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1045 WEDNESDAY / 25 FEBRUARY 2004
NEW YORK CITY
Blood was everywhere. five men lay on the floor of an abandoned warehouse. Four of them were dead. One was wounded. Blindfolded with their wrists tied behind their backs, two of them had been executed.
Glass shards flew and laser dots rained in from the smashed out windows, painting the only man standing in the room like a red Christmas tree.
"DON'T SHOOT!" Sunny Vicam yelled at the top of his lungs, holding the empty revolver over his head. It was still smoking.
"Drop the gun! Get on the floor. Get on the goddamned floor, now!"
Sunny obeyed the faceless words by pitching the gun away, then dropping to the floor.
Doors and windows of the warehouse exploded in wood-and-glass splinters as cops with guns appeared everywhere.
Sunny was jumped on by everyone; all he saw were the feet, hands, and arms that held him to the concrete. Men wearing FBI blazers handcuffed him.
"You're under arrest!" an FBI blazer yelled in his ear and started reading him his rights.
Sunny could barely hear because his ears still rang from the echoing shots that he'd fired in the open building.
"I count four dead. One wounded. Looks like he executed two of them," said an FBI guy wearing dark Ray-Ban sunglasses.
The first body, whose wrists were bound, was turned over.
"Hey, this is one of ours," said another FBI agent. The way he combed his jet-black hair made him look like a part-time Elvis impersonator.
The second body was checked.
"So is this one," said FBI Elvis.
FBI Elvis looked at the dead body, then jerked Sunny to his feet. "And just who the fuck are you?"
Sunny just stared at the man. "It looks like you were about a minute too late, Elvis." He had nothing more to say.
"Hold him. Hold him good." FBI Elvis backed up and kicked Sunny in the stomach.
Sunny fell to the ground gasping for breath.
The interrogation room was small, cramped, and hot. Sunny sat in a wooden chair next to a steel table. His left hand was cuffed to a bar in the wall. Two men entered the room. One wore dark Ray-Ban sunglasses. The other was FBI Elvis.
Sunny's stomach was sore. Looking from the shackle to the man who'd kicked him, he nodded. "I don't care who you are, asshole. Even like this, if you try a go at me again, I'm gonna fight back. So come on, if you think you're bad enough, Mr. FBI Elvis."
FBI Elvis's eyes lit up, his face turned red, and he tried to step forward but was quickly restrained by the other agent, who opened the door and pushed him out in one motion, slamming the door behind him.
He yanked off his sunglasses, then stalked over and got nose to nose with Sunny. "You've already been read your rights, but you still want to play stupid and tough." He looked back at the door. "I wanted to let him beat you, hell I'd help. I'm old school. He's old school. But I can't. The rules even apply to you. Here in America we really do have rules of law--and my people will follow them, old school or not, like it or not. That's if you cooperate. Otherwise, I can always call him back in and leave you cuffed." He took a step back and glared down on Sunny. "Right now I got four dead bodies on my hands, and one critical. Two of my UCs are dead; executed, all killed by the same gun. Everyone witnessed that you were the one holding that smoking gun in your hand."
"I didn't kill all of them. Not your boys at least." Sunny glared at him. "And just who do you think I am?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out. Who are you?"
"Who are you?"
Mr. Ray-Ban glared at Sunny. "Rob Rose, FBI agent in charge of this op."
"Well, Mr. Rob Rose, old school FBI agent in charge, I'm just a working stiff with a possible blown cover."
"Oh yeah, really?" Rose grinned wide. "Okay. I'll play along. You're CIA, right?"
Sunny shook his head. "Mossad."
Rose grinned wider. "Ah, the Institute. Great! Even better. Now that's original, a terrorist mole coming from the Jews. There are a lot of legal boundaries to cross and more details to check out. So now what? Are you going to cry for a lawyer, too?"
"I just want to get the fuck out of here."
"So, are you going to talk?"
"First get a guy named Frank Delgado here."
"Delgado, who's he?" Rose asked.
