IT IS DIFFICULT TO WALK CASUALLY WITH FIVE HUNDRED thousand dollars taped to your belly. More difficult still when any of the men brushing past you would gladly slit your throat were they to suspect the king's ransom you carried.
The man who had chosen the warrior's name Abu Sayeed snaked through the alleys of the Smugglers' Bazaar, careful to check his impatient step. He was close now, but he could not hurry. To hurry invited attention. And attention meant trouble he could not afford.
Around him, shopkeepers leaned in open doorways, smoking cigarettes and sipping cups of tea. He could sense their eyes upon him as they studied his bearing, gauging its strength, deciding whether he was a predator or prey. Instinctively, he stood straighter and thrust his chin forward. But all the while he kept his pace relaxed, his face slack, even as the claws dug into him.
The money was divided into fifty packets, each containing ten thousand dollars, each wrapped and waterproofed in transparent plastic. The packets had sharp, cruel corners that chafed and cut his flesh. He had been traveling for thirty-six hours. His chest and back were flayed as if scored by a cat-o'-nine tails. Only by thinking of the operation was he able to continue. The prospect of the infidels' death invigorated him with the strength of the Pharaoh's army.
At four p.m., the summer sun was at its fiercest. Dust devils arose on the dusty road, swirled lazily, then spun themselves out. After a brief lull, the bazaar was rousing itself to life. Beneath fluorescent lights, shelves sagged with cartons of Dunhill cigarettes, Toshiba laptops, and Paco Rabanne cologne, all brought overland from Afghanistan to avoid duty and tax. Other windows displayed less mundane goods: Kalashnikov rifles, Colt pistols, and Claymore mines. Hashish, heroin, even human chattel could be had at the right address. If there was a free market on earth, mused Sayeed, it was here on the western outskirts of Peshawar, the gateway to the Khyber Pass.
Stopping to purchase a cube of diced sugarcane, he cast his gaze behind him. His depthless black eyes scoured the street, checking for the misplaced face, the averted gaze, the anxious dawdler. So close, he must keep his senses keen. He did not believe that the crusaders knew his identity. Still, he must be cautious. Members of the American Special Forces infested Peshawar as lice infest a beast. Most were easy to spot, with their Oakley sunglasses, Casio watches, and desert boots. A few even dared enter the bazaar, where foreigners were not welcome and Pakistani law held no sway.
The thought of the Americans brought a contemptuous smile to his lips. Soon they would learn that they could not run. The fire was coming. It would burn them in their heartland. It would scald them from within.
And for a moment, the claws loosened their grip. The pain subsided, and he basked in the glow of destruction.
Satisfied his trail was clean, Sayeed spat out the sinewy cane and crossed the narrow road. To look at, he was no different from any of the thousands of souls who eked out an existence trafficking the porous border that separated Pakistan from Afghanistan. His shalwar kameez, the baggy shirt and trousers that made up the local dress, was filthy and stiff with dried sweat; his black headdress smothered with red alkali dust. His beard belonged to the most fervent of believers, as did the AK-47 he carried slung over a shoulder and the bejeweled dagger strapped to his calf.
But Sayeed was not Pakistani, nor was he a Pashtun from the southern provinces of Afghanistan, or an Uzbek from the north. Born Michael Christian Montgomery in London, England, Sayeed was the bastard offspring of a cancerous British officer and a teenage Egyptian whore. His father had died while he was a boy, leaving him a polished accent and not much more. Unable to care for him, his mother returned to Cairo and gave him over to the madrasas, the religious schools that gifted him with an Islamic education. His childhood was brutish and short. It was a natural progression to the camps where he learned the creed of the gun, memorized the verse of violence, and worshiped at the altar of rebellion. And from there to the killing fields of Palestine, Chechnya, and Serbia.
At twenty, the Sheikh found him.
At twenty-one, Michael Christian Montgomery ceased to exist. It was Abu Mohammed Sayeed who swore the oath, accepted the mark, and joined Hijira.
Skirting a convoy of carts piled high with Korean fabrics, Tibetan rugs, and Panasonic televisions still in their factory packaging, he reached the Tikram Mosque. The doors were open, and inside the shadowy hall, a few men lay on prayer rugs, prostrate in worship. His eyes returned to the street. Scanning the intersection ahead, he felt a new pain lash his back. This time, however, it was not the jagged belt that provoked his discomfort. It was fear. He could not see the store. Somehow, he had taken a wrong turn. He was lost.
Frantically, Sayeed turned his head this way and that. It could not be. He was at the Tikram Mosque. He had seen the photographs. He had studied the maps. Despair washed over him. Others were waiting. The countdown had begun. Seven days. The thought of failure turned his bowels to water.
Terrified, he wandered into the street. A horn blared in his ear, loud, very loud, but from another universe altogether. Sayeed jumped back a step and a jitney lumbered past, passengers hanging from the doors, clinging to the luggage rack. In its wake, a cloud of rank exhaust choked the already oppressive air. He could not go on. He could not go back. Truly, he was damned.
The exhaust dissipated and he saw it. The gold letters emblazoned on a black field. "Bhatia's Gold and Precious Jewelry." His despair vanished. In its place came joy. The light of a thousand suns.
"Insh'allah, God is great," he whispered, a bolt of piety swelling his heart.
Guards stood on either side of the doorway, Kalashnikovs to their chests, fingers tickling the trigger guard. Sayeed passed them without a glance. They were not there to protect jewelry, but cash, primarily U.S. dollars, and gold ingots. Bhatia's reputation as a jeweler might be suspect, but his trustworthiness as a hawaladar, or money broker, was unquestioned. Faisan Bhatia had long served the local smuggling community as its agent of choice. He was the only broker in the region able to handle the large sums that Abu Sayeed required.
