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Carl "Ironman" Lyons sipped black coffee from a foam cup, surprised at how good it was. The former L.A. police officer had done more than his fair share of stakeouts, subsisting on gut-wrenching, greasy takeout leavened with bad coffee. He'd had coffee so bad, in fact, that it could make a person wince. But this was good coffee. The proliferation of designer coffees and trendy joints to drink it in had pushed the fast-food empires to keep pace. Lyons counted himself among those benefiting from this free market.
"I've never seen a man so thoughtful over a cup of Joe," Hermann "Gadgets" Schwarz commented. The electronics expert and veteran commandowhose nerdy demeanor concealed a hard core forged on many a battlefield frowned and brushed a lock of brown hair out of his eyes. He shifted in the passenger seat of the black Suburban, glancing over at the bull-necked blond man who hulked behind the steering wheel sniffing at a coffee cup.
Lyons grunted at his teammate and turned back to watch the street. Encouraging Gadgets would only get him started, and it was too early in the morning to deal with his ribbing just yet.
The two members of the covert counterterrorist unit known as Able Team were parked down and across the street from the Illinois headquarters of the World Workers United Party. Even now, the third and final member of Able Team, Rosario "The Politician" Blancanales, was inside that building, patiently waiting to speak with the local director of the primary chapter of the WWUP The gray-haired, dark-eyed, soft-spoken Hispanic was an expert in both the psychology of violence and in-role camouflage. He had needed no special disguise or even a particularly complicated cover story to get an appointment with the WWUP's director. He had simply posed as an interested potential donor and made an appointment through the chapter's secretary.
What had brought Able Team to the streets of this Chicago suburb was far more complicated. The brief had first been transmitted to him through the computer experts at Stony Man Farm, the covert organization under whose umbrella Able Team operated. A lot of it had caused Lyons's eyes to glaze over in boredom, but he had of course been able to get the gist. The WWUP had a lot of money for a fringe political party, and the transfers of funds to and from the party had finally tripped whatever monitoring algorithms the supercomputers the Farm were using to monitor worldwide data transfers. More significantly, transfers of funds to the WWUP were being routed to the group from outside the country. The Byzantine web of laws governing political contributions was not something Lyons pretended to understand, but that didn't matter. The key was that when the money tree was shaken hard enough, Stony Man had been able to link monies sent to the WWUP all the way back to offshore holding companies that were themselves linked to the Earth Action Front.
As Lyons had been so recently informed, the EAF was a notorious ecoterror group whose members were more than happy to use violence to achieve their aims. They had gone from total unknowns five years earlier, to the preeminent "green" terror group worldwide. While they'd started small-timespray-painting EAF on "gas-guzzling" SUVs parked at American sales lots, or staging denial of service attacks on the networks of corporations overseas they deemed to be pollutersthey'd long since graduated to acts of violence that bordered on mass murder. In the past month, in fact, the EAF had claimed responsibility for a housing development fire in California that had killed threein the name of stopping "suburban sprawl"and for the ill-planned bombing of a nuclear power plant in France that had killed a security guard. While international in scope, the EAF was known to have a significant presence domestically. And that presence was thought by many, including Stony Man Farm's computer wizards, to include the WWUP.
Compare the World Workers United Party membership rolls to the EAF's in the United States, Lyons imagined, and you'd most likely get more than a little overlap. That, by itself, was a matter for the FBI or other federal organizations, or so Lyons had thought. He had placed the call to the Farm to express this opinion, only to be gently persuaded otherwise by Hal Brognola, director of the Sensitive Operations Group's and Lyons's boss. Lyons had, of course, used the diplomacy for which he was well-known when discussing the issue with Brognola.
"This, Hal," he'd said over the secure satellite phone, "is a steaming pile of horseshit."
"Usually it's David who gives me grief," Brognola had said, referring to David McCarter, the leader of Stony Man Farm's international counterterrorist unit, Phoenix Force. "What's the problem?"
"Don't we have bigger fish to shoot in a barrel?" Lyons had thrown back, deliberately mangling the metaphor. "Able Team is better used on just about anything other than rousting some play-acting Commies."
"WWUP is a remarkably powerful organization," Brog-nola'd said, "whose professed ideology is admittedly socialist or Communist, depending on whom you ask. They are far from pretenders. There is serious talk of WWUP fielding a viable third-party candidate in the next presidential election."
