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Authors: Douglas E. Richards

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Hurwitz rolled his eyes at his
boss’s last statement. “Yeah, the pressure is definitely getting to us.”

This time it was Wortzman’s turn to smile at his own
stupidity. It had been a feeble attempt at finding a silver lining. And a
misguided one. The Mossad already seemed far too competent for its own good,
which is why they had long since perfected means to feed intel to the Americans
in ways that were either anonymous, or made it appear the Americans themselves
had discovered it.

The Mossad had already raised far too many eyebrows, had pulled
far too many rabbits out of the hat. By showing their hand here, they were sure
to attract additional unwanted attention, and further arouse the suspicions of
the Americans.

The relationship between Israel and the US,
and their respective Intelligence services, was complicated at the best of
times. And these weren’t the best of times. So a better description of the
relationship would be

Yes, the two countries were strong allies,
but US agencies had taken endless heat for their unwillingness to share
intelligence, sources, and methods with their own sister departments. And the
seventeen intelligence gathering agencies in the US were closer to each other
than mere allies, they were appendages of the very same organism. If sister
agencies refused to share with each other, Israel could hardly be blamed for
its own reluctance to do so.

“Given how severely depleted our
resources are right now,” noted Hurwitz, “it’s lucky Jafari decided to trigger
his sleeper cells when he did.”

“Very,” agreed Wortzman. “I was
just about to redeploy our meager remaining assets.” He paused. “Were you able
to listen to any of his Thousand Cuts speech on the way over here?”

“Yes. I’ll want to run some
computer simulations on his fire strategy, but my instincts tell me Jafari is
on to something, and that such an attack would be devastating. Nice to get this
removed from the board,” he
said, using an Arabic epithet that translated into
son of a whore
. “Even if we did have to show our hand.”

Hurwitz frowned. “Speaking of
which, what exactly did you tell Greg Henry?”

“I just gave him a few sentence
introduction to the crisis and then fed him the video feed from the Chicago
mosque, backed up to when Jafari was describing his death-by-fire plan. I told Henry
the footage was courtesy of an agent we had on the inside.”

“Did he ask how the hell we managed
to place an agent there while he was busy pulling on his schlong?”

“No, he was in too big of a hurry.
But he
, you’d better believe it.
Just as soon as this situation has been handled. And he’ll be asking why we’re
fielding agents on US soil without their knowledge. We have to come up with a plausible

Wortzman paused. “I told him not to
factor our man into his planning, by the way. That he had an escape route
mapped out, and would be gone before they took any action.”

“After they’ve taken out Jafari,
they’ll be wondering how our man could vanish so completely.”

Avi Wortzman nodded. “I guess we’ll
just have to be at our most creative.”

His second-in-command blew out a
long, tired breath. “
Ma nishtanah halailah
?” he mumbled under his breath, tilting his head toward the ceiling as
if beseeching an overly demanding deity. This was a well-known passage from the
Passover service that translated roughly into,
Why is this night different from all other nights?

Wortzman squinted in confusion. “I
didn’t quite catch that.”

Of course
we’ll have to outdo ourselves on this one, Avi,” he
replied with a weary shrug. “What else is new?”



Kevin Quinn gently placed the
black baseball cap he had augmented on the passenger’s seat of the Ford and
exited the vehicle once again. He would soon make a trip into town for disguise
and supplies, but he first needed to recon the shack and his surroundings.

The shack was made of wood slats
that had seen much better decades, and the coloration of the mottled structure
varied from gray to brown to rust, all displeasing to the eye. The entire
structure was about twice the size of a three-car garage, and was bereft of
windows or openings of any kind, save for a dingy door that was splintered
around the periphery and hung slightly ajar.

Quinn took a deep breath and
entered, propping the door open for better illumination.

The inside of the shack made the
outside look like
Buckingham Palace

It smelled of decay, mold, and
dirt. The floorboards were eaten away by insects and weather, and several of
the slats were broken or had gaps to the ground a foot below. Quinn had hoped
there might be something useful inside, but his hope was quickly dashed as he
glanced around. The roof had several gaping holes and the morning sunshine left
a mottling of light and dark.

A rusted-out bed frame rested
against the corner of the structure, and a torn, moldy mattress that looked
like it had been to hell and back could be found nearby. Other than this, and
the encroachment of weeds and vegetation in several places, nothing remained.

Quinn refused to conjecture as
to why the structure had been built in the first place, and by whom. It could
have been a staging area for a hunter, a place for a would-be Unabomber to
write his demented manifesto, or a butcher shop used by a long-ago mass
murderer. This didn’t matter now.

The important thing was that
with a concerted effort, Quinn wouldn’t have too much trouble fixing it up
enough to suit his needs. The structure would keep wildlife out, and with some
makeshift repairs, the roof could be made to keep weather out as well. He could
get an inflatable mattress and a battery-powered camping refrigerator, which he
could recharge using both solar power and the Ford’s battery.

