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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Chapters 4-6

Chapter 4: Intro to Jake

The music ended. Women shuffled out of the club, and Jenny had to squirm through them to get in the door. She heard snatches of conversation as they passed.

“I need to change my underwear,” one said.

“I need to change my pants,” her friend answered.

“He was better last night.”

A bouncer took Jenny by the elbow, surprising her. “The show’s already over,” he said. Jenny moved her elbow down and parried his wrist away with her forearm. In the same motion she reached into her bag and pulled out her badge. “FBI. I need to see Jacob Mayberry immediately.”

“Is that right, missy?” He had holes where two of his front teeth used to jut out from his lower jaw. There was a space, then a tooth, then a space.

“I need to meet Mr. Mayberry,” she said. She tried not to stare at the gaps.

He grinned. “There are two tables in line before you. Two-drink minimum, twenty a drink.”


“You have to buy two drinks, one for him, one for you. Twenty bucks for each drink he drinks. You can buy him more drinks if you want more time with him, but once he’s done drinking, he moves on. You’re third on the list.”

Jenny studied the bouncer. “You go tell him a Special Agent from the FBI needs to talk to him,” she said.

“Lady, we’ve had cops, a federal marshal - we even had a woman from the ATF here. They all paid. You want to talk to him, you give me twenty and I put you on the list.”

“I’m with an antiterrorism task force.”

“That’s a new twist, but it ain’t twenty bones.” He held his hand out.

(Jenny was used to being messed with, even with the badge. She was beautiful and petite, with straight, straw colored hair she wore parted in the middle or tied into a pony tail. She had green eyes and large lashes, and fat lips that were deeply red without lipstick. She never wore makeup but always looked made up, and the overall effect was vulnerability. Most me were drawn to her, and many wanted to help her or protect her, whether she needed it or not. When a decent man saw Jenny Day, something in him yearned to be the helpful older brother, the sagacious mentor, or the knight in shining armor.

But what SAC Denton thought of as the Meg Ryan Effect worked both ways. Bullies like this bouncer thought they could get away with abusing her.)

She reached into her purse and pulled a twenty out of her wallet. He snatched it from her and walked over to the bar. He came back with a plastic disc the size of her hand with a black “3” stenciled upon it.

“Sit at any table around the stage, Super Agent. Leave that number in plain sight and he’ll get to you when he can.”

This was going too far. People respected cops unless they knew cops. They didn’t know cops unless they were cops, or prosecutors, or lawyers- or criminals.

“Got any warrants outstanding?” asked Jenny.


“Because if I have to wait twenty minutes to see this guy, I might as well walk to my car, radio in your name, and see if you have any warrants.”

“I don‘t give a shit.”

“I’m FBI. That means any warrants in the United States.”

“Maybe I could ask him to see you first.”

“Why don‘t you do that?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Get my money back, too.”

He nodded and walked over to a table. A shirtless man sat on a stool, drink in hand, talking to three women. Jenny was a gymnast in college, she was used to seeing and being around heavily ripped guys- but there were a couple of guys at every tournament whose bodies seemed designed to make women, to make HER, go nuts. The man at the table was one of them. She had a picture of Jacob Mayberry from his file but the picture had not done him justice.

Her bouncer was talking to him, but Jacob waved him away. The bouncer trotted back.

“He says he’ll be with you as soon as he’s done with this round, ma’am. It’s the best I could do.”

“Thanks,” Jenny said. One of the women took Jacob’s hand and drew something on the back of it with a pen. Jenny stared and was able to see it was a large black heart. Another woman took the hand and licked it, then rubbed the heart out with her thumbs. Jenny realized she was ogling Jake..

She went to the bar for a Diet Sprite. When she turned around Jake was right behind her.

“You wanted to see me?” he asked.

She flushed and looked at the floor, then up at him again. ‘Put your fucking clothes on,’ she thought. He wasn’t naked, he was wearing surfer shorts, but the effect was nakedness. He had the most beautiful skin she’d ever seen. Health, sex, exuded out of him. “Jenny Day,” she said, offering her right hand. “FBI.”

He left the hand there. “What do you want?”

She looked away and back at him again. He had the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. She could not tell the pupil from the iris.

“An hour of your time. It’s important.”

