“A refreshing hero, the anti–Jack Bauer…Cinematic firefights and fisticuffs.”St. Petersburg Times
“Arguably Berenson’s best thriller yet.”Library Journal
"Early one morning, a former CIA agent is shot to death in the street. That night, an army vet is gunned down in his doorway. The next day, John Wells gets a phone call. Come to Langley. Now." The two victims were part of an eleven-member interrogation team that operated out of a secret base in Poland called the Midnight House. For two years, they put the screws to… See more details below
"Early one morning, a former CIA agent is shot to death in the street. That night, an army vet is gunned down in his doorway. The next day, John Wells gets a phone call. Come to Langley. Now." The two victims were part of an eleven-member interrogation team that operated out of a secret base in Poland called the Midnight House. For two years, they put the screws to the toughest jihadis, men thought to have knowledge of imminent threats. The interrogators used whatever means necessary. When they were disbanded in the wake of public controversy, they were given medals for their heroism, Prozac for their nightmares. Now Wells must find out who is killing them. Islamic terrorists are the likeliest explanation, and Wells is uniquely qualified to go undercover after them. But the trail of blood he discovers will lead him and his boss, Ellis Shafer, to a place they wouldn't have imagined - and leave Wells facing the hardest of questions about the men of the Midnight House.
“Arguably Berenson’s best thriller yet.”Library Journal
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN. JUNE 2008
"To the worst place in the world."
"The worst place in the world."
George Fezcko and Dwayne Maggs raised their glasses and drank. The going-away party was over. One by one, the ops had said their good-byes and disappeared. Only Fezcko and Maggs were left. Fezcko, the guest of honor, leaving Pakistan after four years as deputy chief of station. And Maggs, his best friend at the agency.
The clock on the wall said 1:30, and they'd been drinking since dinner, but Fezcko felt solid. Maggs had gotten hold of a half-dozen Omaha steaks and two racks of ribs. The meat had soaked up most of the scotch in Fezcko's belly.
Though not all. Fezcko put his head against the cool wood of the conference table and hummed tunelessly: " 'We few, we ragged few, we motley crew…' " He trailed off. He couldn't remember the rest of the song, or even if there was a rest of the song.
"Mötley Crüe," Maggs said. "Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap."
"Marine recon, too."
"Why does it always go back to the marines? By now everyone in this country knows you're a jarhead. All one hundred fifty million." Fezcko tapped Maggs on the forehead. "Tattoo it right there. The few, the proud, the stupid."
"You wish you coulda been a marine," Maggs said. "Berkeley boy. You wouldn't have made it through the first week of basic. Eaten up and spat out."
Maggs was the station's director of security. He was short and wide and strong, arms as big as an average man's legs. Fezcko had thinning curly hair and wild black eyes. In college he'd played bass for a band that had almost broken out. They shouldn't have gotten along. But they did.
"A marine? I wish I coulda been Tom Brady."
"The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Land of the free, home of the suicide bomber. Bet you miss it already," Maggs said.
"What's not to miss? The earthquakes. The weather. The fifteen pounds I put on 'cause it's too hot to run outside." Fezcko poked at the belly he'd gained.
"Can't blame Paki for that. That gym in the basement is pretty good. As you'd know if you ever visited."
"I like to run outside."
"How about the women? Those beautiful Paki women."
Fezcko sipped his scotch. "Black-and-blue with the ugly stick," he said. "I never should have let Marci divorce me. Maybe if our security officers didn't lock us in the embassy all the time, maybe then we'd find out what those burqas are hiding. Can't even go down the block to the Marriott for a going-away party. It's a Marriott, for God's sake."
Indeed, because of the risk of terrorist attacks, the agency barred employees in Pakistan from gathering at hotels and restaurants. Maggs had refused to make an exception, even tonight.
