POTUS’ trip to Beverly Hills was to be a short one. Less than twenty-four hours. Jocelyne Kabila hated those kinds of trips. There was no time to see friends, or sights. No time to shop, even if the stores agreed to stay open privately for the First Lady, after hours. So, she opted to go to Chilmark, in Martha’s Vineyard, instead, with her son and daughter. The Hamptons were more the stomping grounds of Jamie and Edie Howell, though they were equally welcomed in the Vineyard. But it was as if a secret divorce settlement had been reached between the families of the former, and current Presidents. They simply could not stand one another. Sensibly, each had agreed tacitly to stay out of the others’ territory. Accordingly, the Hamptons became the province of the Howells, and the Vineyard became the retreat of choice for POTUS and FLOTUS. On those rare occasions in which FLOTUS was advised that the Howells were staying at the home of one of their East Coast literati, or West Coast glitterati friends, in the Vineyard, FLOTUS referred to the place as the Occupied Territories. Thankfully, Edie Howell had no intention of hitting the Vineyard this summer. Instead of dining on the vegan specialty of White Beans and Heirloom Grain Pilaf at The Chilmark Tavern, Edie Howell would be gazing at the Butter Cow, a life-sized sculpture of a bovine, with detailed veins bulging in the Butter Udder, while munching on deep-fried turkey legs in Iowa, trying to convince the locals she was just plain-folk, and worthy of the votes they had denied her, in her race against POTUS, six years before.
As for POTUS, he ambled out to Marine One with that strange, loose, strolling gait; a cross between faux ghetto, and movie star red carpet promenade. The ramrod-straight Marine sentry snappily saluted the Commander in Chief, and POTUS returned the salute with as much military flair as he could muster. He had, in fact, like Jamie Howell before him, practiced saluting in the mirror. It had to have that certain je ne sais quoi; a military bearing, yet, still, somehow, above it all, and oddly hip.
He did not pause at the top of the stair unit to wave to the entourage of press and staffers gathered on the White House lawn. It was too much of a Nixonian gesture. He contented himself instead with simply entering the helicopter. He nodded to the Marine aviators designated to pilot Marine One, who, rather than wearing flight suits, were dressed in Marine Blue Dress Charlie-Delta uniforms. Then he took the Presidential seat, and gave a brief, almost royal, wave of the hand, through the Presidential window, at the receding crowd, and then, majestically, ascended skyward.
Once airborne, Marine One was promptly joined by five identical helicopters, which began to shift in formation as a security measure, in order to obscure the location of the President. It was yet another Presidential shell game.
Within minutes, POTUS would disembark at Andrews Air Force Base, and board Air Force One. The Presidential 747 was, perhaps, along with the Marine Corps Band, the single perk which most occupants of the White House missed the most, once they were no longer in government housing.
Mallory Mohsen, who almost always accompanied POTUS on such fundraising events, was tasked this time with remaining behind, together with National Security Advisor Deborah Wheatley.
They met in Mohsen’s office, just down the hallway, and significantly closer to the Oval Office than Bo Fitzgerald’s ceremonial Vice Presidential digs, at the far end of the corridor. Here, Mohsen and Wheatley would spend the night, vetting all recommended personnel from each of the relevant agencies named by the President to form the powerless team which would travel to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in order to evaluate the intelligence to be gleaned from the supposed ISIL operative, Yehyeh Al-Masri.
POTUS had two criteria for the team:
One, it had to be made up of people who were unquestionably top-flight in their respective fields, and
Two, the team itself had to be completely powerless.
Its point, after all, was to look absolutely credible on paper, while affording POTUS the opportunity to avoid making a meaningful decision.
In addition, there was a third, unspoken qualification for the makeup of the team.
It had to be both multicultural and multi-gendered. That meant, of the four members of the team; one from the FBI, one from the DEA, one from the active military, and one from the CIA, only one member could be a white male. Otherwise, there had to be a complete racial and gender balance.
Mohsen would have preferred that the CIA operative be a black female. After poring through the curricula vitae of various potential candidates, there did, indeed, seem to be a perfect black, female CIA operative. Sort of an African-American Valerie Plame. The problem was, she had just that morning been dispatched on assignment to Nigeria, to interview and debrief sixty-three women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the Kumm Abza village in Northern Borno State on June 18.
Mohsen thought briefly about having CIA Agent Sana Johari recalled immediately, but then realized that this would surely incur the wrath of FLOTUS, who had distributed green “cause bracelets” to all White House staffers, emblazoned with the phrase “BRING BACK OUR GIRLS”.
That, combined with the celebrity-packed YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, meant that it would be more prudent for Mohsen to chew on a rusty razor blade, than to dare mess with FLOTUS’ current passion du jour.
The only other candidate who, on paper, seemed to fit the bill was a former CIA operative turned analyst, by the name of Tera Dayton. Dayton was thirty-five years old, certainly photogenic, if not downright beautiful from her file photo, with a PhD in Near-Eastern Studies from Harvard, a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University, and, unfortunately, a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia. Liberty University, having been founded by that redneck, Bible-thumping bigot, Jerry Falwell, meant that Dayton, at least, in her undergraduate years, was a Born-Again Christian. Hopefully, she had gotten over it. She was, according to her file, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, with a specialty in counter-terrorism and Egyptian politics. Her career as a field operative had been cut short in May of 2011, when she was given medical leave for unspecified injuries suffered in a riot in Quetta, Pakistan. Since then, she had been working as an analyst in the Directorate of Intelligence, Office of Near-Eastern Analysis.