In Arabic, hawala means "to change." And in Hindi, "trust." Put simply, it was the hawala broker's job to effect transfers of cash from one city to another. Some of his clients were traders eager to repatriate their earnings after selling their haul in the bazaar. Others, simple folk wishing to send money home to loved ones in Karachi, Delhi, or Dubai. Both groups shared a distrust of the bureaucracy and paperwork demanded by the country's less-than-solvent banks. For them, hawala was a welcome alternative. A system built on trust, hidden from intrusive eyes. A system that had been in place when Arab traders plied the Silk Road hundreds of years ago.
Bhatia, a fat Indian with a streak of gray in his hair, stood imperiously behind the counter. As Sayeed approached, he eyed the customer's caked clothing and unwashed face with undisguised contempt.
"I would like to make a transfer," Abu Sayeed whispered when he was close enough to taste the man's breath. "It is a matter of some urgency."
The Indian did not move.
"The Sheikh sent me."
Faisan Bhatia's eyes flickered, but only for an instant. "Come this way."
IT WAS THE MOST GOD-AWFUL FRIGHTENING PLACE SHE had ever been. Some parts of Jakarta came close. Jakarta with its garish slums, oppressive pollution, and packs of teenage muggers giggling with hostile intent. Macao had a few dark corners where you didn't dare venture.
And everyone knew about Rio, the gorgeous bad boys on motorbikes, streaking past with their razors at the ready. But here-the unremitting heat, the hostile stares, and worst of all, the burqa draped over her head and shoulders, baking her like a Christmas goose-this topped it all.
Her name was Sarah Churchill, operational designation: "Emerald," and through her black gauze veil, she watched the target advance across the intersection. She could see that he was in distress, trying not to limp, compensating by standing too straight and puffing out his chest. Two days she'd been tracking him, up and down the mountain passes, a distance of sixty miles. She was hurting, too, but she'd be damned if she'd show it. Her feet were raw and blistered in their leather sandals; her legs fatigued beyond measure. A little while ago, her lower lip had cracked and she could feel a trickle of blood, salty and strangely reassuring, on her tongue.
A trio of Indian women clad in red and orange saris scurried across her path, and she mimicked their gait. The "second-class shuffle," she called it-head bent, shoulders hunched, eyes fixed to the ground like a dog that's been beaten too much.
Drawing in her shoulders, Sarah made herself shrink beneath the full-length garment. Her horizons seemed to dwindle before her and she bridled at her training. Blend in with your environment: the first rule of tradecraft taught at Fort Monckton, where all good little English boys and girls go to learn to be spies. Ever the prize pupil, she kept her back hunched and continued to hug the inside of the street.
She was too tall. That was the problem. You didn't see many Pakistani women who stood five feet nine inches in bare-stockinged feet. Her height came from her father, a six-foot-four-inch Welshman. Her hair, a raven's black and cut to her shoulders, was her mother's gift, as were her sierra brown eyes. Her attitude, though, was all her own, and not subject to amendment or revision. She was determined, outspoken, and possessed a dangerous temper she could not quite control. Five years ago at IONEC, the Intelligence Officer's New Entrant's Course, she'd set the women's mark for the fifty-mile hike, but when at her graduation ceremony her instructors called her their toughest recruit, she'd broken down and cried like a baby.
Her earpiece crackled with static. "Primary still visual?"
"He's gone into the store," she whispered. "Bhatia's Gold and Precious Jewelry." She spelled the name slowly, enunciating each letter just as the matron had taught her at Roedean. "It's the bloody hawala, all right. Time to call in the reinforcements."
"Give us a GPS read."
"Coming up." She found the global positioning device on her belt and hit the locate/transmit button. Within a second, the stationary satellites that comprised the Central Intelligence Agency's proprietary GPS had established her exact latitude and longitude to within six inches of where she actually stood, and her altitude above sea level to within four. She'd been transmitting her location every hundred meters since she'd entered the bazaar. Taken together, the coordinates constituted a route marker for the cavalry, or in more dire circumstances, a path to get her the hell out of Dodge.
"Emerald, you are mapped. An A-team is moving in to clean up. ETA is twelve minutes."
"Twelve minutes? He could be out the back and halfway back to Pesh by then. Damn it, tell them to hurry."
The Smugglers' Bazaar encompassed an area as big as the City of London, with half again as many alleys, roads, and lanes. Few of the roads were marked, if they even possessed a name. There were certainly no addresses. It had sprung up as an informal "gray market" trading in goods stolen across the Afghani border. Carts had given way to shacks, and now most of the stores were housed in sturdy concrete bungalows. A patchwork of dubious signs advertised the wares. Marks and Spencer. Maytag. Pringle of Scotland. Sony. And her absolute favorite: Sacks Fifth Avenue. Though wholly within Pakistan's borders, the bazaar was treated as its own autonomous region. Crime was rampant. Thieves, pickpockets, and worse roamed freely, practicing their trade on the weak and unsuspecting. It was up to the victim to catch the criminal. Once he did, the punishment was up to him, too. If there was any rule at all, it was the harsh custom of the Pathan tribesmen who made it their home.
"Maintain visual," snapped the voice.
"How's the picture?" she asked. "Getting what you need?"
"Reception's a little fuzzy. Keep still for a second. I need to reset the color balance."
Sarah held still, staring out at the bustling street. Seven thousand miles away a technician was deciding whether the picture was too red or too green. The Sony microdigital camera embedded in her sunglasses was a gift from the boys in Langley. She liked to think of it as a "welcome to our side of the pond" present given upon her secondment from MI6. The Yanks always had the neater toys. The camera's images ran to a transmitter in her belt that relayed both audio and visual signals to a spot station nearby. The spot station, in turn, sent the signals on to Langley. The boys at Langley had also given her a machine pistol, three spare clips of ammo, and a tab of cyanide tucked inside a neat little compartment where her wisdom tooth used to be.
"Give us a slow scan left to right."
Sarah turned her head as directed, the camera capturing the same exotic imagery as her eyes: the mosque and its beautifully carved doors, the merchant stringing fresh offal in his front window, the gunsmith tooling a rifle barrel on the sidewalk, and finally, Bhatia's Gold and Precious Jewelry, where she could make out a tall, lean figure standing at the far counter. Abu Mohammed Sayeed. "Omar," for operational purposes.
But they couldn't get the smell. The acrid whiff of long-tended fires; the spiced scent of lamb on a spit; the eye-watering odor of men who toiled and sweated in the one-hundred-degree heat and had not bathed in weeks.
"Close enough?" she asked. "Or would you gents like me to stick my head inside the store and say hello?"
"Negative. Just give us a walk-by. Nice and brisk. We can slow down the pictures on this side."
Sarah crossed the street, dodging a howling Vespa, doing her best to keep to a walk. She was sure that somewhere in the Koran there was a hadith banning "righteous women" from running, just as the holy lessons banned them from everything else, except catering to the whims and desires of "righteous man folk."
Stepping onto the raised walkway, she continued past the jewelry store, letting her gaze fall on the array of gold chains in the window. The doorway gaped beside her. Two guards with AK's stood at attention inside. Surveillance cameras stared down from the corners. A portly Indian was talking to Sayeed. There were no other customers.
"Confirmed. Omar on premises," came the voice in her earpiece. "Looks like he's got some muscle in there. Keep it moving."
For a quarter second longer she watched, then continued her promenade. At that very moment, however, there was a flurry of movement inside the store, and she stopped. It was a clumsy, jerky halt, a dead giveaway. And there she stood for one second . . . two-a perfect silhouette frozen in the doorway.
"He's going in the back," Sarah whispered. "I mean, the two are going together. So is one of the guards. Where are the bully boys?" she asked, desperation crowding inside her.
"ETA nine minutes. Do not jeopardize your cover. Proceed to the Tikram Mosque and continue surveillance from there."
"Nine min-" Her rigid training cut short her protest. In her mind, however, she howled with frustration.
At the end of the walkway, Sarah stepped off the curb and stopped. The courtyard to her right was filled with automobile tires. Hundreds and hundreds of brand-new tires, stacked neatly upon one another, row after row, rising thirty feet in the air. Turning, she peered across the intersection toward the mosque. It would be safer to watch from there. An A-team was inbound. She knew what that meant: bullets, and lots of them. Abu Sayeed was not the type to turn himself over to the authorities and say, "Okay, Officer. I'll come along quietly."
"Emerald, this is Ranger." A new voice sounded in her ear, calm, authoritative. Ranger. The DDO himself. The deputy director of operations. "Go on into the store. Take a look around."
"We wouldn't want him to sneak out on us, would we? Not before the party starts. It's a jewelry store," he went on. "Have a look at a necklace. Buy whatever you like. Call it my treat. You can put it on my expense account."
"I don't think they take American Express," she answered blithely, knowing that the banter was to relax her, to deceive her about the peril of his command. And make no mistake, it was an order. He was asking her to fit by her lonesome into a shop with the biggest underworld financier on the northwest frontier and a hardened terrorist associated with a group so secret, so rife with all manner of rumor, that no one even dared whisper its name-if it even had one-because until now, no one had wanted to acknowledge its existence. One supreme evil commander was enough for the world these days.
Across the street, a fierce-looking man was staring daggers at her. He wore a black headdress and a black dishdasha, and his beard hadn't been cut in a decade. An Imam, she guessed. An Islamic cleric. The man refused to avert his gaze, lips trembling, eyes afre, his entire being a vessel of hate. Through the veil, she met his accusing glare, and from his obduracy, his anger, his bewildering disrespect of the superior sex, she drew the courage she herself lacked.
"Roger last," she said. "I think I'll have a look at some of Bhatia's tat."
"Good girl," said Ranger. And Sarah thought that if he ever called her that again, she'd slug him in the jaw even if he was a crip. But by then it didn't matter. She was moving, not thinking. She dodged the curtain of sparks sent up from the gunsmith's forge. She grimaced in her private netherworld as she passed the coils of lamb intestines dangling from the butcher's hook. Then she was inside the store, admiring Mr. Bhatia's mediocre wares as if they were the Crown Jewels.
THE MONEY SAT IN A PILE on a table in Bhatia's private office. The Indian opened each packet with a barber's straight-edged razor, then handed the bills to an associate to count. When he was fnished, he grunted. "Five hundred thousand dollars, as you claimed."
"The Sheikh does not lie," said Abu Sayeed. A bountiful rain had doubled the poppy harvest. One ton of raw opium was Allah's gift to Hijira: his benediction upon the holocaust to come.
"It is not easy to move such a sum," said Bhatia. "How quickly do you need it?"
Bhatia's grave features registered concern. "Where is the money to be sent?"
