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By DeMille, Nelson
Grand Central Publishing Copyright © 2010 DeMille, Nelson
All right reserved.
New York and New Jersey
So I’m sitting in a Chevy SUV on Third Avenue, waiting for my target, a guy named Komeni Weenie or something, an Iranian gent who is Third Deputy something or other with the Iranian Mission to the United Nations. Actually, I have all this written down for my report, but this is off the top of my head.
Also off the top of my head, I’m John Corey and I’m an agent with the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force. I used to be a homicide detective with the NYPD, but I’m retired on disability—gunshot wounds, though my wife says I’m also morally disabled—and I’ve taken this job as a contract agent with the Feds, who have more anti-terrorist money than they know how to spend intelligently.
The ATTF is mostly an FBI outfit, and I work out of 26 Federal Plaza, downtown, with my FBI colleagues, which includes my wife. It’s not a bad gig, and the work can be interesting, though working for the Federal government—the FBI in particular—is a challenge.
Speaking of FBI and challenges, my driver today is FBI Special Agent Lisa Sims, right out of Quantico by way of East Wheatfield, Iowa, or someplace, and the tallest building she’s previously seen is a grain silo. Also, she does not drive well in Manhattan, but she wants to learn. Which is why she’s sitting where I should be sitting.
Ms. Sims asked me, “How long do we wait for this guy?”
“Until he comes out of the building.”
“What’s he going to do?”
“We’re actually here to find out.”
“I mean, what do we have on him? Why are we watching him?”
I added, to be collegial, “He is an Iranian military intelligence officer with diplomatic cover. As you know, we have information that he has asked for his car and driver to be available from one P.M. on. That is all we know.”
Lisa Sims seemed bright enough, and she knew when to stop asking questions. Like now. She’s also an attractive young woman in a clean-cut sort of way, and she was dressed casually for this assignment in jeans, running shoes, and a lime green T-shirt that barely concealed her .40 caliber Glock and pancake holster. I, too, wore running shoes—you never know when you might be sprinting—jeans, black T-shirt, and a blue sports jacket that concealed my 9mm Glock, my radio, my pocket comb, and breath mints. Beats carrying a purse like Ms. Sims did.
Anyway, it was a nice day in May, and the big ornamental clock across the street said 3:17. We’d been waiting for this character for over two hours.
The Iranian Mission to the U.N. is located on the upper floors of a 39-story office building off Third Avenue, between East 40th Street and 41st. Because of the U.N., Manhattan is home to over a hundred foreign missions and consulates, plus residences, and not all of these countries are our buds. So you get a lot of bad actors posing as diplomats who need to be watched, and it’s a pain in the ass. They should move the U.N. to Iowa. But maybe I shouldn’t complain—watching bad guys pays the rent.
I was the team leader today, which is a guarantee of success, and on this surveillance with me were four agents on foot, and three other vehicles—another Chevy SUV and two Dodge minivans. The other three vehicles also have one NYPD and one FBI agent, which means at least one person in the vehicle knows what he or she is doing. Sorry. That wasn’t nice. Also, FYI, each vehicle is equipped with the whole police package—flashing lights in the grille, siren, tinted windows, and so forth. Inside the vehicle we have 35mm digital Nikon cameras with zoom lenses, Sony 8mm video cameras, handheld portable radios, a portable printer, and so on. We all carry a change of clothes, a Kevlar vest, MetroCards, Nextel cell phones with a walkie-talkie feature, sometimes a rifle and scope, and other equipment, depending on the assignment. Like, for instance, a little gadget that detects radioactive substances, which I don’t even want to think about.
In any case, we are prepared for anything, and have been since 9/11. But, you know, shit happens even when you have a shit shield with you.
High-tech toys aside, at the end of the day, what you need with you is an alert brain and a gun.
When I was a cop I did a lot of surveillance, so I’m used to this, but Special Agent Sims was getting antsy. She said, “Maybe we missed him.”
“Maybe he changed his plans.”
“They do that.”
“I’ll bet they do it on purpose.”
“They do that, too.”
Another fifteen minutes passed, and Special Agent Sims used the time to study a street and subway map of Manhattan. She asked me, “Where do you live?”
I looked at the map, pointed, and said, “Here. On East Seventy-second Street.”
She glanced out the windshield and said, “You’re not far from here.”
“Right. You have a map of Iowa? You can show me where you live.”
A few minutes later, she asked me, “What is that place behind us? Au Bon Pain.”
“It’s like a coffee shop. A chain.”
“Do you think I can run out and get a muffin?”
Well, she had running shoes, but the answer was no, though maybe if Ms. Sims got out of the SUV, and if Komeni Weenie came out of the building and got into a car, then I could drive off and lose Ms. Sims.