"Don't mind getting you killed, but there's got to be a reason," Maggs said. "You know better than me, they aim for that Marriott once a month. I know who you're gonna miss. The army and the ISI"—the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the Pakistani secret police. Between them the two services more or less ran Pakistan.
"The army and the ISI. The ISI and the army. I'll tell you something about the ISI and the army."
"Yeah. Give me the speech. With feeling. Like I haven't heard it a hundred times before."
"The Egyptians, the Saudis, when they lie to you, they do it with a smile. Pour you tea, tell a story that takes an hour, and when they're done you're about ready to fall for whatever they're spinning. These guys, they just yell, like if I give you this nonsense at high volume it won't sound so ridiculous. They aren't all bad, maybe, but most of 'em…"
"Remember when they won that cricket match and almost burned down Karachi?"
Fezcko looked into his glass. "You really think Paki's the worst place in the world?"
"Worse than this?"
"Hotter. And blacker."
"You think you can say that just 'cause you're black? Insult your African cousins?"
Maggs smirked. "I can say it because I'm a marine."
"Let's drink to Somalia, then," Fezcko said. "The even-worse worst place in the world."
"Somalia. See you there."
"Three years. It'll be like that movie with the French chick—"
"I always knew you were gay, George—"
Fezcko struggled for the memory lurking in his alcohol-fogged brain. "Ethan Hawke. Julie Something— "
"Gayer by the second."
"Before Sunrise," Fezcko said triumphantly.
AND THEN HIS PAGER buzzed.
He pulled it off his waist, squinted at it. The scotch had blurred his eyes, and he didn't recognize the numbers. Then he did. 36963. Code for "call me now" from Nawiz Khan, a division chief for the ISI. Fezcko slid the pager across the table to Maggs.
"Nawiz?" Maggs said. "Wants to wish you good-bye."
Fezcko didn't trust the ISI, but he did trust Khan, since a blown raid in Peshawar two years back. He and Khan had had to shoot their way out of an apartment. Khan took a round in the left thigh that night. He still favored the leg.
Fezcko stood, feeling the steak and the ribs twist in his gut, and headed down the hall, shielding his eyes from the fluorescent lights. He touched his thumb to the fingerprint reader beside the door of his office. Inside, he sat down heavily on the edge of his desk and called Khan.
Who answered after a single ring.
"Fezcko," Khan said, somehow making the name sound glamorous. The years he'd spent at university in London had given him a soft English accent.
"May I speak freely?"
"You asking if this line is secure? Yeah, it's secure."
"Also if you are as drunk as you sound."
Fezcko laughed. "Not quite. Though it's been a long night."
"It has been a long night for me as well, George. But I have some thing you will want to see."
"Something or someone?"
"If you're asking me, am I in line for your fifty million dollars"—the CIA's reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden—"the answer is no. But my friend, I wouldn't have called at this hour if this wasn't worth your while. You may want to let your CT team know as well."
CT was agency lingo for the practice known publicly as extraordinary rendition. The letters stood for "collection and transfer," snatching suspected terrorists from their home countries and holding them in American custody.
"My CT team," Fezcko said. "That's me and Maggs. As you know."
"My men will make the arrest, then. And I will give them to you as a going-away present."
" 'Them'? What are you doing to me, Nawiz?"
"The question you should be asking me is what am I doing for you?"
"We gonna need a G-five for this?" A Gulfstream V jet, capable of carrying a dozen passengers halfway around the world without refueling, and thus the preferred method of transport for renditions.
"I think so. These men, it's best if they leave Pakistan."
"Man. You couldn't have given me a little notice? I need an hour, make some calls."
"And drink some coffee."
"One hour. No more."
BUT NINETY MINUTES PASSED before Fezcko and Maggs rolled out the side gate of the embassy in a black Nissan sedan. The car looked stock, but its windows were bullet-resistant and its doors were reinforced with steel plates. It wasn't as sturdy as the armored Suburbans that the ambassador and the chief of station preferred, but it would stop an AK round and it didn't attract attention.
In the passenger seat, Fezcko tried to rest, while his bodyguard, an ex-Ranger with the unlikely name of Leslie, drove. Maggs was in the back, playing a driving game on his iPod, his preferred method of relaxation before a mission. He seemed to have sobered up immediately. Fezcko wished he could say the same. Even after three cups of coffee, he was hardly in peak form. Before he left, he had gotten a definite maybe for a rendition from Josh Orton, the assistant chief for the Near East Section.
"I'm going to need more details," Orton had said, from his desk seven thousand miles away at Langley.
"Don't get pissy with me, George. You know the rules." Since 2006, the agency had become much more reluctant to authorize renditions, although they still took place.
The Nissan swung out of the Diplomatic Enclave, the high-security zone in eastern Islamabad that was home to the American embassy and other foreign missions. The night air was surprisingly cool for June. A breeze fluttered through the trees along Constitution Avenue.
After Pakistan gained independence in 1947, its military leaders decided to create a new capital city that would be easier to control than Karachi, the original capital. The result was Islamabad, a million-person city that Pakistanis called Isloo. With its boulevards, parks, and office towers, Isloo wasn't a bad place to live, at least compared to the rest of Pakistan. The city reminded Fezcko of Charlotte, his hometown—though Charlotte didn't have a mosque that could hold three hundred thousand worshippers.
The Nissan turned southwest on Nazimuddin Road, leaving the Diplomatic Enclave behind. Rather than giving names to the neighborhoods, Islamabad's planners had divided the city into zones identified by numbers and letters. Sixty years later, the system had stuck. Fezcko and Maggs were headed for the I-10 zone, a lightly built area on the southwestern edge of the city.
Fezcko's phone trilled.
"Are you standing me up?"
"Nawiz, please. We're on the way." Fezcko hung up, wondering at the urgency. Khan wasn't a nervous guy.
Ten minutes later, the Nissan pulled up outside an unfinished concrete building. A rusting white sign identified the shell as the "Future Center of the All-Pakistan Medical Commons." As Fezcko stepped out of the Nissan, the building's steel front door creaked open. A trim middle-aged man limped out toward him.
"Salaam alekeim, Nawiz."
"Alekeim salaam." They hugged, clapping each other tightly on the back.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were friends," Maggs said.
"Come," Nawiz said. "I'll show you your going-away present."
INSIDE, A BIG OPEN ROOM with a floor of hard-packed dirt. The air thick with dust and the stink of diesel smoke. A noisy generator powered strings of Christmas tree–sized white bulbs tacked to the walls, giving the place a strangely festive feel. In the corner opposite the generator, two men played checkers on a cheap folding table. Three more napped at their feet.
"Your crack team," Fezcko said.
"Merely conserving their energy." Khan handed Fezcko a long-lens photograph of a truck, a Mitsubishi ten-wheeler, the cab metallic blue with a spiffy beige stripe painted horizontally beneath the windshield. "Abu Zaineb Textile Manufacture (PVT) Ltd" was stenciled in black on the cargo compartment.
"Nice truck," Fezcko said.
"Such insight. I see why you've been promoted."
"Is Abu Zaineb Textile real?"
"We can't find the name. Though that's not dispositive, you understand."
" 'Dispositive,' " Maggs said. "Mighty big word for a Paki."
Khan waved off Maggs and handed Fezcko another photo, this one centered on a pair of men standing beside the truck. One wore a white salwar kameez, the long tunic and pants favored by many Pakistani men. The other was younger and dressed Western-style, in jeans and a red T-shirt that, strangely, had a Batman logo stamped on its front.
"You know them?"
Fezcko shook his head.
"This one." Khan pointed to the man in the salwar kameez. "His name is Asif Ali. He is a cousin of Jawaruddin."