What Mohsen and Wheatley did not glean from her file was the fact that it had been altered by the legendary Clive Harriman Walker III, Deputy Director of Operations for the CIA, and a relative of both Averil Harriman and George Herbert Walker Bush, meaning his blood, in intelligence circles, was as blue as it got.
Harriman Walker III had a particular affection for Dayton. He regarded her, almost, as a surrogate daughter, and had personally recruited her while she was still pursuing her Master’s Degree at Georgetown, where Harriman served as a visiting professor. He brought her into the Agency, and encouraged her to pursue her PhD at Harvard on the Agency’s tab.
He was not disappointed.
Dayton combined a set of rare qualities. She was beautiful enough to make men do very foolish things in order to impress her. This was an almost indispensable quality in a female field operative. In addition, she was brilliant, with not only an almost photographic memory, but a superb analytical sense, which allowed her to connect the dots between disparate factions of little-known terrorist groups and the shadowy financial entities that backed them. In addition to this, she was utterly fearless, and a complete action junkie. She was thrilled by the adventure of it all. Finally, she possessed a religious fervor which, combined with a real sense of patriotism, meant that she would risk her life, willingly and repeatedly, in order to carry out whatever mission had been assigned to her.
In the spring of 2011, she was assigned as a paymaster working in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Working as a field operative, with the cover identity of a correspondent for a major news-gathering organization with whom the CIA had developed a long and special relationship of creating just such “legends”, Dayton had developed direct evidence that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Chief, Lieutenant General Achmed Shuja Pasha, had direct information about the location of Usama bin Laden. There were, in fact, numbers of informants, whom the CIA had been paying to ferret out, and confirm, the location of bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.
Dayton continued in her undercover role as part of the CIA-led Operation Neptune’s Spear, which resulted in the assassination of Usama bin Laden by Navy SEAL Team Six, with the able assistance of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and fellow CIA operatives, like Dayton herself.
After the death of bin Laden, Dayton was dispatched to Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan Province, in central Pakistan. Quetta was known as the Fruit Garden of that country, due to the numerous and varied orchards in and around it.
It was also home to one of the CIA’s leading informants, for whom Dayton acted as paymaster.
Unfortunately, it was also base of operations for Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam in Quetta, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, whose members took to the streets, rioting at the news of bin Laden’s demise at the hands of SEAL Team Six.
When they saw Tera Dayton making her way back to the three-star Quetta Serena Hotel, at the corner of Zarghun and Concilgin Roads, the crowd of frenzied men surrounded her taxi, and pulled her from it. They did not see in her a CIA agent. They simply saw a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman, who was obviously somehow connected with the Great Satan, America, which had just killed The Sheikh, Usama bin Laden.
Clinging to her “legend”, Tera flashed her press credentials, and said, “Journalist!” first in English, and then, “lekhaki!” which meant “writer” in Urdu.
“Lekhaki!” The men shouted derisively at her.
“Kafir!” They shouted at her in Arabic, meaning “infidel”, and they began pulling at her.
They ripped off her head scarf, and tore at her long-sleeved blouse, which she had worn in keeping with the customs of modesty.
They ripped off its buttons.
They tore it away from her, as she screamed, shouting, “Limaadhaa?” “Why”, in Arabic.
The frenzied men, laughing and lustful now, mocked her accent, and shouted back at her, “limaadhaa, limaadhaa!”, and she recognized the Arabic word for “whore”, “sharmuta!” as they tore her brassiere away from her body.
She tried to cover her breasts with her hands, as one of the men spat on her, and another hit her with his fist.
Suddenly, a red slash of pain tore through her head as first one rock struck her, and then another, and she felt their hands ripping away at her long skirt, and then, at her underwear.
At first, she struggled to remain conscious, but then began to pray for another blow to the head, that would render her mercifully unable to see, or think, or feel. But, no such blow to her head followed. Only fists pummeling her body, and the knife held to her throat as she was carried into one of the fabled orchards of Quetta, the Fruit Basket of Baluchistan.
There, she was raped, and beaten, again and again and again, violated, spat upon, as they laughed, and cursed, and lusted.
All the while, she prayed for death that never came.
She prayed to her Lord and Savior to be saved. And salvation never came.
She prayed for an end to the seemingly endless pain and humiliation and terror, until their fury and lust were spent, and, with parting kicks, and spittle, and saying she was lucky they did not behead her as they had the American journalist, Daniel Pearl, or cut out her tongue, they left her naked and bleeding, in the fragrant orchard, staring up at a merciless heaven, in a growing pool of her own blood.
She did not remember how she made it back to the hotel; whether alone, or with the kindness of a stranger, whether naked, or clothed. Indeed, she did not remember the hotel. Her first real memory was of being in a hospital room, with the sounds of Urdu swirling around her, and the kindly face of Clive Harriman Walker III looking down at her, tears filling his eyes, trying to smile bravely.
Tera Dayton, however, neither smiled, nor cried.
She simply stared at the ceiling.
Abandoning her “legend” completely, Clive Harriman Walker III had a team of ten CIA operatives, all of them former SEALs, enter the hospital with weapons drawn. They took Tera Dayton, as gently and lovingly as only comrades in arms can, and took her, in an armored SUV, to a waiting chartered jet. There, CIA medical personnel tended to her on the flight back to Rhein-Main Air Force Base, just outside Frankfurt, Germany. Harriman Walker III insisted there be no debriefing there. He stayed with her every day at the base’s hospital where she was checked for AIDS, and other STDs, until, gradually, she began to speak once again, in the deadened voice of the truly traumatized.
He brought in DVDs of whole seasons of Seinfeld, which had been her favorite show.
She watched blankly the neuroses-filled antics of Jerry, George, Kramer, and Newman, until the episode in which Elaine’s boss forces her to go see The English Patient, and Elaine bursts out in the middle of the movie, “Quit telling your stupid story about the desert, and just die already! DIE!”
And then, Tera began to laugh; quietly at first, a chuckle, and then raucously, until, in the midst of the uncontrollable laughter, she was sobbing.
Within three months, however, back in the United States, and with her iron-like self-discipline, she willed herself back into the world of the living. At least, seemingly so. She was wise enough to know that she could no longer be a field operative, that she could no longer depend upon her nerves holding steady, that she could no longer find herself in a sea of Middle Eastern men without the growing and overpowering sense of total panic. But, still, she had that wonderful analytical mind, and the ability to connect the dots. Clive Harriman Walker III had her transferred to the Directorate of Intelligence, Office of Middle Eastern Analysis, and, to all outside appearances, she thrived there. There was, of course, the nickname she earned amongst her male colleagues: she was the Ice Queen, the beautiful, but unapproachable, woman. What they didn’t know, was how hard she struggled to keep from falling apart any time a man touched her arm. What they didn’t know, was that her sense of shame prevented her even from discussing her trauma with her pastor. There was no question that she would not seek a CIA psychiatrist. That, she rightly feared, could jeopardize, if not end, her career entirely, and her career was the only thing she had left to hold her together. And so, she began to drink herself to sleep each night with a secret flask of vodka.
She lived with the quiet terror, shame, and guilt that only a Born-Again Christian, living in sin and denial can know.
The irony, of course, was that Mallory Mohsen, looking at her file, pronounced that Tera Dayton was a perfect fit for the team.
Force Master Chief Petty Officer Darwin Washburn was the next to be picked by Wheatley and Mohsen. He was an anomaly in the Navy SEAL Teams.
He was black.
He had been in the Teams twenty years, and was referred to as a “Bull Frog”. As Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, he was widely regarded as the top enlisted authority on SpecOps capabilities in the US Military. His journey into the world of Naval Special Warfare Operations was an odd one, to say the least.
A native of Atlantic Avenue, near 4th Street, in Southeast Washington, DC, which consistently made the list of twenty-five most dangerous neighborhoods in America, the then twelve-year-old Darwin Washburn, Jr, had been watching Al Campanis being interviewed by Ted Koppel on the fortieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut. As Washburn recalled it, Koppel had asked the Dodgers’ General Manager why it was there were no black General Managers in Major League Baseball. Campanis said that it was because they didn’t have the necessities to be a General Manager. Sort of like the fact that blacks couldn’t swim, because they didn’t have the buoyancy.
It was at that point that Darwin Washburn, Jr. said bad things about Campanis’ mother, and told the televised image to perform a physically impossible act.
The next day, seething with anger, he presented himself at the local YMCA, announced his decision to become a Navy SEAL, and demanded to be taught how to swim.
Extraordinarily strong, and a gifted athlete, Washburn was, within one year, participating in, and winning, YMCA swim meets across the country. He balanced those activities with mastering the necessary survival skills one needed in order to stay alive on some of the meanest streets in America.
He dropped out of high school, got his GED, and never forgot his dream of becoming a Navy SEAL.
It was at that point in time that his cousin Darren, who had done time in a federal penitentiary for selling drugs across state lines, had told him about a guy he had met in the pen, a former Navy commander of SEAL Team Six, named Mark Dicek. Dicek had spent thirty years in the Navy, and had founded and commanded its most elite special ops team. He had, since his release from prison, written a New York Times best seller called Rogue Operator, and now ran a counterterrorism training school in Virginia. Darwin’s cousin, Darren, had the address and provided an introduction to his former cellmate, Commander Mark Dicek, winner of the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, and Bronze Star with Valor Device and three gold stars.
Washburn made his way through the Virginia countryside to Dicek’s home cum counterterrorism school, whimsically named Rogue Manor.
As he drove up the winding path to the large ramshackle home, he saw the hand-lettered sign, which read:
TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT
SURVIVORS WILL BE SHOT AGAIN
Armed with an appointment and letter of introduction, Washburn felt he was on safe ground.
At 8:00 that morning, he rang the doorbell of the aforementioned, imposing, Rogue Manor.
The door opened to reveal one of the largest and most intimidating white men Washburn had ever seen in his life. Dicek had black hair, down to his shoulders, and a bushy biker’s beard, and looked as if he could punch a hole in your chest, and rip out your still-beating heart.
“Mr. Dicek,” Washburn said, trying not to let his eighteen-year-old voice crack.
“Yeah,” said Dicek.
“I’m Darwin Washburn.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said the former Navy SEAL, and convicted federal felon.
“I’m Darren Washburn’s cousin? He said he wrote you about me?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Dicek. “Come on in, kid, have a seat. You’re the one who wants to be in the Teams.”
“The Teams?” Washburn said.
