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"Don't let the press hear you using an ethnic slur like that," her husband said with a grin. "After all, you represent the party of tolerance and diversity."
She fixed him with the familiar steely-eyed glare he had seen so many times during their thirty-plus years of marriage. At first, he'd been scared shitless whenever she looked at him like that, because it was in those moments that he had been able to look into her and see her for what she really was.
Over the years, though, he had come to realize that maintaining the façade of a happy marriage was too important to her plans for her to ever direct the full force of her rage at him. All he had to do to remain safe was to exercise just the least bit of restraint and discretion. She had skated by on the edge of enough scandals, both personal and political, that she couldn't afford to let any sort of "accident" befall him, as had happened to others who had gotten in her way.
Besides, he truly did love her, despite knowing that to her, he was mostly just a useful prop. So when they were alone like this, in the upstairs quarters of the White House, he made it a habit to speak as plainly with her as he could. He wanted to help.
"You're right," he went on. "They were lyin' to you from the get-go, just stringin' you along with empty promises so you'd keep the Israelis off their back for a while longer."
She nodded. "Yes, but I believed them at first. I mean, why wouldn't I? They had no reason to fear U.N. inspections. Pulling the wool over the eyes of the United Nations is no great trick. Even a cheap thug like Saddam Hussein was able to do it for years. They never did figure out what he was up to."
"Don't let anybody hear you say that either," her husband advised, and he wasn't smiling now. "Everybody knows that Bush lied and Saddam never had any weapons of mass destruction. You don't want to go lettin' people think that the conventional wisdom might not be true."
She went on as if she hadn't heard him. "All they had to do was hide the real stuff and put on a dog-and-pony show for the inspectors. Then we would have had a good excuse for going along with whatever the U.N. said, and without our backing the Israelis would have had to accept it, too."
"Maybe you don't know the Israelis quite as well as you think you do."
"What do you mean by that?" she snapped.
"I mean that when those folks feel like they've been backed into a corner, they're liable to do almost anything."
The President shook her head. "They won't attack Iran. My God, they're already surrounded by enemies who want them dead as it is."
"Then they don't have a hell of a lot to lose, now do they?" her husband said softly.
That shook her for a second; he could tell by the way she looked. She truly believed that every setback was only temporary, that in the end everything would work out the way she wanted it to because she was smarter than everybody else. Smarter, and more decent and moral, and anyone who disagreed with her was evil or stupid or both, and therefore destined to lose. Maybe she was right-he hoped she was-but he feared that the rest of the world might not cooperate.
She resumed the pacing that had sent her back and forth across the luxuriously appointed bedroom a dozen times so far during their conversation. "Why now?" she asked. "Everything was looking good. All the Iranians had to do was play along for a while. The whole situation would have cooled down, so that next year would be nice and peaceful leading up to the election. Why throw a wrench in the works right now?"
"Maybe they were just stalling for time. Maybe they don't need to anymore."
She stopped and swung around toward him. "You mean you think they're ready to ... to do something?"
"I don't know," her husband replied honestly. "But I got a feelin' there's a shitstorm comin' ... and we won't be able to deny our way outta this one."
Chapter Two Hamed al-Bashar finished entering the data into the file and saved it, then clicked on the next item in the list and opened a new window to enter more information. The office around him was quiet on a Sunday afternoon. He was the only one who had come in today. Everyone else was home watching football on television.
Not Hamed, though. For one thing, he hated American football, just as he hated everything else about America. But football held a special place in his hatred, and had ever since he had seen news footage on French television of Arab mobs celebrating the deaths of thousands of infidels on 9/11.
One image he had witnessed on that glorious day remained seared in his brain. An Arab man was laughing and dancing for joy in the street in Baghdad or Damascus or some other city; Hamed didn't remember exactly where, and it didn't matter. Perched on the man's shoulders was his son, a boy of seven or eight years old.
And that boy wore a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt.
The satanic influence of the Americans had wormed its insidious way so far into the Arab world that a child could wear a symbol of the infidels' national sport and not think anything of it. It was at that very moment that Hamed had known that peace was not possible, that Islam could never coexist with such evil. The only way to truly save the world was to cleanse it of all Western influences.
Europe was no threat to that glorious goal. The French? That thought made Hamed laugh. He had been around the French enough to know that they would never successfully resist anything for very long, not without someone else coming to their rescue. The Germans were not much better, and the Spaniards and Italians weren't worth even thinking about.
