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Fire of the Prophet

Fire of the Prophet

by Earl Merkel

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Overview

Beck Casey must stop a blue-eyed terrorist from triggering a nuclear holocaust—in a pulse-pounding thriller that “hits you like a freight train” (Shane Gericke).
 
Former CIA op Beck Casey had thought he was done with the world of espionage and could comfortably settle into academia. But his country needs him—again. Nuclear terrorism poses an imminent threat to the United States, and to deal with this national security nightmare, Casey’s going to need all the help he can get.
 
A rising star in the FBI’s Counter-Terror Division, Jeffrey Connor has been tasked to lead a desperate hunt for the elusive “blue-eyed terrorist.” He also happens to be in love with DC lawyer Katie Casey, Beck’s beloved daughter.
 
Dennis Littrell is an ambitious journalist who’s just stumbled on a story that might save his nation and the world—or could lead to a devastating global conflict.
 
And then there is Fatima Huntsman, the daughter of a Palestinian activist and an American woman, now radicalized as a terrorist and armed with a nuclear device.
 
From its tense opening on the US/Mexican border and chilling portrayal of the human-smuggling trade through the war-torn Middle East to a climax in Washington, DC, as Armageddon looms, Fire of the Prophet “hits you like a freight train, then drags you along for the ride . . . [with] terrific writing, strong characters, and just plain excitement. Don’t miss it!” (Shane Gericke).


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626810143
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 12/01/2013
Series: The Beck Casey Thrillers , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 318
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

A former newspaper journalist, columnist and talk-radio host, during his career Earl has dodged gunfire, teargas canisters, and verbal brickbats as a journalist (and on occasion as a private citizen, having somehow annoyed armed or vocal strangers). As the “more” on the nationally broadcast talk-radio program Money & More, Earl left the money-talk to the experts. He admits that he’s far more comfortable in other areas —talking with authors, arguing current events and even simply cracking-wise — than he is dealing with financial matters.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

April 27 The Presidential Palace Islamabad, Pakistan

Yusef Mohammed Edlai shifted infinitesimally, an attempt to ease the strain of the flat strapping that all morning had cut into the bare flesh of his shoulders. The movement merely made it worse, turned a maddening irritation into a discomfort that bordered on real pain.

The straps were too thin; he had known it from the moment he had seen the harness, a makeshift arrangement of frayed nylon and flat, jury-rigged pouches of weather-worn canvas that once may have been the color of pale olives.

The man he knew as Ibrihim al-Bindir had noticed the expression cross Yusef's face and had dismissed it with a wave of his hand.

"Do not concern yourself, my brother," al-Bindir had said, in the oddly cadenced phrasing that the younger man suspected might have been Saudi in origin. "It will suffice for our mission."

An easy statement for him, Yusef now grumbled wordlessly to himself, though he was careful to keep his features impassive. It is not his shoulder — nor, for that matter, even his mission. Immediately, he shook off the thought as unworthy.

The line moved and Yusef shuffled forward with the rest of the queue. Even now, inside and away from the glare of the mid-morning sun, Yusef was aware that he was perspiring — though, he reassured himself, that was as much from the three undershirts he had donned as from any sense of anxiety. Had al-Bindir been there — not a likely occurrence, a voice within Yusef sneered, before he could stifle it — he would have dismissed that as of no concern either; Yusef's starched uniform blouse was still immaculate, the creases crisp. More important, the extra padding and the heavy starching helped to conceal any sign of the burden he carried underneath.

Yusef felt the press of the crowd around him in the hallway, heard the clamor of a language that was simultaneously familiar and foreign to his ears. For a moment, he longed for the softer lilt of the Punjabi spoken at home, in Kashmir. