Richard North has worked his way up the career CIA ladder; Washington insiders expect his nomination as the next Director. However, an unexpected influence in the White House derails his nomination igniting his narcissistic tendencies resulting in a web of deceit. North’s grandiose revenge strategies result in misdirection, murder and the threat of World War III. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Jack Landis, a decorated Navy Seal, comes out of retirement to join a CIA special ops mission and finds himself in the middle of the web of deceit. He has to rely on his training, experience and instincts to save a good friend, his lover and thwart Armageddon. Jack partners with unlikely allies as he races against time to cut through the labyrinth of deception in an attempt to uncover the truth.
The story begins with the demise of Osama bin Laden as never been told and details a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. This sophisticated plot includes characters from the White House, Russia and the Jihad community. This page turner will have the reader asking them self, ‘could this really happen?’
Abir had received three responses within two hours of posting his information on the targeted websites. Two seemed innocuous in nature with responses relatively supportive and non directional; however, the third was challenging in nature requesting Abir to post additional information relative to his experience and commitment to jihad. He hoped this would turn out to be his opportunity to make a difference. He immediately sent an encrypted transmission to his liaison, Sara, as was protocol providing her an update.
The President requested the DNI and the Secretary of Defense to join him in the Oval Office when he placed the call to Vladimir Putin. Ordinarily, he would have also invited the CIA Director, but under the circumstances, he could not. It panged him to do such under the circumstances as he knew Pendleton to be a good man, but his office dictated such. The translators were ready and the call was placed.
“Vladimir, Barrack. How are you my Eastern colleague?”
“Mr. President, what an honor. How is your jump shot?”
“Unfortunately, I have not had time to work on it due to the ongoing global challenges that you and I face.”
“Indeed. To whom or what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”
“In all seriousness, we, both the United States and Russia, are faced with a real and significant threat from the Middle East. More specifically, the terrorist sects that we have discussed in the past are more lethal than ever before.”
“I appreciate the ongoing threat. But why is today different from yesterday?”
The President eloquently articulated the threat from a burgeoning and organized terrorism sect, the potential of nuclear attack, and the need for the two countries to bond together in the face of danger as they have never done before.
“I appreciate your concern Mr. President, but how or why has our position against terrorism, which is consistent with the United States’ changed?”
“I’m so glad you asked my dear friend.”
The President explained Jack Landis’ idea in detail, including the concern about the global response to Russia’s alleged position and advance of the range of ICBMs.
“How would you respond to such a request, Mr. President?”
“I have considered your question President Putin, and I have to honestly say that I do not envy your position. Your country has experienced extremely challenging economic and political times. I cannot pretend or presume to appreciate what you and your leadership team have had to govern and control. However, our relationship is the best it has ever been and that is why I felt comfortable reaching out to you and asking your country to fulfill this role in our war against terrorism.”
“Do you realize what you ask? NATO is already difficult to work with, our trade relations with the major global partners are weak and our populous questions our government’s every move. What’s in it for Russia?”
“That is an excellent question. I request that you sincerely ponder that question and let us please speak tomorrow following the NATO conference.”
“Why do I feel that you’re several steps ahead of me?”
“I do apologize for the lack of diplomacy in the presentation of this strategy, but this is very serious and I need your help Vladimir.”
“I understand and respect your request. Let us speak tomorrow after I have considered the idea.”
“Speed is of the essence. Otherwise, our grandchildren may not inherit anything but a bowl of dust.”
“Thank you for entrusting me and Russia with this opportunity to work with the United States to defeat terrorism.”
Ms. Toni had just a few remaining details to take care of before the television taping tomorrow. She had met separately with the two managers running her escort service telling them that the affair was in fact true and highlighted the danger associated with saying anything considering they were dealing with the CIA. She was grateful that these two had contact with all of the employees; Ms. Toni was simply a figure head no one ever met and therefore could not identify.
One of the managers, Cindy, was the one purchasing the business.
“Ms. Toni, I’ll miss you, but am very thankful for the opportunity. Where will you go?”
“Oh, I’m not sure for now. I suspect the media will hound me for a few weeks.”
“Are you sure you did the right thing in going to the press?”
“No, but what the hell? I might as well go out with a bang.”
“I love your style. Where will I send the quarterly payments for the business purchase?’
“I wanted to speak to you about that Cindy. I appreciate the fact you were able to raise $200,000 cash for the down payment. Considering your loyalty and great work over the past decade and the fact I have more money than I really need, let’s consider it paid in full.”
“What? I still owe you over a million dollars.”
“Not any more. Here is an addendum to the purchase agreement editing the purchase price. The escort service is all yours, free and clear. Or should I say the florist shop is all yours?”
Ms. Toni had opened a small florist shop concurrent with starting the escort service to serve as a front of sorts. She had done it
initially thinking she would use it to launder money or as a distraction if anyone ever began sniffing into her dealings. As it turned out, the escort service produced such large amounts of cash that she could not launder it through the flower shop; she ended up creating an offshore company and related bank accounts to both hide and shelter the cash. And that is the cash she would use to live out her life. Of the purchase price, $50,000 of the $200,000 would be legally recorded for the purchase of the florist shop while the remaining $150,000 would travel with Ms. Toni, primarily to pay the plastic surgeon.
“Oh my God! I cannot believe this. You’re so generous. I don’t know what to say.”
“All I ask is that you continue to manage the services with the upmost discretion and confidentiality. These can be dangerous circles within which we operate. Granted, the business is very lucrative, but as you know, with high reward there is high risk.”
“I totally understand. To that end, I’m bothered by Shay’s murder.”
“By the burglary? How so?”
“Several days before she was killed, she shared with me that one of her johns had shared more about himself than he probably should have and she was uncomfortable in hearing the information.”
Ms. Toni was fairly confident this was the same John Doe that was behind the mistress plot. “What was said?”
“Evidently he had been drinking and claimed he would be the next boss of some department or agency and that someone had made a mistake and they would pay for it.”
“I believe that many of our clients’ egos are extremely large and believe they are on the road to a promotion and have the ability to control their destiny.” Ms. Toni said attempting to minimize Cindy’s concern.
“I guess you’re right, but Shay was extremely upset and then she was dead a few days later.”
“Coincidences do happen; however, it is good that you’re aware and thinking in those terms. It will serve you well. Give me a hug. I must be on my way.”
“Thank you again. Will you call me?”
“As soon as I’m settled. Good luck.”
Ms. Toni headed to her lunch date with her best friend Peggy, her only real friend. Evidently her friend had not seen the picture in The Post as nothing was said when she called to set up lunch. Ms. Toni would lie to her best friend telling her the affair was true and she would have to get away until things cooled down. The delicate part of the conversation would be conveying the danger associated with the situation and that under no circumstances would her friend be allowed to say anything to anyone, especially the authorities, regardless of what happens; Ms. Toni would make her promise.
Saying goodbye to her best friend was the only really difficult thing she would have to do as part of this plan. There was no man in her life and she wasn’t attached to the city or to anything else here. She would reconnect with her friend when she believed it was safe to do so.
As she drove to the restaurant, she was now sure that John Doe worked within the intelligence community, most likely the CIA, and he was seeking revenge on Louis Pendleton for some reason. From the information Cindy shared, it was most likely over a personnel decision. For Doe to obtain information relative to Pendleton’s personal life and when and where he jogged meant he had to be higher up in the chain of command. She needed to do some research on the Internet.
North decided he needed to remove Ms. Toni sooner rather than later. He would check out her gated community this morning to see if there was any way to enter without being detected, which he doubted assuming the security and surveillance was top notch considering the affluence that it protected. He would have to either catch her on foot or parked in her car, for she only needed to be still for a few seconds. Due to his marksmanship honed from years of big game hunting that was all North needed to zero in and take his shot.
North decided on using his Remington high powered rifle primarily because it was a popular rifle; many people owned one. It would be incriminating for him to use one of his high quality rifles such as the Serbu or TrackingPoint.
The best-case scenario was to purchase a gun license in a fictitious name and dispose of the gun; however, it would take too long to get the license. He hadn’t used his Remington on a big hunt for over a decade, so in the unlikely event the ballistics were matched to his gun—the odds were a million to one—he would simply say he traded the gun in at one of the touring gun shows for ammunition or some other related hunting commodity.
He would use ammunition that would pass through the body, ideally the head, such that she would be recognizable. If he did not, the energy and force created by the round would explode the head possibly disfiguring her face and delaying identification if she in fact had false identification on her, which he was sure she did. He needed someone to recognize the corpse as the same woman in The Post article. This would then establish Pendleton as the lead suspect.
The best case scenario would be that Pendleton would not have an alibi at the time the death was estimated, but that would be dumb luck and very unlikely. Still, it would put more pressure on the White House to cut ties with Pendleton sooner rather than later. God he loved it when a plan came together.
As North sat and choreographed his day in his mind, he found himself smiling as he reread The Post article. Ms. Toni, or rather, Ms. Schienberg, had done a terrific job of posing. North had to admit he wasn’t a half bad photographer. He anticipated he would have to be extremely diligent with his time today anticipating a call from the DNI in response to the article while preparing to rid this world of yet another dangling participle. He would first make an appearance at the office making the rounds to ensure everyone saw him; he would wear his bright yellow Armani tie to make himself that much more noticeable.
Oh people, people, people, such an easily manipulated species.
Kate drilled Lou with questions the entire drive to the hotel in hopes of creating some thread of rationale to follow. “Have you had any major disagreements with anyone recently?”
“Is there someone in your past that may perceive something that you did as egregious to them or their beliefs?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Have you physically harmed anyone?”
“Could anyone believe that you were, in some way, either flirting with or hitting on their significant other?”
“I’m serious. If there was some behavior, I know it would have been innocent or not intended to be anything flirtatious, but someone may have mistaken it for something it was not.”
“Sorry, but I can’t think of any exchange or communication that could be remotely interpreted as anything but business.”
“Well, the most logical and easiest explanation is that somewhere along the line you had met this woman, she had feelings for you, and you rebuffed them without realizing it.”