"Hmm." Bhatia's eyes narrowed, and he mumbled a few words to himself, shaking his head. Sayeed knew it was a ruse, the Indian figuring how large a fee he might get away with. "It can be done. However, the cost for such a transaction is two percent."
"Impossible! No one keeps such cash on the premises. A bank will have to be involved. There will be borrowing costs. Overnight at least. Maybe longer. It cannot be avoided. And, of course, the risk. One and a half."
Sayeed disliked negotiation, but in some cases, it was necessary. Five thousand dollars was a small fee to ensure swift delivery of money to Paris. Small, indeed, compared to the damage it would wreak. "One," he repeated. He had his orders. "The Sheikh will show his appreciation."
Abu Mohammed Sayeed clamped his hand over the Indian's, allowing his eyes to deliver the threat.
FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY MILES above the Indian Ocean, an Intruder Geosynchronous SIGINT (signals intelligence) satellite, tasked by the National Reconnaissance Agency to monitor mobile communications in the Pakistan-Northern India-Afghanistan triangle, responded to an emergency override command. In the freezing infinity of space, guidance boosters fired for a half second. Rectangular electromagnetic phased array panels minutely altered their attitude. In an instant, the satellite's field of surveillance, or "footprint," shifted forty miles to the north and twenty-two miles to the east, and centered on code name Emerald's last relayed GPS coordinates.
Several minutes later, the satellite intercepted an open-air cellular transmission based in Peshawar with a respondent in Paris. Along with two thousand three hundred and twenty-nine other calls it had concurrently captured, the satellite's transponders relayed the signal to a ground-based listening station at Diego Garcia, maintained by the U.S. Air Force's 20th space satellite group. In real time, the listening stationdirected the signals to the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the conversation was analyzed by a team of parallellinked IBM supercomputers for any of a thousand "keywords" in one hundred languages and dialects. In .025 of a second, the supercomputer determined the call was of "strategic or military" value, coded it "urgent," and forwarded a digital copy of the conversation to an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
The analyst, realizing he was in possession of "real-time intelligence," or information of an immediate strategic concern, phoned the deputy director of operations and requested a crash meeting.
"Sixth floor. CTCC," said Admiral Owen Glendenning. "Get up here on the double and bring me a copy of the call."
"SO," TRUMPETED FAISAN BHATIA, reentering the office after a fifteen-minute absence. "Everything is arranged. The money can be picked up at Royal Joailliers. It is located at the Place Vendôme in Paris.
Do you wish their address?"
"Of course." Abu Sayeed smiled secretly. The Sheikh had informed him that Bhatia would use Royal Joailliers. Royal called itself an "haute joaillier," meaning that nothing in its satin-lined showcases sold for less than ten thousand dollars. The cartels were their best clients-Colombians, Mexicans, Russians-and it was their practice to keep unconscionable sums of cash on the premises. When Sayeed had written down the address, Bhatia inquired if he would like to provide him with the recipient's name.
"That is not necessary," said Sayeed.
"Very well. The recipient must use a password to identify himself. In this case, a dollar bill will do nicely." Bhatia slid a worn U.S. banknote across the table. "You will take it with you. As soon as possible, I advise you to transmit the serial numbers on the lower left-hand side of the bill to the recipient. When he presents himself to Royal Joailliers, he must give them the identical numbers in sequence. Only then will he be given the money. There can be no mistakes. It is agreed?"
Sayeed knew the rules of hawala well. The Sheikh had made use of the informal banking system for years to funnel funds to his operatives. "It is agreed," he said.
"May I offer the use of my telephone?"
"I have my own."
"Very good, then. You will join me for something to eat. If I may say, you look rather done in." Bhatia clapped his hands, barking an order to an unseen consort. A moment later, his wife entered carrying a tray with two porcelain cups and a china teapot. A younger woman followed, bearing a goat's head upon a silver platter. In the cloying, ninety-degree heat, flies swarmed the tray, attacking the staring, gelatinous eyes.
"Please," said Bhatia, extending a hand toward the Pakistani delicacy.
But Sayeed was not interested in food. Glancing at the monitor that broadcast the interior of Bhatia's showroom, he watched as a woman clad in a full-length burqa examined a tray of jewelry. She had been there the entire time he had been with Bhatia. The picture grew fuzzy as if losing reception, then snapped back into focus. A tinge of unease soured his stomach. The clock read 4:45. It would be 12:45 in Paris. He wanted to leave. He wanted to make the call. His brother would be waiting.
Abruptly, he stood. "The monitor," he said, lifting his finger toward the screen. "It is a closed-circuit system?"
"No," answered Bhatia proudly. "Wireless. New from Japan."
Sayeed stalked from the office without another word.
ADMIRAL OWEN GLENDENNING SAT AT THE REAR OF THE Counterterrorism Command Center on the sixth floor of the Agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia, digesting the latest information. It was too soon to hope, but he had no intention of ignoring the first flush of optimism that reddened the back of his neck and had him tapping his cane on the floor.
"Keep on him a little longer, girl, and we're there," he said to himself. "Just a little longer."
Projected onto a ten-foot screen, a live feed from Pakistan broadcast Sarah Churchill's point of view as she examined a selection of gold chains. She raised her head, and Glendenning came face-to-face with a frantic jewelry salesman blabbing the usual nonsense about high quality and best price. A simultaneous English translation ran across the bottom of the screen.
A second screen broadcast the footprint of the Central Intelligence Agency's spy satellites on a political map of the globe. A shaded area indicated each satellite's footprint. Some shadows remained stationary; others crept across the map with the turning of the earth.
The seal of the CIA highlighted against a navy blue background lit up a third screen, currently unused.
At seven a.m., the Counterterrorism Command Center was fully staffed and humming. Three rows of analysts occupied the gallery of the auditorium-sized command room. All enjoyed brand-new workstations, the latest flat-panel displays, and state-of-the-art ergonomic chairs that cost twelve hundred dollars a pop. It had been a long time since the Company had enjoyed such generous funding, but with the war on terrorism running at full bore, the spigots were wide open. To his frequent visitors from Capitol Hill, Glendenning liked to joke that his op center looked like a movie set-the way Hollywood imagined the espionage community operated. Lately, though, his audience had been less enthralled. Briefings that had once been little more than secret check-writing ceremonies had lately taken an adversarial turn. Where were the results Glendenning had promised? the more daring senators demanded. A few hundred million dollars in confiscated accounts was fine and dandy, but what about the terrorists behind it? Warm bodies, not frozen assets, were the order of the day.
They'd get their terrorists, Glendenning promised silently. A little patience would be nice.
Suppressing the grunt that came with the pain of standing, he pushed himself to his feet, then took hold of his twin bamboo canes and shuffled across the back of the op center to the glassed-in enclosure that served as his office. Owen Glendenning was sixty-one years old, thin and balding. People remarked on his resemblance to Franklin Roosevelt. They said he owned the same patrician bearing, the great politician's indomitable smile and easy charm. He knew they were lying, that his looks made people nervous. As a young SEAL lieutenant in the Vietnam War, he had been gravely wounded leading a nighttime incursion behind enemy lines to capture a suspected VC cadre. The mortar rounds that had mangled his legs had also disfigured his face. His right cheek and jaw were concave, as if someone had hit him very hard with a spading tool. The mission, however, had been a success, and for his part in it, Glendenning had been awarded the Medal of Honor. He might have looked like FDR once, but now the only things he had in common with the great man were a steely self-reliance, a hatred of sympathy, and a refusal to be patronized.
Picking up a phone, he dialed the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center (FTAT) two foors below. "Get me Halsey."
Strictly speaking, FTAT was a Treasury operation. Treasury funded it. Treasury supervised it. But when the scope of the investigation into worldwide terrorist financing had become clear, all involved had decided to move FTAT's operations to Langley.
There had been a time not too far back when the very idea of the CIA contacting Treasury to share information had been practically a jailable offense. There was law enforcement and there was intelligence, and never the twain shall meet. But the events of September 11, 2001, had changed all that. With the passage of the Patriot Act, communication between the United States's varied and multiple law enforcement and intelligence agencies not only was permitted, it was encouraged. The old concept of "stovepiping," or keeping information inside the particular agency, or, as was the case with the FBI, inside the individual department that had discovered it, was thrown out the door. Concerns about infractions of civil liberties and personal privacy were quickly dismissed. If you weren't stepping on someone's rights, you weren't doing your job, Glendenning liked to say. The threat beyond the country's borders took preeminence and was far greater than anyone could be told.
"This is Halsey," answered a deep, gravelly voice.
"Don't you have a home either?"
Allan Halsey, chief of the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center, gave a shallow laugh. "Not according to my wife."
"We nabbed the call," said Glendenning. "The money's being moved as we speak. Come on up and we'll run it from here."
"We're guessing five hundred grand or five million. Either way, it's the real deal."
"I don't like it," said Halsey. "Risky to move so much."
"I couldn't agree more. Something's about to pop. Who's running your team in Paris?
"Don't know him. A new guy?"
"Treasury pulled him in after the WTC."
"God no," said Halsey. "A quant jock all the way. Kid was on the fast track at Price Waterhouse. Partner at twenty-nine. National audit manager."
"Sounds like a real killer," said Glendenning. "Ought to have 'em quaking in their boots."
"Come on now, Glen. He's the new kind of soldier. You know, brains instead of brawn. Different war we're fighting this time."
"That's what they tell me. In the end, though, you still have to shoot the bad guys."
"Don't worry about Chapel," said Halsey, his voice quieter, more confident, as if vouchsafing a secret. "He can hold his own."
MIDMORNING TRAFFIC WAS LIGHT as the canary yellow postal van accelerated across the Place de la Concorde. Jaw clenched, Adam Chapel leaned close to the windshield, willing the van faster. Finally, an anxious voice pleaded inside his head. Finally.
The tires hit a stretch of cobblestones and Chapel jostled inside the tight cabin. Looking out the driver's window, he was afforded a clear view up the Champs-Elysées. Rows of oaks lined the boulevard, giving way to wide sidewalks and an array of stores and restaurants. The Arc de Triomphe rose at its head. The sun broke from the clouds, and the monument to France's fallen warriors glimmered like an ivory tower.
"How much faster can you go?" Chapel asked the hulking black man behind the steering wheel.
"This is it, my friend," said Detective Sergeant Santos Babtiste of the French Sûreté. "Any quicker and we'll blow the tires off. Be happy-the average speed around town these days is ten kilometers per hour. You're better off taking the Métro, even if you are the police." Zee poleece. Gingerly, he kissed two fingers of his right hand and touched them to the photographs of his children glued to the dashboard. "Dieu nous benisse. Aujourd'hui, nous avons de la chance."
"We'll see about that," answered Chapel, shifting in his seat, eyes to the fore. Luck scared him. It was work that yielded results.