My radio crackled and a voice—one of the guys on foot—said, “Target exiting subject building from courtyard, out and moving.”
I said to Sims, “Sure, go ahead.”
“Didn’t he just say—?”
“Hold on.” I looked into the courtyard that separated the subject building from the adjacent building where two of my foot guys were helping to keep New York clean by collecting litter.
The radio crackled again, and Sweeper One said, “Target heading east to Third.”
I saw our target walking through the courtyard, then passing under the ornamental arch and clock. He was a tall guy, very thin, wearing a well-cut pinstripe suit. We give nicknames or code names to the targets, and this guy had a big beak and moved his head like a bird, so I said into my radio, “Target is henceforth Big Bird.”
Big Bird was on the sidewalk now, and all of a sudden another guy—who I profiled as being of Mideastern extraction—came up to Big Bird. I couldn’t make this new guy, but Big Bird seemed to know him, and they seemed happy and surprised to see each other, which is pure bullshit. They shook hands, and I thought something was being passed. Or they were just shaking hands. You never know. But they know or suspect that they’re being watched, and sometimes they screw with you.
Anyway, Big Bird has dip immunity, and we’re certainly not going to bust him for shaking hands with another Mideastern gentleman. In fact, now we have two people to watch.
Big Bird and the unknown separated, and the unknown began walking north on Third, while Big Bird stayed put. This was all captured in photos and video, of course, and maybe someone at 26 Fed knew this other guy.
I said into the radio, “Units Three and Four, stay with the unknown and try to ID him.”
They acknowledged, and Ms. Sims said to me, “I don’t think that was a chance meeting.”
I did not respond with sarcasm and I didn’t even roll my eyes. I said, “I think you’re right.” This was going to be a long day.
A minute later, a big gray Mercedes pulled up near Big Bird, and I could see the dip plates—blue-and-white, with four numbers followed by DM, which for some unknown reason is the State Department’s designation for Iran, then another D, which is Diplomat, which I get.
The driver, another Iranian gent, jumped out and ran around to the other side of the car like he was being chased by Israeli commandos. He bowed low—I should get my driver to do that—then opened the door, and Big Bird folded himself into the rear seat.
I said into the radio, “Big Bird is mobile.” I gave the make and color of the car and the plate number, and Unit Two acknowledged. Unit Two, by the way, is the second Dodge minivan, driven by a guy I know, Mel Jacobs, NYPD Intelligence Unit detective. Detective Jacobs is Jewish, and he speaks a little Hebrew, which he uses when interrogating Arabic-speaking suspects. That, and the Star of David that he wears, sends these guys into orbit, which is kind of funny to watch.
Anyway, the other guy with Mel today is George Foster, an FBI Special Agent who I’ve worked with and who I like because he knows from experience how brilliant I am.
The Mercedes headed north on Third Avenue, and Special Agent Sims asked me, “Should I follow him?”
“That might be a good idea.”
She threw the SUV into gear and off we went, threading our way through heavy traffic. New York drivers are divided between the good and the dead. It’s Darwinian. Ms. Sims would evolve or become extinct. And I’m sitting in the passenger seat to witness one or the other.
The Iranian chauffeur, who I think I’ve followed before, was an erratic driver, and I couldn’t tell if he was driving like that to lose a tail or if he was just a really bad driver. Like the last thing he drove was a camel.
Meanwhile, Special Agent Sims had her chin over the steering wheel between white knuckles, and her right foot was moving from the brakes to the accelerator like she had restless leg syndrome.
The Mercedes made a sudden left on 51st Street and Ms. Sims followed.
Unit Two continued on Third where he’d hang a left on 53rd and run parallel to us until I could tell them what the Mercedes was doing. You don’t want a parade following the subject vehicle; you want to mix it up a bit.
We were heading west now, and we passed beside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, then crossed Fifth Avenue. The subject vehicle continued on, which I reported to Unit Two.
I had no idea where Big Bird was going, but he was heading toward the Theater District and Times Square, where these guys sometimes went to experience American culture, like strip joints and titty bars. I mean, you don’t get much of that back in Sandland. Right?
The Mercedes made the light on Seventh Avenue, but we didn’t and we got stuck behind three vehicles. I couldn’t see the Mercedes now, but I had seen him continue on 51st. I hit the lights and siren, and the vehicles in front of us squeezed over, and Ms. Sims squeezed past and barreled through the red light, cutting across the southbound traffic on Seventh Avenue.
We got across the avenue, and I killed the lights and siren, and we continued west on 51st.
Ms. Sims glanced at me as though she wanted a compliment or something, so I mumbled, “Good driving.”
I radioed Unit Two with our position and said, “I have subject vehicle in sight.”
