Back at the airport in Playa del Carmen, I question the pilot as to exactly what he saw during his single flyover of the facility.
It has been several months, and he can’t recall all the details with precision. From what he remembered seeing, the area was fenced off and there appeared to be some fixed guns, though he can’t recall their precise location. He was scared, trying to maneuver the small ultralight to dodge the bullets.
What he remembers most was the large satellite dish. “I almost flew into it,” he tells me. “It was very big. Bigger than this building.” He is talking about the hangar in which we are standing.
“No, I swear it,” he says.
Harry is looking at him as if it’s a fish story.
“It saved my life.”
“Why do you say that?” says Harry.
“Because when I flew toward it, they stopped firing. I realized they didn’t want to hit it. So I kept going. But sooner or later I had to go around it or over it. That’s when I realized how big it was. It sat on top of its own building,” he says.
“That would have to be a commercial broadcasting dish,” says Harry. “What would they be doing with that?”
“I don’t know.”
We decide to stay the night at a motel on the coast in Playa del Carmen. We now know how far the distance is to the location of the facility. As the crow flies not far, by car perhaps an hour.
“So what do we do?” says Harry. “Let’s assume your man is right, that what he says is up that road is there. I’d say we’re at an end.” Over dinner at a small restaurant overlooking the beach we talk.
“I think we need to know for sure,” I tell him.
“When are you going to know for sure, when they shoot you?” says Harry.
“What if we call Thorpe and try and get him to bring in the Mexican police and all they find is some narco lab, or worse, what if it’s a Mexican government facility? It could be a prison for all we know.”
“With that kind of a dish,” says Harry, “I doubt it.”
“Maybe it’s a defense facility of some kind. What then? They’ll scoop us up and send us home and that’s the end of it. Liquida will be gone until he comes back to hunt us on his own terms. Everything we’ve done to this point will have been for nothing.”
“You heard what the man said,” says Harry. “They fired at him with antiaircraft weapons.”
“The Mexican government might do that if you overfly an area that’s restricted. The pilot has no idea what it was. He was assuming it had to do with one of the cartels. He may be right.”
“I’m sorry, but I think we ought to call Thorpe,” says Harry. “How about you?” He looks to Joselyn for a second.
“I don’t know. I don’t mind admitting I’m scared.”
“There. See?” says Harry.
“But Paul’s right about one thing. We’re only going to get one bite at this. I think we need to be sure of our information before we call Thorpe.”
“How do we do that, walk up and knock on the front door?” says Harry.
“I think if we can get in close enough, we’ll know. How big would you say that hangar was we were standing in?” I ask him.
“I don’t know,” says Harry.
“It had to be at least a hundred feet wide and almost as deep.”
“Bigger than that,” says Joselyn.
“If he’s right, that’s one hell of a satellite dish,” I tell Harry.
“Let’s call Thorpe and tell him about it,” says Harry.
“Not until we see it,” I tell him.
“It would be good if we could send him a picture,” says Joselyn. “Tell him the location. He would have access to satellite intelligence. A good analyst with high-quality photographs might be able to tell what that dish is for.”
“See, women are smarter than men,” I tell Harry.
“Not if survival counts for anything,” he says.
“Have another glass of wine,” she tells him.
“What do you mean, they’re gone?” Thorpe shouted into the phone.
The agent on the other end swallowed hard. “We rang the bell and nobody answered. We got the front desk to let us in and the unit’s empty. They left some of their clothes, but the girl and the one you wanted us to talk to, this Herman Diggs, both gone.”
“You checked the building?” said Thorpe.
“Top to bottom.”
“What about the security cameras?”
“We looked. There’s nothing. They didn’t leave by the front door. We know that. Video of the back door shows no movement. According to our notes, there was supposed to be a dog. It’s gone as well.”
“Where’s the kid?” asked Thorpe.
“Don’t know,” said the agent.
Thorpe cupped his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and looked at Bill Britain, who was seated across the desk from him. “Where’s Hirst?”
Britain shook his head.
“Find out if he showed up for work today,” said Thorpe.
Britain plucked his cell phone from his belt and headed out into the other room.
“Listen,” Thorpe said as he went back to the agent on the phone. “Get a key and check Hirst’s apartment. Do you have a cell number for him?”
“Give it to me,” said Thorpe.
The agent gave it to him, and Thorpe jotted it down on the notepad on his desk. “Call me the minute you get into his apartment.” Thorpe hung up. He immediately dialed the cell phone number written on the pad. It rang three times and the insipid voice came over the phone. “This is Adin. I’m away from my phone. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you.” Thorpe slammed the receiver down on the phone.