Lyons had hit back. "Since when does a third party have a chance? You expect me to take these people seriously?"
"You don't have a choice," Brognola had told him. "We don't have a choice. The WWUP didn't exist before a few years ago. It's rushed in to fill a perceived void in domestic politics, becoming a very real Communist movement."
"And the WWUP is getting its funding from a global gang of environmentalist whackos. That's still a job for the FBI."
"This isn't just about 'environmentalist whackos,'" Brognola had insisted. "Ecoterror is on the rise, globally and domestically. Now, don't get me wrong. We're not talking about conservationists or legitimate environmental defense groups. We're talking about extremists, those willing to commit violence to achieve their aims. And we've long gone past some animal rights activists releasing minks from cages, or vandals throwing bricks through the windows of fast-food restaurants. Our friends at the FBI, in fact, have a couple of thousand cases of arson, bombings, theft and vandalism on the books in recent years, all of them attributable to 'green' terrorist groups. My sources within the Bureau say they're ranking it a greater emerging threat than the hot-button domestic terrorists of a decade or two agoneo-Nazis, paramilitary groups, Klan splinter factions, and so on. And while the crimes are rising here in frequency and in violent intensity, they are rising simultaneously in developed nations across the globe."
"So what's the link?" Lyons had asked him.
"For whatever reason," Brognola had said, sounding tired, "the radical, violent fringe of the environmentalist or 'green' movement has become the new home for collecti-vist politics domestically. The radical greens often tout a socialist agenda as part and parcel of the economic and environmental reforms they advocate. The more violent Communist and socialist groups are happy to embrace them. There's a lot of cross-pollination between and among the various terrorist and fringe groups involved."
"I'm not a politician, Hal. And I'm not a cop anymore."
"I'm not asking you to be one," Brognola had said, "and if this was about politics or could be taken care of by the local authorities, it would have nothing to do with the SOG. But Aaron's team has identified an exponential trend in fund transfers to WWUP from accounts that can be linked, ultimately, to ecoterror groups, most notably the Earth Action Front. Most of the transactions are being routed through a single person at the top of the chain, the director of WWUP's Chicago chapter." Aaron was Aaron Kurtzman, head of Stony Man Farm's cyber team.
"It's the domestic headquarters for WWUP, the hub of their network of chapters throughout the country. Any decisions implemented by WWUP, including their potential presidential campaign, are ultimately made in Illinois."
"So you want Able to what?"
"There's a timetable at work here," Brognola'd confided. "The people behind WWUP, and especially their donors, have to know that their monetary transactions will look suspicious eventually. The Farm caught it a lot earlier than the usual domestic institutions would, but they'd have noticed it eventually, too. Campaign finance laws, IRS regulations, standard federal banking policies any of these could have raised a few flags in a few hundred computers. For the WWUP and their backers to be acting so brazenly tells me that something is going to happen. Something big, considering the risks, and considering the scope of the WWUP in the United States."
"What are you telling me, Hal?" Lyons had said, finally losing his hostile tone.
"I've got Aaron and his people looking into the wider implications, tracking both financial data and terrorist incidents at home and abroad," Brognola had explained. "But our working theory is that a force or forces outside the United States is or are working very hard to exert political influence inside the country. Specifically, we theorize that one or more of these terror groups are funding a seemingly legitimate incursion into U.S. politics using, among other means, violence. Whatever they're planning is coming to a head, or they wouldn't be risking financial exposure. The top of the pyramid is in Chicago. I want you to take Able Team and poke your head in the dragon's lair."
"To see if we get roasted alive?"
"Something like that. If we're wrong, we lose a little time and a little effort. If we're not, we get in on whatever the WWUP is plotting, maybe make them nervous enough to expose themselves, tip their hand. The clock is ticking, Carl. Something big is ramping up, and my instincts tell me we have to move now, stop it before it can get out of control."
The big Fed had been right about this kind of thing more than once, Lyons knew. "All right, Hal. We'll take a look. We'll see what we can shake loose. But I'm not promising anything resembling diplomacy."
"Do what you do, Ironman," Brognola had said. "That's what I'm counting on."