“It is important to you. Money’s important to me, and you’re as good as taking it out of my pocket.” He motioned to the room full of tables with women waiting for him.

Jenny looked at the room for a second but her eyes went back to him on their own. This was ridiculous. She could not keep her eyes off him for more than a few moments, but then she couldn't look at him for more than a few seconds before looking away in shame.

“Look, Mr. May-

“I don’t have any fucking warrants any fucking where. Fuck off.”

“Wait!” Jenny pulled an envelope out of her bag. “These are your parents, Mr. Mayberry. Your biological parents. Don’t you want to know who they are?” She held it out to him and pulled it away when he reached for it. Jacob’s adopted mother, who had raised him since he was an infant, had died less than a year ago. This was her trump card. “Are you going to sit down and talk to me, or what?”

He stared into her eyes more directly than anyone ever had. She looked away and looked back and he was still staring at her the same way. She tried to hold his gaze but there was something dangerous about him. She had crossed a line she didn’t know about. She felt he could attack her right now, and maybe kill her with his bare hands, before anyone could stop him. He wouldn’t care about the consequences. There was no future and no past in the black of those eyes.

“You’ve made a mistake,” he said. She nodded and quickly walked out of the club.

Chapter 5: Kestine Kills Rodney

Ahmad and Omar were students from Saudi Arabia whose visits Professor Kestine had sponsored. She helped get them student visas and they lived in her home, ate her food, and did her bidding, which included being good students at UH. They were not related but looked similar- five-nine, skinny, fair-skinned, and always smiling. They slouched and looked weak, and were, so they took no chances. They used chloroform to knock Rodney out, after he’d fallen asleep in Kestine’s bed, and kept using it until they were out on the water.

They handcuffed Rodney, clipped a twenty-foot length of chain to the left cuff, then slapped him awake. Professor Kestine had ordered them to make Rodney’s death quick and painless, but she was just a woman, and she would never know how Rodney had been killed. Kestine should have known better. They had been sent to assist her because they were without conscience, because they would not balk at mass murder.

A few miles outside of Waikiki, when they were bored with his begging and crying, they dumped him overboard, along with three five-gallon buckets of homemade chum. Kestine hadn’t given them much notice, so they had to improvise to make the chum. They had butchered a pair of Labrador retrievers, pets from a house down the road from Kestine’s home, to fill the buckets.

They circled the spot where they’d dumped the chum for half an hour, then pulled Rodney back into the boat. He thought it was a reprieve, that they wanted to question him or to warn him, but Ahmad wordlessly cut inch-deep gashes from the big toes to the heels of each of Rodney’s feet and dumped him back into the water.

Ten minutes later there was a strike, quickly followed by another, and another, and another. Ahmad jerked the chain in and out while Omar gunned the engine to prolong the chase, wildly swinging the zodiac back and forth, until Rodney died. Ahmad pulled the handcuffs back into the boat and they high-fived and headed for shore.

Chapter 6: The Amphitheater

Jenny found him on the rim of Berkeley’s campus amphitheater, eating a sandwich while watching a war protest. Heavy bags hung under Jenny’s eyes and, for about the millionth time since she became a Special Agent, she wished she could drink coffee. She sat a few feet away from him and tossed a beige envelope near his feet. He ignored it and her. “I’m sorry about last night,” she said. He ignored her again but she could tell he was curious.

She slid closer and said “I want to start over. There are pictures of your parents in there.” Jenny was cold despite her heavy skirt, the same color as the envelope, and white button-down shirt. Jake chewed and watched the protest. He wore surf shorts and a white tank top, but didn’t appear cold. Jenny noticed the thick vein along the ridge of his bicep.

“There’s no catch,” she said. “Even if you just decide to ignore me all day, I still want you to know- this is my way of apologizing.” She decided that was all she was going to say. She’d just sit and freeze. She looked down at the war protest.

Minister Farazee was speaking to a crowd of about seventy. Jenny’s mind automatically catalogued the groups she could identify from their costumes or signs: Black Muslims, Arab League, Anarchists and Communists. The four groups represented about half the people there. She guessed the rest of the people were militant Greens, pacifists, and the curious or lost looking for a cause. She supposed there might be as many as three FBI agents in the crowd as well, keeping tabs, getting names, seeing which groups were talking to whom. She didn’t try to spot anyone. If an agent she knew was down there, she didn’t want to know about it. She couldn’t slip, and possibly break someone’s cover, if she didn’t know.

Minister Farazee seemed to be a numerologist:

“Now how many letters are in the name Bush? Four. And we all know the Mandarin, that is the Chinese, word for four is phat. And the Chinese word for death is also phat. And what happened to the Muslim Chinese, in their own country, after 9-11? The Chinese killed them! That is, put to phat, to four, to Bush. What’s 9 plus 11? Twenty. What’s twenty divided by 5000? Point zero zero zero four, which is phat, which is death, which is four, which is Bush, but a point zero zero zero Bush. In other words, a junior Bush. Four times removed from the Bush that was Hitler’s ally! George Bush Junior! Follow me now!”

Minister Frazee’s supporters were interjecting cheers between each of his sentences. The Anarchists, Communists, and Arab-Leaguers were just waiting their turn. Some looked puzzled.

“Are you a Mormon?” asked Jake.

“Excuse me?”

“You dress like you’re Mormon.”

“Yes. What’s the difference?”

“I admire Mormons. I was never able to seduce a Mormon. Are you a virgin?”

“You’re a real jerk.” She couldn’t help saying it. She realized she was playing with the cross she wore under her shirt and made herself stop

“A jerk? Golly gee whillikers you‘re hurting my feelings. What’s it going to cost me? Don‘t tell me it‘s for free. That just means it costs more.”

At first Jenny thought he’d propositioned her. Then she realized he wanted to know who his mother was. She felt stupid and relieved, and disappointed, all at once.

She dug back for the line she’d come up with when she’d first thought to approach him.

“The United States of America needs a favor from you,” she said.

“The whole US of A? I feel really special.”

“It’s because of who your mother is. There’s no obligation for opening that, but maybe you’ll listen to what I have to say. Then maybe you’ll want to help us.”

“Maybe you’ll suck my dick, too, but I doubt it.” He picked up the folder.

It was the casual delivery, so offhand, that wounded her. She turned so he couldn’t see her expression. Jenny’s belief in an omnipotent God who cared didn’t deal well with the existence of casual assholes like Jake. Evil existed to be overcome. It made sense. But the casual assholes weren’t evil- they were like a side-effect of free will. There was nothing noble about fighting them, nothing to fight, really, yet they caused pain.

She turned back. Jake was staring at a picture of his father. His father was 25 when the picture was taken, and the resemblance to Jake was startling and obvious. The background was a Mosque.

“Is my father a fucking Arab?” Jake asked.

“You didn’t know you’re Arab? You kind of look Arab. I mean your hair, your skin.”

“I knew I wasn’t white. I thought I was Native American. Jesus Christ.”

“Does it matter?”

“I’ve got this past in my head. I thought- I never thought I would know the truth so my dad and I made one up. Where is he?”

“I can’t tell you. I’m sorry.”

“Why does he look so young here? Couldn’t you get a more recent picture?”

“I can’t tell you why. I’m stretching the rules by showing you those pictures at all, Jake.” Jenny was consciously using Jake rather than Mr. Mayberry. And she intended to use it a lot. Saying his first name would create a sense of familiarity.

He took another picture from the file.

“Is she my biological mother?”

“Yes. That one is recent. It was taken two days ago.”

“She looks like a hippie. She’s younger than I thought she’d be.”

“She was nineteen when she had you.”

“Is that why she gave me up?”

“I have a lot of information about both of them, but I don’t know that. You could ask her yourself.”

“Except you won’t tell me her fucking name unless I help you, right?”

“You just have to get us legal access to her house. She just has to invite you and I into her house.”

“For what?”

“I can’t tell you. But I know why and it is important. And it isn’t something she’s done. We’re not trying to prosecute her for something. We’re trying to stop her from doing something terrible. I swear on my life that it is important, Jake. Look, I am a Mormon. I am a virgin, okay? And I swear to God that it is important.”

“You want me to introduce myself to her so you can spy on her?”

“We have to know what she’s doing. It might be nothing, but we have to be proactive, and this could be that one real threat. If it is nothing, I promise you your mother will never know you helped us. She’ll never know how you found her. In fact,it would be illegal for you to tell her.”

“That is one hell of a story.”

“It’s the truth.”

“I know you believe that. But that doesn’t mean anything. I’m not buying it.”