“Yes, I had thought of that as anything else would require much planning and deliberation. But, for the life of me, I cannot think of anyone. In addition, I know that I had never seen that woman before the other day.”
“Then this situation is extremely precarious. We need some help figuring this out.”
“Once we get to the hotel, I’ll give Hank a call back and get a hold of Jack. We need to figure this thing out sooner rather than later.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I lose my job and my reputation is damaged forever. I’m not sure what the impact would be upon my pension.”
“Well my dear, we have done extremely well financially and do not need your pension to retire handsomely. As far as your reputation, all that matters is that your loved ones and friends believe in you. And selfishly speaking, losing your job would be a good thing as we would start our retirement sooner rather than later. All in all, things could be worse.”
“Please don’t say that, honey, because often they do get worse just when you think that they cannot.”
It didn’t take Anne Marie long to come to an educated guess that Richard North, Deputy Director of the CIA was John Doe. After 45 minutes on the Internet, she had discovered several articles detailing the relative surprise nomination of Louis Pendleton for CIA Director when Washington insiders assumed it would be North. The dates of the articles were consistent with Shay’s concerns and subsequent murder.
Anne Marie now stared at a picture of North on her computer screen. He looked so pompous and self-assured. If only there was a way to hear his voice to verify her assumption. She was able to find a few video tapes wherein North was quoted, but North was never on tape and she could not find a radio interview file.
Nonetheless, she was certain he was behind this charade as he had the motive to ruin Pendleton’s career so he would have the opportunity to become the next director. She couldn’t let him get away with this, but first and foremost, she had to plan her escape. There was no doubting his ability, rather propensity, to inflict harm. North had three decades of experience in the spy business and had the CIA resources at his beck and call. She knew she could not be too careful.
Had she been careful enough, she began to wonder. Maybe she should cancel the CNN shoot. She had a day to think about it. The first order of business was to write down what she knew and her suspicions about North. Once the letter was complete, she would make several copies. One copy would go to her estate planning attorney telling her that if anything happened to her, she was to provide this letter to both the media and to the President’s office. She was confident the letter would get more immediate attention from the media considering her letter revealed that she was all but black mailed into alleging an affair with Pendleton. A second copy would be put in her safety deposit box while the original would remain in a directory entitled escape on her laptop.
Abir’s initial impression of Chechnya was different than he anticipated. He was surprised by the quality of his apartment, which had once been the location of a shelled and abandoned apartment bloc. Since the end of the Second Chechen War in 2002, many of the bombed out blocs had been demolished and rebuilt. In a city whose name translated to terrible in English, Abir found Grozny not so bad compared to Yemen and Iraq.
Abir had been contacted within 48 hours of posting his background information on the jihad websites. He was surprised that the contact had identified himself as a member of jihad, but he supposed in this region that was to be expected. The initial meet was scheduled for the following day at the Central Dome Mosque, the largest mosque in Russia. Abir was simply instructed to wear a red turban and carry a briefcase; his contact would find him.
“Lou,” greeted Hank.
“Are you safely tucked away where no one can find you?”
“We hope so.”
“How is Kate doing through all this?”
“Amazingly well. She never doubted me for a second.”
“And why would she? You’re a man among men, Mr. Pendleton.”
“I’m damn lucky is what I am.”
“Do you have any ideas or leads?”
“Not a one. It is very frustrating. We’ve dismissed this woman acting alone.”
“So we have the work of someone fairly sophisticated.”
“Evidently. But why and whom?”
“Well, I want to introduce a tool that may help you think through this problem.”
“Really? And what would that be?’
“It is called bluescape™. Simply put, it’s a think tool. In terms of its physical properties, I like to think of it as a large iPad that fills an entire wall so that multiple people can view it, interact with it, and store information on it.”
“Sounds like something from an NCIS episode.”
“Well, it kind of is, but the difference is this really works.”
“How do you have access to something like this?”
“I invested in a tech company in Silicon Valley several years ago and they ended up partnering with a large office furniture manufacturer and together they developed this revolutionary new technology. Several showrooms have been set up across North America to demonstrate the product and one just happens to be in D.C.”
“Does that mean I can use it?”
“Indeed it does.”
“Who is going to show me how to use it?”
“There is a showroom manager; she will teach you. It is uber-simple to use. Like I said, it is like using an iPad. It was designed with the intent of updating the war rooms of old with technology. Remember the days when the war rooms had yellow sticky notes, marker boards, poster boards, and miscellaneous papers amalgamated in an attempt to capture and propel strategic thinking? How often did we return to the war room to find that the marker board was partially erased, sticky notes had lost their sticky, and were vacuumed by the cleaning crew, or the room simply ran out of space to support the addition of more ideas?”
“Oh, I remember. We ended up taking several steps backwards.”
“This new technology stores 160 acres of information in a single session. Data can be loaded from any device while people can join remotely if they are not in the room where the technology is based.”
“And you believe this think tool can help my situation?”
“I have invested a significant amount of money, so I would have to answer in the affirmative.”