Now Able Team was on site, parked on Ogden Avenue in Aurora, Illinois. At least, two-thirds of the team was sitting in the SUV. The last member of the team, the man they called "the politician," was on the inside, his every word monitored by the microtransceivers each member of the team wore in his ear.
The little earbud devices, nearly invisible when worn, had an effective range of half a city block. The one Blan-canales wore would, if anyone noticed it, appear to be nothing more than a small hearing aid. Gadgets Schwarz had helped develop the minuscule units for the Farm's use.
Schwarz's banter notwithstanding, the two men kept their idle chatter to a minimum as they watched the front of the WWUP building, a converted storefront nestled between a pack-and-ship mailbox store and a sheet music shop. Blancanales could hear every word they said, so there was no point in annoying or distracting him with unnecessary chatter. As the two men waited and listened, they could hear the ringing of office telephones in the background. Now and again they could hear the WWUP receptionist's voice, though her words were indistinct at Blancanale's presumed distance from her. The wingnuts inside, Lyons reflected, had kept his teammate waiting for at least half an hour past his appointment time. Whether this was simply business on their part, or a calculated tactic, he couldn't be sure. It didn't seem likely that they'd antagonize a potential donor by making him cool his heels unnecessarily.
Even as he considered it, Lyons sat up. There was rustling on the other end of the connection as Blancanale put down whatever newspaper or magazine he'd most likely been pretending to read. A voice that Lyons recognized as the receptionist's, closer now, told the man that the director would see him.
Schwarz, next to Lyons, press-checked his silenced Be-retta 93-R, ready to go operational at Lyons's command. As Schwarz holstered the weapon, Lyons ran through his mental checklist, idly patting himself down with one hand to verify that all of his gear was in place. His .357 Magnum Colt Python was secure in his shoulder holster. While the SUV held a concealed locker in which the team's heavy weapons were locked, they'd opted to travel more lightly for this initial probe. Concealed under the gray business suit Blancanales wore, Lyons knew, was a Beretta 92-F in a shoulder holster, which should prove sufficient if he got into any trouble inside. Still, there was an element of risk in all such operations, especially since the man was placing himself at the mercy of potential enemies, cut off from the team by distance and a few doorways.
The Able Team leader listened as Blancanales and the director, who introduced himself as Timothy Albert, exchanged pleasantries. Lyons allowed himself a tight smile as Blancanales ran through a spiel on the injustices of "world capitalism" and "corporate rule," intended to put Albert at ease, persuade himmomentarily, at leastthat he was speaking to a fellow traveler ideologically. The two traded what, to Lyons, sounded like pompous slogans that would be lame coming from college radio jocks. Eventually, though, Blancanales moved in for the kill. Lyons tensed as he heard it coming, nodding to Schwarz. If he managed to shake anything loose, it would come now.
"Much as I would like to continue this conversation, my friend," Blancanales was saying quietly, "there is the matter of the World Workers United and its status as a political party in the United States."
"How do you mean?" Albert asked, sounding polite but puzzled.
"Illegal distributions of cash to your party," Blancanales said, his tone equally polite. "Funds from overseas. Funds that violate campaign finance laws, just for starters, and that perhaps violate certain other laws intended to prevent the exchange of monies to and from terrorist groups."
Albert was silent. Lyons pictured him gaping like a fish.
"You do not deny that your party receives significant funding from the Earth Action Front, do you?" Blancanales asked. Now his voice took on an edge.
"I Well, I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about " Albert stammered.
"Justice Department," Lyons heard Blancanales say. He pictured the soft-spoken Hispanic flashing the Justice shield Brognola had issued to each of the member of Able for occasions such as this. "And you, sir, are under arrest.
We have a warrant and we'll be searching the premises. This search extends to seizures of your computer equipment. If you'll step away from the desk, sir "
Albert muttered something Lyons could not hear.
Schwarz and Lyons both winced involuntarily as the earpieces they wore cut out in bursts of white noise.
"Gunshot!" Lyons was already jumping out of the SUV, his Colt Python in his fist. Schwarz was close behind him with the 93-R. They ran full-tilt for the WWUP building, dodging cars as they dashed across the street. Lyons ignored the honking and the shouts from irate drivers though one particularly loud commuter shut up fast when he noticed the mammoth revolver in Lyons's big hand.