Dominic Caruso: operative, The Campus
Ethan Ross: deputy assistant director for Near East and North African affairs, National Security Council
Eve Pang: computer network systems engineer, Ross’s girlfriend
Darren Albright: supervisory special agent, FBI Counterintelligence Division
Nolan and Beale: investigative specialists, FBI Special Surveillance Group
Adara Sherman: director of transportation, The Campus
Harlan Banfield: journalist, member of the International Transparency Project
Gianna Bertoli: director, International Transparency Project
Mohammed Mobasheri: Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Kashan, Shiraz, Isfahan, and Ormand: operatives, Quds Force
Arturo: Venezuelan General Intelligence officer
Leo: Venezuelan General Intelligence officer
Rigoberto Finn: polygraph examiner, FBI
Gerry Hendley: director, The Campus/Hendley Associates
Arik Yacoby: former operative, Shayetet 13, Israeli naval Special Forces
David: Israeli intelligence agent
Phillip McKell: computer network expert
THE COAST OF INDIA appeared in the moonlight. There wasn’t much to it, really, just a narrow strip of sand that emerged from the darkness a few hundred meters off the ship’s bow, but the first sight of land in four days told the man standing on the foredeck two important things.
One: The ingression phase of his operation had succeeded.
And two: The time had come to slit the captain’s throat.
The man on the foredeck drew his knife and moved toward the stairs leading up to the navigation bridge. Two of his men fell into step behind him, but they were just along to watch. Responsibility for killing the captain fell to the leader and, in truth, he considered it no burden; in fact, he welcomed the opportunity to once again put his commitment to this mission on display for the others.
The leader and his team of six had spent three days on board an Omani fishing trawler on the open water of the Arabian Sea. Last night they came abreast of this eighty-foot dry-goods vessel and waved a shredded fan belt in the air. In Hindi they asked for help, but when the cargo ship drew even with them, the leader and his men scurried aboard like swamp rats and overran the small crew; they slaughtered all save the captain, and ordered him to head due east with a course set for India’s Malabar Coast.
It had taken the leader half a day to convince the terrified captain he would not suffer the same fate as his crew. Killing him would make a lie of this, of course, but as the leader climbed the steps up to the dark bridge, he wasn’t troubling himself about going back on his promise; his mind was already off this boat and onto the objective phase of the operation.
The leader was a lieutenant in the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of the Palestinian political organization Hamas. He’d been sent on this mission to target a single man, but he had known all along that many others, the captain and his crew, for instance, would necessarily be sacrificed in the action.
So far he had been in total control of his operation. The next phase, by contrast, was in the hands of someone else, and this worried him greatly. Everything now hinged on the competence of a local contact. A woman, he had been told in his mission brief, who had verified the presence of the target and the disposition of the local police and had also, Inshallah, delivered a vehicle to his landing point and, Inshallah, remembered to leave the keys under the driver’s seat.
The leader lost his balance momentarily at the top of the stairs on the outer bridge deck, and he reached out to steady himself. The men behind him were still climbing, they had not seen him stumble, and he was glad of this. They might wonder if it was a show of nerves on his part, and this he could not allow. Actually it was just a slight sway to starboard that unbalanced him, and it stood to reason his sea legs would falter. Born in the Gaza Strip, the leader had grown up within sight of the ocean but had never set foot on anything larger than a fishing skiff with an outboard motor before this week.
He had been chosen because of his intelligence, his ruthlessness, and his resolve, but certainly not for any maritime prowess.
Up here on the bridge deck, the leader stopped to scan the night in all directions. There were few signs of civilization onshore except for some wooden shacks, but an electric glow hung in the haze over the huge coastal metropolis of Kochi just forty-five kilometers to the south.
Satisfied no one was around to hear a scream across the open water, he reached for the door latch.
The middle-aged Indian captain did not turn as the leader entered the bridge. He kept his hands on the wheel, looking straight ahead, his chest heaving from dread.
The leader continued forward with his knife shielded down behind his thigh; he’d planned on asking a question as he approached, something nonchalant to distract the man, to put him at ease for the moment, but instead he kept silent, raising the blade in his right hand.
At three paces he rushed the man’s back, reached around in front of his body with the knife, then thrust the blade into his neck and pulled it back across the bare throat. He withdrew the knife and took a single stride back. The Indian spun, blood spewed across the bridge, catching the leader’s pants and sneakers though he leapt back the length of the small room to avoid it.
The other two watched through a portal by the door, clear of the arterial spray.
The captain dropped to his knees, air hissed and gurgled through the bloody wound for a moment. Then he died. Mercifully quick for everyone, the leader thought.
“Allahu Akbar.” He said it with reverence, and he stepped over the body, tracking through the blood because there was no way to avoid it, and he put his hands on the wheel.
But for only a moment—he was no captain. In fact, none of the men on board knew how to bring the cargo ship safely into port, the captain had even told them there was no port where they were going, so the leader just pulled the engines back to idle and ordered his men to move to the tender that had already been packed with gear and lowered into the black water on the port side.
• • •
TWENTY MINUTES LATER the seven men climbed out of the small tender and into gentle shoreline surf, then pulled the boat onto the sand, beaching it just clear of the licking waves.
Leaving the boat here in the open would be no problem. They would not need it again; the leader’s exfiltration route would be overland to the east, into Madurai and then out on an aircraft with forged papers. Plus, the boat would not stand out and jeopardize the mission, as several other small watercraft lay unattended around this spit of sand. Net fishermen had left them for the night, having first removed their outboard motors and taken them back to their thatched-roof homes to protect them from thieves.
The men pulled black canvas bags from the tender and donned their gear. Three strapped heavy vests under their large black windbreakers; the other four hung small rifles on slings around their necks along with pouches of extra ammunition. The guns were micro-Uzis, a nine-millimeter machine pistol of Israeli manufacture, but any irony in the choice of firearm was outweighed by the gun’s undeniable reliability.
In three minutes they were off the sand, running up a dark beach road lined with palm and coconut trees.
The local contact had left her vehicle just off the road alongside a narrow ditch, exactly where she had been instructed to do so. True to the leader’s brief, the vehicle was a large brown panel truck that delivered milk from a local farm to the residents of Kochi. The refrigerators had been removed from the back, and this created barely enough room for the five men who climbed through the side door.
The keys were there, under the seat, and the leader found himself both pleased with and surprised by the woman’s competence. He slipped into the front passenger seat, his second-in-command took position behind the wheel, and the others sat in back without a word spoken among them.
They drove east, away from the beach and down a narrow paved road through the backwater, a system of both natural and man-made brackish lakes and canals where the Arabian Sea and the Periyar River meet. Coconut trees lined the road on both sides here, and thick haze diffused the headlights.
The leader checked his watch, then consulted with a handheld GPS device, loaded with coordinates given to him by the local agent. Their first stop was the cell phone tower on Paravur–Bhoothakulam Road. There were no landlines at the objective, so disabling the tower would cut off their target’s line of communication with the local police.
The leader conferred with his driver, then turned to face the men behind him. He saw only dark silhouettes.
He had known two of the five men for years; they, like the leader and the driver, were fedayeen from the territories. He could make them out by their posture even though he could not see their faces. The other three men he’d met at the camp in Yemen only shortly before setting sail. He focused on these foreigners exclusively, and even smiled at them like a patient and benevolent uncle.
The smile was a ruse; he thought the men fools; he refused to arm them with guns because he didn’t trust them as competent soldiers. These men would not wield weapons, the leader had decided, because they were weapons.
His smile deepened, and then he spoke to the fools in Arabic. “The time draws near, my brave brothers. You must prepare yourselves for martyrdom.”
DOMINIC CARUSO was only thirty-two years old, and by any fair measure physically fit, but still he found it difficult keeping stride with the fifty-year-old man running several paces ahead of him. In the past hour the pair had done five miles of roadwork broken up by a half-mile swim, and the conditions here weren’t helping. Dom sucked as much of the fetid air as he could get into his lungs just to keep going. It was the middle of the night and still hot as hell, and the jungle path was dark save for a little hazy moonlight that filtered through the palms above.
Dom’s running partner seemed to be having no trouble finding his way in the darkness, but Dom caught the toe of his shoe on the exposed root of a jacaranda tree, and he fell headlong to his hands and knees.
“Son of a bitch.” He said it under labored breath.
His trainer looked back at him but kept running. Dom thought he detected a smile on the older man’s face. His voice was low and heavily accented. “Do you need an ambulance?”
“No, I just—”
“Then get the fuck up.” The older man chuckled, then added, “C’mon, D, soldier on.” He turned away and picked up the pace.
“Right.” Dom climbed back to his feet, wiped warm mud on his shorts, and took off in pursuit.
A month ago there was no way in hell the American could have run a ten-K in eighty-five-degree heat and ninety-five percent humidity, especially not in the middle of the night after a full day of training in martial arts. But since his arrival here in India he’d made advances in his physical and mental strength faster than he could have imagined, and he owed this all to Arik Yacoby, the man now forty feet ahead of him.
The muddy jungle path ended at a paved road, and Arik turned to the left and began sprinting along it. Dominic gave chase even though he thought they should have been going to the right; he was the visitor, after all, and he trusted that Yacoby knew his way around these roads better than he.
Yacoby wasn’t a local, but he’d lived here a few years, and by his elite physical condition it was obvious he’d run these trails and roads hundreds of times.
Dom knew very little about Arik Yacoby’s past: only that he was Israeli, an émigré to India, and he had once been a member of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. Dom had no trouble picturing Arik as an elite soldier; his fitness and discipline and the confident and determined glint in his steely eyes announced this fact to anyone who knew what to look for.
Dom had come here to India to train with the man for six weeks. Yacoby held a fourth-degree black belt in Krav Maga, a martial art developed for the Israeli military. Dom’s hand-to-hand training with Arik had been intense in and of itself, but these additional nighttime PT sessions had added another facet to the grueling experience.
They’d swum, they’d run, they’d climbed—often all in the same night. It seemed to Dom as if Arik felt it his duty to impart not just the skills of hand-to-hand combat, but every physical and mental aspect of serving in the Israeli Special Forces.
Everything short of the use of firearms, that is. This was India, and although Arik Yacoby was now a permanent resident of Paravur, he was no cop, and no soldier, and he therefore could not obtain a gun legally.
But Dom didn’t think Yacoby’s lack of a firearm made him in any way less dangerous.
This India quest to study Krav Maga was the third evolution of five in a four-month training course for Dominic Caruso. Just before coming here, Dom had spent three weeks mountain climbing in the Yukon, led in one-on-one tutelage by a veteran Canadian alpinist. And before that, he’d spent two weeks in Reno, Nevada, studying sleight of hand and other applications of misdirection from a master magician.
After his Krav Maga training in India, Dom was slated to fly to Pennsylvania to work with a former U.S. Marine sniper on his long-distance shooting, and then from there he would go straight to Sapporo, Japan, to learn from a master in edged-weapon combat.
At each of these evolutions Dom tapped the experience of his expert trainers in the one-on-one courses and peppered them with literally thousands of questions. The trainers, on the other hand, didn’t ask him much of anything. They didn’t know his real name—Arik just referred to him as D—they didn’t know his organization, they didn’t know his background. All they knew, all they needed to know, was that Dom came with the blessing of important people connected to the U.S. intelligence community.
There was certainly an assumption by the trainers that Dom was CIA or DIA or JSOC or some other acronym that meant trouble, and Caruso himself did nothing to dispel that notion. But he was none of these things, nor was he an employee of any official government agency. Instead, Dominic Caruso was an operations officer for an entity known as The Campus. It was an off-the-books intelligence organization with a direct-action arm. Only a few in official government ranks knew of its existence, and these few made the connections to the one-on-one elite training cadre around the world, so Dom and his fellow Campus officers could learn from martial artists, mountain climbers, snipers, divers, extreme athletes, language and cultural experts, or masters in any other discipline that might be necessary for them to succeed in their black operations.
Before his time in The Campus, Dom had been a special agent in the FBI. This gave him a tremendous amount of practical training, but the FBI Training Academy at Quantico didn’t send its recruits up mountains or have them skulking through tropical swamps.
Caruso had learned much at each of his stops on his extracurricular training circuit, but his time here with Arik Yacoby had been the best of the evolutions so far, thanks, in large part, to Yacoby and his family. Arik’s yoga-instructor wife, Hanna, had taken him into her home like a long-lost relative, and their two young boys, Moshe and Dar, aged one and three, had treated him like a human jungle gym, playfully climbing over him each night as the adults sat in the living room of Arik’s rustic village farmhouse and talked over dinner and beer.
Dominic was an unreformed bachelor, and he was surprised by how much he had enjoyed this glimpse into family life.
This evening, Dom had finished dinner with Arik and his family, and then retired to his room to do his “homework,” reading up on the philosophies of Krav Maga. He’d nodded off before eleven, but just after midnight Yacoby appeared at his door and told him he had three minutes to put on his swimming shorts and running shoes and to get outside.
These night ops, as Yacoby called them, were designed to help condition Caruso’s body to adapt to working on command, even when he’d had little sleep or his biorhythms were telling him it was time to shut down.
Dom’s body had adapted to this regimen, although reluctantly, while Arik himself seemed to genuinely enjoy the late-night runs and swims.
Three minutes after Yacoby woke Caruso up, the two men began their run. They headed away from the house and up a road that led out of the cluster of farms and bungalows in the Jewish neighborhood, and into the palm trees. They turned west toward the ocean and then north, away from the closest village and along a jungle trail that at times turned nearly impossible to negotiate because of the complete darkness of the double canopy of coconut palms and banana trees.
They reached the banks of Paravur Lake and Yacoby stepped into the water with hardly a break in stride, and then he began a relaxed but powerful breaststroke that Dom could keep up with only by pumping his arms and legs in an Australian crawl.
Dom wasn’t a fan of this lake. The first time he’d swum in it he’d climbed out on the far bank only to find himself twenty-five feet from a pit of cobras. Arik had laughed at Dom’s panic, and told him the cobras, like most dangerous creatures on earth, just wanted to be left alone, and they wouldn’t start anything if Dom didn’t.
Tonight Dom saw a massive python in the reeds near the water’s edge, but he didn’t bother it and, true to Arik’s promise, it just slithered away, and the two men finished their swim without incident.
From here they ran on a levee along a large cassava paddy, then entered the backwater jungle, running for two miles along the second dark trail of the evening.
Now back on paved road, they reentered the village of North Paravur. A small tuk-tuk buzzed past them on the otherwise empty road, the two-stroke motor coughing as it stopped at a house to pick up a woman heading to the local bus station for an early ride to work down in Kochi. Arik and Dom waved to the woman and the driver as the tuk-tuk made a U-turn in front of them.
Finally Arik slowed to a walk. He spoke through slightly labored breaths. “Two kilometers home, we’ll relax the rest of the way. I’m going light on you tonight.”
Dom panted as quietly as possible; he could barely speak at all. Between gasps of air he squeezed out, “Appreciate it.”
“You’ll really appreciate it in the morning. We will begin with some full-contact work in the dojo, and follow this with a long swim before lunch.”
Dom just nodded as he walked, gulping the hot, wet air.
The lights of another vehicle appeared behind them seconds later, and the two men moved off the road as a large brown milk van passed on its way south.
Arik cocked his head at the sight of the vehicle, but he said nothing.
A minute later Dom and Arik walked by the local synagogue in the dark, and Arik said, “I have ancestors in the cemetery around back. The oldest Jewish community in India is right here, you know.”
Dom just nodded, still too winded to talk, and he fought a smile. Arik had mentioned this fact a half-dozen times in the past month, after all. Yacoby traced his roots all the way back here, to the western shores of India, before his family had been uprooted and resettled in Israel. He had returned here to explore his past while on leave from the IDF several years ago, and as he toured the old synagogue and walked the streets of North Paravur, he decided someday he would come back here to live, to fortify the small Jewish community and raise his children on the same land his ancestors had walked generations earlier.
Dom liked this about Arik. He was strong of character and purposeful of thought.
• • •
THE YACOBYS’ SMALL FARM was at the end of a long cul-de-sac off Temple Road, in an area near the synagogue and the local Jewish community. Thick jungle ran down both sides of the paved road, and the farm backed up to a massive Pokkali rice paddy. The neighborhood was cut off from the rest of the village, and for this reason both Arik and Dom noticed the vehicle parked off the side of the road ahead of them when they were still fifty yards away.
It was the milk truck they had seen passing them ten minutes earlier.
Yacoby took Dom by the arm and slowed his walk. “That doesn’t belong.”
They approached from behind, more curious than concerned. They looked in the windows and saw it was empty.
Arik looked down the road in the direction of his farm.
Dom said, “I’ve seen it around.”
Arik pulled his phone out of a waterproof case in his cargo shorts. As he did so he said, “Yes, but not here. It delivers from a farm north of town to Kochi, in the south. We are two kilometers east of its daily route.”
Caruso was impressed Yacoby knew the movements of an individual local vehicle with such precision, but he didn’t yet share his trainer’s obvious concern.
Yacoby dialed his wife as he began walking up the road, with Dom following close behind. After a moment he looked down at his phone.
“Does that happen around here?” Dom asked.
In a whisper, Arik replied, “Occasionally. But I don’t believe in coincidence. Something strange is going on.”
Dom thought Arik was jumping to conclusions awfully quickly, but Arik knew the area better than he, and he also knew the threats. Dom said, “Let’s go, then,” and started walking on the road.
“Not that way,” Arik countered. “We can approach my farm from the west by going through the trees.” Arik turned and headed into the thick flora, and Dom followed.
Once inside the jungle, Dom realized it wasn’t as thick as it appeared from the outside. Each banana or coconut or jacaranda or mango tree occupied its own space, there was just enough room to move between the trunks, and there was very little light let through to allow for much undergrowth. Arik had a tactical flashlight with him, but he left it in his pocket and instead used the glow from his cell phone to lead the way so as not to reveal his location. By the dim light the men moved quickly enough, spurred on by the desire to find out who had cut the cell service and left the van by the side of the road.
They came to the edge of the jungle behind a woodshed that sat next to the gravel driveway on Arik’s farm. The two men took a knee and surveyed the property, taking advantage of their excellent night vision. They had spent the last hour and a half outside in the dark, after all, so their pupils were conditioned to take in every last vestige of available ambient light.
The little farm was only four acres, with a two-story bungalow in the center, a long single-story building that Arik had turned into his dojo and Hanna’s yoga studio, and a large chicken coop next to the vegetable garden in the back. A work truck and two jeeps, all belonging to the Yacobys, were parked in the driveway on the near side of the bungalow.
Caruso reached out slowly and squeezed Yacoby’s arm, and the Israeli followed the American’s gaze. In the dark he could just make out movement on the far side of a small pond in front of the bungalow. It was a human form, this much was certain, but with the darkness it was impossible to tell more.
A few seconds later, both men turned to the sound of scuffling gravel. A second figure moved between Arik and Hanna’s jeeps, parked next to each other on the drive, not seventy-five feet from where the two men knelt in the palms. This man stepped up to the other man by the pond, and together they seemed to peer toward the house.
Dominic had thought Arik was overreacting to the sight of the unoccupied vehicle, but now his heart started pounding and he felt the dull ache in his lower back that always accompanied danger. Something ominous was happening right here and right now, and he was painfully aware both he and his trainer were unarmed and dressed only in cargo shorts.
Arik pulled Dom back a few feet into cover and whispered to him, his eyes still searching ahead. “That’s two in front. I’ll try to see if they have any weapons. Make your way through the trees so you can get a look at the rear of the house. Meet me back here to report. Go.”
“Arik, if this is some kind of a test or—”
Yacoby turned to Caruso. His eyes were tight with worry and his jaw was forward and flexed. “No drill, D. This is real world.”
“Understood.” Dom moved off.
• • •
IT TOOK CARUSO less than a minute to get a line of sight on the rear of the property. At first he detected no movement other than an occasional shuffling in the chicken coop and a large lizard scurrying along the top of a wooden fence by the vegetable garden. But just as he was about to head back to the woodshed, he sensed motion in the dark closer to the house. He moved a few feet to the right and craned his neck farther to see what was there.
He saw them now in the night. One hundred feet away stood two figures; at least one of them was armed with a weapon hanging from a sling over his shoulder. They both wore dark clothing and stood close to each other in the center of the backyard, facing Arik’s home.
Dom thought one of them might have been wearing a mask, because no moonlight reflected off his facial features. He couldn’t tell anything about their ethnicity or their intentions, or even the make of the one weapon he saw. He tucked himself back into the palms and headed back to the Israeli, careful to move as silently as possible.
When Dom arrived back behind the woodshed he almost passed Arik without seeing him.
“Report,” Arik said, revealing himself in the near total darkness.
“Two men. I saw one gun. SMG or some sort of little machine pistol. Couldn’t tell what kind. They are watching the house from the far side of the chicken coop. Are the guys in front armed?”
“Micro-Uzi on one. He’s got a mask. Other one might have a pistol, but can’t see his hands clearly.”
Dom’s mind was racing. “Shit. Any chance they are Indian police?”
Yacoby shook his head.
“What do you think?”
“Two-man fire teams. It’s a classic fedayeen configuration.” Caruso knew fedayeen meant Islamic fighter.
“Lashkar?” Dom asked. Lashkar-e-Taiba was a Pakistani-based terrorist organization that had been active in India for years.
“Maybe,” replied Arik, but he didn’t sound convinced.
“You think they will hit the house?”
Before Arik could reply, a woman’s shout cut through the hot night air. It was Hanna, Arik’s wife, Dom recognized it instantly. She sounded more confrontational than afraid, but her raised voice in the otherwise silent night was bone-chilling.
Yacoby lurched up, ready to run to the sound of his wife’s cry, but he caught himself and knelt back down. He whispered, “They already have. These are perimeter security. There are others inside. At least two. Could be more.”
Dom looked to the Israeli with horror. He noted the relevant calm in Yacoby’s voice. He was intense, but there was no panic. He had to have been thinking about his wife and kids, but he somehow had the ability to push that aside and concentrate on the problem before him.
Getting past the four men outside.
Caruso asked, “How do you want to do it?”
Arik kept his eyes on the bungalow. He spoke quickly but softly. “It would take a half-hour to get the local police here, and I have no confidence they won’t just make the situation worse. None of my neighbors have a landline or a firearm. I have to deal with this situation myself.”
“Hanna and I have a plan in case of trouble. If she had time, she would have put the kids in the bathroom off our bedroom. That’s where I’m heading. I’m going straight for the house. Side door to the kitchen off the driveway.”
“You stay here. Watch the men in the back and sound an alert if there is trouble.”
Caruso shook his head. “Not happening. I’m in this with you, all the way. I can cover you better in the house.”
Arik did not turn his head to look at Dom, he gave only a slight nod, his eyes still riveted on the scene in front of him. “Good. We go for the side door together. Once inside, I’ll grab a kitchen knife and try to make it to my family on the second floor. You grab a knife and be ready to engage these four out here if they come in.”
This sounded to Dom like a suicide mission, but he saw no other choice.
Yacoby stood slowly, readied himself to move forward, but then he leaned closer to Caruso. “If something happens to me, and you can get to it, I have a Tavor rifle and six mags in a locked chest under my bed. The combination is one, nine, six, six, four.”
Dom knew Arik wasn’t supposed to have a gun here in India, but it was no great shock he did.
“One, nine, six, six, four. Got it.”