The British, though, might pose a bit of a problem, but they were already showing numerous signs of giving up. And nowhere in subequatorial Africa or South America was there enough cohesion to represent a threat to the march of Islam. As for China and Russia ... well, oil and oil money could always buy them off. Anyway, they would be happy to be rid of America, too.
So America-and its godless infidel football-had to go.
There was another reason Hamed was working on a Sunday afternoon. He was a go-getter. That was what his supervisor called him. His instructions were simple-blend in and wait for the summons that would call him to perform the work of Allah.
When that summons would come, and the exact details of the mission he would be given, were unknown to Hamed, but he, like the other members of his group, was patient. Whether it took months or even years, he would be here, in Kansas City, Missouri, working in the transportation division of one of America's largest corporations, helping to coordinate the movement of goods throughout the nation by truck.
His passport, his work visa, and all his other papers were the finest money could buy. The paper trail, a mixture of fact and fiction, stretched back years and showed him immigrating from France to Quebec, where, according to documents in his possession, he had lived and worked for five years before applying for permission to enter the United States. His record was clean and beyond reproach.
Of course, he hadn't entered the United States by legal means, as all his phony paperwork indicated. He had come across the border from Canada in a remote location, along with several others from his cell. The rest of the group had been smuggled across the southern border from Mexico.
Homeland Security ... what a joke! And the Americans' so-called crackdown on illegal immigration was equally amusing. None of the American politicians, especially those currently in power, really wanted to stop the free flow of illegals from Mexico. Doing so might cost them Hispanic votes. As for the Canadian border, that was just too long and porous to even pretend that any sort of enforcement was possible.
What sort of country was it, Hamed had often wondered, that not only allowed its deadliest enemies to enter it, but practically invited them in?
And the answer was ... a country of fools.
No wonder the United States would soon be nothing but a bad memory.
"Why, Hamed, honey, what the hell're you doin' here on Sunday?"
The voice took him by surprise and brought him out of a very pleasant vision of America in flaming ruins. He turned and saw a woman standing by the office door. She wore shorts and a shirt with no sleeves and a pair of those rubber sandals Americans called flip-flops. Her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Hamed secretly burned with shame at the sight of so much female flesh and an uncovered female head, but he forced himself to smile back at her.
"I just thought I'd get a head start on those bills of lading for tomorrow morning's shipments," he said.
"Honey, you're just a workin' fool," the woman said. Her name was Mandy Armitage. She was one of his supervisors, and Hamed burned with shame because of that as well. In an Islamic America, females would have no such positions.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, knowing that he had to make small talk with her so she wouldn't be suspicious of him. Americans chattered incessantly.
"Would you believe it? We're goin' to Arrowhead to watch the Chiefs play the Colts this afternoon, and I went off and left the tickets in my desk." She went across the big room to her cubicle, which was smaller than some but larger than most, to retrieve the tickets. When she had them, she turned and gave him another smile. "Don't work too hard now, hear?"
"Don't worry about that," he told her.
She paused in the doorway. "Say, maybe you'd like to go to a game sometime. We can always get tickets through the company, even when the stadium's sold out."
She was looking at him with lust in her eyes again, he thought. He knew he was not unattractive to American women, with his olive skin and his thick dark hair and his neatly trimmed mustache and beard. He was in superb physical shape. With the least bit of encouragement on his part, Mandy Armitage would lie with him, and she wasn't the only one.
That was out of the question, of course, and even considering such a thing was sinful. But Hamed managed not to show the revulsion he felt as he said, "Sorry, I don't know anything about American football. I wouldn't have the slightest idea what was going on."
"That's right, where you come from people play soccer, don't they? That's what you call football."
That's what 90 percent of the world calls football, you stupid American cow, he thought, but with your typical arrogance you believe that you're right and everyone else is wrong.
"I could explain the rules to you," Mandy went on. "I've got four brothers who played varsity, and I was head cheerleader. I'd have you knowin' the difference between a blitz and a post pattern in no time."
"I'll think about it," Hamed promised, with no intention of wasting even a second's thought on such worthless drivel.
"All right, honey. See you tomorrow."
Hamed smiled and waved as Mandy went out, then turned back to his computer. "And I'll see you in hell, you foolish infidel bitch," he said to himself as he went back to work.
Chapter Three McCabe saw the woman as he rolled the big rig into the truck stop parking lot. She was a lot lizard-a hooker, of course. The tight, cutoff blue jean shorts, the equally tight tank top, and the high heels told him that much.
But it was the middle of the night and she was running and she looked scared. McCabe brought the truck to a stop with a hiss of air brakes, opened the door, and called to the woman, "Lady! Over here!"
She hesitated, as if she thought she might be trading one threat for another, but then she veered toward him. He had stepped down from the cab, and she must have thought he looked trustworthy.
What he probably looked like was tired as hell. He'd been on the road since early that morning, pushing the consecutive-hour limit and then busting right through it, risking getting in trouble if he was pulled over and the troopers checked his log. But he was stopped now, ready to crash for the night.
As soon as he dealt with whatever had gotten the hooker so frightened. Couldn't be anything good.
She trotted up to him, pushed her lank blond hair out of her face, and said, "Mister, just get back in the truck and let's go."
McCabe shook his head. "Nah, I'm stopped for the night."
She clutched his arm. Her long fingernails dug into his skin through the sleeve of the khaki shirt he wore.
"Some people are after me. I'll make it worth your while. You won't even have to pay me. I'll be paying you, I guess you could say."
McCabe looked at her and thought about his wife and said, "Honey, what I got at home, you can't even come close to matching."
She looked surprised and angry as she said, "Well, then, why'd you call me over here, asshole?"
McCabe's voice was mild as he replied, "You looked like you were in trouble."
"The only way you can help is to get me out of-"
"Hey, there she is! Hey, Lindy!"
Three men emerged from behind one of the big tractor-trailer rigs scattered through the parking lot. They started toward McCabe and the woman, moving fast. In the yellow glare of the sodium lights that washed over the parking lot, McCabe saw that they were all tall and muscular. They towered over his medium height, and their shoulders were broader, too. They had youth on him as well. None of them looked to be over thirty.
But their guts were soft. McCabe noted that right away. Big muscles and soft guts ... not the best combination in the world.
"Oh, hell," the hooker said. "Better go while you still can, mister."
She turned to run again before the three men could reach her.
McCabe stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Stay here," he told her.
She tried to pull away, but couldn't get loose. "You bastard!" she hissed. "You're gonna give me to them."
McCabe didn't say anything.
The three men slowed from their trot to a stop as they came up to the truck. "Thanks, buddy," one of them said to McCabe. "This little lady tried to run out on a business deal after she took our money."
Lindy stopped struggling in McCabe's grip and glared at the three men. "I didn't know what you had in mind," she snapped. "I may be a whore, but there're still some things I won't do."
The man who seemed to be the spokesman for the trio returned the glare. He wore a John Deere cap and had a goatee. "We paid you good cash money," he said as he reached for her. "Now you come on with us like a good girl."
McCabe moved so that he was between the men and the woman. He didn't get in a hurry about it, but he was there before any of them seemed to know what was happening.
"Hold on a minute," he said. "You mean she took your money and ran off?"
"Damn right," one of the other men said. He took his cap off and wiped a hand over his mostly bald head. "That's thievin', in my book."
"Yeah, it is," McCabe agreed. He turned to Lindy. "Give them back their money."
"We don't want the money," Goatee said.
"We want her," the third man said. Tufts of red hair stuck out from under his cap.
"Well, she doesn't want to go with you, so I think she should just give you your money back and we'll all just say that the deal is off." McCabe looked at Lindy. "How about it?"
She was sullen and obviously reluctant to part with the money. "What if I don't give it back?" she wanted to know.
McCabe shrugged. "Then I'll go on inside and get that cup of coffee I've been wanting for the last hundred miles, and you can work things out with these gentlemen on your own."
Before Lindy could say anything else, Goatee said, "You just don't get it, mister. We don't want the money back. We want the girl."
"Yeah," Red said, grinning.
Lindy looked at the three of them, then started to open the little purse she carried. "All right, all right, I'll give them the damn money."
"Now hold on," Baldy began.
"That's the deal," McCabe interrupted. "You boys get your cash back, and you leave the lady alone."
Red said, "Who died and left you in charge, hoss?"
"I'm tired o' this shit." Goatee started to reach past McCabe. "Come on, bitch-"
McCabe put a hand on the man's broad chest. "She said she'd give the money back. That's it. Deal's off."
"What the hell's wrong with you, old man?" Goatee demanded. "You in the mood to get your ass kicked or somethin'?"
Excerpted from JACK KNIFE by WILLIAM W. JOHNSTONE J. A. JOHNSTONE Copyright © 2008 by William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission.
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