Chapel was not as big as Babtiste, but like the French detective, he looked cooped up and uncomfortable in the cramped cabin. There was something about the roll of his shoulders, the striated muscles around the neck that suggested a caged restlessness, a quivering, explosive ambition. His black hair was curly and cut close to the scalp; his skin pale, an army of stubble visible beneath the hollow planes of his cheeks. He wore what he always wore, a pressed white Polo button-down, Levi's, and a pair of handmade loafers from John Lobb of Jermyn Street. Perched on the edge of his seat, he had the haunted, lonely look of a skipper who'd been at sea too long, his whiskey brown eyes scanning the horizon, willing land into sight.
A stone's throw away, the Obelisk passed in a blur. He was thinking the sights should stir him more. Inspire him, even. But he was too nervous to award them more than a passing glance. It was his first command as team leader and he was determined not to screw up. The sights could wait. He was busy mapping out the job at hand, rehearsing his responsibilities, and calculating the odds of nabbing his first honest-togod terrorist. Two weeks earlier, a pair of Treasury agents he'd trained with at Quantico had gotten the call in Lagos, Nigeria. A sale of diamonds in the old town. Cash only. High six figures. Seller was thought to be a player. It was a "wait and watch" job, just like today. Their bodies were discovered fve hours after they'd failed to report back. Both had been shot in the head at close range. Someone else had been waiting and watching.
That was the first time Adam Chapel had heard the name "Hijira" mentioned.
Today, it was his turn. Somewhere between five hundred thousand and five million dollars was being transferred to Paris. Now. At this minute. He wondered if the transfer belonged to the same network that had killed the men in Lagos.
The jump team had hit Paris three days earlier. Like the other teams that had landed in Frankfurt, Hamburg, Rome, Milan, Madrid, and London, it had a mandate to contact the local "cop shop," target probable points of currency entry, and if possible, set up visual and electronic surveillance on said locations. Paris's large Arab population- more than fifty thousand French Algerians alone lived in the capital- coupled with the jump team's limited personnel, precluded any stakeouts. It was just as well. While there were over one hundred registered money-transfer businesses, better known as "hawalas," operating in the city, Royal Joailliers was not one of them.
"Con!" roared Santos Babtiste, ramming his enormous palm into the horn, letting it ride for a while as he jerked the wheel hard to the right. An ancient CitroÎn Deux Chevaux flashed across the windshield and was gone. Chapel held his breath as the van braked, then lunged forward, asserting its place in the five-lane circus.
"Take it easy up there!" came a voice from the rear of the van.
"That you griping, Santini?" asked Chapel. "What's the problem? You got a weak stomach?"
A glance over his shoulder revealed four men seated on the metal floor, knees to their chests. All guarded the same hardened expression, and they reminded him of a stick of paratroopers ready to jump into combat. Ray Gomez and Carmine Santini from Customs. Mr. Keck from the Agency. And a very small, taciturn Frenchman with a cloudy affiliation to the Sûreté named Leclerc.
Leclerc, who rubbed the slim wooden briefcase between his knees, as if he were calming a pet.
Chapel was certain he knew what was inside.
"Weak stomach?" called Santini. "You got the wrong body part, mister. It's like getting a jackhammer up your ass back here. Someone hurry up and tell our hosts a road's supposed to be smooth." Frowning, he looked at Leclerc, seated next to him. "Haven't you guys ever heard of shock absorbers? Now I know why you don't sell any French cars in the states. No Peugeots. No CitroÎns. Like getting it in the ass all day."
Leclerc looked at him for a second, then smiled thinly and lit a cigarette. "Pussy," he muttered through a cloud of blue smoke.
"What'd you say?" Santini demanded, then to the others: "What'd he say, the little prick?"
"Pussy," said Keck. "You heard him."
"Called you a pussy, Carmine," chimed in Gomez. "How 'bout that?"
Santini considered the remark, his back coming off the rear wall, shoulders rising like he was going to ratchet things up a notch. At six two, one-eighty, he had it over the Frenchman in height and weight. His eyes fell to the briefcase, to Leclerc's indifferent eyes, dull as a shark's, and he sank back. "Ah, fuck the bunch of you," he said halfheartedly.
Leclerc lofted a perfect smoke ring across the cabin. Shaking his head, he began rubbing the wooden case again.
"How long till we're there?" Chapel asked Babtiste.
"Two minutes. A miracle, I tell you. A sign. We're going to get this man, you will see."
Looking over his shoulder, Chapel asked, "What about Royal? They on our radar?"
Ray Gomez was online with TECS, the Treasury Enforcement Computer System's database, checking for references to Royal Joailliers.
"Turned up once as a possible accomplice in a money laundering case we were working against the cartels," he said, looking up from his laptop.
"No charges filed. Owner is Rafi Boubilas, Lebanese national."
"They are dirty," said Leclerc. He had a folksinger's lank dark hair and the three-day stubble to go with it. "Boubilas, he runs a big coke ring in town. You know how he gets the money out? His partners in Bogot· grind up old bottles of Seven-Up, green glass, you know, then import the pieces as uncut emeralds. This man, he has many friends. He is rich. He is well connected. No one looks too closely. The invoice says five million. No problem. Boubilas, he takes all his coke cash and sends it back to his masters to pay for the phony stones."
"Why don't you take him down?" Chapel asked.
Leclerc made no reply. He was suddenly busy looking out the rear window, humming.
The postal van leaned hard into a left-hand turn. Buildings rose on either side of them. Shadows drenched the cabin as they advanced the length of the Rue de Castiglione. Ahead, the buildings fell away, and the road gave onto a grand square. Place Vendôme.