Quickly, but still in a whisper, Arik said, “There will be no time for hesitation. You must show these men no mercy.”
Dom stood up. “Just get to your family.”
The two men moved toward the woodshed as Hanna Yacoby cried out again, her voice cutting through the sweltering night.
ARIK AND DOM CROSSED the crushed-seashell driveway between the cars in a low crawl, both men scraping their knees and hands in the slow and painful process. Dom was in the rear, his eyes shifting between Yacoby in front of him and the little he could see of the backyard of the property, hoping like hell neither of the men back there heard the noise and came to investigate. Arik was trying to keep some awareness of the men at the front of the property, but his main attention was on moving as quickly and as quietly as possible on his way to the house.
They made it to the side door, Arik rose just enough to get a hand on the latch, and he turned it slowly. A third shout emanated from upstairs in the bungalow, but this time it was a man’s voice, and Arik could not understand the words. He used the yelling to mask his movement, and he slipped into the dark and empty kitchen.
Caruso moved in behind him, then he and Yacoby both pulled carving knives out of a rack on the counter. The men did not speak, Arik just disappeared down the dark hallway toward the main living area with the staircase to the second floor, and Dom moved to the one place in the kitchen where he could see both entrances. He was thirty feet from the front door, fifteen from the kitchen door, and, frankly, in no good position to engage armed enemies at either entrance if it came down to it. The best he could do was prepare himself and hope Yacoby made it to his family, or to his gun, without generating enough noise for the enemy to send reinforcements into the house.
Weighing his options, he moved back to the knife rack and pulled a second weapon—this one a well-balanced high-end paring knife—and he returned to his post.
This still might be a suicide mission, but Caruso wasn’t going down without a fight.
• • •
ARIK YACOBY HAD NO IDEA how many opposition forces he was up against, but he’d come to the conclusion that the downstairs was clear. He could hear only the one man above him, shouting questions at his wife, who now shouted back just as angrily.
At the bottom of the stairs he kicked off his sneakers, then he began moving silently up by ascending close to the wall, where the boards would not creak.
When he reached the top of the stairs he could barely see down the hallway that traveled the length of the second floor like a spine. An open bathroom door halfway down on the right allowed some moonlight to filter into the hall, and by this he could tell that his bedroom door was open at the opposite end of the hall. There were no moving shadows in the moonlight, indicating to him that either the bathroom was empty or anyone in there was perfectly still. Ahead on his left, the two doors were also open, and the rooms beyond them were pitch-dark. The first was his private office, and the second was his kids’ room.
His blood ran cold, but he began moving up the hall with the knife at the ready.
He heard the man questioning his wife in the bedroom now. He spoke English, asking, not for the first time, apparently, where her husband had gone. He sounded frustrated, nearly desperate, and the crack of an open hand across flesh and a cry from his wife told Yacoby the intruder wasn’t getting any answers from Hanna.
Arik again checked the light in the bathroom for signs of a presence there, but still there was no movement. He had to clear the two rooms on his left before making it down the hall, but just as he began moving to check his office, a man appeared out of the black, stepping into the hallway. He wore a black ski mask and was several inches taller than Yacoby. Their eyes met for an instant, Arik sensed a weapon in the man’s hand, but he didn’t take time to focus on it. Instead, his own hand shot out like a piston, he stabbed the man in the arm but lost his grip as his victim spun away. Yacoby recovered by lunging forward with the dexterity and skill of a Krav Maga master. He pushed the slung machine pistol away from the masked man, then ripped it out of his hands and turned it around, pointing it high in his adversary’s face. The masked terrorist tried to raise his hands to defend himself, but Yacoby thrust the short-barreled rifle forward, shoving the flash hider into the man’s eye socket, knocking his head back again. As the gunman stumbled back into the office, the Israeli leapt on him, covered his mouth with his hand, and flipped him around on the floor. He snapped the man’s neck with a wrenching twist, severing his spinal cord.
The Israeli lowered the body the rest of the way to the floor, then quickly unfastened the Uzi from its sling and turned to check the room for other threats.
The office stood empty, but when he looked back up the hallway a figure appeared in the doorway to the master bedroom. Arik could barely make it out in the moonlight, but it was clearly an adult male, and he saw the man’s arm rise quickly in front of him.
In that instant Arik knew he’d have to fire the Uzi, and this would alert every one of the armed men on his property. He aimed and squeezed off a single round, and the armed intruder in the doorway spun away with a cry and grabbed his neck as he fell.
Arik began running up the hallway now, knowing he was racing against time to get to his family. He held the smoking Uzi out in front of him as he spun toward the last darkened doorway on the left, checking for any movement. This was his children’s room, and he was glad to find it empty. That they weren’t here meant to Arik that his wife had had time to move them into the bathroom off the master bedroom.
He had just started to turn back to check the hall bathroom behind him when he heard a man scream. Before he could turn around, a figure flew out of the bathroom, crashed onto his back, and pitched him forward, slamming him into the wall of the hallway.
The machine pistol spilled out of Arik’s hands as he went down.
• • •
DOM ASSUMED THE GUNSHOT ABOVE would bring at least some of the men from outside into the house, but he had no idea which door they would come through. His eyes shifted back and forth between the kitchen door and the front door down the hall. He was certain he was about to engage the enemy, but not quite sure how he would go about it.
It was quiet for only a couple seconds, and then came a wild scream and the crashing thuds of men slamming into one another in the hallway directly above.
As Dom kept an eye toward the living room, the front door flew open and a man burst through. Dom could see little more than a single figure; he didn’t have time to register if the man was carrying a weapon, but he wasn’t going to take that chance.
He threw the paring knife in his right hand overhand as hard as he could, aiming high at the man’s face, because he knew a thirty-foot throw would take a lot of power off the strike.
The steel blade buried itself into the intruder’s torso, just below the collarbone, and the man stumbled back, out through the doorway. Dom saw him collapse in a heap in the front yard before the door shut on its springs.
Now the kitchen door creaked behind him. Dom had just turned to the noise, ready to check this attacker for a weapon, but a burst of automatic fire settled the question for him. Dom dropped low to the ground, dove behind the island in the middle of the kitchen, and then he crawled across the floor, trying to keep the island between himself and the man in the doorway.
Another long burst of gunfire told him the intruder had not moved from the doorway, so Caruso stayed low, came around the island to the man’s left, and then rose with the carving knife in his right hand. He covered the last five feet in a headlong dive, plunged the blade handle-deep into the man’s side, burying it between two floating ribs, and body-checked the armed man into the open pantry by the door, using his hip and arm to keep the Uzi directed away from himself.
The man cried out in pain; as Dom’s face pressed against his nylon mask, he could smell the fear and the sweat, and he thought he could smell the sea in the fabric of his clothing. Almost instantly, Dom felt the taut muscular body begin to soften as the armed attacker’s brain went into shock. Dom knew the blood loss would take some time to kill the masked intruder, but already he was able to pull the Uzi out of his weakening hands. The gun was slung around the man’s neck, however, and Dom had just begun to unfasten it when the kitchen door opened again, less than five feet behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw a man in the doorway silhouetted by the moonlight. He held an Uzi high in front of him toward the room and was clearly surprised to find a target just feet away on his right. He swung his gun in Dom’s direction.
Dom gave up on getting the Uzi off the man he’d stabbed; there was no time. He reached back behind him for something he could throw. This was his training taking over. He had been studying Krav Maga, living it for the past month, and he’d learned from Arik to use whatever tools he had at his disposal to disable an imminent threat.
Krav Maga is not a classically attractive martial art, but its beauty lies in its cold efficiency.
Caruso was hoping to get his hand on a knife. Instead, his fingers closed on the rim of a metal pot, and he swung it around, threw it through the air, striking the Uzi and the hand holding it, and knocking the shooter off target.
He rushed to the attacker, drove a fist to the man’s midsection, and then tried an elbow to the face that glanced off and did no damage.
The armed man tried to back away to raise his gun again, but he was blocked by the island in the middle of the room.