Jawaruddin was Jawaruddin bin Zari, a thirty-four-year-old from Peshawar who was wanted for numerous terrorist attacks, including four bombings in Peshawar and the killing of two American aid workers in Karachi. He was a member of a terrorist group called Ansar Muhammad that had first turned up in 2006. In Arabic, ansar literally meant patrons, or supporters, but the word was usually translated as warriors—in this case, the warriors of Muhammad. The CIA didn't know much about Ansar Muhammad, though the agency had picked up hints of connections between the group and the ISI. Some analysts at Langley believed the ISI was using the group to carry out anti-American attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In any case, bin Zari was a high-value target. Capturing him would be a coup for the agency, at least until his successor popped up.
"Asif 's an actual cousin? Or more like a good friend?"
"You've reached the limits of my knowledge, George. He was introduced to my men as a cousin. We didn't perform a DNA test."
"And he's part of Ansar Muhammad?"
"Based on what I'm about to show you, it seems likely."
"What about the other guy? Batman?"
"We don't know. Probably a driver."
Khan handed across a third photo, this one focused on the Mitsubishi's cargo compartment, which was filled with oil drums and plastic sacks. A fourth photo focused on the sacks, which were stamped "Highest-Quality Nitrogen Fertilizer." Khan didn't have to explain further. Ammonium nitrate and fuel oil were the basic ingredients for truck bombs.
"These were taken where?"
"Peshawar." Khan lifted his eyebrows, as if to say Where else? "Two days ago. My men learned that Asif Ali would be at a restaurant. They followed him, took these photos. Dumb luck."
"Your men learned how?"
"The usual way. A friend of a friend of an enemy."
"That like a cousin?" This from Maggs.
"I'd like some details on the sourcing," Fezcko said.
Khan lifted his shoulders a fraction of an inch: Too bad.
"Where's the truck now?"
"Approximately fifteen hundred meters"—about a mile—"from here. It arrived yesterday. I had hoped that bin Zari or someone at his level might visit the operation in person. But I think now that moment has passed. And I think we ought to move quickly."
Fezcko understood. The ISI was so ridden with Qaeda sympathizers that it was only a matter of time before the terrorists learned that Khan and his men were tracking them. Most likely very little time.
"Heck of a nice truck. Shame to blow it up. You know the target?"
"We're all targets, George. Terrorism hurts us all." Khan moved his lips, pretending to smile. "Roderick White arrives tomorrow for meetings with our president. He seems a likely candidate."
Fezcko rubbed his forehead, wishing his going-away party had been some other night. How had he forgotten that Sir Roderick White, the British foreign minister, was coming to Islamabad? "That sounds ambitious."
"You know our friends are optimists. And even if they don't reach him, they know that whatever they do will get extra attention tomorrow."
"Maybe they'll have help to get through a checkpoint or two." Fezcko didn't have to specify that the help would be coming from inside the ISI. "Who else knows about this, Nawiz?"
"Omar is the only one I've told." Omar Gul, an assistant director in the ISI's Counter-Terror Division. Sometimes known at Langley as the "Counting on Terror" Division. The CIA viewed Gul as the only reliable officer in the top ranks of the ISI, not least because he'd survived three assassination attempts in four years, the last of which had cost him his right eye.
Fezcko saw why Khan was so anxious to move. "You want to do this now. Get them out before the sun comes up. You and Omar are the only ones who know. Tomorrow, the next day, you come back on that truck, a big show. It's empty, and you tell your buddies that the bad guys disappeared."
"Then whatever we get from them, maybe even some names inside your shop, nobody knows but you."
The plan was at least one step past risky. Maybe all the way to stupid. Renditions usually required approval from senior-level officials on both sides. Now Khan wanted to grab two men on the fl y. They weren't in some village on the North-West Frontier, either. They were five miles from the Pakistani parliament. If something went wrong, if they got caught tonight, the Pakistani government wouldn't be able to ignore what had happened. Khan would go to jail. There would be anti-American riots.