“I’m not selling anything, Jake.”

Jake laughed. “You’re just like I used to be. You’re earnest- I mean you practically drip sincerity. That’s the kind of person everybody cares about. And I believe you believe what you’re telling me. But the fact that they send someone like you to ask for something doesn’t mean they are like you. In fact it makes them worse still. You’re believing them doesn’t make them honest.”

Jenny opened her mouth to reply but could not find an argument. Nothing she said would matter because he had the inside information about the evil nature of “them” – whoever “they” supposedly were, and Jenny did not. At least Jake considered her naïve, one of “their” pawns, rather than evil, and one of “them” herself.

“That is-” she stopped herself, not wanting to be confrontational, but could not think of anything else to say. “Don’t take this the wrong way, okay? That’s an asshole argument, Jake. That’s for kooks and people who are, like, rotten inside.”

“Well, you can think I’m an asshole all you want,” said Jake. “I’d rather be an asshole than help the people you work for. You don’t know because you haven’t been where I’ve been, or done what I’ve done. Okay?”

“Okay.” She only said it because he had paused and wanted her to answer. But that answer wasn’t good enough for him.

“It isn’t fucking okay. I’ve walked in your shoes. You haven’t walked in mine. And you’re the one doing something wrong. You’re the one who’s messed up. You’re just too stupid-” he took a deep breath and calmed himself. Then he continued in a more normal tone. “You’re not stupid. You’re innocent because you’re too inexperienced. And you won’t know until it is too late. I’m sorry, but I won’t help you. I won’t. I want to meet my biological mother, but not so I can betray her. I mean that’s ridiculous.”

“I can make you an offer,” Jenny said. “We can get you a grant that pays full tuition, plus room and board.”

“I don’t need that. I probably take home double what you do.”

“Hear me out, Jake. I’m talking about four full years, plus grad school if you opt for that. You would have to maintain a C average. That‘s it. Do you like being a stripper?”

“No. But I can’t trust you people in the first place. How do I know you wouldn’t change your mind after I did what you wanted?”

“Get a lawyer and we’ll draw up a contract.”

“You’re the Federal government. You have all the guns. You don’t have to abide by a contract.”

“You think we’re going to ‘rub you out’ to save money?”

“Do Waco and Ruby Ridge sound familiar?”

“Oh, please.”

“’Oh please?’ You think that’s what those kids burning to death were saying? You think that’s what that mother thought when she got sniped for holding a baby to her chest? You know what I’ve fucking done for you people? Even if you offered me cash, a million dollars, I would say no. Because you could freeze it. You could claim I was a drug dealer and confiscate it without even taking me to trial. You can’t be trusted.”

“If you really believed that you would do anything I asked because you would be scared. If we’re so evil we’d ruin your life for not obeying us. You can’t have it both ways.”

“I can, though. Because I know you can’t make me do it. You can audit me, claim I’m a drug dealer and take all my money, throw me in prison, send me to Guantanamo, do whatever you want. But you can’t make me do anything. So I win.”

Jake stood and walked away.

An anarchist was talking about how America was run by Jews in low earth orbit satellites bent on disenfranchising the masses to further empower themselves. Jenny hung her head and covered her ears and looked at the black of her eyelids. Nobody, even in the over-achiever stacked, hyper-competitive FBI, tried as hard as she did. She wondered though, if someone who could drink and smoke to relax, and guzzle coffee for energy, would do a better job than she could. Every day she sunk lower- she felt close to burnout and she was relatively new. She opened her eyes and flipped off the anarchist. He didn’t notice.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

First Three Chapters of JACOB

I feel pretty comfortable with these 1st three chapters of my new novel JACOB. Not great, but comfortable. So here they are.


Professor Kestine heaved the course book above her head, held it for three beats, and hurled it down. The THWACK made people jerk in their seats.

“Pay attention now,” she said. “Now, if at no other time in this class, or at this University. The problem is not the outside world you face in your everyday life. The problem is the inner world you created for yourself, which you have never faced at all. Which 99.999 percent of the people on this planet never will face. This is what shapes your perceptions. This is the world that tells you what the outside world truly is.”

She had them now. This was the stuff. They were part of that .0001 percent, or they could be, if they paid attention.