Another left turn. A flood of sunlight. A decreased tempo. A courtly circuit of the square. Rising like a giant roman candle in its center was the monument to the Battle of Austerlitz, smelted from the twelve hundred cannons Napoléon had captured on the field that day in Germany. Colored awnings advertised the world's most famous luxury goods. Chanel. Repossi. Van Cleef and Arpels. And passing to their left, the blue welcome carpet of the Ritz Hotel, their destination.
Babtiste turned into an alleyway and parked the postal van outside the service entry.
Chapel threw an arm over the back of his seat, his eyes going from one member of his team to the next. He thought about telling them to keep their heads up, their eyes and ears open. What was the point? Between them they had fifty years' experience setting up stings, going on stakeouts, taking down narcotrafficantes with shields out and pistols blazing. He was the new guy. They knew better than he did what to do.
A team of hotel security waited. Quietly, they guided Gomez, Santini, and Keck to the service elevator. Babtiste followed, swinging the stainless steel case loaded with eighty pounds of A/V gear as if it were a lunch box. Leclerc took the stairs with Chapel. Entering the opulent suite, he shot the American a challenging glance. "You look nervous," he said.
"I am," Chapel answered.
SIX MONTHS, Sarah had been chasing the shadow. Six months shuttling between Kabul, Kandahar, and the Khyber Pass, chasing down leads like an errant felder. One week she was a UNICEF relief worker, the next, a clinician from Médecins Sans FrontiËres, and the next, an administrator for the World Bank. She spent as much time building her legends as she did working her sources.
The first whispers had reached her at her desk in London, though by wildly different routes. A field officer had buried a mention in his report of some rumors he'd picked up at a party at the Indian consul's in Kabul, the kind of boozy affair frequented by aid workers, diplomats, and the local gentry, in this case a few of the tamer regional warlords.
Then there were the firsthand snippets delivered over a tepid lunch at Fortnum's by a wallah from agriculture just back from a tour of the area: something vague about a new poppy farmer in the southeast taking control of the large felds near Jalalabad. With the Taliban gone, the Afghanis were hell-bent on reclaiming their place as the world's largest suppliers of raw opium. Word was, however, that the seller wasn't a local, but an Arab-Afghan like bin Laden, a devout Muslim from the Gulf who had fought as a Mujahadeen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. There were rumors of an important sale. Several tons of product coming to market.
Both times the word "Hijira" came up.
"Hijira," as in the journey from Mecca to Medinah undertaken by the Prophet Muhammad in the year a.d. 622 to escape persecution. Or more important, "Hijira," as in the date from which the new Muslim calendar began.
To Sarah's seasoned ears, it could not be a coincidence.
Marshaling her evidence, she'd marched downstairs to Peter Callan's offce and demanded an immediate posting in country. When he demurred, she blew her stack. Wasn't CT what it was all about these days? Counterterrorism. Intelligence's desperately needed raison d'être borne on silver wings in what everybody had to agree was the barest nick of time. When he hesitated still, she built his argument for him. Arabic speakers were in demand. Those who spoke Pashtun were particularly prized. Sarah, who'd taken a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge, trumped them all, with Urdu, French, and German under her belt as well. The question wasn't why she should go to Afghanistan. It was why she wasn't already there! Callan had grunted something about a budget and called Langley.
Four days later, she was packed aboard a commercial flight to Dulles for a one month's crash course in the culture of the American intelligence community. From there, it was on to Karachi, and by overland route to Kabul.
Her brief was simple: Keep an ear to the ground for the bad guys. "Players," the Yanks called them. She was to cultivate sources, debrief agents in place, and establish her own network.
"Follow the money" was her maxim, and it led to the gold souks of Gilgit, the vaults of the Afghani central bank, and Kabul's bustling black market for medical supplies.
While she never found the Arab-Afghan, she did run across one Abu Mohammed Sayeed, wanted by nearly every Western intelligence agency for barbarous acts too numerous to mention, as he scurried to and fro across her radar arranging to sell his mother lode of opium.
Follow the money, she repeated silently, staring at the gold chain in her hand. She had, and the money had led her here, to Faisan Bhatia's jewelry store in the heart of the Smugglers' Bazaar.
"No, no," she remonstrated the clerk. "The quality of the links is terrible. Look: this is not solid gold. It is electroplated."
"Yes. Twenty microns."
"Ten at most," she countered. "I can scratch it off with my fingernail."
She'd been in the store for twenty minutes, and her every sensor was telling her to get the hell out. One of the surveillance cameras was pointed directly at her, and she could imagine Sayeed in the back room, glancing up at the monitor and asking, "Is she still there? That's a bit long, isn't it?"
She dropped the chain on the counter and pretended to spot a bracelet that captured her fancy.
"There's been a delay," said a voice in her ear. "A traffic jam." It was Ranger and he no longer sounded so calm and authoritative. "The A-team will be there in five minutes. If Omar comes out, you need to stop him. Once he's in the bazaar, he's got the advantage. We need him penned in."
Stop him? The reply choked deep in her throat. Damn it! She knew they wouldn't make it in time.
"Are you with me?" asked Ranger. "Just nod."
So, it had come to this, thought Sarah. With all their satellites and uplinks and GPS, it had come back to the same old thing. Put your body in front of the bullet.
She would do it. She never considered saying no. Not with a daddy who'd gone ashore with 2 Para at Goose Green in the Falklands and a brother who'd done thirty missions over Baghdad. The Churchills were bred to fight. And they had the coat of arms and the professional soldier's proud penury to prove it.