"My handler. The only thing I really know about him is that his name isn't Frank Delgado. I would guess that you'll find him listed somewhere in your own secret yellow pages." Sunny caught Rose's eyes rolling. "Hey, I'm not crazy. Go ahead. Make the call. It'll only take a minute, right? What have you got to lose?" He looked at the manacles. "I'm sure not going anywhere at the moment."
Rose peered into Sunny's ice-cold eyes. "Just who in the hell are you?"
Sunny smiled and raised his eyebrows. "Look, can I get something to eat and drink, please?"
Rose stood up and walked to the door. "I'm going to check it out."
He was gone for only a few minutes, then came rushing back in the room. He uncuffed Sunny, handed him a bottle of Pepsi, and said, "Damn! The orders I got from the top are that you will remain here until Mr. Delgado gets here, and I'm to make you comfortable."
"Food." Sunny rubbed his wrist. "And some air-conditioning."
The police station was bedlam. Cops were furious that an unannounced, uncoordinated, unsanctioned, then botched undercover FBI ops happened on their beat. The station suddenly filled with incensed federal agents who'd just lost two of their own and the arguments began. Everyone wanted a piece of the mystery man in Interrogation Room 3.
There was nothing to know or remember about Mr. Frank Delgado. He was just someone in the crowd, and the moment he walked into the police corridor, both Rose and the police commissioner hustled him into a side room.
It was over two hours later and a couple of thrown punches by lower-level players before any understandings were finally reached. Several secure phone calls to highly placed people had been made. The last one went directly to the White House. Delgado and Rose entered Interrogation Room 3 with some very shaky and tenuous understandings.
Rose looked hesitant. "Do you want to file assault charges on my second?"
Sunny looked confused. "On Elvis? For what?"
"Assault for kicking you back in the warehouse."
Sunny shook his head. "Two of yours were murdered, execution style. I'm just glad that he didn't put a few slugs in me. I would've done worse. You just tell Elvis that I said he kicks like a little girl and we're even."
Rose crossed his arms and gave a slow and satisfied nod. He knew that he was working with a kind of ally, but just what kind he intended to find out. "All right. Done. So, then, what went down back there?"
Delgado nodded to Sunny. "Go ahead, all we agreed that he has to know it too. Tell him."
Sunny looked at Rose. "First, I want to know something from you."
"How did you guys know two of your boys were compromised?"
"A tip-off. A tip that came too late."
"I see," Sunny said to Rose, then pointed toward Delgado. "Okay. Delgado came to see me in Israel while I was working a job for Mossad and went deep cover for the Shin Bet."
"What did you do for them?" Rose asked.
Sunny sat silent.
Delgado said, "It's okay. Start to finish."
"I was a kidon. I took out the trash."
Rose was incredulous. "Be more clear; you mean you were an assassin?"
"Yeah, but never on American soil." Sunny wanted to laugh at how fast the color drained from Rose's face. He hadn't even seen the tip of the iceberg. "See, I've worked on and off for Delgado and his company a whole bunch of times; freelance contracting and that sort of thing. He needed someone who knew Hamas and the PLO. It was his hunch that they had a chapter in New York working out of the Islamic Society Mosque.
"At the time I'd been working undercover in Palestine for the Jews on a two-year contract. It took over a year to penetrate; first I joined the Muslim Youth Association. I just mimicked their fair-haired boys, if you can call them that. I was in. From there I was recruited by Hamas."
Rose was hooked. "What did you do for them?"
Sunny glanced at Delgado, who nodded
"I was a rat killer. You know what that is?"
"Yeah. In prisons they're inmates who kill snitches or carry out vendettas."
"And who says that the Palestinians aren't in prison? You never woke up in Palestine, huh?" Sunny let out a humorless chuckle. "It worked out perfect for Mossad; if anyone was on their hit list, it was a double bonus day for them. If their own people were on the Hamas hit list, they were tipped off before it happened." He cupped his mouth and sighed. "But in a very short time I got totally burnt out on the Palestinian rubble and the constant murder. Hate and revenge is the way of life over there, but I don't have to tell you all that shit."
"When I went to Mossad they let me have what was left on his contract," Delgado interjected.
