Abu Qasim flew into New York’s JFK Airport just like the tens of thousands of passengers who arrive from all over the world every day.
If the FBI were waiting, he told himself, they would be in the terminal as he exited the jetway. They weren’t. He walked along as if he were being watched, because he might have been. He tried to show ordinary curiosity, not too much, not too little. After all, this was supposed to be his first visit to the country.
Qasim queued in an immigration line and casually glanced around, just to see if anyone was paying any attention to him. No one made eye contact with him. The clerk at the desk ahead ignored him.
All around were Americans returning from abroad, some with children, and people from every corner of the earth. Behind him some English visitors were plotting a shopping strike on Manhattan.
When his turn came, the clerk glanced at his immigration form — he was here on business, he said — and ran the passport he had purchased from Surkov through the scanner. The clerk, a woman, unwrapped a stick of gum and popped it in her mouth as she waited for the computer to decide if he was on a wanted list. Or if his passport was a fake.
Abu Qasim kept breathing regularly, trying to look bored. Then she stamped the passport and handed it back. “Have a nice visit,” she said perfunctorily and motioned to the next person in line.
His luggage was on the carousel. He retrieved it and joined the customs line. He had nothing to declare, he told the agent when he passed him the form. The agent pawed lightly through his stuff, then closed the top of the suitcase and scribbled something on the form. Abu Qasim was waved on.
On the other hand, he reflected, perhaps the FBI was trying a finesse. Perhaps he would be followed until he revealed members of his network, then arrested.
He went outside and got in the line waiting for a taxi. Night had already arrived, and the temperature was in the low forties with a breeze. A light rain was falling. Traffic at the airport was unbelievably bad.
So many cars… so many infidels, white, black, brown and yellow, the women brazen and wearing suggestive clothes, talking loudly. He had been to New York many times before, but each visit was a shock to his nervous system. One woman jostled him and said, “Sorry, honey.”
Abu Qasim rode into Manhattan with a driver from Pakistan who ignored him. This was fine with Abu Qasim, who had no desire to reveal his knowledge of languages. This man might be in the pay of the FBI.
He gave the man a three-dollar tip when they arrived at Pennsylvania Station. Not too much, not too little, so the man would have difficulty remembering him if someone asked about him a few days from now.
At Pennsylvania Station Qasim bought a twenty-dollar subway pass at a machine, then went through the turnstile carrying his bag. He rode the subway north into the Bronx, got off and went into an alley.
When he came out, he was no longer wearing his suit and tie but was in jeans, a short coat and a cheap baseball cap with no logo. He left the suitcase in the Dumpster behind which he had changed. Someone would grab it, he hoped, and soon. If the authorities had placed a beacon in the bag, they could chase it wherever.
He reboarded the subway and rode it under the streets of Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn until almost eleven that night. At one point he exited the station, then walked to the next station,’ where he got on another train that took him back into the heart of the city.
When he was absolutely satisfied that no one was following him, Qasim got off the subway in Brooklyn and walked a half mile through the rain to a row house. He checked the number, knocked on the door and was admitted. When the door closed behind him, the man there embraced him.
“Ah, you arrive! Allah be praised. Did anyone follow you?”
This question annoyed Qasim. Of course no one followed or he wouldn’t be here, but he kept his good humor and answered politely.
“You must be hungry,” his host said. “Let us pray, then eat.”
The host went by the name of Salah al-Irani in the movement; this was, of course, not his real name. During dinner they were joined by four young men from the host’s mosque, and the host, an Iranian, entertained them all with his taxi-driving adventures. He had been in the United States for four years and had saved enough money to have his son join him. Allah be praised.
Proud that his house should be graced by such an important man as Abu Qasim, al-Irani talked loudly about the importance of Arab nationalism, which had been impeded, he said, by Western influence. Jihad was the weapon whereby foreign influences would be defeated — and Israel destroyed — and a great Arab nation created, an Islamic nation, of course. After delivering himself of several impassioned statements in this regard, he then took pains to impress upon his guest the extent of his temporal prosperity, which derived from his vast competence at driving a taxi in this rich nation, the United States.