“You want to be a Navy SEAL. A Sea-Air-Land Warrior. That’s what we call ‘Being In The Teams’,” said Dicek, with ill-concealed disgust and impatience.
“Yes, Sir,” Darwin answered.
“And why, exactly, is that?” asked the Rogue Special Operator.
“Because Al Campanis said black people can’t swim.”
“Can they?” Dicek asked.
“I can,” Washburn said, looking Dicek straight in the eyes.
“So, why don’t you take that up with Campanis? What are you busting my balls for?”
“Campanis can’t help me become a SEAL, Sir.”
Dicek just looked at him.
“You want a beer, Derek?”
“Darwin,” said Dicek,. “You want a beer?”
“Are you having one, Sir?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Dicek, pulling out a sixteen-ounce can of Colt .45 Malt Liquor. “Wanna brewski?”
“Darn straight,” said Washburn.
“Then crack a goldie on me, kid,” Dicek said, and tossed him a can.
Three six-packs later, Darwin Washburn was completely blitzed, and Mark Dicek was as steady as a rock.
“Would you like to try to shoot my counterinsurgency course?” Dicek asked.
“You have a counter’surgency course?”
“Absolutely”, Dicek said. “Come with me, kid, let’s see what you’re made of.”
So saying, Mark Dicek led a none-too-steady Darwin Washburn through the woods, up a rise, into a full-scale, special ops counterinsurgency course. Mark’s number two, Harry Andrews, was running some trainees through the course of pop-up targets. These were men who wanted to find work as independent contractors in foreign lands, where the US government did not like to have uniformed American personnel. Most were veterans of police departments, or various units of the military.
“Clear the course,” Dicek said to Andrews. “We have a distinguished visitor. A close, personal friend of Al Campanis, who is about to demonstrate his prowess with the firearm of his choice.” Dicek turned to Washburn. “What would you like, Derek?” he said.
“Darwin, Sir,” said Washburn.
“…A .45, or a Glock 9mm?” said Dicek, ignoring Washburn’s correction of his given name.
“Uh…” said Darwin.
“I don’t have an ‘Uh’,” said Dicek. “I’ve got a .45, or a Glock 9mm.”
“Glock,” said Darwin.
“Give my man a Glock,” said Mark Dicek to Harry Andrews.
Now, there were three things in life which Darwin Washburn knew how to do really well. One was swim. One was shoot a Glock 9mm. And the other would win him the affections, if not downright admiration, of numbers of women around the world – including, but not limited to, his soon-to-be wife, LaDonna.
“The course is simplicity, itself,” Dicek explained. “There will be a series of rooms, which you will have to clear. Various and sundried targets will pop up. Some will be of bad guys; others will be of terrified hostages. You can, if you’d like, shoot them all, just to be on the safe side, but that would reveal an undiscerning eye. In addition, this is a timed course. There are fifty-three targets, which you will be expected to shoot. Each magazine contains seventeen rounds of ammunition, and you will be given four to complete the course. Here is your weapon. Here are the spare clips. You will commence at Mr. Andrews’ command. Go with God, my son.”
Andrews counted down from five, clicked a stopwatch, and a very drunken Darwin Washburn entered the first of twenty different scenario rooms, each of which would contain a number of “Bad Guy” pop-up targets.
There is an old saying amongst Olympic trap shooters. Olympic trap is one of the most demanding of all shooting events. The saying is, “shoot with your eyes, not with the gun.” What it means is you must learn to be an instinctive shooter, if you are to survive. Unlike the art of the sniper, it is not a matter of careful aim and fire in between heartbeats to minimize gun movement. It is fire in motion. It is run and gun, with the weapon sweeping from target to target. Aim is important, of course, but it must be intuitive, and not studied, for while you are studying, your opponent will be shooting, and you will be dead.
Had Darwin Washburn been stone-cold sober, he probably would have done poorly on the demanding course. But, it was as if the alcohol liberated him from all hesitation and thought processes, and allowed him to shoot almost out of his subconscious, in a completely instinctual manner.
He aced the course.
All fifty three targets, dead center-mass.
And he had done so in near-record time.
“Judas H. Priest!” Dicek bellowed. “Did you pukes see what this child of the ghetto just did? Cursed! Verily, I say, cursed be Al Campanis, and the horse he rode in on!”
He crossed over to Darwin Washburn, and relieved him of the 9mm and spent clips. He did not congratulate Darwin, did not pat him on the back, nor award him a certificate of merit. He simply said, “Derek, would you like to drive my amphibious vehicle?”
“Do you have an amphibious vehicle, sir?” Washburn asked.
“Well, sure,” said Dicek, as if that were a foregone conclusion.
Dicek led Washburn to his amphibious vehicle, which he joyously piloted through the marshy land, the long way back to Rogue Manor, where Mark Dicek, founder and first commander of SEAL Team Six, personally wrote out a workout regimen for Darwin Washburn, whom he continued to call “Derek” for the next twenty years. One year later, Darwin Washburn had a golden trident pinned to his Dress Whites.
By the time he was selected by Mohsen and Wheatley, he had spent almost twenty years in the Teams.
Raul Peña was thirty-two years of age, a New Mexico born-and-raised DEA agent. He was movie star handsome, completely fearless, and a total action junkie, which trait, would spark an immediate attraction to Tera Dayton. This would, in turn, be noted with a good deal of disapproval by Darwin Washburn, who, like any sailor, realized that women were trouble aboard ship, especially with guys like Peña around.