If anyone but Khan had made the offer, Fezcko would have rejected it outright for fear of a trap. But he trusted Khan. And the deal was tempting. Anything they could do to clean up the ISI would be valuable.
"We don't have a plane in country," Fezcko said, trying to buy time. "Where will we keep them?"
"No problem getting them out?"
"Not if you get a jet in today to Faisalabad." A city about 150 miles south of Islamabad.
Fezcko nodded at Maggs. They stepped to the other side of the room. "Thoughts?" Fezcko murmured.
"Nothing you don't know."
"Too good to be true? Setup?"
"Not from him. You know my rule."
Maggs's rule was that you couldn't trust anyone in the ISI until he'd taken a bullet next to you. It was a good rule. And just like that, Fezcko decided. "All right," he yelled over the generator to Khan. "We're in. Let me see about that G-five." And some authorization, he didn't add. For this operation, winks and nods wouldn't do. He wanted explicit approval, in writing.
Behind the building, he called Orton on his sat phone.
"I was hoping it wouldn't be you," Orton said.
"Am I interrupting you, Josh? Gotta pick up the kids from soccer practice? Maybe a manicure?"
"Just tell me."
"Tricky," Orton said. "If the ISI isn't going to know about it, we're going to have to keep this one quiet. There's only one place for them to go. And that takes special authorization. Have to call the Pentagon."
"No excuses," Fezcko said. "Yes or no." He hung up.
WHILE THEY WAITED, they grabbed body armor and M-4s from the Nissan and suited up. Khan and his men did the same, though their own gear was less fancy, vests and AK-47s. When they were done, Khan's squad packed into a windowless white van tucked behind the building and rolled off. Fezcko and Maggs and Leslie followed in the Nissan.
The Mitsubishi truck was easy to find, parked beside a Toyota 4Runner in front of a two-story concrete house in a district that mixed residential and light manufacturing. The house had a strangely Art Deco look, lime-green with a white roof. It belonged in Miami, not Islamabad, though Fezcko had seen similar color schemes in Pakistan before. Splashy paint jobs grabbed attention from cracked ceilings and leaky pipes. The house seemed deserted, no lights or movement inside. There were walls along the property lot but none in front.
They rolled by without slowing. To the west, the city petered out. A mile down, Khan's van parked behind a tall brick warehouse. Khan stepped out, tapped a cigarette out of the flat silver case he carried. He lit up, dragged deeply, exhaled twin jets of smoke from his nostrils.
"You blow any harder you'll have liftoff," Maggs said.
"Let me guess," Khan said. "Marines smoke three cigarettes at once. Because one at a time wouldn't be manly enough."
Fezcko laughed. "Now you're getting it, Nawiz."
"So that's the place," Maggs said.
"Anybody watching it?"
"My men installed a PTD"—a presence tracking device, also known as a bug—"on the truck in Peshawar. Two of my men are monitoring it." Khan tilted his head toward the second floor of the warehouse, where a cigarette glowed behind a window. "The truck hasn't moved since they arrived yesterday."
"Who owns the house?" Fezcko said.
"Property records show it belongs to a family that lives in Karachi. We don't know if they're connected or if they even know it's being used."
Khan unrolled an oversized map, a street-by-street grid of the district. The map's corners rolled up, and Khan's men grabbed bricks to weigh it down.
"High-tech," Fezcko said.
"My Predators are in the shop." Khan circled the target house in red Magic Marker, and for fifteen minutes he walked his squad and Fezcko through the raid. The plan was simple, based on simple assumptions: that the doors of the house wouldn't be reinforced or booby-trapped, and that they would be facing at most four men inside. Khan's squad would handle the main assault, breaking through the front door and firing gas grenades to flush out the men. Fezcko's team would circle the house, wait for the jihadis to escape through the back door. If they didn't come out in sixty seconds, Fezcko and Maggs would go in the back.