He would wait a suitable length
of time and then he would take his first step. He would contact police and hospitals
in the vicinity of Davinroy’s resort, seeking reports of battered women with no
memory of how they came to be this way. Once he identified a few, he would meet
with them, reconstruct events as much as possible, and show that these
mysterious beatings all took place when Davinroy was nearby.

After that he would make a trip
to Davinroy’s resort and find his tunnel system, including entrances inside several
of the rooms, which must have been exquisitely well hidden for them to remain
undiscovered this long. He would expose this system of passageways and describe
to the media how the president had used them to beat up prostitutes, and to
torture and kill the love of his life.

He had little doubt that Davinroy
would find a way to slime out of these accusations yet again, to issue creative
explanations for the tunnel system, and contend that when he had confided their
existence to Quinn, it had fueled his growing psychosis. But even so, the revelation
of this subterranean maze and battered prostitutes would infuriate Davinroy and
raise suspicions. And some would dig deeper, possibly making additional
discoveries or raising additional questions for the president to answer.

And Quinn would keep digging. If
Nicole had found exposed threads, he would also. No matter how microscopic they
were, he would pull at them relentlessly until Davinroy’s ball of deceit and
atrocity was completely unraveled.

And he would have all the time
he needed up here on
horrid-shack hill
Or maybe horrid-shack
, since
he was either on a very large hill, or a very small mountain. There were only two
paved roads that led anywhere near this location, and only one road, unpaved,
that led to the summit. The best off-road vehicles might make the trip, but not
without difficulty, and not without advertising their presence.

There was an expanse of un-forested
ground at the summit, all to the north side of the shed, but the terrain was strewn
with enough large rocks, fallen tree branches, and thick vegetation to make landing
a helo right next to the shed impossible. A sneak attack on foot might take him
by surprise, but once he added a few cameras and sensors at strategic locations,
this, too, would become impossible.

An assault force could rappel
from helos, but Quinn could always escape into the woods on the south side,
which the shack abutted, if this were to occur. Later today he would set up
some booby traps around his perimeter, and steal an all-terrain motorcycle,
which he would hide nearby in the woods. He would then plot out a foolproof
escape route in the unlikely event the authorities ever did come for him here.

He had neglected to plan for
failure at the Garza fundraiser, but he was proud of the moves he had made
since. As long as he remained careful, he could use this mountain, and this
shack, as his base of operations for
if he had to, without anyone being the wiser.

A floorboard creaked behind him,
causing his heart to jump to his throat.

He wheeled around, raising his gun
as he did so, but he was too late. Two men were behind him, both with guns already
extended in his direction.

“Don’t move!” commanded the taller
of the two. “Drop the gun! Hands in the air!”

Quinn did as instructed.

On second thought, he decided, it
was possible that his assessment of how long he could remain here without being
discovered was just a




“Erge,” said DHS Secretary Greg
Henry the moment he ended the connection with Wortzman, panic in his voice. “I
need you to set up a
priority alpha
. Attendees are
me, President Davinroy, and Deputy Secretary O’Malley. Get Davinroy first, and
don’t wait for O’Malley.”

“Working to establish vid-meet
now,” replied his digital assistant, Erge, whose soothing, feminine voice wouldn’t
have changed in cadence one iota if the room were on fire.

Less than three minutes later holographic
images of two men appeared in front of Greg Henry, almost flawlessly rendered,
so much so that only a prolonged study would reveal that they weren’t actually
in the room. The software displayed a small text window that hovered just
beside each man’s right shoulder, indicating the identity of each and that they
were both actually seated in the Oval Office of the White House.
Simultaneously, Henry’s holographic image had joined them
. In this way, vid-meet technology ensured that each side
experienced the meeting as though it were taking place at their own location.

The appearance of Cris Coffey next
to the president took Henry by surprise, but just for a moment. Given that
Henry and other high-ranking members of the intelligence community had been
notified of the attempted assassination the previous night, the presence of the
head of Davinroy’s security detail made sense.

Henry knew it was bad form not to ask
how the president was faring after the attack, but he had no time to spare—had
possibly run out of time already.

“What is this about?” demanded

Henry glanced suggestively at
Coffey. “This is for your ears only,” he said, as a holographic version of his
second-in-command, Matthew O’Malley, popped into existence in the offices of
both Henry and the president, while a display window beside O’Malley’s head indicated
that he was actually at Fort Bragg, where he had gone to meet with a general.

“Nonsense,” said the president,
giving the slightest nod to acknowledge the newcomer who had just teleported
into his presence. “Cris is cleared to hear whatever you have to say.” He
shrugged. “Since he happens to be here with me,
he can lend his considerable expertise to the proceedings.”