“How do we get started?”
“I’ll send you the showroom manager’s contact information so you can schedule training and book the room as your need it.”
“Will the information remain confidential?”
“Yes. You will be given a session, access to which will require a user ID and password.”
“Can I invite Jack to join me?”
“I would suggest you invite Jack and Kate, and I would also be interested in helping you decipher this riddle.”
“I would be honored Hank, but I can only imagine how busy your schedule is.”
“First of all, you know I would always help you in a jam. Second, I have some skin in the game if you recall.”
“Ah yes, the significant campaign contribution that led to my getting this job. So in other words, this is your fault.”
“Ha. I guess you could spin it that way. Seriously, this is bullshit and we’re not going to let whoever is behind this get away with it. But first, we have to review your list of potential bad guys. How is that list coming?”
“I’ve got nothing, zero, zippo.”
“Oh for God’s sake, Lou; it’s not like you walk on water. Possibly you think too highly of your fellow man. Look for the dark side in those you have known and worked with for the past decade or so.”
“Alright. It would help if I had some old project files to look through, but at this point, I can only assume I’m persona non grata and have access to nothing.”
“Damn, good point. Do the best you can. Please let me know when you have finished bluescape training and have some times scheduled.”
“Will do. Thank you, Hank.”
“’Tis nothing, my lad.”
After a fitful night’s attempt at rest, Anne Marie woke in a sour mood.
Fuck Richard North, she thought.
Who the hell did he think he was?
She knew he was smart, but so was she. The hell if she was going to do the CNN spot. What was he going to about it? The shit has already hit Mr. Pendleton’s fan. The TV spot was simply too much risk she didn’t need. She would be a no show tomorrow morning; the CNN cast must be used to that. By then, she would be boarding her chartered jet at Chesterfield County Airport in Richmond, Virginia en route to Houston’s Intercontinental, where she would have a three-day lay over to complete her plastic surgery. From there, it was straight to Mandelieu Airport in Nice, France, which catered to private jets. She would then take up residence in Monaco on the French Riviera, where she would have a view of Port Hercule. Once she was settled, recovered from her surgery, and was confident her identity was unknown she would blow the covers
off Mr. Hotshot CIA man, Richard North.
“Hi, Sara. So nice to hear from you.”
“Have you read The Post?”
“No, can’t say that I have. Did I miss something?”
“Have you spoken with Lou lately?”
“Maybe it’s best that you pick up a paper and give me a call back.”
“Is everything okay?”
“No not really. Please read it as soon as possible, okay?”
“Yes, of course. Is this a good number to reach you?”
“Okay, give me 45 minutes.”
No sooner had Jack hung up then his cell phone buzzed again, it was Lou. “Jack, time to talk?”
“Of course. Everything okay?
“Have you seen the paper?”
“You’re the second person to ask me that within the last minute. And no, I have not.”
“Well, it’s probably best you read it first, but I will give you the Cliff’s Notes’ version. A woman is quoted claiming that she and I have had an ongoing affair. There is even a picture with the two of us.”
“How can this be?”
“That is what we need to figure out, and I need your help.”
“Has Kate seen it?”
“Yes, and she actually laughed it off claiming I could never pull off such a thing. I have to admit, my testosterone driven ego was somewhat injured, but I’m very lucky to have such a strong relationship.”
“I’ll say. What did the Agency say?”
“Let’s just say I’m on temporary furlough.”
“Oh crap. What can I do?”
“An old friend Hank is proposing we use a think tool of sorts to help us figure this thing out. Something out of the crime shows on television.”
“Cool. When do we get started?”
“I’ll schedule some training for all of us ASAP and let you know. For now, please be my eyes and ears at Langley. Has a meeting been called?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Let me know if you hear something. I’ll be in touch.”
“My best to Kate.”
“Thank you, Jack.”
“Hi Sara, Jack.”
“Right after I hung up with you, Lou called and briefly explained the situation. I have since read the article. It’s a bunch of bullshit.”
“How do you know? I mean, well, the employees at the
different hotels identified him and there is a picture of them together. And why would she make up such a story?”
“That is our job to find out since this whole thing has been fabricated.”
“Jack, I realize you and Lou go way back.”
“Hold on there. Yes, we go way back and that is why I’m so confident in his character. Let me ask you this. Have you ever been faced with a situation where your integrity, character, loyalty, and honesty have been put to the test?”
Sara’s thoughts went immediately to her deceit relative to her brother’s kidnapping. “Yes, I have,” she answered feebly.
Jack knew exactly how to hit the nerve he needed to gain her buy-in and help. “Well, Mr. Louis Pendleton is one who would error on the side of integrity, character, loyalty, and honesty even if it meant losing something very dear to him.”
And at that moment Sara knew that he knew. Her mind raced.
Then it became crystal clear. Jack first conducted a simple interview regarding her brother’s entry into the country as a so-called new employee of Homeland Security, but ended up to be a close friend and colleague of Lou’s. He then inquired several times about Habib and any potential trouble. Finally he came up with a convenient way to help her and her brother out of the country and minimize the risk of another hostage situation.