Two seconds later Britain came back in the room. He was shaking his head. “Hirst was supposed to be in a meeting at ten this morning. He never showed up,” said Britain.
“Damn it,” said Thorpe. “I knew it. We should have taken him down when we had the chance.”
“We wanted to net his handler,” said Britain.
“What happens when you get greedy,” said Thorpe.
The FBI had been aware almost from the beginning that Hirst was a plant. They knew he was no trainee. Some footwork on the part of one of the CIA’s own moles inside Israeli intelligence identified Hirst as a thirty-two-year-old Mossad agent named Yoni Shahar. He had spent eight years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a member of the elite S-13, Israel’s counterpart to America’s Delta Force. Shahar had been recruited to the Mossad and had performed a number of overseas missions. One in particular had resulted in the assassination of a high-level Iranian scientist, a nuclear physicist reputed to be working on Iran’s atomic bomb project.
“You think he knew we were onto him?” said Britain.
“You think he’s got Diggs and the girl?”
“They all disappear on the same day.” Thorpe looked at him. “What do you think?” He had promised Madriani that his daughter would be safe. Now she was gone.
“I don’t know. But he’s been hanging out at their apartment. Took her to the range. Cozied up to the dog. He wanted something. The question is, what?”
“Maybe he was lonely,” said Britain.
“Man like that doesn’t get lonely. And he doesn’t get distracted. He lives for his work.”
“It’s possible he was after the same thing we are,” said Britain.
Thorpe looked at him.
“Liquida,” said Britain. “It’s possible.”
“Liquida gets around. Maybe he killed a high-level Israeli. A contract on some VIP. The Israelis aren’t as forgiving as we are. They have a long history of tit for tat,” said Britain.
“It’s possible.” Thorpe thought for a moment. “Or maybe you’re right.”
“Maybe he is after the same thing we are,” said Thorpe.
“What do you mean?”
“What. You think…?”
“Sure. Fowler and the administration have blinded us. We don’t know what Thor is about because Fowler won’t tell us. Hirst shows up on our doorstep when-a few weeks before I get the phone call to go over to the White House. I get there, they want to play liar’s dice. What if the Israelis already knew about Thor?”
“If they already knew about it, why would they send Hirst?”
“Because they knew something we don’t. Maybe there was a piece they were missing and they thought they could get it here. Something we were supposed to know, if we were inside the loop, which we weren’t. The people who sent Hirst must have been mightily disappointed,” said Thorpe. “Because we don’t know shit.”
“If so, he picked up the threads pretty fast,” said Britain. “Hirst or Shahar or whatever the hell his name is, he’s on a better trajectory than we are. If he’s got Diggs and the girl, and Diggs knows where Madriani is. Madriani’s got a line on Liquida, and Liquida’s with Bruno. Hirst is gonna have a front-row seat to whatever is playing.”
“And we’re going to be sitting here picking our noses,” said Thorpe.
“You think he might have killed them? The girl and Diggs, I mean?” said Britain.
“No. If he extracted the information, he’d just leave them. No reason to harm them. They all left together. The girl wanted out of here anyway. She wouldn’t have been hard to convince. Madriani’s tracking Liquida. Now Hirst has his daughter. That gives him a trump card,” said Thorpe. “Madriani’s in Mexico. The question is, where? That’s where they’ll be going.”
“Let me check the airports.” Britain started to get up from his chair.
“Do it… No! On second thought, don’t.”
“Why not?” said Britain.
“Because he wouldn’t go out that way. He’s got the dog.” Thorpe looked at him. “Unless he shot him. And if he did that, he may as well shoot the girl, in which case he’ll never get anything out of Diggs. I know the man. No, if Hirst took the dog, it was because he had a way to get him out.”
“What do you mean?”
Thorpe thought about it for a moment. A boat was too slow. The only other aircraft… “Check El Al,” said Thorpe. The Israeli national airline had been known to cut corners for their government on sensitive military and political matters in the past. “Otherwise check for any MATS flights. Military air transport. Not ours, theirs,” said Thorpe. “See if there were any Israeli military flights in or out of the area around Washington since last night. If they’re still on the ground, hold them. All flights. If they’re in the air, see if the air force can pick them up on radar. If they’re over U.S. airspace, see if we can scramble fighters to bring them back.”
Britain was headed for the door.
Thorpe stood up. “And see if any of the MATS filed flight plans.” Thorpe knew it was a long shot. Hirst would never leave a flight plan behind, but maybe his pilot did. Sarah Madriani was gone. He pounded the top of his desk with a closed fist. At the moment he could have killed Fowler with his bare hands. “What in the hell is Project Thor?”