Ahmed Abdullah paced back and forth on leather sandals inside the abandoned Miami airplane hangar with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder. He held the gold-framed picture of his wife and daughter, their image burned forever in his memory; an image not of love and beauty but of knotted limbs burned beyond recognition in a grotesque pose of violent death.
He placed the frame on a wooden box adorned with candles and various photographs. Behind him, men unloaded wooden crates from a snack delivery van, their forearms straining to support the weight of the heavy boxes as they carried the cargo down the metal ramp. “Hurry up!” Abdullah yelled, his voice echoing throughout the three-story hanger with darkened windows and a single engine Cessna with the landing gear chocked.
He rubbed the spot beneath the patch covering his left eye. There would be vengeance toward those responsible and those who watched on American television with disregard for what had happened.
He pulled the wheel chock from the plane’s fixed landing gear and tested the sticking aileron before inspecting the cargo through the pilot’s window. When he heard a door slam, he advanced toward the back of the hangar, creeping sideways along the wall for cover.
Fayez Sayeed stumbled out from the shadows with his hand over his mouth, coughing blood between his fingers. “Don’t shoot,” he gasped when he saw Abdullah point the automatic rifle in his direction.
Fayez wiped his hand on his shirt. Sweat oiled his pale, swollen face. His body trembled from the bacterial infection consuming him. “I’m sorry.”
Abdullah watched Fayez topple forward with his arms outstretched. “Did you reach them?”
Fayez looked up from the floor. About to retch, he used one arm to prop himself up. “Yes.”
“Are they dead?”
Fayez looked at the floor to avoid eye contact. He watched several men armed with automatic weapons gather around Abdullah. “Yes.”
Abdullah stepped away from the man he trusted like a brother, a man who lied to his face about completing a simple task bestowed upon him. For Fayez Sayeed, there would be no glory in the eyes of Allah, only pain and suffering.
“I can fly…” Fayez started. He stood and watched Abdullah back away. “Please. Forgive me.”
Abdullah raised the AK-47. “I already have.” He held the trigger down and riddled Fayez with a dozen rounds from the rifle’s banana clip.
When the smoke cleared, Fayez lay motionless, nearly eviscerated above the waist.
Abdullah lowered the rifle and returned to the plane. He smacked the fuselage. He had done what he had to do. Fayez was weak, a victim of his own incompetence—a man whose failure threatened to destroy everything already set in motion. “We leave tomorrow,” he told his men. Then he answered a cell phone call in Farsi. When the American voice replied, he reverted to English and asked, “What happened?”
“He made contact with his family, but he didn’t finish,” Agent Parks replied from a prepaid phone. He wiped his knife with a hand towel from the kitchen of Martha Anne Sayeed.
“Take care of it.”
Agent Parks flicked the blade closed and stepped away from Martha’s body. “It’s already done.”
McLeary ducked his head inside the back of the prisoner transport van and sat on the metal bench seat. A pair of handcuffs secured him to a cable bolted to the floor. The judicial process would be swift and certain, a proverbial slam dunk for Kriegel and his goons consumed by their own predilection and ignominious tactics. And as the back door slammed shut to envelop him in darkness, reality began to set in. There would be no case to close, no terrorist plot to disrupt, and no chance to reconcile his relationship with his sons. He had failed on multiple levels, embracing his fate as a father who would spend the next twenty years in a federal penitentiary alone in his grief and unforgiven in the eyes of those who meant everything to him.
He rested his head against the wall, angry at himself for trusting Burns despite his instincts that drove him to question her loyalties and motives. Duped by an amateur with a pretty face, he figured Burns had learned enough about the system to work her own agenda while she kissed Kriegel’s ass on her ascension through the bureau ranks. If an enemy of the state didn’t kill her, her own ignorance and inexperience would consume her in the end.
He put his hands together and prayed; not for himself, but for the sons he’d failed to protect.
* * *
Burns attacked the StairMaster with vigor. Her legs pumping like iron pistons, she’d climbed the equivalent of ten flights of stairs without breaking a sweat, her determination reflected in the mirrored wall in front of her.
Alone in a hotel fitness room, she’d caught the end of a local news report about the public’s fear of a large-scale anthrax attack. A stretch, she thought, having firsthand knowledge of the isolated incidents she’d reviewed during the course of her investigation. Terrorist-related or not, she felt confident the problem would be resolved with or without her assistance, and now, without the help of Jim McLeary.
She increased the resistance, forcing her heart and legs to work harder, diverting her frustration and anger away from Kriegel toward a meaningful cardio workout. Whatever his motives were, Kriegel had crossed the line, at least in her mind. The way he used her for his personal gain only seasoned her wound with salt. If she could have punched him and kept her career intact at the same time, she would have; maybe kicked him in the balls for good measure. Kriegel was an arrogant, unconscionable bastard, not someone she could learn from or respect.
She eyed the digital readout on the exercise machine’s front panel, wondering if Kriegel had the room bugged too. If he got to McLeary through her, maybe he could get to her through the maintenance crew or a surveillance technician disguised as the pest control man.
We all have something to hide, but McLeary broke the law.
Right or wrong, McLeary had admitted his mistake, using the death of his wife to justify his illegal actions, actions which tarnished the image of the world’s most respected law enforcement agency.
Then why do you feel so guilty? You didn’t put temptation in his hands. You didn’t help him steal the money. He made the choice on his own.
When she reached the fifteenth floor in her virtual stairwell climb, she imagined how much strength a fire fighter would need to climb the same distance with gear on his back and a high pressure hose in tow. She closed her eyes and held the support bars with both hands, steering her thoughts in other directions as she tried to deny her feelings for the man she’d struggled to understand; an unorthodox agent who’d scorned her with his sexist, narrow-minded comments; a man who kept her up at night with a passion in his eyes. Jim McLeary was a man of many faults, but murder wasn’t one of them. The operation went bad. The death of Agent Bryant was a tragedy everyone would have to live with.
She finished her workout and stepped off the machine to catch her breath and stretch while she pondered the note conspicuously delivered to her apartment mail box several days ago.
Watch your back. There’s a double agent in your house.
A prank in poor taste or a warning she’d failed to heed? Kriegel would have her head for not disclosing the contents sooner. But withholding the information was a gamble she’d been willing to take.
The note had cost her sleepless nights and stoked her fear of someone close to her playing for the other side. And now, with McLeary in custody, part of her hoped something bad would develop while he had a solid alibi, giving her a reason to trust him again. But there were too many variables. Too many shades of bad to contend with on a difficult investigation embroiled with terrorist factions, multiple law enforcement agencies, standard bureau politics, and plain bad luck. If McLeary was the problem, Kriegel had his man dead to rites. But if Kriegel was the one who turned, she had no clear path to follow, aside from approaching Director Hoffnagle himself to convince him a decorated FBI Section Chief with a record beyond reproach might be sabotaging his own investigation. The menagerie of what ifs made her head spin.
She grabbed an orange Gatorade from her gym bag. She thought about Seth and Brian at the FBI safe house and how she would break the news about their dad.
Step up or step out, Kriegel had threatened her, his harsh retort replayed inside her conscious mind in an endless loop. She’d kept herself in the game despite her own reservations about working for a pig like Kriegel. If he’d wanted McLeary stuffed and mounted, he should have got his own hands dirty, not hers. Despite McLeary’s confession about the stolen money, he had saved her life—twice—and now the thought of his allegiance to anyone but himself, his country, or his boys made him the least likely candidate for a sinister double-agent.