We drove through the area called Hell’s Kitchen, formerly a nice slum, which has gone downhill with an influx of yuppies. I had no idea where Big Bird was going, but if he continued west, maybe he was headed for a Hudson River crossing. I said to Ms. Sims, “He may be going to Jersey.”
In truth, ninety percent of our surveillances go nowhere. Abdul is just out and about, or he’s trying to draw us off from something else that’s happening. Or they’re just practicing their countersurveillance techniques.
Now and then, though, you get the real thing—like one of these dips meeting a known bad guy. We do more watching than arresting or interrogating, because these characters can tell us more by keeping them under the eye than they’d tell us in an interrogation room. With the dips, you can’t question them anyway, and getting them booted out is left to people with a higher pay grade than mine.
Now and then we do make an arrest, and I’m on the interrogation team, which is a lot more fun than following these clowns. I mean, I’m having fun; they’re not.
The goal, of course, is to prevent another 9/11 or something worse. So far, so good. But it’s been too quiet for too long. Like over a year and a half since that day. So, are we lucky, or are we good? For sure, the bad guys haven’t given up, so we’ll see.
The Mercedes continued on toward Twelfth Avenue, which runs along the Hudson River and is the place where civilization ends. No offense to New Jersey, but I haven’t gotten my malaria shots this year.
I radioed Unit Two that we were traveling south on Twelfth.
There isn’t as much traffic in this area of warehouses and piers, so the Mercedes picked up speed, and Ms. Sims kept up without being obvious.
The Mercedes passed the turns that would have led to the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel and continued south toward Lower Manhattan.
Ms. Sims asked again, “Where do you think he’s going?”
“Maybe one of the piers. Maybe he’s got a rendezvous with a Saudi yacht that’s carrying a nuclear device.”
“Please don’t swear.”
We were making pretty good time down Twelfth Avenue, and I could see Unit Two in my sideview mirror, and we acknowledged visual contact. By now, the Iranian driver should know he was being followed, but these guys are so dumb they can’t even find themselves in a mirror, let alone a tail.
Maybe I spoke too soon, because the guy suddenly slowed up, and Ms. Sims misjudged our relative speeds, and we were now too close to the Mercedes with no one between us and him. I could see Big Bird’s head in the back right seat, and he was talking on his cell phone. Then the driver must have said something to him, and Big Bird twisted around in his seat, looked at us, then smiled and gave us the finger. I returned the salute. Prick.
Ms. Sims said, “Sorry,” and dropped back.
I advised her, “You have to watch their brake lights.”
Well, it’s not the end of the world when the subject is on to you. It happens about half the time when you’re mobile, though less on foot.
There is a Plan B, however, and I called Unit Two and explained that we’d been burnt. I told Ms. Sims to drop farther back, and Unit Two passed us and picked up the visual tail.
We all continued on, and I kept Unit Two in sight.
I could have called for another surveillance vehicle, but the Iranians weren’t doing any escape and evasion, so I just let it play out. They damned sure weren’t going to lose us, and if I screwed up their plans today, that was a good day’s work.
We got down below the West Village, and Unit Two radioed that the subject was turning on West Houston. Jacobs also said, “I think this guy made us.”
“Then pull up alongside and give him the finger.”
“He flipped me the bird.”
I heard laughter on the radio, then Unit Two said, “Subject is turning into the entrance ramp for the Holland.”
In a few minutes, we were on the entrance ramp to the tunnel.
There are no toll booths in this direction so traffic was moving quickly into the tunnel entrance. I passed on a tidbit to Ms. Sims: “Almost none of these dip cars has E-ZPass—they don’t want their movements recorded—so when there’s a toll booth, they’re in the cash lane, which is very slow, and if you go through the E-ZPass lane, you’ll be ahead of them, which you don’t want.”
Unit Two was in the tunnel and we followed.
Inside the long tunnel, Ms. Sims asked again, “Where do you think he’s going?”
This time I knew. “New Jersey.” I explained, “That’s where the tunnel goes.”
She didn’t respond to that bit of Zen, but she informed me, “Iranian diplomats may not travel more than a twenty-five-mile radius from Manhattan.”
“Right.” I think I knew that.
She had no further information for me, so we continued on in golden silence. The tunnels under the rivers around Manhattan Island are, of course, A-list targets for our Mideast friends, but I didn’t think Big Bird was going to blow himself up in the tunnel. I mean, why put on such a nice suit for that? Plus, you need a big truck bomb to actually open the tunnel up to the river. Right?
We exited the tunnel, and it took me awhile to adjust my eyes to the sunlight. I couldn’t see the Mercedes, but I did spot Unit Two, and I pointed them out to Ms. Sims, who followed. Unit Two reported the subject in sight.
We were in Jersey City now, and we got on to the Pulaski Skyway, from which we had a scenic view of belching smokestacks.