“I’m not talking about whether my dress is black,” Professor Kestine continued. “We can all agree on that, we can trust this basic perception. I’m talking about value judgments. When someone says something is good they are saying it is good compared to something else. That is a judgment shaped by their inner world, not a reflection of reality. When another says something is bad, that is, again, a reflection of what is inside them, not of what is outside of them.”

She surveyed her ranks of students, and knew from experience which would come to her after class. The heavy earnest girl and her prettily confused friend would likely visit. The angry young man who sat in the front and sneered all the time would want a word as well. But they were the easy ones, the marks. The tough ones, those who might be worth something someday, were harder to find. There was little use in preaching to the choir if you were preaching that people should not believe in something. She wanted people who were able to believe with passion. She wanted to create a vacuum she could fill, not talk to people who were incapable of believing in anything. Cynics were no use to anyone.

“What is the difference between liberalism and conservatism? Both philosophies see the world the same way, or nearly enough in the same way, but they make different, opposing judgments, about value. A liberal, because of their inner nature, sees the faults in a society and therefore wants to make change. That is the simple definition of liberal. A conservative, because of their inner world, does not see these faults, and fears change.”

She told herself to slow down. Bluntly informing people, even college freshmen, that their country was an evil blight was counterproductive.

“Regardless of what you believe today, it is your inner world that has made you believe it. Maybe you are a conservative by today‘s standards, maybe you are a liberal, but regardless, you must give the liberal mind set credit.”

Telling them they should consider whether their country was evil or not, and that they must have an open mind about it, worked better. But telling them, in so many words, that those who loved their country were vain, blind, and cowardly, was most effective.

“The conservative loves who they are and has no motivation to fight, to change, to progress, to improve. The liberal is able to love the dream. To love who they could be, what their country could be, and so has the courage, the crazy courage, to hate who they are. And through that hate they find the necessary motivation to change. To progress. To fight.”

She picked the textbook up and raised it over her head again.

“Three thousand years ago a man named Moses brought ten commandments down from a mountain and said these were the law. He was a liberal. He hated what the Jews were and wanted to change them, to make them better. When the conservatives of that time ignored those laws Moses threw them onto the ground LIKE THIS!” Nobody jumped when the book bounced off the dais. They were enrapt. “Two thousand years ago another Jew named Jesus said the Roman world was wrong, that the Pharisees, the conservatives of the Jewish world, were wrong, that the Jews who went along with it all were wrong, and the conservatives of the time crucified him for hating the world and trying to make it better.”

Two months of three classes per week were left before summer break. Professor Kestine thought about half of these students would see their families in an entirely different light by then.

“You must face your inner world and shape it. You must create it. I’m not telling you to be liberal or conservative. I couldn’t care less about politics. I’m not asking you to make any judgments about the outside world. I want you to face the inner world you have never seen, and decide what that world is, and if it is what it should be. And I dare you to have the courage, if you can first have the strength to acknowledge that it is not what it should be, to change it.”

Their parents would seem ignorant because they lacked education, or else willfully ignorant because they were greedy or vain. And these kids would be immune to any argument. They would identify themselves as elites due to their political beliefs. These beliefs would be a primary source of self worth. No argument would matter because anyone who disagreed with them was not important, obviously, since they disagreed with them.

“Thank you.” A few students clapped, and for a moment she thought she might get an ovation. It wouldn’t be the first time. But the applause died off and kids began to shuffle out.

It was difficult to teach virtue. You could not simply tell people the truth. You had to make them available for it. You had to make a hole. You had to batter their hearts. And this survey class of fifty-eight, five of whom had not shown up, would produce ten or fifteen people who were ready to begin the journey. And maybe one or two of them would continue until they were ready for real instruction.

The sneering one was moving toward her instead of the exit. She smiled and he smiled back uncertainly. The two girls paused on their way past her, unsure of what to do. She caught one’s eyes and said “If you have questions, feel free to stay, girls.” They stayed. Two more girls and one boy also stopped. It was just over a handful, but it was just the first day.

Her beeper, hidden against her right hip, vibrated. Paranoia was a virtue in her vocation. There was only one reason that beeper would signal now. Without a word she walked out.

Rodney, the graduate student who purchased her pager, quickly stepped into her place.