What neither he, nor Tera Dayton, nor Deborah Wheatley, nor Mallory Mohsen knew, however, was that Peña possessed a secret which, like Washburn’s fixation on Al Campanis, had led Raul Peña to become a deep-cover DEA agent.
Like many New Mexico-born natives, Peña was raised speaking a peculiar dialect of Spanish that dated back to the time of the Conquistadors, from which many native-born New Mexicans were, in fact, descended. Thus, in order to blend in with the thugs of the cartels in Old Mexico, Peña had to, in effect, learn what was, for him, an almost foreign language.
But, then, in a sense, there was nothing new in that.
For Raul Peña had been a spy his entire life.
So had his parents.
And their parents before them.
At an early age, Peña became painfully aware that there was something different about his family. They were raised in the tiny Northern New Mexico village of Abiquiu, about an hour north of Santa Fe, and around thirty miles south of the equally small village of Chama, and eighteen miles south of Ghost Ranch. It had a rugged beauty not unlike that of the Red Rock country of Sedona, Arizona. It was, in fact, that beauty, which drew to it the famous painter, Georgia O’Keefe, who immortalized the landscape locals called Plaza Blanca, the White Place.
Abiquiu was a village of only some two hundred souls, ninety percent of whom were Hispanic. In such a place as that, everyone knew each other’s business. Everyone knew what color underwear you had, and how, and when, it was soiled.
Gossip in such a place is not only a unifying factor, but a ruling one. Ancient communities have ancient superstitions. And Abiquiu was nothing, if not ancient, tracing the roots of most of its inhabitants back to the very first Spanish explorers of North America.
The superstitions ran the gamut of all provincial and long-isolated communities.
“Beware of this one; her grandmother was a bruja, a witch!”
“Beware of that; he has mal de ojo, the evil eye!”
“Beware of those, because, somehow, they are not like us. Somehow, they are different.” And, being different, they are to be feared. And, being feared, they are to be despised.
So it was with the family of Raul Peña.
They had odd customs.
Like virtually everyone else in their village, they were Catholic. Indeed, the adobe church in the center of town dominated the village and its life, physically, socially and spiritually. Every Sunday, virtually the entire village filled the pews of the seemingly unassuming edifice. Mass and Sacrament were as much a part of the fabric of life as bread and water. And Peña’s family dutifully attended.
Yet, there were things about them that set them apart from their neighbors. Peña’s Abuelita, Sara, lit candles on Friday nights.
When someone died in their family, they covered the mirrors.
Unlike their neighbors, they refrained from eating pork.
And, one day a year, in the early autumn, they fasted.
All of these things were done in secret, hidden from their neighbors’ prying eyes, and never explained to their children.
Still, they were felt by all the other villagers in Abiquiu, and thus, the Peñas were shunned.
The daughters of the village were warned away from the sons of the Peña family.
Then, on Raul’s fifteenth birthday, his Abuelita, Sara, suffered a fatal heart attack. As she was dying, she called her children and grandchildren around her. It was time to reveal the family secret, just as it had been revealed to her upon the death of her Abuela, Raquel.
They were Jews.
More specifically, Cripto Judíos, Hidden Jews. Their family had escaped the Spanish Inquisition, by traveling with the Conquistadors to the New World. Anything, even a wild land full of untamed savages, was preferable to the rack, or being burnt at the stake.
But the Inquisition had followed them from the Old World, to the New, and its officers set up their hunt for Los Moranos, those Jews who, on the surface, had converted to Catholicism, but continued secretly to follow the religion of Moses. And so, those hidden Jews, those Cripto Judíos, pushed Northward into New Mexico, and tried to blend in, and secrecy became, not just a part of their religion, and their life, but the very core of it. It was not that they were living a lie, it was that, like spies, or DEA Agents posing to be drug runners, they were living undercover. It was the perfect training ground for a secret agent.
Indeed, Peña had dreamed of becoming a CIA operative, not unlike Tera Dayton, but that was something which was reserved for college boys, and college was not something within Raul Peña’s reach. His family lived below the poverty line, and then there was something else, as well. The nearest medium-sized town to Abiquiu was Española. It was where you went for groceries, or the coin-op laundry, and was known as the Low-Rider Capital of New Mexico. If Harvard and Yale were the recruiting grounds for the CIA, then Española was the fertile soil in which future DEA agents were hatched. Raul Peña vowed to get as far away from Abiquiu as was humanly possible, and the DEA was the low-rider that would take him there.
He, too, had Wheatley and Moseley’s stamp of approval.
Now, all they needed was a white guy.
They did not need just any white guy. They needed a pliable one. One who could be counted on if the fahzool hit the fan, to dutifully clean it up. To take one for the team. To manage whatever cover-up became necessary. And cover-ups, in government work, were almost always necessary.
Clint McKeever was a fifty-year-old Irish, lapsed Catholic, FBI counter-terrorist senior Special Agent. His identical twin, Bud McKeever, was also an FBI counter-terrorist agent. But, it was Clint whose career had outpaced that of his nine-minutes-younger brother. His career had taken off not so much because of the cases that he had successfully cracked. His career had taken off, because he was the Bureau’s go-to guy when it came to covering for the foul-ups and conspiracies, the bureaucratic mishandlings, and sometimes just plain incompetence, which had cost thousands of people their lives, and weighed down heavily on the conscience of Clint McKeever.