Henry had no time to argue. Besides, Cris Coffey just might
add perspective, at that. He had come up through the shadowy world of Black
Ops, rising to the very highest levels. Not only was Coffey still revered in
this world, he continued to consult with many of his old colleagues, keeping
his fingers in many Black Ops pies and retaining considerable clout.

Henry could only imagine what Coffey had seen and done, and
the power he had once wielded. He was considered to be exceedingly smart and
skilled. But he had become jaded, had begun to burn out, and had been looking
for an exit door.

The previous Secretary of Homeland, Kristen Brennan, had
worked with Coffey early in her career—Coffey had saved her life, in fact—and she
had seized on the opportunity to bring him on to head up Davinroy’s security detail.
The Secret Service, once under the province of Treasury, was now part of DHS, so
Greg Henry was technically Coffey’s boss. Given all of this, even if Henry had
time for it, making a compelling argument to exclude Coffey from the
proceedings would not be easy, and he decided against it.

“We have an ongoing situation in
the Hamza mosque in Chicago,” said Henry, his eyes locked onto the president’s,
which the vid-meet software would ensure was the case in the Oval Office as
well. “While I was waiting for you to join the vid-meet,” he added, “I
activated a strike team and instructed them to get to an isolated staging area
a few minutes helo flight from the mosque. They’ll wait there for my orders.”

“The name of that mosque rings a
bell,” said Davinroy.

Henry drew in a deep breath and
nodded. “I’m not surprised. It’s led by an Imam who you know well,” he said,
not relishing giving the president the bad news. “Azim Jafari.”

President Davinroy had cited this
Imam on several occasions, singing his praises for being a devout Muslim with
the courage to speak out against extremism, to preach for tolerance and peace between
peoples and nations. Two years earlier he had even invited Jafari to be his
guest at a State of the Union Address, asking Jafari to rise as he thanked him for
being such a fine representative of the peace-loving religion of Islam.

Talk about rubbing salt into the
president’s wound. Kevin Quinn, a trusted special agent, had just tried to kill
him, and now Henry had to tell the man that his favorite Imam was an extremist,
after all. Not a good twelve hours for President Davinroy when it came to

“Jafari is about to unleash
hundreds of sleepers, even as we speak,” explained Henry, “on a coordinated mission
to . . .” he paused, searching for the best, quickest way to get his point
across. “Well, to basically burn down this country. Each sleeper will recruit
others, and together will set forests ablaze, and then cities, using a variety
of fire accelerants. I have footage of Jafari inside the mosque ordering this
attack, but there’s no time for you to see it now.”

“You’re certain there is no
mistake?” said the president in disbelief. “That Jafari is directly behind this

“I am, sir.”

“Shit!” thundered Davinroy. “God
!” The president was angrier than
Henry could ever remember. “How is it that you had Jafari under surveillance,
and you didn’t notify me
? Are you an
idiot, Greg! You know I’ve used him as a positive example. You don’t think I’d
want to know he was under suspicion?”

“He wasn’t,” said Henry, swallowing
hard. “The tip and the footage came to us courtesy of our friends in Israel. Wortzman
at Mossad.”

“How the hell did
get it?” snapped the president.

only wish I knew
, thought Henry. Aloud he said, “With all due respect, sir,
we need to make some immediate decisions. I can give you a more comprehensive
briefing later.”

“And you trust this intel

Henry thought about this for a
brief moment. “I do, sir. Mossad intel tends to be . . .” he paused. What? The
best in the business? Flawless? “Extremely sound, sir,” he finished.

Henry knew that this was an
understatement. The Mossad was magic. Precise, thorough, and as far as he could
tell, never wrong. How could they be so damn good? Their intel was

It was also embarrassing.

The US Intelligence Community
consisted of seventeen separate agencies, employing over two hundred thousand
operatives. Including the many Black projects and agencies, the total
intelligence budget was nearing eighty billion dollars a year, although not
even Henry knew the exact figure. No one really did, since the government
routinely used accounting practices that would get corporate CEOs thrown in jail.

Almost thirteen hundred government
organizations and two thousand private companies were tasked with intelligence,
operating from over ten thousand locations spread across the country, and well
over a million Americans held top-secret security clearances. In Washington and
surrounding areas alone, thirty-three building complexes for top-secret work
had been constructed since 2001, occupying seventeen million square feet—three
times that of the biggest office complex in the world: the Pentagon.

And yet tiny Israel, fly-speck
Mossad, using less than one percent of these resources, routinely ate the lunch
of the gargantuan US intelligence apparatus. Henry had gone mad trying to
figure out how they were doing it. Their reputation had always been impeccable,
but for many years now they had upped their game even further.

Rumor had it that they had somehow
derailed the Iranian nuclear program, which had proceeded apace, despite a
nuclear agreement with the US that the entire world knew would not be honored. DHS
suspected that Israel had somehow dismantled the North Korean program as well,
before the psychotic Korean leader could do any damage, although there was no
concrete evidence to that effect.