She just hadn't thought it would be hers to do alone.
Swallowing, she found her throat dry as a chalkboard. It was the heat, she told herself.
"I'd like to see the red one." To her surprise, Sarah realized that she was asking the salesman a second time to see the bracelet and that he wasn't responding. She heard a rustle behind her, the creak of a door opening, hushed voices. The salesman's eyes were pinned to the men emerging from the back room. Against her every instinct, she turned so that Langley could see what she was seeing, so that they would know that their vaunted A-team, their bare-chested macho superstars, were too late, and that Omar was going to get away unless she tackled him right then and there.
Sayeed was talking on a cell phone, his words rushed, urgent. She caught a string of numbers, a pause, saw his mouth widen to utter an arrogant laugh. As he slid past her, she caught his ripe scent.
Stop him, Glendenning had said.
Sarah took a step back. The collision was stilted and orchestrated. Sayeed grunted and spun, immediately on the defensive. And even as she turned to apologize, and the futility of her cause overcame her, she knew that, at least for a moment, she'd accomplished what she'd been told, and that her father, the general himself, would be proud.
ABU SAYEED LIFTED HIS ARM to brush away the woman, his eyes drawn into a distasteful grimace. Until she had backed into him like a clumsy ox, he thought he'd been wrong to suspect her. Her burqa was immaculate. Her posture at once respectful, yet with the right amount of pride. She revealed no part of herself. She was a righteous woman, not a street whore eager to prey on a man with a little money in his pocket.
Abu Sayeed believed in the law of Hijaab, or "concealment." He Believed that women had no place in public. They belonged at home, caring for children, tending to their household. Only in this way could their dignity be upheld, their purity protected. Should they have to venture out, they must cover their figure in deference to the Prophet. The smallest piece of exposed flesh was as provocative as a woman's pudenda.
Now he knew it was a sham. Her adherence to Hijaab, a lie; a ploy to rid an unsuspecting male of a few dollars. It was common enough practice. You could barely pass a diamond merchant without spotting the women waiting outside like jackals. After all, if a man had a few hundred dollars to spend on a precious stone, he might be willing to part with a good deal less to sate his baser desires. He'd been mistaken. The cloudy reception on Bhatia's TV was from her pager, no doubt. They all carried them, anxious to meet their customers' beck and call. Carrion birds, they were. Vultures. And laden with as many diseases.
Still, Sayeed was unable to look away. The sun shone through the window, silhouetting her breasts. He imagined that beneath the fulllength garment she possessed an exquisite form. He was tempted to take her to his safe house and have his way with her, but the current of lust was swept aside by waves of self-righteousness. Years of education demanded to be heard. He was talking before he knew it, speaking as if the Prophet himself commanded his tongue.
"Harlot," he said. "Do you think every man is corruptible? Do you think you tempt me even for a moment? You are a disgrace to Islam and to the Prophet. Do you not follow the holy teachings?"
The woman did not respond.
"Speak when you are addressed!" he bellowed.
"Excuse me," came the voice, timid and repentant. "I did not mean to run into you. It was an accident. I did not realize I was of offense."
"Of course you did. How else can your actions be taken? Why else have you been waiting so long in the store? Do you think I do not know what you wish of me?"
Sayeed grasped the woman's arm and pulled her along with him.< "Stay on the street, where you belong. Or better yet, inside your house of ill-repute." Her upper arm was muscular. She was strong. He had known women like this, in the camps, and in America.
He pushed her through the doorway and into the street.
"Away," she cried, struggling. "You have no right."
"I am a man. I have every right."
He heard her exhale, and then she was upon him, striking him with the ferocity of a wildcat. A fist swung at his face. Stepping away, he deflected the blow, keeping a grip on her arm.
"A fighter, eh? Is that where you built your muscles? Hitting men and stealing their wealth when they are weak and sated?"
A dozen men had stopped to gawk at the struggle. Quickly, a circle formed around Sayeed and the woman. Voices offered all manner of advice, a precious few even calling for Sayeed to let her go.
"Away," she yelled repeatedly, the fear of retribution pinching her voice. "Let me go. I shall call the police."
"Call them," he seconded. "Be my guest. Here, the Lord God is judge. We require no other authority."
He tried to swing her around and get her arm locked behind her, but suddenly she slid inside his reach. His jaw rocked. His mouth filled with a warm, salty fluid that he knew was blood. It surprised him, nonetheless. She had hit him. The whore had hit him. Clenching his fist, he swung at the veiled face, holding back nothing. A cry escaped as she collapsed to a knee.
A cheer erupted from the crowd. The spectators closed in, fifty of them at least, more rushing in every second. Their voices were raucous and hungry, the confrontation awakening an ancient taste for savagery.
Sayeed lifted the woman to her feet. Dust coated her burqa. Rivets of blood dotted the ground beneath her, some black, some violently red. Yet, as she rose, he felt something hard and angular rub against him. Something that felt very much like a gun.
"Who are you?" he asked, raising his machine gun to port arms, pulling the firing pin, and slipping a finger inside the trigger guard.
"I know who she is," came a cracked and rusted voice. "I have seen her watching."
Sayeed spun to face an old man, dressed entirely in black, emerging from the ring of spectators. "Yes, Imam," he addressed the mullah. "Tell me. Tell us all."
The Islamic cleric raised a gnarled finger, his voice shrill with the fury of a thousand years. "A crusader!"
Excerpted from THE DEVIL'S BANKER © Copyright 2003 by Christopher Reich. Reprinted with permission by Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.