If he knew, then Lou knew and of course the DNI knew. So why was she still here and involved? Did this man feel as strongly for her as she did him and save her from embarrassment and dismissal? She was glad they were not speaking in person as he would see her blush a crimson red. She knew she had to pick her words very carefully to convey an understanding and gratitude that he was protecting her, offering her the opportunity to discuss it openly and offer her uncompromising support of Lou.
“Jack, I’ve come to appreciate your dedication and loyalty
to those you know and trust. Is there anything that we need to discuss before I offer my help and support of Lou?”
“Not a thing Sara, not a thing.”
Sara exhaled in relief, which did not go unnoticed by Jack. “So how do we start?”
Jack explained the tool and the upcoming training and said he would be in touch when he heard any updates from Lou.
“I see you packed the Bible, Kate,” said Lou.
“I considered it the most important thing I packed this morning before we left. You know what Pastor Rick always tells us.”
“Refresh my memory.”
“When things seem to become difficult beyond your control, read Proverbs as doing so will provide a sense of comfort.”
“Ah yes. Shall we?”
“I would love to. Come sit next to me and we can take turns reading. It will only take a few minutes.”
“Thank God for you, Kate.”
“Thank God for giving His only son.”
It was 3:00 p.m. when the DNI clicked off the cell call with the CIA investigator following up on The Post article. The Post had been more than cooperative in sharing their information sources while the sources all checked out. They all recognized a picture of Pendleton as someone who had visited their respective hotels often over the past two years, sometimes in the company of Morgan.
All acknowledged they had no idea who Pendleton was prior to The Post’s investigation. All employment records were confirmed while bank accounts and cell phone records had yet to be checked to ensure there were no abnormalities. That would take until tomorrow morning. At this point, Clapper had no choice but to tell Lou to continue to lay low until more information could be gathered and that was his next call.
North had been lying prone on the grassy knoll hidden amongst a grouping of mature, Shortleaf Pines for 90 minutes awaiting the return of Schienberg to pass through the gate into the Foxhall community. He had the benefit of witnessing several other condominium owners returning home and entering through the gate. The gate was evidently activated by a window decal as the driver simply had to pull up within one foot of the gate and wait for the arm to rise to allow them to drive through.
North counted off five seconds between the time the car stopped to wait for the arm to rise and then continue driving. Five seconds was more than enough time for him to get off a clean and accurate kill shot. He
practiced zeroing in and focusing his scope on the last two drivers.
Piece of cake, he thought.
The accuracy of the rifle was true up to 400 yards. He was only 250 yards away and had the benefit of a ground tripod to help steady his aim. The thrill of this hunt was like no other he had ever experienced. His adrenalin raced and he was surprised at the high hunting another human being provided him. He had been behind many terminations in the past, but he had never actually done it himself. He had wondered how it would feel. Now he knew and he loved it.
He again brought the binoculars to his eyes scanning the adjacent road looking for her vehicle, the same one he had seen her leave by earlier that day when he was checking out the surveillance equipment. The kill did not have to happen today, but it would be more convenient. If necessary, he could come back tomorrow, but early so as to catch her on her way out of the condominium complex.
Abir anticipated more of a clandestine meeting at the Mosque, so when his contact approached him from the front with a big smile and
hand extended to shake his hand, Abir was somewhat taken aback.
Sensing Abir’s tension, the contact spoke in Arabic, “No
need to worry my friend, we’re amongst many friends here. My name is Maysarah. My friends have ensured that we’re alone and that you were not followed. Come, let us find somewhere to sit and drink tea.”
And as simply as that, Abir had made his first contact with a terrorist organization. This one just happened to be the Pakistani Taliban. Maysarah explained his job was simply to make initial contact, conduct an
interview to determine Abir’s alliances and preferences and facilitate a meeting with a recruiter, who would attempt to learn more about Abir’s nuclear science and engineering background. Their meeting lasted a little over an hour while Abir was told he would be contacted in a few days for a follow up meeting.
The bullet entered her skull just above the left eye and cleanly exited near the center of the back of the head and through the passenger side window embedding itself into the trunk of a Shortleaf pine on the opposite side of the entrance road from wear North lie. North had fully anticipated that the bullet would enter and exit the sides of her head, but after stopping at the gate arm, Schienberg had eerily and unexpectedly turned and looked directly in North’s direction.
Had she heard something? Did she notice him? Impossible he thought. When he looked through the scope a nanosecond before he pulled the trigger, it was if she was staring right at him with a brown eye versus a grey eye he had expected. And then her face disappeared from his scope view as the impact of the bullet forced her head back and to the right. Her body slumped to the right in the seat, held up in a 60-degree angle due to the seatbelt. There was enough weight from her right leg on the brake to keep the car from moving forward. He was fortunate her body did not slump forward onto the horn, which would have drawn attention and provided him much less time to exit the scene.
