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OLD TOWN, ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA
THE MORNING WAS NOT GETTING off to a good start. The phone, not the alarm clock, woke her up at 4:20 A.M. She raised her head, opened her eyes in the pitch dark bedroom just enough to see the time, and then rolled over, hoping it was a wrong number. She buried her head back in the warm soft pillow, her chestnut hair tangled in all different directions. The answering machine picked up but she wasn’t happy with what she heard. It was a familiar voice.
“¡Mierda!” Shit! she muttered under her breath, her head now hidden under the duvet. As a rule, she only swore in foreign languages, so that those around her wouldn’t know of her transgression. Not that there was anyone in her bed to hear her swear; she’d been waking up alone in that bed for longer than she cared to recall.
Katerina Molares—Kate to her friends and colleagues—could never get used to waking up for work when the moon was still high in the sky. It was another cold, gray December morning in the Washington, D.C., metro area. She had planned to go to work a little late today, to ease back in after four days of a lazy beach vacation. No such luck. Those types of plans never seemed to work out right.
“Why should anyone have to get up at this god-forsaken hour?” she said to herself. All around the Beltway, countless other sleepy souls wondered the same thing as their early drives took them to the CIA, the White House, the FBI, and in the case of Kate, to the Defense Intelligence Agency—DIA for short. The rest of Washington—the legislators, the judiciary, the executive branch, and those that lobby them—all began their days early, yet in comparison, their hours were much more reasonable.
That familiar voice started leaving a message. “Rise and shine, Kate.” It was her boss, Bill DuBois, using his best cheerful voice almost like a taunt. If he called her at home, something was up.
She fumbled for the phone next to her bed. “Hey, Bill…” Her voice was groggy. “A little early for you to be making the rounds, isn’t it?”
“Not my choice. I’m sitting here in pj’s, making wake-up calls. Another hour of sleep would’ve been just fine by me, too, believe me. The SecDef woke me up ten minutes ago on my secure line. Seems like there’s been an ‘incident.’ So skip the jog this morning, Kate, and get to the office, pronto. Turn on CNN in the meantime. It’ll give you the gist of today’s agenda.” Kate grabbed the remote by her bed and turned on the TV. Since they weren’t on a secure phone line, Bill couldn’t give any further details. The jogging comment had been a joke, as he knew that she didn’t do anything before 9 A.M., other than drink coffee.
“Funny, Bill. Okay, I’ll see you there at five.” She jumped into the shower as soon as she hung up the phone.
In the small nucleus of D.C.’s high-level intelligence professionals, Kate certainly stood out. Her mother was American and her father was from Venezuela, a country that wasn’t always the most politically stable or on the best of terms with her employer, the U.S. of A. Her parents had met as PhD students at Georgetown University in the 1970s—he in Economics studies and she in International Security studies. From there, they’d both landed assignments at the United Nations in New York City, where Kate was born thirty years ago.
Kate was their only child and had benefited from their undivided devotion. She had an olive complexion like her father, and her eyes were deep green, like her mother’s. Her slender face, accented by strong cheekbones and a chiseled nose that reminded some people of a young Meryl Streep, was framed by thick straight dark chestnut hair, which was usually tied in a perfunctory ponytail. Her quick smile always put others at ease.
Kate exuded an easy natural beauty and style that was all the more charming because she was mostly unaware that eyes turned to stare at her when she walked in a room. She had been a swimmer through her college years and still maintained her athletic frame. Her style of dress was simple but feminine, favoring tailored slacks with silk blouses, which—depending on how hard the wind blew—showed off more or less of her healthy figure.
She looked in the bathroom mirror. Given the ridiculously early hour, with her hair sticking out in several directions, and groggy eyes, her natural beauty had not yet emerged to greet the day. She wondered how, in the few short hours following her vacation, she could already look like hell.
Kate brushed her hair with one hand and fumbled through her closet with the other. She grabbed the simplest thing possible because she wasn’t in the mood for fussy today: slacks, blouse, and jacket.
Kate stared at the TV as she brushed her teeth, watching live reports from Madrid’s airport. Not a pretty picture, she thought, and now she understood why Bill had woken her up. She figured everybody had been called into the office earlier than usual so they could spend the next couple of hours sifting through the megabytes of info traffic that poured in from every U.S. embassy around the world. The real headache would start when they had to figure out exactly which parts of all that data should be included in the President’s security briefing. A double shot of caffeine was definitely in order for the commute this morning.
As she left her apartment, images from Madrid flashed through Kate’s mind, prompting her to ask the same question that every other U.S. intelligence officer was thinking this morning, at this very same hour. Could this have been prevented?
Copyright © 2011 by H. T. Narea