“There must be an emergency or something,” he said. He spoke with an acolyte’s fervor- “Professor Kestine isn’t like your other professors, or anyone you’ve ever know for that matter. Trust me. She definitely wants to talk to you and she’s not being rude. She’s just, you know, on another level.”

Kestine forced herself to walk rather than run to the nearest bathroom. Once inside she entered a stall, sat down and uncovered the beeper. The page was a number:


Though she sat motionless, and her mind was calm, her heart hammered in her chest. The pores in her back and chest and brow opened and moistened with sweat. Her stomach felt acidic and her thighs and calves and jaw trembled. In 19 days she would be dying, and thousands, or hundred of thousands, would slowly die with her. Her life’s great dream was about to come true.

It was a bittersweet moment, though. Rodney would also have to be killed, and ASAP. He had been a loyal assistant, a great lover, and her best friend for the last four years. She loved him.

Chapter 2: Jenny is Assigned to Jake

Special Agent Day refused to tell Mr. Bukhari his son was decapitated by an IED in Tabriz. She borrowed a military chaplain, an Imam originally from Detroit, to do it. Mr. Bukhari arrived at the San Francisco headquarters building at 10:00 am and was escorted to the conference room and the waiting Imam. After two hours the chaplain came out to speak with Jenny.

“Mr. Bhukari is handling it well,” he told Jenny. “He believes Javi died fighting for Islam.”

“72 virgins?” Jenny asked.

“I certainly hope so, but Mr. Bhukari hates the Salafists for defying Islam. Virgins are secondary. He wants to know why he’s here.”

“He’s not a suspect or anything. We want him to do something for us. I can’t say what.”

“No offense, but he’s rather old-fashioned. Maybe a man should be asking him?”

“Political correctness,” Jenny answered. She meant the FBI recognized it would be better for a man to ask, but could not act accordingly because to acknowledge Mr. Bukhari’s cultural chauvinism would be to acknowledge the FBI’s cultural bigotry. The chaplain understood. “Can you prep him for me? I mean- let him know I’m not the bad guy.”

“I came here to comfort a fellow Muslim, a man who lost his son. I’m not going to help you talk him into doing something if I don’t know what it is. I’ll be here if he wants me.”


Jenny entered and expressed her condolences, but Mr. Bhukari wasn’t having it. He had been crying, obviously, but his face was hard and suspicious now.

“This is the second time I’m being questioned by the FBI and my only crime is being a Muslim in America. Even after my son dies for this country-” He took a deep breath, trying to control himself.

“Your son was a patriot, Mr. Bhukari. No different than my Grandfather. He was a soldier, too. He died fighting the Nazi at Normandy. Except, unlike my Grandpa, your son can fight on, even after death. We need American Muslims if we’re to defeat the Salafists, sir. We can’t win without them. The record of Javi being in the Army can go away, for a time. Your son was a 2nd generation American and a devout Sunni Muslim. The terrorists don’t know he was a patriot, and would have a hard time believing it if someone told them. We brought you here, and told you about his death this way, because we can use his identity to infiltrate Salafist organizations.”

Jenny’s sales pitch had begun. She’d had twelve such conversations in the last year.

Two hours later Jenny walked into SAC Denton’s office. Denton had joined the FBI after serving in the Marines for 10 years. Though he was 54, he retained his Marine posture, haircut, physique, and aggressiveness.

“Will he do it?” Denton asked.

“Yes sir, but it is conditional.”

“He bargained with you. Hard.”

“How did you know?”

“Most Americans, if they aren’t lawyers, don’t feel comfortable bargaining while grieving. But Khubari’s first generation from Iraq. We pay out millions of dollars a year for wrongful killings over there. Different culture. What’s he want?”

“Scholarships for his other children, all eight of them.”

“Let’s hope we’re talking community colleges.”

“His son chose the military instead of Harvard, sir.”

Denton whistled. “It’s the least we can do for the poor bastard, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But I’ll tell him. I have another job for you.”

“Sir, I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”

“Stop. I know you don’t like this. But you look like Meg Ryan and you have a certain quality, I don’t know how to explain it, that makes older men want to help you. You bring out the knight errant. You walked in the door a year ago and I almost asked you what you wanted to be assigned to. By now you know how out of character that is for me, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“My first instincts about rookies usually involve the desire to inflict a humbling dose of pain and humiliation. Right?”