If Abu Qasim thought the conflict between his statements ironic, he gave no sign. He well knew that many Arabs thought agreement on lofty principals was real progress. And, after all, in this world a man must eat.
When dinner was over, the four young men from the mosque left after voicing their fealty to jihad, leaving al-Irani alone with Qasim.
“I have heard of the deaths of Abdul-Zarah Mohammed and the others.”
“Sheikh al-Taji in London. They killed him, too.”
“No doubt, but the enemies of Allah are many and strong. I have come to seek vengeance against our enemies, who are here, in America.”
“What can we do to help?” Salah al-Irani asked softly.
After breakfast at Grafton’s condo, Jake motioned to Marisa, who followed him into the den. He closed the door and motioned to a seat.
He dragged a chair around to face her. “It’s time,” he said, “to level with me.”
Marisa’s expression didn’t change. “I have told you the truth.”
“What did Abu Qasim tell you to do?”
“He has told me nothing.”
“He made you a promise,” Grafton said, looking straight into her eyes.
She didn’t reply.
“Do you really think he’ll keep it?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“If you don’t tell me the truth — and all of it — you are actually helping him. Do you understand that?”
“I have told you all I know.” She met his gaze levelly.
“I hope so. If people die because you didn’t, you are the one who has to live with it.”
When she didn’t respond, he rose from the chair and went to the door. He held it open.
After Marisa walked out, he brought in Isolde Petrou.
“Madame, the time has come for you to tell me all you know … or suspect.”
“Mon amiral, you flatter me.”
“Oh, no. Marisa has talked to you. I think she knows more than she has told me.”
Madame Petrou sighed. “Marisa is a woman with deep wounds, as you know. I think she has told you more than she has told me. But whatever the case might be, I believe she has told you all she knows. Or all she wishes to admit she knows, even to herself.”
After Grafton had thought about that one, he said, “I would like for you and Marisa to accompany me to Winchester’s house in Connecticut. We’ll leave in an hour or so and stay there until Abu Qasim is caught or dead.”
The French lady cocked her head slightly to one side, as if sizing him up for the first time. “You have not impressed me with your competence, Admiral.”
“If you have any suggestions, please make them.” ‘
“This Carmellini — he is obviously in love with Marisa, and—“
“I doubt that,” Grafton said, interrupting.
“I know about these things, Admiral. I have eyes and I am French. He is not warrior enough.”
“And Qasim? Do you know him? Ever met him? Seen him?”
“I only know what Marisa has told me, as you do. And I have seen his victims. He is vicious, ruthless, and enjoys what he does.”
Grafton watched her facial expressions as she spoke.
“I think you are very clever, Admiral. Carmellini is brave and bold and tough, but not clever.”
Jake Grafton just nodded.
“Qasim is full of hate,” Isolde said. “You aren’t.”
Jake Grafton had had enough. As he rose from his chair he said, “I’m getting there.”
Willie Varner showed up about nine that morning. I couldn’t believe it when I opened the door — he looked as if he’d been sleeping in alleys for about ten years. He even smelled. “Oh, Lord,” I said.
“Paid a guy twenty bucks for these,” Willie told me. “He thought I was crazy.”
“I think so, too.”
I took him to the den so Grafton could admire his transformation. After he oohed and aahed, the admiral gave Willie a little radio. The mike went on his clothes — I had to get close to pin it on — and the earpiece went in his left ear. There were no wires. The electronics that made this thing work were in a little box that went in one of Willie’s pockets.
We both talked on the radios a bit, just testing them; then Grafton gave Willie some spare batteries, which he pocketed, shook his hand, and said, “Good luck — and thanks.”
Willie nodded and left. I locked the door behind him and went back to the den. Grafton had two pump shotguns lying on the couch, so I took one and loaded it with five shells containing No. 4 buckshot while he loaded the other.
“I’m counting on you,” he said.