In the opening hours of the Oklahoma City bombing, for instance, two suspects were identified, and composite drawings were made of them. The drawings were widely disseminated through the press, and on local and national television news programs. The two suspects pictured in the composite drawings were labeled “John Doe Number One”, and “John Doe Number Two.”
John Doe Number One bore a striking resemblance to the man who would shortly be arrested for what was, at the time, the worst terrorist attack ever perpetrated on American soil. He was tall, Anglo-Saxon in appearance, with a long, thin face, and a crew cut, and his composite drawing was so exact that no one had a problem matching it with Timothy McVeigh.
John Doe Number Two, on the other hand, was short, stocky, dark-skinned, with a roundish face, jet-black hair, and appeared to be of Hispanic, Filipino, or Middle Eastern extraction.
Indeed, within one day of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the FBI had taken statements from no less than twenty-four witnesses, who had seen John Doe Number One, Timothy McVeigh, in the company of the man they recognized from the composite drawing, who appeared to be of Mexican, Filipino, or Middle Eastern origin, and who was called, John Doe Number Two.
The witnesses placed John Doe Number One and John Doe Number Two, together, in Oklahoma City the night before the bombing, the morning of the bombing, on the way to, at the scene of, and fleeing from the Murrah Federal Building. In fact, two separate witnesses had seen John Does Number One and Two exiting the Ryder truck minutes before it exploded, killing 168 people, and injuring 680 others. Nineteen of the victims were children, and three were pregnant women. The victims ranged in age from three months, to seventy-three years.
McVeigh had been arrested within ninety minutes of the explosion. He had been stopped by an Oklahoma State Trooper for driving without a license plate. The Trooper then noticed the weapon sitting on the seat next to him, and McVeigh was arrested for unlawfully carrying same. The VIN number of the Ryder truck was recovered, which led to the agency from which the truck had been rented, and quickly linked Timothy McVeigh, and a Kansas farmer named Terry Nichols, to the bombing.
There was only one problem. While Timothy McVeigh was an exact match for John Doe Number One, Terry Nichols looked nothing at all like the composite drawing of John Doe Number Two. He was tall, where John Doe Number Two was short. His hair was thinning, where John Doe Number Two’s was thick and black. Nichols wore glasses. John Doe Two did not. Nichols was white-complected, whereas John Doe Number Two was dark-skinned. Terry Nichols was the quintessential WASP, and John Doe Two was either Mexican, Filipino, or Middle Eastern.
To make matters worse, the night manager and handyman at a motel some ten minutes outside of Oklahoma City clearly recognized Timothy McVeigh, and John Doe Number Two, as being in the presence of six other, clearly Middle Eastern, men.
Indeed, a gas station attendant vividly recalled John Doe Number Two pulling up in a Ryder truck, and in a thick, Middle Eastern accent, demanding fifty dollars’ worth of diesel fuel, which he paid for in cash. The service station employee told John Doe Number Two that he would certainly sell him the diesel fuel, but that the Ryder truck that John Doe number two was driving did not take diesel; it took unleaded gasoline. John Doe Number Two angrily demanded the fifty dollars’ worth of diesel. The gas station attendant turned on the pump, and watched as John Doe Number Two opened up the back of the truck, and pumped the diesel fuel not into the gas tank, but into waiting fifty gallon drums.
The bomb, which exploded the Ryder truck and the Murrah Building, was composed of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel.
Clearly, the Justice Department had a problem.
They had arrested two white suspects, and neither of them matched the description of the man twenty-four witnesses had placed in the company of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City.
They had two solutions to their quandary, from which to choose. They could either say that they had caught two white guys, but that up to six Middle Eastern terrorists had gotten away, and thus, they had failed to catch the perpetrators of the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States, or they could declare victory, and say the two white guys had acted alone.
As for John Doe Number Two, that was a mistake.
There was no John Doe Number Two.
He had never existed.
The person they chose to institute the cover up, to make John Doe Number Two disappear, to dissuade or discredit witnesses, and, in one case, to destroy the career of a brother FBI agent, who was not willing to comply with the cover up, was none other than Clint McKeever.
It would not be McKeever’s first cover up, and, God help him, it would not be his last. Thus, McKeever, too, became a secret drunk.
But as far as Wheatley and Mohsen were concerned, Clint McKeever was, as well, a perfect fit for the team.
The irony, of course, was they had just put together a team of some of the most deeply flawed individuals imaginable.
While National Security Advisor Advisor Deborah Wheatley, and Senior Political Advisor Mallory Mohsen were putting together a team, which, technically, did not exist, to vet intelligence from a source POTUS was determined to ignore, in order to postpone a decision the President was loathe to make, Major Dani Kahan, a forty-four-year-old, American born, Israeli raised, IDF intelligence officer, assigned to the elite Givati Brigade, was scouring the rugged hillsides of the Judean Desert, near the ancient Biblical city of Hebron. He and his men were part of the massive effort to locate the three Israeli schoolboys who had been kidnapped a little over two weeks before.
They were searching near the village of Halhul, just north of Hebron. Kahan saw something which, to his trained eye, simply didn’t look right. He had with him an Israeli Army Bedouin tracker. He nodded in the direction of a small rise.
“Khaled,” he said to the tracker. “What do you think?”