"So, I jumped at the chance to get out of there and go to New York." It was Sunny's turn to level with Rose. "See, Mr. Rob Rose, like you, I'm an American, a loyal one. The cover story I used when I went into Hamas was as a disgruntled Muslim American. I learned to speak the language well enough to blend in. I did a few hit jobs for Hamas Council against the Israelis. The killings were arranged by Mossad to look genuine. The Council bought the whole act. I was golden. After talking with Delgado I went back to the Hamas Council and told them that I was burnt out. At the time I had been their primary executioner. Hey, even they have burnout issues. So they bought my story and sent me to New York."
Rose leaned closer. "So what's the deal here?"
"Hamas uses credit card fraud and counterfeit money to build up a giant tobacco buy. Then they take the money to a tobacco connection in Raleigh and buy overproduced and unstamped brands of cigarettes from a crooked source producer.
"See, with the countless tons of tobacco they process twenty-four hours a day, all that the tobacco foreman has to do is let the machines run for an extra ten minutes longer than scheduled. Do you know how many cigarettes ten minutes can give you?"
"No." Rose shook his head.
"Millions of dollars' worth. Then they'd truck the loads and sell them to the Russian Mafia in New Jersey, tax-free. I know you've seen the kids on the street with their black trash bags full of cigarette cartons. They sell them for less than half of retail.
"With the genuine currency from the deal, Hamas then funnels the rest to secret accounts. They buy guns and munitions and bankroll their nasty activities. You'd be amazed at the weapons and munitions that can be bought online these days. It's starting to give arms dealers a bad name.
"Anyway, my sponsor here in New York is named Mustafa al Habib. It's his real name." Sunny eyed Rose. "He's the guy I wounded. See, I made my bones in Palestine and Mustafa treated me like his own brother. He put me in charge of the delivery of the cigarettes.
"So that's me for a couple of months, then today Mustafa picks me up and says that he had a list of rats in the organization. I ask him where, and he says in his head. Then he pulls out a .38 revolver and says that I'm the one that's going to put them out of action. It was back to rat killing.
"We got into a heavy argument because rat killing is exactly what I came to the mosque to get away from. I told him I would do it, but then I'd be going to the Council with a grievance.
"He backed off because he knew that he was overstepping his bounds. He said he'd do it, but I'd have to be a witness to it. I said okay. What else could I say?
"Your boys were already tied up and blindfolded when we got to the warehouse. They were ready to go, on their knees with two goons holding them there. I had no idea who they were. No one clued me in to a tandem operation. Nothing!
"Now here's the deal. A mock-execution isn't beyond these guys. I've seen them do it before. I've even been involved in them. It's used to test loyalty. Hell, the Mossad even does the same thing. Old school, right?"
Sunny looked at the floor. "It all happened so fast. We walk in, Mustafa puts the gun to one guy's head, pulls back the hammer, says to me that he's FBI. Bang! Brains and blood fly. As fast as that, he pops the second guy. I think, 'This guy's going to pop more of our guys,' and me too. So, forget the undercover; I got to stop this guy, you know?
"As soon as he turned toward me, I chopped him in his throat and grabbed the gun. I put a bullet in his leg and nailed the other two guys in the head." Sunny looked at Delgado, then Rose, and pursed his lips. "There. That's it. The next moment you guys were there, all over, about to nail me with the gun in my hand." He gave Rose a level look. "So how is it that you got to your guys too late?"
Rose looked sheepish. "We would've made it but . . ."
"But what?" Sunny got instantly pissed.
"We went to the wrong warehouse first."
"Figures. Well, I gave you Habib. I could've killed him. Now it's up to you to get the rest of the hit list out of him with your old school ways before any more of your guys go down. And unless you keep him on ice, my cover's blown--I'm dead. But at least your guys will be safe."
"You got anything else for us?" Delgado asked Rose.
Rose shook his head. "Yeah, everything he's said just raises more questions."
"Look. We already talked." Delgado's words were cold and precise. "Everyone's talked and it's all arranged. Don't you even try to pull some bullshit crap on me. He's outta here."
From the Paperback edition.