“Bet they don’t even come,” I replied brightly.
He just glanced at me, then went off to see his wife. I sat down in one of the chairs with a shotgun on my lap.
Crazy. He was nuts and his wife was nuts and so was I. All three of us crazy as bedbugs.
After Grafton and the women left for Connecticut, I sat at the kitchen table with Callie pretending to look at the morning paper. Mostly it was SOS, the Same Old Stuff. Jack Yocke’s column was about the upcoming fund-raiser next week at the Walden Hotel in New York. His column was about politics, which I scanned without much interest. Politics is like weather — everyone talks about it, but no one can do anything about it.
I remembered the Walden Hotel, which was an old place, renovated a few years ago, with a great corner bar, a body exchange for the hip and trendy, and windows, where you could get a libation and watch pedestrians stroll the avenue if there were no thirsty young things in sight. Apparently the hotel had a big ballroom, which I had never been in.
Callie went off to her bedroom to do some reading, and I wandered the living room and den, bored silly. Maybe I should resign from the Company, get on with my life. I was making big plans about what I’d do if I quit or got fired when the doorbell rang.
With my pistol in hand, I looked through the security hole. Robin Cloyd. Just who we needed!
I put the shooter away and opened the door. “Good morning,” she chirped, then marched right in, frizzy hair and all.
When I had the door bolted again, I turned around. “What do you want?” I asked without curiosity.
“The admiral sent me over to help you.”
My expression must have showed how unlikely I thought it was that she could be of any help whatsoever, so she kicked me in the balls.
That doubled me over. She kicked me again in the side, a pretty healthy lick, and I toppled onto the floor. Being a lean, mean, fighting machine, I had the good sense to stay there. Of course, I was down to about 10 percent effectiveness just then.
“Where’d you learn to do that?” I managed between gasps.
“I was an unarmed combat instructor in the Marines,” Cloyd said airily, “back in my wilder days.”
“Glad I didn’t know you then.”
She pulled a pistol from her purse, just so I could see it. “And I know how to use this.”
Callie had bolted from the bedroom to see what the rumpus was about, and now she and Robin helped me into a chair. Then Callie led Robin by the arm off to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. “Jake said you were coming by. I’m so glad to see you.”
I waited about five minutes until the pain had eased to a dull throb before I headed for the bathroom to check for bruises. Man, was I sore!
Damn these women, anyway.
The mood was gloomy at the Winchester estate when Jake Grafton and the Petrou women arrived in midafternoon, even though the gauzy winter sun was brightly illuminating the room through the big picture windows. All the men were into the sauce, Grafton noted, which apparently had a good deal to do with it. Winchester said a perfunctory hello to the women, nodded at Grafton and poured himself another drink.
Winchester’s collie was lying on an empty chair when Grafton and the Petrou ladies came in. She leaped off the chair and came over with tail wagging to make friends. Jerry Hay Smith snarled at Grafton and ignored the women. Simon Cairnes just glowered at everyone from the sofa in front of the big television — he had CNBC on — and puffed on his cigar, almost as if he were daring someone to object to his smoking in the house.
Carrying a suitcase in each hand, Grafton led the women upstairs to locate a bedroom.
When he came back down, Winchester cornered him. “I want to know what the hell is going on.”
“Don’t we all?” Grafton tossed back.
“Seriously, what’s the damn government doing to catch those terrorist assholes? That sunuvabitch Qasim?”
“We’re working on it.”
“I’ll just bet.”
“Even while you sleep.”
“You’ll still be working on it even when we’re dead,” Smith called from behind the bar. He was apparently mixing martinis.
“We’re trapped like rats on a sinking ship,” Cairnes said nastily.
“The only bright spot is a well-stocked bar. When we get it drunk up, I’d just as soon go to prison — the company will be better.”
Grafton scrutinized each face. “Tell you what. If you three don’t behave yourself and act civil to the ladies, I’m going to pour all that liquor and wine down the sink.”