When Khan was done, Fezcko pulled him aside.
"Too many guesses, Nawiz. If this gets ugly, we're underpowered. No radios. Layout's a mystery. This is how you get hurt."
Khan wrapped an arm around Fezcko's shoulders, put his face to the American's ear as if he planned to whisper a declaration of love eternal. "Are you walking, George? Taking your ball and going home? Tell me now so I don't waste more time. We have to do this before the sun comes up. Go on back to Langley. Another American hero."
In the cool night air, Fezcko felt himself flush. A cheap shot, sure, but there was truth behind it. His tour here was done. Khan's would never be over. He pushed Khan off, less than a shove but more than a friendly tap, and walked away. The soft, brown mud of the parking lot sucked at his boots, and he tried not to wonder whether the soil was a metaphor for the quagmire of the endless war on terror. He stood behind a corner of the warehouse and called Langley. "Anything yet?"
"The good news is the plane's in the air," Orton said. "The bad news is that the DDO's not happy. But I have a conditional okay."
"Conditional on what?"
"On your certifying that there's imminent risk of attack."
The message from Langley was clear: Right back atcha. You want to play cowboy, go ahead, but don't expect us to cover your ass from eleven time zones away on an hour's notice. "Can you say career ender?" Fezcko mumbled into the night.
"What?" Orton said.
"I said put it in writing. My name."
"Whatever you have to do. Do it." Fezcko hung up, barely resisting the urge to smash the Iridium handset into the mud.
THE RAID WENT BAD before they even reached the house.
When Fezcko nodded to Khan, they pulled on their gas masks and grabbed their gear and rolled out east over the rough asphalt at eighty miles an hour. The house waited for them, still and silent.
Then the lights inside flickered on. Fezcko felt as if he'd been punched. He wondered if they should abort, but it wasn't his call. Anyway, letting the guys in the house get to the truck would be a very bad idea.
Khan's van swung off the road and stopped a few yards from the front door. The van doors opened, and Khan's squad jumped out. The two biggest men carried a knocker, a thick steel pipe with handles attached.
Khan's men sprinted for the house, Khan hobbling behind on his bad leg. Then the stuttering recoil of an automatic rifle sounded from the roof and the officer in front of Khan stumbled down.
"So much for surprising them," Fezcko murmured inside his mask. Adrenaline had burned through the last of the scotch in his blood. He felt alert and ready. Alive. He'd have a story for the grandkids at least. I ever tell you about my last night in Pakistan? Assuming he survived, of course. He slipped out of the Nissan, knelt behind the door. Rounds smashed into the window, and Fezcko was glad for the car's armor. Where's the shooter? Find the shooter. Based on the angle, the guy was on the right side of the roof, close to the corner.
Fezcko leaned around the door, raised his M-4, fired a four-shot burst at the front corner of the roof, trying to push the guy back. In the brief calm that followed, the wounded ISI agent pushed himself up and hopped toward the safety of the van.
Khan's men smashed the knocker into the front door. It shook but held. Fezcko wondered if it was reinforced.
Now the men inside the house were firing jihadi specials, long bursts on full automatic that tore through the night and shattered the front windows. The racket sounded impressive, but the shots were basically unaimed, and Khan's men stayed cool. Again they rammed the knocker into the door. This time it gave a couple of inches. Now they had a rhythm going, bang, bang, bang, a horizontal drumming—
The door twisted sideways and gave. Fezcko caught a brief glimpse of a green-painted room inside, before the lights went out. Khan and his men huddled around the front door.
Fezcko lifted his mask. "Stay here," he yelled to Leslie. "Watch the front door, make sure nobody gets out this way. Take out the shooter on the roof if you can."