Dom threw another punch at the man’s torso. It connected, but now the attacker managed to get around the edge of the island and back up and away.
Caruso flung a rolling pin from the island at the figure in the dark, striking him in the chest and knocking him back on his heels into the refrigerator on the far side of the room.
He knew he’d bought himself no more than a second, so he fell back into the pantry now, onto the man with the knife in his ribs. Dom grabbed the Uzi, spun it around, pulling the dying man by the sling around his neck, managing to get the gun out in front of him at hip level. He squeezed the trigger. Flame filled the pantry and the kitchen as he fired fully automatic, a long burst toward the space the armed man by the refrigerator occupied. Sizzling ejected cartridges bounced off cans of vegetables in the pantry and then rained back down on Caruso, singeing his bare torso, but he kept firing. He’d spent the past two hours in near total darkness, so the sustained flash of the short-barreled weapon felt to his eyes as if he had been enveloped by the sun. He could see nothing of his target, so he kept the gun up and the trigger pressed and the bullets spraying until the weapon emptied.
Dom’s eyes were completely whited out by the muzzle flash, he rubbed them with his free hand, and he shook his head in a futile attempt to battle the ringing in his ears. It took him a moment to find the target through his burning pupils, but he was happy to see the masked man lying dead on his back on the floor.
Dom knew he had to get upstairs to help Arik, and he also knew he needed a loaded firearm to do it, so he started to kneel down to take the Uzi from the dead man, but just as he did so, another man burst through the kitchen door.
This man wore no mask, he was clean-shaven, young, and he looked wild-eyed and terrified. But he was close, contact distance to Caruso, who was kneeling with his back against the kitchen counter.
Caruso rose and punched the man in the midsection with his empty hand, and his fist slammed into a surprising hardness there. It felt like the intruder was wearing a chest rig of ammunition for a rifle under his jacket, presumably as a way to keep it hidden from view.
Dom punched again with his other fist, but he didn’t make the same mistake twice. This time he went for the young man’s face, striking him in the jaw and knocking him back onto the island in the center of the little kitchen.
Dom knelt quickly, scooped up the Uzi, and fired a single round into the forehead of the man lying on the island. The machine pistol barked in his hand and the room lit with the flash, then all was dark and silent again. He started to run for the hallway to the staircase, but he stopped himself, turned, and looked back at the dead man.
It only now registered. This man had carried no weapon, but he’d worn something heavy and solid on his chest.
Why the hell would he have a chest rack full of Uzi mags if he didn’t have an Uzi?
Dom rushed back to the body, ripped open the zipped windbreaker, and then backed away suddenly, slamming his hips into the kitchen counter behind him.
In front of him in the dim light lay a dead man wearing a suicide vest. Long, fat rows of explosives had been stitched into gray canvas. Loose wires crisscrossed the entire apparatus.
A gasp passed Caruso’s lips. “Arik.”
• • •
WHILE DOMINIC HAD BEEN fighting for his life downstairs, Arik Yacoby had been doing exactly the same in the upstairs hallway. The man who’d jumped him from behind was now dead, his neck, jaw, and skull a wreck of shattered bones. Yacoby was hurt, too, his lips and nose dripped blood, but he pushed away the pain and exertion of the fight in the tight space, and he felt around to find the Uzi in the dark. He grabbed it with his left hand.
Behind him, his wife screamed in Hebrew. “Arik! Neshek!” Gun!
Yacoby dove to the floor of the hallway, spinning as he dropped, and he landed on his back as a burst of fire from his bedroom sent supersonic lead up the hall in his direction. The rounds went over him; he was flat on his back holding the tiny machine pistol pointed between his bare feet and up the hall. He focused on the flash and, careful to fire only aimed semiautomatic rounds from the fully automatic weapon to avoid hitting his family, he shot at the light.
He felt his own Uzi being ripped out of his hands, and realized a round from the gunman up the hall had struck his weapon and knocked it away, probably damaging it as well. But the gunfire from his bedroom ceased and, through the ringing in his ears, Arik thought he heard the unmistakable sound of a micro-Uzi hitting and bouncing on the wooden floor.
Below him, he heard ferocious fighting. A long spray of automatic rounds, the cries of a man and the crash of bodies, but his mind was on his bedroom and what he would find there.
He leapt to his feet and ran for his family.
• • •
DOMINIC CARUSO SPRINTED into the living room, heading for the stairs. As he passed the open front door he looked to the ground, expecting to see the first man he’d taken down in the engagement with the thrown paring knife. But the ground in front of the door was empty. Caruso spun into the stairwell, hoping against hope the man with the knife in his chest was not now heading upstairs, and wearing a suicide vest.
The stairwell was clear. Dom began taking the steps three at a time. As he climbed he shouted, “Arik! Bomb vest!”
• • •
YACOBY HAD MADE IT into his bedroom, where he found his wife tied to a chair in the center of the room, her tousled hair hanging over her face. She looked up at him in the dark.
“The kids are hiding in the linen closet. They’re fine.” She gestured with her head toward the en suite bathroom near where he stood.
Arik was relieved that his family was alive, but he needed to get downstairs to help his student. He knelt down to grab the micro-Uzi on the floor next to the dead man.
As he knelt he heard a noise behind him. He looked over his shoulder up the dim hallway, and saw a young, clean-shaven man staggering toward him. Through the faint glow from the moonlight coming from the bathroom, Arik could see a knife protruding from the man’s upper-left chest, but still he managed to move quickly. Arik spun toward the man, raising his gun as he did so.
From the staircase behind the man he heard a scream from D, his American student: “Arik! Bomb vest!”
Yacoby had put the sights on the center of the man’s chest, but knowing he was wearing a vest changed everything. He shifted his aim to the man’s head as fast as he could and, while doing so, he shouted, “Hanna!”
• • •
DOMINIC HAD ALMOST MADE IT up to the second floor when a wave of light and heat engulfed him from above. His brain registered the fact he was airborne, he felt weightless for a moment, and now the incredible noise overtook him. He knew he was falling backward; his bare back made glancing contact with the wooden staircase, and his legs flew up above him, and he did a reverse somersault and continued his roll all the way down, crashing chest-first through the wooden banister and then flipping to the ground floor, where the back of his head slammed down on the teak floorboards.
Stunned by the impact, he needed seconds to regain an understanding of where he was and what was happening. He choked on smoke and his eyes burned, but he pushed away the pain and focused on getting back in the fight.
He squinted in the thickening black air and pulled himself up to his feet, then moved toward the staircase again, but his legs gave out and he dropped onto the lower steps. As he tried to pull himself upward by his arms he looked up and saw roaring flames pouring out of the second floor, and above the flames, the night sky.
It looked as if the entire roof of the stairwell and hallway had been blown from the bungalow in the explosion.
Dom slid back to the floor, collapsed unconscious onto his back, fingers of black smoke enveloping his prostrate body.
CARUSO AWOKE to jolts of pain and waves of nausea, convincing him only after significant delay that he had not burned to death.
He opened his eyes, looked down, and found himself in a hospital bed. This wasn’t the first time he’d regained consciousness since passing out in Arik Yacoby’s burning home, but each time he only managed to lift his head, to catch a quick glimpse of the ambulance or the hospital hallway or the room he was in, and then drop his head back before drifting off again.
He didn’t know if this process had been going on for a couple hours or for a couple weeks.
As his eyes cleared a little more he realized a doctor was standing at his bedside. A dark-skinned Indian with gray hair and a youthful face, the doctor wore scrubs, not a white coat. He took Dom’s pulse, placing his fingers on Dom’s left wrist while he checked his watch. When he finished he looked up at Dom’s face and seemed surprised to find his patient looking back at him.
“Well, hello, sir. I’m surprised to see you awake. You are still under sedation.”
To Dom, the doctor’s lilt sounded almost musical, but he wondered if this was just the effect of the drugs in his system.