Khaled took one look at the place Dani indicated, saw plants that looked out of place, and moved them away, revealing a small pile of rocks that seemed hastily arranged.
Slowly and carefully, Khaled and Dani Kahan approached the scene, looking for tripwires of possible booby traps. It was certainly not out of the question that Hamas, which was the prime suspect in the boys’ abduction, would arrange what looked like a hastily-dug grave, and then lace it with IEDs, which would blow apart the torsos of any Israeli forces not professional enough to detect them. So, Dani and Khaled moved slowly and methodically, telling the rest of their men to take up defensive positions, in case this were an IED, coupled with an ambush. The Bedouin tracker saw no signs of tripwires, while Dani removed a probe from his sixty-pound pack, and began carefully inserting it every few inches, looking for pressure plates of improvised explosive devices that could kill them both. When both he, and the tracker, were satisfied that no such devices were to be found, they began slowly removing the rocks. Then, they saw the maggots. And then, the decomposing skulls of the teenage boys, each of whom had been shot numerous times in the backs of their heads.
Dani radioed in the information, and, within minutes, agents of Israel’s Shin Bet, or, Security Services, the domestic counterpart to Israel’s vaunted Mossad, were on the scene.
For the past two weeks, a frantic manhunt, one of the largest in the history of the Israeli army, had been conducted throughout the West Bank, in search of the three missing boys.
In truth, however, it was not so much a search for the boys, as it was both a search for their bodies, and a chance to break up Hamas’ infrastructure throughout the West Bank.
In 2005, Israel had withdrawn all of its troops, and uprooted all of its settlements, in a unilateral move to end its occupation of the Gaza Strip. It left the area to the troops of the Palestine Authority, in what had become known as “the Gaza First Policy”. The notion initiated by Israel’s ultra-right-wing Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was enthusiastically embraced by Israel’s left-wing parties. The idea was, if disengagement, and the end of the occupation could work first in Gaza, it could be a template for the end of the occupation in the West Bank, and the creation of a Palestinian State, living side by side, and in peace with Israel.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be a pipe dream. In short order, Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that was dedicated to reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate of a thousand years before, seized power, in a bloody coup, from their secular rivals of the Fatah Party. They machine gunned almost two hundred of them, lined them up against walls, and gunned them down, blindfolded and bound them, and pushed them to their deaths from high-rise buildings, and shot the kneecaps off those whom they did not murder. For Hamas, the destruction of Israel was simply a stepping stone to the establishment of the Islamic State. For Hamas, it was not the West Bank that was occupied territory, nor even Tel Aviv. For Hamas, Spain was occupied territory. And now, they were rising to power in the West Bank, as well.
Thus, Prime Minister Kivi Natanel seized upon the kidnapping of the three Israeli schoolboys, as an opportunity to uproot Hamas from the West Bank, arresting some four hundred Hamas operatives in the process. Hamas, in turn, had begun launching rockets against Israel, from Gaza, and tensions were already at a fever pitch.
Now, the bodies of the three murdered boys had been found, and identified, and their families notified of their deaths.
The Jews of Israel, like their biblical counterparts, were a stiff-necked and quarrelsome people, almost always at each-other’s throats; secular against religious, left wing against right wing, Jews of Middle Eastern origin against Jews of European origin. But, for over two weeks, the country was united in anxiety and prayer for the missing schoolboys.
And now, they were united in grief, and rage.
Prime Minister Natanel called an emergency session of his security cabinet, and spoke to the press before it began.
“This evening,” he said, “members of our security forces found three bodies, and all the signs indicate that they are the bodies of our three kidnapped youngsters.”
There were audible gasps among the members of the press, as the rumors that had begun to circulate were confirmed by the Prime Minister.
“Hamas is responsible,” he said, “and Hamas will pay. These boys were kidnapped, and murdered in cold blood by human animals. Satan, himself, has not yet invented the vengeance for the blood of a child.”
All across the country, there were spontaneous outpourings of grief. Memorial candles were lit in the square named after slain Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. Israel’s left-wing, ninety-year-old president summed up the country’s emotions, by saying, “All of Israel bows its head today, in grief…”
At the conclusion of the meeting of Israel’s security cabinet, the Prime Minister, without hesitation, gave the green light to the targeted assassination of seven Hamas leaders, via an airstrike, to be carried out by the Israel Air Force, on targets in the Gazan village of Khan Younis. They had real-time, actionable intelligence, and, unlike POTUS, no committee was formed to verify it. They knew where the operatives were, and they were going to kill them.
At Netivim air base the call came in from the “Pit”, the main war room in the Kirya, Israel’s version of the Pentagon. The call was for two air crews to be scrambled immediately. They would be flying two F15I Ra’am aircraft. These were the two-seater, Israeli-modified versions of the American F15 Strike Eagle.
Unlike the Americans, the Israelis could not afford a fighter plane designed as a designated bomber or interceptor. Its planes had to be both unbeatable in a dogfight and able to bomb the eyes out of a snake at altitude. The Israeli version could not only rule the skies with eight air to air missiles. But the Israelis, not wanting to place all their faith in Buck Rogers technology, had also insisted upon a twenty millimeter Gatling gun, which could fire a hundred rounds per second. In addition the F15I could also carry a full load of bombs, with a navigator to guide each precision guided weapon to its target, be it a few minutes away in Gaza, or in the Ayatollah’s bathtub, in Iran.