Part of the Mossad’s success was
that it was lean and efficient, while the US system was bloated, redundant, and
uncoordinated. More didn’t always mean better, sometimes it just meant more
complicated, more bureaucratic, and more prone to paralysis. Vast incompetence
could hide out within the US system without ever being weeded out. Not so in the

And Israeli intelligence had to be
nearly perfect. Mossad had to work smarter, with more creativity, and to think
outside of the box. Because Israel depended on this agency to ensure its very

When you’re an eight-hundred-pound
gorilla you don’t have to be smart or well trained. But when you’re an eighty-pound
eight-hundred-pound gorillas, the three pound mass between your ears had to be
used to its fullest—and then some.

The Mossad was also blessed with
top drawer civilian resources to draw upon. Israel had long been a science and
technology mecca, harboring the second highest concentration of hi-tech
companies in the world, behind only Silicon Valley. These companies were
founded and driven by talented members of a population with the highest
percentage of PhDs, MDs, scientists, engineers, and technicians on the planet.

Davinroy was now seething. Clearly,
the fact that the intel had come from Israel had poured salt in his wounds. Or
maybe acid. “Recommendations?” he barked.

“I recommend breaching the mosque with
gas,” said Henry. “Knocking them out and then mopping up.”

“Jesus Christ, Greg!” snapped the
president. “You want to assault a mosque? Yeah, that will do wonders for our
country’s relationship with Muslims.”

“I’m aware of the optics,” said
Henry. “But there are too many of them, in too heavily populated of an area, to
let them disperse. They’re radicalized and unpredictable, which makes them too
dangerous to take any chances with.”

“I agree with Greg,” offered Cris
Coffey. “It’s the only way.”

“And the probability of success?”
said the president.

“Very high,” replied Henry. “The assault
team I scrambled is already preparing for such a breach, awaiting my final
order. They’re studying the video the Israelis provided and holographic
blueprints of the mosque right now. These are my best men, with our most
advanced equipment.”

“Okay, do it,” said the president
dourly, his expression conveying just how little he wanted to make this decision.

“I suggest we clear a perimeter
around the mosque first,” said Deputy Secretary O’Malley. “Just in case.”

“I agree,” said Henry. “See to it,”
he instructed his second-in-command. “Order the breach. Give the team a green-light
the moment a six-block radius has been cleared. Be sure they come up with some
reasonable excuse for the evacuation. Gas leak, imminent meteor strike,
something. Just make sure the exodus is done quietly and doesn’t tip off the jihadists.”

“Roger that,” said O’Malley,
blinking out of existence to attend to these details.

Once O’Malley had vanished, the
president also dismissed Cris Coffey, leaving him alone with Greg Henry.

“As if an assault on a mosque isn’t
bad enough,” said Davinroy the moment Coffey had exited the room, “Jafari’s
involvement makes this an even bigger nightmare. If it gets out that he was the
ringleader, it will convince the haters out there to mistrust Islam even more.
We can’t have that.”

Henry had worked with Davinroy too
long not to be able to read between the lines. The man only cared about himself
and politics. What he meant was, if it got out that Jafari was the ringleader,
he, Davinroy, would look like a gullible idiot.
is what he couldn’t tolerate.

“It’s an unfortunate turn of events,”
said Henry. “But there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Maybe,” said Davinroy. “Maybe not.
No one would
to know of Jafari’s
involvement. We could bottle up all details, citing national security. And we
could announce that the terrorists chose this mosque because of Jafari’s heroic
stance, and kidnapped him so he was forced to be in attendance. Out of hatred
for him and what he stood for.”

Henry was unable to hide the look
of disgust that flashed across his face. Presidents of old had distorted events
in this manner before, but this practice was getting more audacious and
commonplace with each subsequent administration. Truth and reality had come to
mean very little when compared to political correctness and political

“Do you have a problem with this,
Greg?” demanded the president. “You do understand that there are times when you
have to hide the truth for the greater good. Which is why we don’t tell the
public about all the terrorist threats we stop. If they knew about some of the
disasters we’ve narrowly averted, and how often new threats emerge, no one in
America would be able to sleep at night. In this case, why sour the country’s
relations with Muslims any further? Enlightened people know that Islam is a
religion of peace. Is the truth worth hate crimes breaking out? Does it matter
who is responsible, as long as we stop the attack? What if telling the truth
about one man results in the eventual deaths of hundreds, as misunderstandings
between religions grow?”

Henry said nothing. He had heard these
arguments before. Sometimes history had to be whitewashed. Sometimes the public
had to be protected from the truth, like a small child whose dog had passed
away. Better to invent the fiction of sending Spot off to a farm where he could
be happy and run free, rather than introducing the concept of death to a

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