North knew he should enact his exit strategy immediately, but he couldn’t help looking through the scope for an additional few seconds to take in his victory kill. Most of the blood spatter was on the right side of the windshield and the passenger side window. The bullet had made a clean hole in the window without breaking it. What North could not see was the blood exiting the wound in the back of her head draining into her open purse onto the envelope that held the letter she had prepared to put into her safety deposit box; the letter that indicated North was behind Shay’s murder as well as the Pendleton scandal. She had managed to drop the letter addressed to her estate attorney into a mailbox prior to heading home.
North again considered how he admired this woman’s ingenuity and resolve, but in the end, he had won. And he savored it and realized it was yet one more step on his way to taking control of the CIA and doing what needed to be done. He then broke down the gun, placing the stock in one of the grocery bags full of miscellaneous food items and shoved the barrel up the center of a French loaf of bread that stuck out of a second grocery bag. The tripod was folded and also placed in one of the bags.
He then stood up, brushed the pine needles and dirt from his jogging suit, pulled his hooded sweatshirt over his head, adjusted his ball cap, sunglasses and fake mustache, and then checked to be sure no one was in sight before he casually walked down the grassy knoll carrying his grocery bags as if he had just visited the market three blocks away. It would take him five minutes to walk to the parked rental two blocks away. His BMW had needed service that day and he took it upon himself to arrange a rental, which just happened to be the same make, model, and color as Pendleton’s car.
He estimated it would be at least 15 minutes before anyone discovered the lifeless body, either by a surveillance camera or another car driving in or out of the community. By then, North would be long gone and the rifle would soon be resting at the bottom of the Potomac River. As he drove the rental away, he wished he could listen to John Coltrane to accelerate the high of this experience. And then another, unexpected thought jumped into to head; I wonder how easily it would be to dispose of his wife in this way?
Neither Jack nor Sara heard from the DNI or anyone else at Langley for the balance of the day. Feeling the need to do something, Jack called Sara and invited her to join him on an evening jog. She gladly accepted for want of a distraction and of course an opportunity to see Jack. Following their run around Old Town, Sara invited Jack in for ice tea. They discovered the common interests beyond job commitment, health, reading and traveling were minimal; however, both found one another’s diverse interests interesting enough to discuss them for two hours. Both received texts from the DNI indicating a meeting would be held at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, which interrupted their chat.
Jack immediately phoned Lou to find out if he knew about or was involved in the meeting. The answer to both was no. The men surmised the meeting was called to ensure that whatever momentum there was relative to bin Laden, Abir and the terrorist organization continued. Possibly there was some feedback regarding Jack’s idea and the ICBMs. They both ignored the proverbial elephant in the room, and that was the potential announcement of Lou’s dismissal due to the supposed scandal. After Jack hung up, he thanked Sara for the evening and headed home for a good night’s rest anticipating tomorrow would bring its share of challenges requiring he be at his best mentally and physically.
The President received notice the evening before that Putin would be calling at 8:00 a.m., which was 4:00 p.m. in Moscow. There was hope that today would bring the promise of an uncommon alliance and joint strategy in the war against terrorism.
“Mr. President, does today find you and your country prosperous?”
“Good morning. Or should I say good afternoon, Vladimir?”
“Good afternoon. We have thoroughly considered your proposal, and are flattered that you need Russia’s help in the fight against global terrorism. In return, I must ask you for some help on a few, significant issues facing our country at this time.”
Here we go, thought the President. And as expected, the Russian President leveraged the situation in an attempt to gain help and support on the issues of trade relations, most specifically oil and gas distribution, NATO involvement, or lack thereof, which was the preference and the opportunity for more of a say in global affairs. The call ended with a commitment to support as much as possible with some agreed to actionable items, but no guarantees.
“The implementation of the plan was delegated to their respective Generals with the additional commitment to speak if the situation warranted it. As the call ended, the President looked to the Secretary of Defense, who had sat in on the call and said, “He is a good man and represents his country well given what he has to deal with. I still do not understand the intermittent, random decisions which serve to keep us at a continual arms length.”
“It is their nature, and therefore mostly out of their
control. Their culture has been handed down from generation to generation and is embedded in their DNA, much like the Muslim suicide bombers or the storied scorpion that stings and kills the frog upon which back it rides to get across the lake resulting in each dying.”
“I still don’t understand it, nonetheless.”
“As James Boswell once said, ‘I have found you an argument; I’m not obliged to find you an understanding.”
“Indeed, we have plenty of arguments to go around, some manifested for the sole purpose of having an argument.”
“And thus the nature of the unique natures with which we deal.”
“Possibly a better quote is from Pope Julius III, ‘Do you know, my son, with what little understanding the world is ruled?’”
“Ha Ha, you win Mr. President, you win. Present company excluded of course.”
“Of course,” The President responded with a rue smile. “Let’s get Mr. Clapper in here as soon as possible and get this plan in action.”
By 10:00 a.m., the DNI had cell phone logs and bank account detail of the hotel employees claiming to have seen Pendleton and there was no irregular activity. The Post had also sent over typed manuscripts of the alleged cell phone exchanges between Morgan and Pendleton from Morgan’s prepaid cell phone number. The number that was supposedly Pendleton’s was a prepaid cell number purchased at a store within a mile of Pendleton’s home. Either Pendleton was up to his eyeballs in this, or someone had worked very hard to make it look as if he was. Clapper knew what he had to recommend to the President.