Kadosh Mintz, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, took his seat in the war room, as did Kobi Golan, The Defense Minister, and Major General Rahm Efron, Commander of The Israel Air Force. They would all sign off on the final decision to hit the target, which in this case consisted of seven senior Hamas operatives, meeting in what they thought of as a safe-house, in Gaza.
The green light was given to start engines.
When eyes on the site indicated no civilians were present, a second green light was given for takeoff.
The lead pilot switched from Tower to Tactical Controller and within minutes both planes were over their targets. The navigator in Eshkol 1, the lead aircraft, keyed the mike on the squadron radio and gave the code word, “Hammer”, indicating she had ID’d her target, and was illuminating it with the laser designator in her LITENING targeting pod.
In addition, an IAF Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle hovered above the target, sweeping its sensors in search of any tell-tale signs of uninvolved civilians.
Still good to go.
As they approached the target, both Eshkol One, and Eshkol Two, signaled the Controller that each had locked on to their targets. As the range to target on the Multi-Functional Heads-Up Displays counted down, each navigator said the silent prayer that all pilots have prayed since the days of Chuck Yeager. “Dear Lord, please don’t let me foul up!”
The Controllers relayed their final status reports and clearance requests to the “Pit”. Then the Chief of Staff of The Israel Defense Forces and the Commander of the Air Force looked at their monitors one last time, consulted with their aides, and then gave the final okays.
The code word “Anvil” was flashed to Eshkol One and Two, and the pilots pressed the “pickle” button on their joysticks, each releasing their four 500-pound bombs, as a new countdown began. The “Time To Go Until Impact” was displayed on the Heads-Up MFD. Each navigator held their cursor on the precise spot of their target, hoping there would be no last minute call that civilians were present, meaning they would have to “drag” the bomb off target to harmlessly explode in a pre-designated open area.
No last minute abort order came in.
The countdowns flashed Zero.
Then, the screens filled with blinding light and smoke, as the first four bombs hit their targets, followed by four more precision-guided weapons from the second F-15I. And seven Hamas senior leaders had an opportunity to see if the seventy-two almond-eyed virgins thing was true or not, as the air crews turned for home.
Within an hour, CNN was reporting the bombing, Israel was confirming that it had carried out the targeted assassination of seven terrorist commanders, and Hamas was declaiming yet another genocidal attack on the helpless Palestinian people.
But for Dani Kahan, it was not as simple as the usual Hamas Kabuki dance of victimhood. Hamas, he knew, was brutal, genocidal, imperialistic, theocratic, and fascistic, but they were not irrational. There was always a logic to what they did, and how they did it, and when they did it.
If they knew anything at all about Israel, it was that children were its soft spot. Hamas’ founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, before the Israel Defense Force had arranged for him to meet his very own seventy-two almond-eyed virgins in Paradise, had summed up Hamas’ extremely accurate differentiation between themselves, and the Israelis:
“The Israelis,” he said, “love life more than any other people on earth. We worship death.”
And of all the lives that Israelis loved, it was the lives of their children that meant the most to them. It was absolutely Israel’s weak spot. They could not tolerate casualties, especially the deaths of children. And, since everyone’s son or daughter served in the military, they were casualty-averse even when it came to the Israeli Army. How much more so, then, when it came to the lives of schoolboys?
No one needed to instruct Dani in this basic truth. He knew it in the marrow of his bones. It visited him each sleepless night, in the nightmare visions of his son and ex-wife being blown apart in a pizza parlor in Jerusalem, in 2001.
So, why would Hamas kidnap, and immediately kill, three schoolboys, knowing full well that Israel’s response would be a vengeance that not even Satan had yet created?
Kidnapping, in the Middle East, was a way of life. One kidnapped hostages to gain the release of one’s own hostages. Thus, Hamas had kidnapped a nineteen-year-old Israeli soldier, named Gilad Shalit. And so high was the price that Israel put on the lives of its sons and daughters, that it released one thousand captured Hamas terrorists, for the release of one kidnapped Israeli soldier.
In 2006, at the end of the Second Lebanon War, Israel had released hundreds of convicted terrorists, simply for the bodies of two slain Israeli soldiers, which had been spirited away by Hezbollah operatives for precisely such a trade.
Knowing all that, why would Hamas not kidnap, and hold, the three schoolboys, and then demand the release of three thousand imprisoned terrorists? If one nineteen-year-old soldier yielded a thousand returned prisoners, what could they not then get for three imprisoned schoolboys?
It made no sense. The only sense it could possibly make was if the object of the kidnappings and murders was not for the release of hostages, but to initiate a war.
And why would Hamas initiate a war against a technologically superior force like the IDF, unless they thought they possessed some new secret weapon, some surprise, which they believed would allow them to win it?
As Dani Kahan was sharing those musings with no one but himself, Khaled Kawasme, The Engineer, and Abdul Aziz Al-Tikriti, the Sword of Islam, the two most dangerous ISIS terrorists in the world, were meeting in Gaza with the leader of the military wing of Hamas, Yasser Darwish. They were celebrating the discovery of the bodies of the Israeli schoolboys, and indeed, the Israeli air strike which would provide them the public relations excuse for a new war.
Now, it would begin, both for Hamas, and for ISIS.
For Hamas, the Divine Victory against the Zionist Occupier was at hand.
And, for ISIS, the final countdown to the attack that would supplant 9/11 as the most catastrophic blow against the Great Satan of America had finally begun.