The Indian began listing a litany of injuries. “You have suffered a slight concussion. Not serious, but expect headaches for a few days. Maybe weeks.” He looked down at his clipboard. “Otherwise, bruises and cuts, mostly. A few significant. Eleven stitches on your forearm. A small piece of shrapnel from the bomb, we suspect, but it passed all the way through, so we don’t know for sure. A puncture to your right pectoral. It was a metal screw. We got it out. Not deep. We’ve cleaned you up, shouldn’t be an infection, but you’ll want to watch those injuries. There is significant bruising across your—”
The patient interrupted the doctor. “The Yacobys?”
The doctor did not answer him directly. He only stepped to the side, revealing to Dominic the presence of another man in the room, sitting on a cheap recliner by the door with his legs crossed. He was middle-aged, with slicked-back black hair and a full mustache, and he wore a dark suit and tie.
Caruso did not reply.
“John Doe. That is your name.” He eyed the American with an expressionless, almost tired face. “Unless you would like to give me another. No? John Rambo, perhaps?”
“Who are you?”
“I am Detective Constable Naidu.” He stood up. “And I am here to ask you some questions.”
Naidu shook his head back and forth; there was an obvious lack of sensitivity in the gesture. “Dead.”
Dom closed his eyes and shook his head. “No.”
“Yes,” he corrected. “All four of them. Along with seven others at the scene. Nearly a dozen dead bodies, and you, my young American friend, were the only survivor.” He leaned forward with eyebrows raised. “Miraculous, wouldn’t you agree?”
Dominic didn’t answer. His mind was on the Yacobys.
“You were pulled out of the burning building by neighbors, at great personal risk to themselves. You did not ask who saved you, but I thought you would care to know.”
Caruso stared off into space.
“We know from the neighbors you were a guest in the home of the Yacobys, they saw you coming and going, but you had no identification on you when you were found. They said they thought you were American, and by your accent, I agree. But that is all I have. If there was anything in the home . . . passport, visa, U.S. driver’s license, it was burned in the fire.”
Caruso fought the images in his head, did his best to push them away just as he did his best to ignore the pounding headache that grew with each word out of Naidu’s mouth. The sedation seemed to be wearing off by the second.
“I need to make a phone call.”
“And I need you to answer my questions. Why would anyone want to kill your friend and his family? On his visa he said his occupation was personal trainer. His wife was a yoga instructor.”
Dom did not answer. His forearm stung under the dressing now.
Naidu raised his voice. “We found the rifle. Who was Arik Yacoby?”
“He was my martial-arts instructor. That’s all.”
“Pakistani terrorists do not often go to such great lengths to kill martial-arts instructors.”
“They were Pakistani?”
Naidu looked at Caruso with genuine surprise. “This is India. Who else would they be?”
Caruso laid his head back on his pillow. This was to be a hostile interview, that much was clear. And Dom was not in the mood. “I have no idea. I’m not the detective constable. If I were you, I’d look into the dairy truck parked at the end of the street.”
Naidu replied, “I have already taken care of that. The woman who drove it is being sought. She has left the village, but we will find her.”
Caruso looked around the hospital room, then said, “Pretty sure she’s not in here.”
“You are more interesting to me than she is.”
Dom closed his eyes. “Then I’d say your investigation is fucked.”
Naidu ignored the insult, and instead he looked down at his notepad. “Let’s not waste time with games. We know Yacoby was a former member of the IDF. If he was something more, I need you to tell me.”
“Was he a Jew spy?”
Dom fought to control his urge to rail at Naidu. Instead, he said, “I want to make a phone call. I will not say anything else until I do.”
Naidu’s jaw flexed. Slowly he said, “You don’t want to find out who is responsible for your friends’ deaths?”
Nothing from the man on the bed.
“You show no respect for our investigation, but perhaps you should. You are not a suspect. We know you fought against the attackers. The blood of one of the men found in the kitchen was all over your hands. I am not going to charge you with murder for that, you might be pleased to know.”
Dom rolled his eyes. He wasn’t thinking about the implications for himself.
“I just want you to help me understand why they came for Arik Yacoby.”
“I can’t help you. I don’t know.”
Naidu sighed. “Pakistani terrorists. The threat of nuclear war. New conflict with China. Crime. Corruption. Disease. You don’t think my nation has enough problems without armed Jews coming to our shores and encouraging new enemies?”
“Do I get my phone call or do you want an international incident when I leave?”
“You get a phone call when I say you get a phone call. You leave when I say you leave.”
“Do you always treat guests to your country with such warmth?”
Naidu laughed. “I am not from the tourism bureau, Mr. John Doe. Maybe you can arrange an elephant ride with them when you get out of prison, but I am here to extract information from you.”
Prison? Naidu was flailing. Dom knew most everything there was to know about interrogation tactics—he’d been trained by the FBI, after all. He could tell there was something missing from the detective constable’s bluster. The bark was there, but Dom sensed no bite.
He smiled thinly. “I can hear it in your voice. You are bluffing. You don’t have the authority to do a damn thing to me.”
Naidu deflated a little. Though he kept his chin up and his voice strong, Dom saw weakness in his eyes. After a long staring contest, Naidu broke his gaze. “I would like to keep you here. You would open your mouth, eventually, I promise you this. But someone thinks you are important. A plane has arrived from the United States. My superiors have ordered me to put you on it as soon as you are fit for travel.”
With that, Caruso threw off the sheets and kicked his legs out over the side of the bed. He began sitting up, but he’d only flexed his abdominals when he recoiled in pain. It felt as if all his ribs had been broken or, at least, very badly bruised.
He dropped back flat on the bed.
The detective constable cracked a slow smile as he noticed the young American’s agony. He stood and walked to the door, then turned back, still with a smile only half hidden under his mustache.
He said, “Forgive me, John Doe. In this situation, I must find my satisfaction in the little things.”
ETHAN ROSS ran late for work almost every Monday, and today was no exception. He would never admit it, but arriving fashionably late was by design; he found punctuality to be beneath his station, and chronic tardiness nothing more than a harmless passive-aggressive way to protest the inflexible rules of his organization.
He’d slept in a little this morning, not at home in Georgetown, but at his girlfriend’s place in Bethesda. Last night he and Eve had gone out to a bar to watch a Lakers game that didn’t end till after eleven here on the East Coast, and then they’d stayed for one more round that had somehow turned into three.
They’d finally made it to bed at one, and to sleep at two after Ethan’s amorous mood overpowered the five greyhounds he’d consumed. He’d planned on going home to spend the night at his own place, but after sex, all he wanted to do was roll over to the edge of the bed and crash until morning.
At eight-fifteen Ethan awoke suddenly, roused by a panicked and shrill rendering of his name.
“Ethan!” The voice was Eve’s, and his eyes opened and fixed on her alarm clock, because she was holding it in front of his face.
“Calm down,” he said, but she was up and running for the bathroom, because punctuality was more her thing than it was his.
He made it downstairs to his red Mercedes coupe a few minutes later, cranked up some music and drove south to his town house on 34th Street, where he indulged in a long, leisurely shower and then took all the time he needed styling his blond hair with molding clay. He dressed, then stepped in front of his full-length mirror so he could check the fit, cut, and sheen of his gray Ralph Lauren sharkskin suit. Satisfied that his purple polka-dot tie wasn’t too much with the sharkskin, he slipped on a pair of cherry loafers and gave himself one more long appraisal in the mirror, assessing and then approving his style and looks.
At nine he sauntered down the front steps of his row house, still unhurried and unstressed, and he climbed back into his warm Mercedes and headed off to work, music blaring again.
Traffic on Wisconsin Avenue wasn’t too bad, but he hit his first snag of the day when he found Pennsylvania to be mired in gridlock. While he crept forward he sang along with his Blaupunkt stereo. Neil Young’s On the Beach was a 1974 release that would have been a unique listening choice for most thirty-two-year-olds, but Ross had grown up with it. Revolution music, his mother used to call it, although Ethan realized there was a certain dissonance to the concept of singing along with antiestablishment songs while driving his luxury car on his way to his government job.