Just then, his Administrative Assistant stepped into his office indicating The President was on the line.
“Yes Mr. President.”
“Can you meet me in the Oval Office within the hour?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll be there in 30 minutes.”
“Morning, Mr. Pendleton. How did you and the Mrs. sleep?”
“These heavenly beds are, well, you know.”
“Can’t say that I do, but I have heard.”
“We have a date for training on Hank’s new technology gizmo tomorrow at 6:30 a.m.”
“Terrific. Sara and I are in.”
“I’m not sure I’m on board with that Jack.”
“She is smart, angry about what has happened to you and a hard worker. What do we have to lose?”
“I guess you’re right. Okay then, it’s the four musketeers.” Lou provided Jack the showroom address and concluded the call.
Schienberg’s body was found 13 minutes after it was shot lifeless. The security system had denoted the gate was stuck in the up position and a security alarm went out to the contracted security company, which arrived within 11 minutes of receiving the alarm. Having dealt with some of the affluent, albeit elderly residents in the past, the security guard that was dispatched assumed that the individual behind the wheel was either on their cell phone or simply confused.
The guard parked immediately behind the vehicle considering this to be a colossal waste of time and nonchalantly walked up to the driver side window anticipating he would startle a resident. Upon seeing the lifeless face with one eye socket missing and the passenger side smattered with brain residue, the guard promptly bent over placing the palms of his hands on his knees and proceeded to wretch that morning’s scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast onto his freshly polished black boots. After five minutes of heaving, he collected himself and had the sense to first call 911 and then his dispatch officer.
The DNI was invigorated by the order to proceed with Landis’ idea based upon the successful call with Putin. He was equally disgruntled with the directive to request Pendleton’s resignation, but he anticipated and understood it. It was nearly eleven o’clock, so he began to head to the conference room to provide North, Landis, and Fahridi an update. All were in attendance when he entered the conference room.
“Good morning folks,” began Clapper. “The President has officially sanctioned Jack’s idea following a successful dialogue with the Russian President and a review with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Sara, we need to immediately update Abir and give him the clearance to share this information with his contacts thereby giving him credibility, which hopefully will lead to him gaining some level of infiltration.
“Jack, if you’re willing, we would like you to immediately head to Moscow. You will be the Russian representative relative to any discussions and negotiations with the terrorists groups assuming they bite. I suspect we may need an interpreter if and when you meet with one of their representatives, but we will cross that bridge when and if necessary. Your primary point of contact will be General Makarov. We should officially put you on the CIA payroll versus as a contractor.
“I would be happy to help where I can,” replied Jack. “Have there been any new developments relative to Mr. Pendleton’s situation?”
“Nothing concrete at this time. But you are all prohibited from corresponding with Mr. Pendleton until further notice. Richard, I need you to step into the lead on this mission, which we’re calling Long Range, until this business with Lou can be determined. Are there any other questions?”
“How will the alleged ICBM long range development be leaked?” asked North.
“Since Abir has made initial contact, the plan is to have
him, and only him, deliver the information. In this way we may be able to minimize this false information getting publicized and ideally minimize any
negative reaction towards Russia. In a best case scenario, the U.S. will not have to step up and defend Russia’s denial as was previously discussed,”
“How will I prove that the ICBMs range has been extended?” Jack asked.
“As we speak, the Russians are creating false engineering and testing data for you to present as proof. All will be documented on the appropriate governmental letterhead. At some point we can expect that they will want proof in terms of witnessing a test missile. Hopefully by then, we will have learned enough about their organization and intent such that we can take the necessary actions to remove them as a global threat.”
“How long do we expect this dialogue to take?” asked North.
“I really haven’t given that much thought as this point. What do you think?” asked Clapper.
“Well, we all realize that as each day passes, the enemy becomes larger and more organized. Who knows, they may be close to placing nuclear weapons within our borders any day.”
“I appreciate your perspective and related sense of urgency, Richard. Based upon what we know today, this amalgamation of terrorists is relatively newly formed and most likely not very organized given their combatant pasts. In addition, the President’s preference is to smoke them out of hiding with this strategy and learn as much as we can such that any preemptive strikes that we may make are as effective and efficient as possible.
“Concurrent with the initiation of this operation, the Joint Chiefs will review the Powell Doctrine to ensure that if the operation delivers the intelligence we hope that it will, that all eight of the Doctrine questions can be answered affirmatively prior to taking any military action.”
“Understood. I simply want us to consider all scenarios.”
“And I appreciate that. Any other questions or comments?”
Given no responses, the DNI continued, “Sara, please let me and Richard know after you have briefed Abir. Jack, contact Janet in Human Resources as soon as you can. Once you have completed what she needs done, please look into flights to Moscow. Richard, can we please get together later today, say 5:00 p.m.?”
“Okay folks, Operation Long Range is a big deal. You are all part of what could be one of the most strategic initiatives this agency has been involved with in a long time. Everyone needs to execute expertly. Meeting adjourned.”