“That’s what I’ve heard, sir.”

“Right. So natural talent plus the heuristics training has made you thirteen out of thirteen, and nobody else is above fifty percent. And it is an important job, right?

“Yes, sir.”

“Right. And besides all that, this is your job. So you’ll do it as long as I tell you to, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now, having said all that, you’re approaching burnout, so if you talk this last guy into helping us I’ll transfer you to any assignment you want. Deal?”

“Yes. Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t thank me yet, Jenny. This is irregular, and it was brought to me in an irregular way. And I’m giving it to you in an irregular way. We’re in Indiana Jones mode on this.” This referred to the last scene Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which a small box is laid down in an endless warehouse. It was SAC Denton’s favorite way to express that the FBI knew something big might be going on, but had no idea what, when, where, how, or who.

Chapter 3: Who: Intro to Salahuddin

Achmed Mohammad was 41 years old, just under six feet tall, slender in a patrician, graceful way, and attired and groomed like a Wall Street lawyer. He was brainy, honest, decent, and exhausted. He had to excuse himself from the meeting.

If the fatigue were from jet lag, (he had clocked over seventy hours in flight in two months) he would have ignored it. If it had been due to sleep deprivation (he only required five hours a night, but had not had a full five once in three weeks) he would have put sunglasses on, and catnapped during the meeting itself. But the fatigue was in his soul. It was depression, hopelessness, and the crushing weight of failure brought on by having more things to do than anyone could get done.

The eight men at this meeting were important; more important than he was. None of them were as sincere, nor as effective, but they were known, and powerful in that way. And they all wanted peace, or at least wanted to be known to want it. But Mohammad was useless in this condition, and he had to meet more famous, more sincere, more important men tomorrow.

He napped in the taxi on the way to his hotel, and the elevator jolted him awake when it reached his floor. The temptation to flop on the bed, unwashed, was strong, but he knew he would feel dirty when he woke so he forced himself to take a shower. It was a mistake, though it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.

Exiting the shower, ready to sleep a sinfully extravagant seven or eight hours, he thought the bathroom doorway was a mirror. But his reflection was not naked, dripping water, but clothed in a bellboy‘s suit. His hair was not wet, but dried, gelled, and parted on the left. He parted his hair on the right.

When the reflection moved toward him he was staring at his own face, so that he never saw the blade snake beneath his rib cage to strike up into his heart. It hurt but there was no breath for a scream. He had time to wonder whether his assassin had timed the blow between breaths so he wouldn’t be able to scream, before the shock and pain made thought impossible. It took his body some time do die, but that was his last thought.

Salahuddin had, in fact, timed the blow to kill silently. Salahuddin was an exceptional assassin, as well as an exceptional bomber, infiltrator, evader, and torturer- everything a terrorist should be except leader and visionary. He reached under the bed (where he’d hid when his victim entered the room) and dragged out a large garment bag. The bag held a large blue tarp, several gallons of acid in long cylinders, and an assortment of butcher blades.

Eight plastic surgery operations had transformed Salahuddin’s face and body, including his fingertips, so that he could travel freely in the west using Mohammed’s identity. The match was nearly perfect. This was most likely overkill. But it would not be enough for Salahuddin to complete the attack. He had to succeed and make certain that Mohammed and those he worked for were blamed for the attack. The Americans might retaliate with nuclear weapons.

Salahuddin undressed and sighed. It would take four or five hours to get Mohammed bled out, dismembered, and separated for transport. He unrolled the tarp until it covered the entire bathroom floor, including the bathtub, and dumped Mohammed’s body atop the tarp inside the bathtub. He taped the tarp high along the bathroom walls, then slashed a gash in it so blood would flow to the bathtub’s drain. Later he would use the acid to scour the tub and clear the pipes of evidence.

The tarp reflected the heat of his body back to him. Soon he was sweating as he sang lightly under his breath. All work, all physical labor, at least, had a rhythm to it. Salahuddin found that singing made the exertion easier and the time pass faster. In the end it only took four hours to erase Mohammed from the room. His remnants were sealed in polyurethane bags which were then stowed in the duffel.

Salahuddin took a long, cold shower. He was too tired to dump the duffel. He thought about ordering some food and coffee from room service, but decided against it. He could get rid of the duffel in the morning. The only cure for this kind of exhaustion was sleep.