No matter. Ethan still considered himself something of a rebel, albeit one with a more realistic worldview.
He’d been listening to his old albums since he got off work on Friday, both alone and then with Eve. She didn’t much care for them, but she didn’t complain, and he didn’t really give a damn. Eve was a brilliant but hopelessly submissive Korean girl who would walk on glass for him if he told her to do so, and sometimes Ethan liked to unplug on the weekends, to go from five p.m. Friday to nine a.m. Monday without checking his phone or his iPad or watching any TV. He didn’t do it often, but there were times when his job was too stifling: endless boring meetings and conference calls and lunches with people he didn’t want to eat with or trips with people he didn’t want to travel with. He’d had a few months like this, his work was frustrating him and interfering with his well-cultivated self-image as a D.C. power player, and only detoxifying himself from work and inoculating himself with the music of his childhood could refresh him and get him ready to face work again on Monday.
Eve didn’t complain; Ethan was certain she was just happy to have him to herself for two full days.
He checked his hair in the rearview, turned up Neil Young even louder, and sang along, pitching his voice in and out of key and fighting the power the only prudent way to do so at present.
• • •
ETHAN ROSS LIKED to tell people he worked at the White House, and it was true, with a caveat. His office was in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the West Wing, and while the Eisenhower EOB housed many offices for White House personnel, it wasn’t, strictly speaking, the White House.
West Wing employees distinguished themselves from Eisenhower Building employees by saying they worked “inside the gates,” while the EOB staff worked “outside the gates.” Ross didn’t see any distinction himself. He was a White House staffer to anyone who asked, or anyone who would listen, for that matter.
He had spent the last three years here, spanning two administrations, serving as deputy assistant director for Near East and North African affairs in the National Security Council. He prepared policy papers for the President of the United States, or at least he coordinated the preparation of policy papers for the national security adviser, who then determined if the President should see a summary of them. The papers came from the work of the Department of State and the U.S. intelligence community, as well as a series of domestic and international think tanks and academic institutions.
His job, as he described it, was to give POTUS the best information available for him to conduct policy.
But his job, as he actually saw it, was to push paper while others made key decisions.
Ethan worked closely with the U.S. intelligence community, getting data from most all of the sixteen agencies related to his region. Not just the CIA, but also the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, sometimes even the military intelligence agencies. Coordination was his role, he wasn’t a decision-maker himself, but he did have his finger on the pulse of happenings in his region.
It was a moderately high position for someone his age, although, as far as Ross was concerned, it was far beneath him. He had considered the work just barely impressive at twenty-nine when he was put in the post, but now, two weeks before his thirty-third birthday, each and every day he lamented what he saw as his slow rise to the ranks of the power players.
His work no longer pushed him. Ethan thought he was smart enough to phone it in, and so that’s exactly what he had been doing for some time.
He hoped to advance out of this job soon—not into something higher at NSC, this had just been a placeholder for him. Rather, he wanted to make his way into the U.S. delegation to the United Nations. He had been bred for a life of high-level work in an international organization. His father had worked as a staffer in the UN for twenty-five years before becoming an international-studies professor, both at universities abroad and then back home in Georgetown. His mother had served in the Carter administration as an undersecretary in the United States Mission to the United Nations, then as ambassador to Jordan during the Clinton years, before herself becoming a professor at Georgetown and a best-selling author of political biographies.
Just like every workday, Ethan parked his red E-Class coupe in a parking facility a block away from the Eisenhower Building, and just like every workday, it pissed him off when he walked to the EOB and saw open parking spaces in the lot. His position did not merit a reserved parking space; only the highest-ranking two dozen or so execs had such privileges.
He stepped through the gate at the 17th Street entrance, then pulled his badge out of his coat. He was late enough that the security line was short, so in under a minute he left the drab gray outbuilding and headed up the steps into the main building.
The Eisenhower EOB used to be known as the State, War, and Navy Building, and it had been the nexus of American foreign power at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century—the era when America emerged as a world leader. It had been constructed over a seventeen-year period in the late 1800s, and crafted in the ornate architectural style known as French Second Empire. The elaborate symmetrical iron cresting, balustrades, and cornices were meant to portray permanence and character, and many felt the huge structure, in many ways, overshadowed its next-door neighbor, the White House.
Ethan wasn’t as impressed with the architecture as others were, because he knew the Eisenhower Building wasn’t the power center it used to be, and certainly nothing like the building next door at 1600 Penn.
He made it into the third-floor NSC wing at 9:39, entered his small office, hung his coat on the rack, and frowned. His secretary, Angela, always had his coffee ready for him, a Venti mocha from Starbucks that she picked up on her way into work and placed on his desk next to his telephone.
Angela was here, he had seen her sweater hanging over the back of her chair in his outer office when he entered, but his coffee was nowhere to be found.
Ross sighed. You had one job, Angie, and you dropped the ball first thing on Monday morning.
A moment later he heard movement outside his office, and he called out as he sat down. “Angie?”
His fifty-four-year-old secretary appeared in the doorway a moment later. “Good. You’re here.”
With both a look and a tone crafted to convey just a hint of displeasure, he said, “Did you forget my coffee?”
“No, sir. I put it at your place in the conference room. Everyone else is waiting.”
Ethan jerked his head to his morning agenda lying on his blotter, worried he’d forgotten a meeting. Rarely did he have any planned events so early on a Monday. But his agenda confirmed he was free. “I don’t have anything till ten-thirty, and that’s off-site.”
“They said they were calling everyone on their way in. I thought you’d gotten the message.”
Ethan had heard his phone ring through the sound system in his Mercedes, but he’d muted the call without looking at it. The speakers had been pouring out Neil Young, after all, and by the time the last smoky notes of “Ambulance Blues” drifted away, he’d been pulling into the parking lot and he’d forgotten about the call.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but it must be a big deal. Everyone was supposed to be in the conference room at nine-thirty.”
Ethan looked at his watch. It was 9:41.
He sighed again, and headed off for the conference room.
ETHAN ENTERED the open double doors of the NSC conference room and saw a full house looking back at him. The U-shaped table was completely occupied, and it was standing room only against the walls. He knew the table could accommodate sixteen, so he estimated there were at least twenty-five in attendance.
His Venti mocha was right there on the table, but sitting in front of it was Walter Pak from the South and Central Asia desk, and Ross couldn’t muster the gall to push his way through the crowd and grab his drink when all eyes were on him.
As he headed for an open spot by the wall, he scanned faces quickly in an attempt to discern the reason for this morning’s emergency meeting.
He saw the deputy directors and assistant deputies for all the other regions: Europe, Russia and Eurasia, Asia, South Asia, Central Africa—even the Western Hemisphere. Whatever new problem had popped up seemed to be impossibly wide in scope. Ross half smiled to himself, wondering if NASA had gotten word that aliens were poised to attack.
He also noticed several men and women from the IT department. This he considered odd, but not especially so, as they were higher-level system administrators and they found their way into many staff meetings when questions about access and networks came into play.
He located a spot on the wall and then turned to face the front, and now he noticed someone who didn’t belong. A fit-looking male in his late thirties wearing a dark blue suit stood at the front of the room behind Madeline Crossman and Henry Delvecchio, who were positioned side by side at the lectern and had obviously been addressing the group.
Ethan didn’t know blue-suit guy, but he did know Delvecchio and Crossman.
Delvecchio was the deputy for regional affairs, the head of all the regions. He worked directly for the national security adviser, and that made him one of the top men in the NSC.
Crossman, on the other hand, was not a big deal as far as Ethan was concerned. Any worries Ethan had that this was something of major import vanished the instant he saw Maddy Crossman standing at the lectern. She was a compliance and security director, an administrator in charge of making sure everyone filled out requisition forms correctly and didn’t leave their key cards at their desks when they went to the john.
Ethan gave a contrite half-wave at Crossman and Delvecchio and said, “Sorry, folks. Car trouble.”