I asked Ms. Sims, “Where do you think he’s going?”
She recognized the question, smiled, and replied, “How do I know?”
We approached the interchange for Interstate 95, and I said, “Ten bucks says he goes south.” I added, “Newark Airport.”
She asked, “What’s to the north?”
“The North Pole. Come on. You betting?”
She thought a moment, then said, “Well, he’s been traveling south, but he has no luggage for the airport—unless it’s in the trunk.”
“So, you pick north?”
“No. I say he’s going south, but not to the airport. To Atlantic City.”
I wasn’t following the train of thought that led Ms. Sims to Atlantic City, but I said, “Okay. Ten bucks.”
Unit Two radioed, “Subject has taken the southbound entrance to Ninety-five.”
“Copy.” So it was either Newark Airport or maybe Atlantic City. I mean, these guys did go down to AC to gamble, drink, and get laid. Not that I would know about any of that firsthand. But I have followed Abdul down there on a number of occasions.
I could still see Unit Two, and they could see the subject vehicle, and Jacobs radioed, “Subject passed the exit for Newark Airport.”
Ms. Sims said to me, “You can pay me now.”
I said, “He could be going to Fort Dix. You know, spying on a military installation.” I reminded her, “He’s a military intel guy.”
“And the chauffeur and Mercedes are cover for what?”
I didn’t reply.
We continued on, hitting speeds of eighty miles an hour on Route 95, known here as the New Jersey Turnpike.
Ms. Sims announced, “He’s past the twenty-five-mile limit.”
“Good. Do you want to keep following him, or kill him?”
“I’m just making an observation.”
We continued on, and I said to Ms. Sims, “You know, maybe I should call for air.”
She didn’t reply, so I further explained, “We have an air spotter we can use. Makes our job easier.” I started to switch the frequency on the radio, but Ms. Sims said, “He’s booked at the Taj Mahal.”
I took my hand off the dial and inquired, “How do you know?”
“We got a tip.”
I inquired, “And when were you going to share this with me?”
“After I had my muffin.”
I was a little pissed off. Maybe a lot.
A few minutes later, she asked me, “Are you, like, not speaking to me?”
In fact, I wasn’t, so I didn’t reply.
She said, “But we’ve got to follow him down there to see that he actually goes to the Taj and checks in.” She informed me, “We have a team down there already, so after they pick him up we can turn around and head back to the city.”
I had no reply.
She assured me, “You don’t owe me the fifty dollars. In fact, I’ll buy you a drink.”
No use staying mad, so I said, “Thank you.” I mean, typical FBI. They wouldn’t tell you if your ass was on fire. And the Special Agents, like Ms. Sims and my wife, are all lawyers. Need I say more?
I radioed Unit Two with my new info, though I advised Mel and George to stay with us in case our info was wrong and Big Bird was heading elsewhere.
Mel asked, “How did you find this out?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
We continued on, and Ms. Sims said, “We have about two hours. Tell me all you know about surveillance. I’d like to know what you’ve learned in the last forty years.”
It hasn’t been quite that long, and Ms. Sims I’m sure knew that; she was just making an ageist joke. She actually had a sense of humor, a rarity among her colleagues, so to show I was a good sport, and to demonstrate to her the spirit of joint FBI/NYPD cooperation, I said, “All right. I talk, you listen. Hold your questions.”
“Will there be a test?”
I settled back and imparted my extensive knowledge of surveillance techniques, interspersed with anecdotal and personal stories of surveillances, even the ones that went bad.
The criminals I’ve followed over the years were all pretty dumb, but when I got to the Task Force, I realized that the guys we were following—diplomats and terrorist suspects—were not quite as dumb. I mean, they’re certainly not smart, but they are paranoid, partly because most of them come from police states, and that makes them at least savvy that they’re under the eye.
Ms. Sims, true to her word, did not interrupt as I held her spellbound with my stories. I really don’t like to brag, but this was a teaching moment, so how could I avoid it? And, as I say, I was honest about the screw-ups.
On that subject, and on the subject of smart bad guys, I’ve run into only two evil geniuses in my three years with the Task Force. One was an American, and the other was a Libyan guy with a very big grudge against the USA, and not only was he evil and smart, he was also a perfect killing machine. My experience with the Libyan had less to do with surveillance than it did with hunter and hunted, and there were times when I wasn’t sure if I was the hunter or the hunted.
This episode did not have a happy ending, and even if there were any lessons to be learned or taught, the whole case was classified as Top Secret and need-to-know, meaning I couldn’t share it with Ms. Sims, or with anyone, ever. Which was fine with me.
But someday, I was sure, there would be a rematch. He promised me that.
Excerpted from The Lion by DeMille, Nelson Copyright © 2010 by DeMille, Nelson. Excerpted by permission.
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