"Stay. That's an order." He looked at Maggs. "Back door!" he yelled. He lowered his mask and sprinted along the side of the house, keeping his head down. A window exploded over his head. He half dove, half fell, grunting as he banged an elbow against the side of the house. Clods of dirt covered the plastic face shield of his mask. Rounds thudded into the wall above him and shards of concrete cascaded down. How many guys were in there, anyway? Did they have grenades?
Fezcko grabbed for the CS grenade on his belt, pulled the pin. He lifted the handle and tossed it through the steel bars of the blown-out window above his head. If things got worse, they would have to forget taking anyone alive and just smoke the place. Maggs ran by, doubled over but somehow staying on his feet. Fezcko wiped off his face shield and scuttled after him.
Inside the house, men shouted at one another in Pashto. A man yelled "Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!" and a long burst from an AK ripped through the night.
The left-rear corner of the house had a square notch cut into it, offering cover from the side and back walls. Fezcko hid in the notch and peeked around the corner. The rear of the house was unpainted and unfinished. The property sloped down from front to back, so the back door was a couple feet off the ground. There were no stairs. Anyone inside would have to jump out. But for now, the back door was closed. Beside the door, thick plastic sheeting covered a window frame. As Fezcko watched, rifle fire tore apart the plastic and a trail of CS gas leaked out. Someone coughed viciously, stopped, and then coughed again steadily.
Then the back door swung open. A man peeked out. Not one of Khan's squad. A jihadi. He leaned forward, craned his head left and right, but Fezcko and Maggs were hidden in the notch and he didn't see them. He jumped out, stumbled, righted himself, and began to run across the back lot. He was barefoot and wore a jean jacket and sweatpants. No gun, as far as Fezcko could tell.
Maggs stepped out and raised his rifle. Fezcko pushed it aside.
"Alive." They sprinted after him.
The jihadi ran for a gate at the back-left corner of the wall. He tugged it frantically as Maggs and Fezcko closed on him. Locked. He tried to climb over, but he was big and slow. Maggs jumped up, tugged him down, threw him onto his stomach. Fezcko put a knee on his shoulders and pushed his head down into the dirt. Maggs pulled his arms behind his back and cuffed them. Then Maggs straddled his legs and cuffed his ankles together.
"Hog-tie?" Maggs said.
Maggs pulled off his belt, thick black leather, and ran it between the two sets of cuffs and tied it so the prisoner was on his belly with his legs and arms leashed together. Fezcko gave the guy a quick dose of CS in the eyes. He howled at them in Arabic and blinked furiously. Tears streamed down his cheek. Given enough time, he might figure out a way to slip off the belt. But even then he'd have his arms and legs cuffed. And with his eyes on fire, he'd have a tough time going anywhere.
SO THEY LEFT HIM in the corner, yelling, and ran to the house and took up positions by the back door. The door was swinging free. Fezcko grabbed it and pinned it against the outside wall and peeked inside. He couldn't see anyone, just construction materials, wood and bricks and cartons of tiles. Then the quiet scraping of a man trying not to cough. He seemed to be on the left side, hidden behind a half-finished wall.
Maggs sent a CS grenade skittering into the room like a duckpin bowling ball. White smoke filled the room like dry ice rolling onto the dance floor at a sweet sixteen, and the coughing started again, harder this time. Maggs pointed into the room and then at himself: I'm going in. Cover me. Fezcko held up three fingers, two, one. He swung his rifle into the doorway and fired three shots into the darkness.
Maggs levered himself up, jumped inside, ran for the coughing man. As he did, four shots, small-caliber, echoed inside the room. Maggs shouted in pain, the exclamation muffled through his mask, and thumped down.
Fezcko double-checked the seal on his mask, jumped inside. A round crashed into the wall beside him. Damn it. He dropped to the floor, tried to get oriented through the smoke. He could hear the guy coughing but not see him. Maddening.
He crawled across the room and lay next to Maggs, who pointed at his right leg. Blood puddled underneath the calf. Maggs made a snapping motion with his hands, indicating that the shot had broken his fibula, or his knee, Fezcko couldn't tell. Fezcko pointed toward the door—Let's go; we'll wait him out—but Maggs shook his head.