Cairnes pulled a revolver from his pocket and waved it around a little. “Just try it, sailor-boy.” He replaced the revolver in his pocket and turned his attention back to his brandy snifter.
“How do we know,” Smith called as he added olives to a glass, “that one of those Petrou women won’t poison us, like they did Jean Petrou?”
“And to think they volunteered to do the cooking,” Jake said grimly. He headed for Winchester’s private office to call Callie and the folks at Langley.
Khadr arrived that evening at JFK on a flight from Paris. Qasim was waiting outside the terminal when he wandered out pulling his suitcase. Qasim almost didn’t spot him amid the throng of people queuing up for taxis and piling into waiting cars and limos. When he did, Khadr was looking around exactly like a tourist on his first visit to America, which this was. That might be a problem, Qasim thought.
Eventually Khadr joined the taxi line. Qasim didn’t see anyone paying the least attention to him.
Finally Khadr’s turn came and he climbed into a taxi, which went trundling off into the night and was soon lost amid a sea of taillights.
Qasim went back into the parking garage and rode the elevator to the fourth deck, where his borrowed car was parked. He was waiting outside Grand Central Station when Khadr came out of the south entrance precisely at 9:00 p.m. He pulled up and got out to open the trunk. Khadr put his suitcase in and climbed into the passenger seat, and away they rolled.
“Any problems?” Qasim asked.
“I hate air travel,” Khadr said.
“Welcome to the United States.”
“That is what the pilot or flight attendant said when we landed.” Khadr flashed a mirthless grin. “That passport worked like a charm. They didn’t even search my suitcase.”
“Perhaps because they already searched it in Paris before you boarded the airplane.”
“Perhaps,” Khadr acknowledged.
“You saw the other suitcase in the trunk. We’ll stop at a filling station when we get to Brooklyn. Put your clothes in it and leave yours in the men’s room.”
Khadr nodded his understanding.
Jake Grafton went outside after dark to check on his troops. He found Harry Longworth beside the barn sitting in a foxhole with a rifle wearing a nightscope cradled on his lap. Only the top of his head was aboveground. On the edge of the hole lay a handheld night vision device. He was wearing gloves, camouflage pants, coat and hat, and lined rubber boots. A slender boom mike ran from an ear to the vicinity of his mouth.
Grafton squatted beside the hole. “Comfortable?”
“Oh, you bet. Thirty or forty degrees warmer here than the Hindu Kush. This is like a vacation.”
“I hope so. So tell me where your people are.”
“Two sleeping. Nick and I are on watch. All four of us are on in the two hours after dawn and after dark. That’s about the best we can do.”
“You got food and water and all that?”
“Bottled water and MREs, sir. Poop in a hole. We can’t risk a run to town or over to the main house.”
“Isn’t there a kitchen in that chauffeur’s apartment over the garage?”
“Maybe. We don’t want to be seen going in or out. Even at night.”
“This should be my last time coming out.”
“Those big windows in the other side of the house — someone with a rifle or grenade launcher could have a field day.”
“Nick’s over there in a hole in a big thicket, and we have some remote, wireless infrared sensors in the trees.” He showed Grafton the vibrator in his pocket that would be activated by the sensors. “Last night some neighborhood dogs set it off twice. They run through here occasionally when the guy up the road lets them out for their evening constitutional. Watch where you walk on the grass. There are also a couple of cats in the barn, and they prowl at night, too, although they haven’t yet set off a sensor.”
“How about people moving around?”
“The guy who takes care of the horses comes every morning and works in the barn and corrals and piddles with the nags until he gets tired of it and goes home. Yesterday he was here for four hours, the day before five. The gardener won’t be coming, Winchester said. And Winchester walks his collie on a leash morning and night.”
“How about the meter man?”
“Here last week. Won’t be back for a month, I’m told. Although Winchester gets his mail at the post office, the FedEx man has come every morning.”
“I pulled the circuit breakers for the outside lights before I left the house. We’ve done everything that I can think of to do.”