Henry Delvecchio gave an understanding nod and returned his attention to the room. “Again, I apologize for rushing everyone in first thing, but we have an issue that needs your attention. I trust you all have heard about the events in India last night.”
Ethan looked around to other faces. There were nods, clear indications of understanding.
Ethan Ross, on the other hand, didn’t have a clue what had happened in India. Suddenly he felt like he was back in his undergrad days, walking in late to class with a hangover only to find out there would be a pop quiz, and he didn’t have any idea of the topic of the test.
The good news, as far as Ross was concerned, was that this wouldn’t have a damn thing to do with him, as India wasn’t his turf.
Instinctively, he swiveled his head to Joy Bennett, assistant deputy director for India. That was her neck of the woods. He felt a little schadenfreude. He couldn’t help it. He’d never thought much of Bennett.
Let’s see how she deals with whatever dustup is going down over there.
He found it strange, though, that Joy Bennett was looking back at him.
Delvecchio continued, “The attack on the Jewish citizens on the Malabar Coast was the first border incursion over water by terrorists since the massacres in India two years ago by Pakistani terrorists. And while the loss of life this time was just a small fraction of the earlier attacks, there are reasons to suspect this was not an attempt at a mass-casualty event that failed, but rather, this was a targeted killing of an Israeli national with key ties to the special-operations community.”
There were a few gasps of surprise around the room.
“The perpetrators, and this has not made the news yet, were a mixture of Palestinian fedayeen and Yemeni jihadists, working together, which is as unusual as it is troubling.”
In Ross’s mind, alarm bells began going off. Israel, Palestinian, jihadi, attack. Christ. The fact he had spent the weekend away from his phone and computer had suddenly gone from smart to stupid in his mind, and Ross considered himself anything but stupid.
Delvecchio looked at Ethan’s boss, the deputy director of Near East, who in turn looked to Ethan.
He cleared his throat, nodded slowly and thoughtfully, and then bullshitted. “It is something we are looking at closely.”
“Anything you want to add right off the bat?”
Ross affected a distant look that was intended to portray thoughtfulness. Then he shook his head slowly.
Delvecchio threw Ross a lifeline. He said, “You probably haven’t had a chance to read the report from CIA. Just came over from Langley about thirty minutes ago.”
“I was just about to pull it up when I heard we were meeting.”
Delvecchio filled in the pieces. “Maybe a dozen dead on Indian soil. Seven attackers. Three attackers wore suicide vests. One vest detonated. It would be interesting even if the victims were nothing more than Israeli expats. But one of the victims was Colonel Arik Yacoby, a former Israeli Defense Forces officer.”
The assistant deputy director of combating terrorism strategy spoke up. “Henry, there are tens of thousands of ex–IDF officers. Presumably thousands are outside Israel at any one time. All respect to the dead, but what’s so damn interesting about this retired colonel?”
Delvecchio answered, “Colonel Yacoby was the former leader of a group of Israeli naval commandos.” He looked down to a sheet of paper on the lectern in front of him. “Shayetet Thirteen.”
The ADD of CTS nodded thoughtfully. “Got it.”
Delvecchio said, “Most of you remember the attack on the Turkish aid flotilla off the coast of Gaza four years ago. Shayetet Thirteen was the unit that boarded the Turkish freighter, the SS Ardahan. According to the CIA, Colonel Yacoby led the boarding party. If you remember, nine Palestinians were killed in the raid, including three combatant commanders of the Al-Qassam Brigades.” Delvecchio paused for effect, then added, “Which is the same unit the CIA believes orchestrated the attack in India over the weekend.”
He paused to shuffle some papers on the lectern and, while he did so, the ADD of combating terrorism strategy asked, “How does CIA know Yacoby was part of the IDF raid on the Turkish ship?”
“Our friends at Langley had a paid informant on the SS Ardahan. This agent passed crucial intelligence about the security of the ship to his handler and then, after conferring here with the NSC, POTUS ordered the CIA to feed the intelligence on to the Israelis. In the back-and-forth of this communication, a meeting occurred in Tel Aviv between CIA officers and Shayetet Thirteen commandos, including Colonel Yacoby. His name made it into the CIA database after the meeting. After the flotilla raid by Shayetet Thirteen, the CIA wrote up an after-action review for internal dissemination.” Delvecchio paused. “Colonel Yacoby’s name was put in the AAR.” He added, “In error.”
Someone—Ross thought it was Pak from South and Central Asia—said, “That is a significant error.”
“Agreed,” Delvecchio said. “It should have been redacted and code-worded. It wasn’t our file, we didn’t do it.” He hastened to add, “Not that it matters to Colonel Yacoby and his family.”
Madeline Crossman, the compliance and security director, said, “We have serious concerns the Palestinian terrorists learned Mr. Yacoby’s name from the CIA report.”
Beth Morris spoke up. She was assistant deputy director for Western Hemisphere. “I’m sorry, Henry. Madeline. Is there some linkage here with NSC that I don’t understand?”
Henry Delvecchio nodded. “Beth, we have reason to believe there has been an insider compromise.”
There were soft gasps throughout the room.
When they subsided he said, “The complete CIA file on the SS Ardahan, including the name of the Shayetet Thirteen team leader, was accessed on the network here in the NSC office four months ago. The files were copied and moved into a file-sharing section of the server. From there, we can only assume they were printed out or downloaded.”
Morris asked, “They were accessed by who?”
Crossman said, “We do not know. There was a breach of forty-five documents classified at the secret level or above. Whoever moved the files disguised the electronic fingerprint of the breach.”
Morris’s voice rose in indignation. “And you think one of us stole the files and gave them to the Al-Qassam Brigades?”
Crossman replied, “Beth, there was, without question, anomalous behavior. That’s all we know at this point for sure. We need to rule out any nefarious actions.”
Morris looked over to the IT staffers in the room, who were all more or less sitting together. “It had to have been someone who knew how to disguise the electronic fingerprint, whatever the hell that is.”
The entire IT department bristled at the comment, but they were generally quieter than the regional staffers. One of them said, “These files were taken off JWICS?” JWICS was the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, an Internet of sorts for America’s intelligence agencies.
“Yes, that’s correct,” confirmed Crossman. “Specifically, the files were accessed on Intelink-TS.” This was a top-secret network that ran on JWICS.
“How many people had access to the TS files?”
“Including staffers and IT administrators, and adding in those outside contractors with access to both the TS files and the NSC terminals . . . thirty-four.”
Ethan Ross looked around the room, but while he was counting heads, Beth Morris spoke up again.
“Is everyone who could have accessed it here?”
“Thirty-one are here, actually. One sysadmin called in sick today, and two are on vacation. One is traveling abroad. I don’t have to tell anyone here that we take this breach incredibly seriously. More so now that it is quite possible lives have been lost due to the compromise.”
The room came alive with cross talk.
Pak, the ADD from Asia, asked, “Do we know it was our leak that caused it? How do we know the Israelis don’t have a compromise of their own, or that the information about Yacoby could have been obtained some other way?”
Delvecchio said, “No, we do not know our leak led to the deaths in India. But it doesn’t look good. Another file in the cache taken was a follow-up review of the CIA’s involvement in the raid, done just last year. This file did not mention Yacoby by name, but it stated the Shayetet colonel who led the raid had retired and moved to Paravur, India.”
One of the staffers shook her head in disbelief. “Why the hell would they put that in the file?”
“Apparently, CIA’s National Clandestine Service contracted the retired colonel for training purposes. He was some sort of a martial artist. The file said he could be reached to contribute to the review, although in the end he was never contacted.” Delvecchio cleared his throat. “The two pieces of the puzzle the Palestinians would need for yesterday’s assassination . . . those being the man’s name and his location, were both in the digital breach from the NSC. Again, we don’t know that’s how the Palestinians got the intel, but the President has been notified, and he has already made the decision to tell the Israeli prime minister about the compromise, so we need answers immediately.”