Then something dark flew out of the white smoke, twirling toward them—
Fezcko tried to squirm away—
And realized he was looking at a pistol. The gun clattered at his feet. He grabbed it, racked the slide, checked the clip. Empty.
A man stood up, wraithlike through the smoke, hands in the air. Maggs raised his M-4 and was about to shoot, but Fezcko pushed the gun down. The man coughed violently, his body shaking with each breath. He stepped toward them slowly, one hesitant foot after the next. He was surrendering. Either that or trying to get close enough to them to blow a suicide-bomb belt. But the belts were thick and obvious, and this guy was wearing only a T-shirt. So Fezcko let him get within five feet and then popped up and grabbed him.
He shoved the guy out the back door and wrestled him down to the pebbled lot behind the house. The guy landed face-first, and all the air went out of him. Fezcko grabbed his bushy black hair and ground his face into the rocky soil. Then he chopped the guy three times in the neck for what he'd done to Maggs. Also to make sure he wouldn't be any trouble. Though the guy didn't look like much of a threat. He was shaking, and a trail of spittle covered his thin black beard. And he was young, maybe seventeen. But he had been popping off at them with that snubnose.
Fezcko patted the guy down and flex-cuffed his ankles so he couldn't run and turned back to grab Maggs. But Maggs had already crawled out and was leaning against the side of the house on his good leg. The smoke inside was thinning, and the action had eased. No one was shooting, and the ISI men were yelling at one another in Punjabi as they cleared rooms on the second floor.
Fezcko pulled off his mask. "How's your leg?"
"No marine crap," Fezcko said. "If you're bleeding out, I'd like to know."
"I'll live. Lucky my running-back days are over," Maggs said. "And lucky he only had a .22. Shoulda let me shoot him."
In the corner of the lot, the second captive lay on his stomach. The guy's nose and mouth were foaming, and Fezcko wondered if he'd gone overboard on the CS. He pulled off Maggs's belt and dragged the prisoner to his feet. The guy's face was slack, his eyes wild and red. Fezcko mopped him up with a corner of his shirt. And realized he was looking at Jawaruddin bin Zari.
HE FROG-MARCHED bin Zari to Maggs.
"Got my belt."
"That's not all."
Maggs took another look at the slumped-over mess in the jean jacket. "Is that—"
"I believe it is."
Maggs raised a hand and they high-fived. Juvenile, maybe, but Fezcko didn't care. They'd just caught one of the most wanted men in Pakistan.
A breeze picked up, dragging tendrils of the CS in their direction. Fezcko caught a whiff and began to cough. After a few seconds the breeze faded, but he kept coughing, until the cough turned into a laugh. He sat down beside Maggs.
"What?" Maggs said finally.
"Been one hell of a going-away party, hasn't it?"
Ten minutes later, the smoke had cleared enough to allow Fezcko to enter the house without his mask. Six jihadis had been in the house when the raid started. Four were dead. Khan's squad had shot two on the ground floor, the others on the stairs. In turn, Khan had taken four casualties, one dead, three seriously wounded.
"Not how we planned it," Fezcko said to Khan.
"I should like to know who tipped them. Maybe our new friend can tell us."
"How will you explain what's happened to your squad?"
"Leave that to me. Just promise, if you get anything from these monkeys, you'll pass it on."
THEY PUT HOODS ON the prisoners and threw them into the back of Khan's van and rolled into the dark. By sunrise they would be halfway to Faisalabad. Before noon the plane would be at the airport, and by sunset bin Zari and the second prisoner would be somewhere over the Black Sea. After that… they would be in God's hands.
God's, and the agency's.
“A refreshing hero, the anti–Jack Bauer…Cinematic firefights and fisticuffs.”--St. Petersburg Times
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