Jake thought about that for a moment. He couldn’t think of any other precautions that these few men could take, either. Moving the people in the house to another location would present two sets of problems: guarding them wherever he moved them and keeping an ambush team here. Keeping them here was the low-manpower option.
“What freq are you guys on?” Jake asked.
Harry told him. Jake turned his radio to that frequency, donned his headset, adjusted the volume and squelch and said a couple of words.
“Loud and clear,” Harry said. “Nick?”
“We’ll only use these if something goes down,” Harry cautioned, not using his radio. “The less we transmit, the better. If the assholes got their shit together, they got a scanner.”
“You can figure that they do.”
“I suspect so.”
Jake looked around, listened to the night. He could hear distant traffic, and once, from a long way off, the moan of a train whistle. After a bit he said, “If you hear shots inside the house, it’ll be me shooting the protectees.”
“It’s that bad, huh?”
“They’re at each other’s throats. Already. They may bolt, and unless I lash them to a bed or lock them in the basement, there isn’t much I can do about it. We’ll sit tight even if they run off. The villains may not know that they left, so something might happen anyway.”
“What about telephone communication?”
“We’re monitoring the landline. If they call someone they shouldn’t, like the police to come and rescue them, we’ll kill the circuit. We’re also monitoring their cell phone calls, but I can’t turn those off.”
“Good luck, Harry.”
“Thank you, sir,” Longworth said. He watched Jake Grafton walk back to the house.
By a few minutes after 5:00 p.m. the light had faded from the sky. Normally, of course, the grounds of the estate would be lit by decorator and security lights, but thanks to Longworth, those were off. The high, thin overcast blocked out the stars, leaving the night beyond the windows totally black. In the distance the glow of a town could be seen on the horizon, but that was about it. The big black windows in the main room looked ominous, so immediately after dinner, which Grafton and Isolde Petrou prepared, the male protectees scurried off to their bedrooms, where they all drew the blinds and drapes.
Marisa stayed to help with the dishes. When Jake had the dishwasher humming, she lingered, looking at the kitchen utensils, examining the hanging pots, scrutinizing the paintings on the wall. Grafton leaned back against the dishwasher and crossed his arms. When she again looked his way, a startled look crossed her face.
“Want to tell me about it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. You look as if you might have something to tell me.”
“No.” Marisa shook her head. “No,” she said, more definitely.
Grafton nodded, and she wandered out of the room.
He called his home, talked to Callie for a moment and asked to speak to Tommy.
When Carmellini got on the line, Grafton listed all the precautions that had been taken. “In light of all that, how would you get in?” he asked.
“If I suspected infrared detectors, I’d enter the grounds at night wearing a black thermal suit and take out the guards. Once they were out of the way, you people would be toast. Are the guys outside wearing thermal suits?”
“No. But they’re in holes.”
“Well… Your worst threat may already be in the house.”
“Marisa? I gathered the impression last night that you thought she was a nice package.”
“I meet the nicest people in my work,” Carmellini said. “That’s why I’m never going to retire.”
Jake went to the door of the kitchen, looked to ensure no one was eavesdropping, then said, “Did you search her luggage last night while she was asleep, like I asked you?”
“Yeah. Found that cell phone the customs people told you about. She had it stuffed inside a shoe in your closet.”
“You called in the number?”
“Right after you left.”
Jake grunted, then forced himself to say good-bye.
He wandered through the hallways, listening to the muffled television audio coming from each room.
And he waited.
Dinner at the Graftons’ was a somber affair. Good food, but the conversation dragged. Everyone was waiting for the bomb to blow or the gun to fire.
After dinner, I insisted on cleaning the kitchen. I was bored silly with sitting. Callie retired to her bedroom to read. As I packed the dishwasher and washed the pots and pans, I got to listen to Amy tell Robin Cloyd all about her boyfriend.
I couldn’t find a clean dish towel and was wiping my hands on my trousers when Robin spoke up. “What on earth are you doing, Tommy?”
“Going crazy,” I snarled.
Do the French still have the Foreign Legion? What’s the upper age limit, anyway?