was keeping notes,” said Thorpe.
“What did you find?” Fowler nearly came across the desk.
“We didn’t find anything. Not yet. But someone else did.”
“We intercepted some communications.” Thorpe looked at Janda as if to drive home the point; mess on our turf and we’ll crap on yours. “According to the information, your man Fareed was equipped with some fairly sophisticated computer media, a concealed micro flash drive in a pair of glasses. Not something you could whip up yourself. From what we’re told, this device would require the expertise of a pretty sophisticated spy shop, and not the kind you find in your local mall. It works remotely and has enough storage capacity to hold most of the secrets of the Western world, and then some.”
“Do you know what’s on it?” said Fowler.
“What was characterized as machine language by the person who found it. Computer software, as well as some notes written in plain English by Fareed indicating very clearly that he was working with someone else, somebody for whom he was writing these notes.”
“Who?” said Janda.
“We don’t know,” said Thorpe. “But I thought perhaps you or Mr. Fowler here could enlighten us. It might help if we knew what we were up against.”
“This flash drive, do you know where it is?” said Fowler.
“We’re looking for it now.”
“Who has it?”
“We hope to know more in a few hours.” Thorpe put him off. He wasn’t about to give him Madriani’s name or to oversell what the lawyer had said on the phone to his investigator until Thorpe knew more. “Bureau agents are about to descend on the other party to these communications shortly. We should have more information then.”
Thorpe had left instructions for agents to question Herman Diggs at the FBI safe house and to find out where in Mexico Madriani was headed. The two men had used cryptic terms to describe the location. Apparently Madriani and Diggs were familiar with the area because both of them had been there on business some years earlier. Madriani must have assumed that the FBI was listening. He fed in all the details he could about the flash drive and what was on it but skirted the question of where he and his companions were going, perhaps out of fear that the bureau might have Mexican authorities find and detain them once they arrived. For the moment the only one who knew that was Herman Diggs.
Adin rented a van, and he and Herman sat up front. Sarah and the dog shared the jump seat in the back. There were twelve large sealed cardboard boxes behind her, each one with a label on it in a language Sarah couldn’t read. She had warned Adin that it was impossible to book the dog on a flight to Mexico. Even if they could get him on the plane, Mexican customs would quarantine him the minute they arrived.
He told her not to worry about it. He would take care of the dog. They couldn’t leave him behind. There was no one left in the condo to take care of him. She could have called her uncle in Ohio, but Adin wasn’t allowing any phone calls out. The minute word got out they were planning on leaving, the FBI would be camped outside the door. Adin seemed to know what he was doing. Somehow he had looped one of the security cameras at the rear entrance so that nothing showed on the monitor at the front desk when they walked out. His only hitch, the one thing he hadn’t planned on, was Herman, who was now playing hardball.
Sarah knew that her father was in Mexico, but she didn’t know where. The details he had discussed with Herman, and Herman wasn’t talking, not until they got to Mexico. The thought that Paul and Harry were in trouble was enough to get him moving.
And Adin didn’t have time to argue. From all appearances, he was on some kind of a schedule, though neither Herman nor Sarah knew what it was.
He tried to leave Sarah behind, but she was having none of it. She told him he would have to tie her up and shoot the dog; otherwise, the second he walked out she would call the front desk and have him arrested. If he tied her and gagged her and left the dog, she would make enough noise that Bugsy would bark and wake the entire floor. Sarah suspected that tying her up wasn’t a problem, shooting the dog was. Whatever, it worked.
“I take it we’re not going out of Dulles,” said Herman. The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon as they headed south down I-95. “If you are, you’re goin’ the wrong way.”
“You’re right,” said Adin. “Relax, we have a little ride ahead of us.”
“Do you mind telling us where we’re going? I assume you’re not gonna drive to Mexico.”
“We’re going to Hampton in Virginia, Langley Air Force Base.”
“Why there?” said Herman.