And with that, everyone filed out of the room. North was so giddy he could have skipped all the way back to his office. He anticipated the meeting at 5:00 p.m. to be more of a discussion on his taking leadership of the CIA.
Sara found herself depressed that Jack would be leaving. She realized she shouldn’t be so selfish, but she couldn’t help herself. No sooner does she finally meet someone who could be the one than he is sent half way around the world on a dangerous mission that could cost him his life. Jack had his game face on. He was anxious to get to Moscow and begin his mission. He was also concerned that he would not be around to help Lou figure out who set him up while he acknowledged he would miss Sara.
Jack followed Sara to her office, “I guess this is going to put a wrench into our coffee chats and running plans.”
“Oh Jack, I’m so disappointed you have to leave, but am very proud of you for stepping up to the challenge.”
“Well, not sure I stepped up. This thing just kind of fell in front of me and I couldn’t avoid stepping in it.”
“How soon will you leave?”
“I suspect it will take me a good 48 hours to get everything organized and arranged.”
“I guess we have 48 hours then. Dinner tonight at my place?”
“What can I bring?”
“See you then.”
It was shortly before noon as Lou got off the call with the DNI. Kate could tell by the expression on his face the call did not go well.
“What did he say?” asked Kate.
“The President asked for my immediate resignation, and I gave it to him.”
“Why did you do that?”
“All of The Post’s sources were confirmed. In addition, The Post provided the script from this woman’s cell phone which was signed Lou. The text was from a prepaid cell phone, so there is no way to trace it. This information in combination with the woman’s statement and the picture is too much circumstantial evidence for the White House.”
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry.”
“I can’t blame them. Based upon the information, my short tenure, and the serious situations we currently face, I would have made the same decision.”
“Are they going to help you get to the bottom of this?”
“Clapper said that the Agency would do what it could under the circumstances. But given the media attention this is receiving now, the first thing to be done is for the Press Secretary to announce my resignation at a press conference late this afternoon. I’m hopeful for help, but frankly, once the Administration has washed their hands of me, I really don’t anticipate much support.”
“Who will take responsibility for your job?”
“Richard North will take over on an interim basis until a candidate is identified and nominated.”
“And what about Jack?”
“I’m not sure. My team has no doubt been told not to communicate with me while I suspect they will learn of my resignation within the hour. Their phones and email accounts will be under surveillance, so I
doubt any of them will try to reach me.”
“Well, we need to get a hold of Jack and right away. What if I were to call him and simply give him the name of the hotel and room number and hang up? It would appear as if you had called using my cell phone and Jack immediately hung up learning it was you.”
“We have our meeting scheduled tomorrow morning to learn about Hank’s blue tool. I don’t want to compromise Jack. I say we wait until tomorrow morning. I trust Jack nor Sara has mentioned our meeting to anyone. We can all catch up then.
“That makes sense. No wonder I married you, you’re a smart guy.”
“Hopefully we’re all smart enough to figure this mess out. I don’t want my long, established career to end with a blemish like this.”
“Would you be mad if I said I didn’t care how it ended, as long as it ended and we could spend more time together?”
“Now that’s a loaded question.”
Abir was now armed with the information and strategy for the next meeting with the Taliban, assuming there would be a next one. The following communication he would receive would contain information about the covert operative who would pose as a Russian representative, including his arrival and location plans. Abir’s job was simply to facilitate a meeting between the operative and the Taliban.
Things were starting to get interesting, he thought.
North was punctual for his 5:00 p.m. meeting with the DNI.
“Come on in and please shut the door,” began Clapper. “Richard, we will be announcing Lou’s resignation within the hour. As part of that announcement, we would like to tell the public that you will be stepping in for the interim until the White House has a chance to digest what has happened. Can we count on you?”
“Terrific. Let’s get together first thing in the morning to determine how the next 30 days will be managed.”
The lead coroner assigned to Anne Marie Schienberg had been with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer for 15 years. The body arrived to the OCME the evening before with the autopsy being completed shortly after noon. The cause of death was apparent. The bullet had been discovered in and retrieved from the pine tree. Ballistics results would be ready tomorrow. As of yet, no one had come forward to retrieve the body. The police had yet to identify a next of kin while interviews with neighbors produced nothing other than comments indicating Ms. Schienberg kept to herself.
The deceased’s possessions at the murder scene included an empty Starbucks cup, a stack of overdue library books, and her purse, the contents of which had been saturated with approximately a half a pint of blood from the exit wound in her head. The coroner placed the contents of the purse on a steel tray to examine. Beyond the cosmetics, wallet, hairbrush, mirror, and finger nail file the only contents worth exploration were an iPhone, a prepaid cell phone, and a sealed envelope. If there was an address on the envelope or documents inside, all were indiscernible due to the blood until a forensics analysis could be completed.
But first things first, which was conducting a full autopsy to determine if anything else contributed to the death. For this, the coroner requested an assistant to expedite the process as homicide detectives always wanted a thorough autopsy before it was humanly possible to complete.