“To catch a plane.”
“I don’t get it. You want to avoid the government, yet you’re going to try and fly out of a military base?” said Sarah.
“Except for the two of you and the dog, it would have been a piece of cake,” said Adin. “Those boxes back there were my ticket to fly. They are documents under the seal of the Israeli embassy here in Washington. Call it a diplomatic pouch. I am carrying courier credentials from the embassy. There is a tarp back there. I hadn’t planned for this, but you, Herman, and the dog are going to have to get under that tarp and remain still until we get through the gate. It should work. I did a dry run yesterday, and the guards at the gate didn’t bother to open the van or check the boxes. They know they can’t open them, so they just looked through the driver’s-side window and counted them. They signed off on the lading and let me through. When I left ten minutes later, they figured the van was empty. They do that again today, we’re home free.”
“What about the plane?” said Herman.
“It’s taken care of,” said Adin. “An Israeli Air Force KC-130 will be waiting for us. It’s a flying gas tank, used for aerial refueling. It has the range to reach Europe, North Africa, or, for that matter, South America. I hope we’re not going that far?” He looked at Herman who wasn’t saying anything. “When we get to the side of the plane, you’ll be loaded aboard with the freight. Don’t move until I tell you. When I do, move fast. There’s a ramp at the rear of the plane under the belly. It will be down. Get up the ramp as fast as you can. There won’t be much room inside. The cargo area is taken up by two large stainless-steel fuel tanks. There is also a very large wooden cargo crate up front. Don’t go near it! You will have to move between the two tanks up toward the front of the plane. Get in front of the tanks and stay there. Make sure you can’t be seen from the open cargo ramp. And don’t go up into the crew compartment until I get on board. We don’t want any of the military guards to see you moving around in there. They may stop the flight and decide to search it. Any questions?”
“No,” said Herman.
“Sarah, do you copy?”
“Can you handle the dog? You’re going to have to keep him on a tight leash. If he gets loose and takes off, we’re dead.”
“I can do it,” said Sarah.
“If you want me to take him, I can,” said Adin.
“I assume you have other things to do,” said Sarah.
“I’ll be trying to keep the air force loadmaster busy while you guys get on board. After you’re on, we’ll bring the boxes.”
“Just out of curiosity,” said Herman. “What’s in them?”
“Nothing. Blank paper and binders,” said Adin.
“So the flight is just to get you down to Mexico?” said Herman.
“That and a few other things,” said Adin. “I’ll tell you more when we get in the air.”
Israeli intelligence had known for some time that Bruno Croleva was hired by the Iranian Foreign Intelligence Service to perform logistics on the final theft of Project Thor.
The Mossad took one of Bruno’s people and sweated him for information. Isolated and confused, sleep deprived and tormented, over a period of days the man was reduced to a pitiable set of basic human requirements, all of which were rationed out by those questioning him. They soon learned that Bruno had decided to make an offer to a man named Liquida, someone with connections to the Mexican drug cartels to join him on Project Thor. The man didn’t know if the Mexican had accepted, but the offer was generous and the assumption was that he would.
In the meantime, Bruno had disappeared. They had to assume that he had gone to ground in preparation for the mission.
Adin had been planted at the FBI to gather information on U.S. surveillance surrounding Thor. The Israelis had assumed that the bureau would be the lead agency on counterespionage efforts surrounding the program. What he discovered was that the FBI knew nothing of the project. The Mossad was about to break off Adin’s assignment and bring him home when he picked up rumors of an attack by a man named Liquida on a woman named Sarah Madriani. They sent him back to work, and within days Adin discovered that the bureau was using Madriani’s father as bait to lure Liquida into the open.
Adin had no idea of the connection between Madriani and Liquida. What’s more, he didn’t care. All that mattered was following the food chain: Madriani to Liquida, Liquida to Bruno. Adin could only hope and pray that he was getting close, and that he had enough time.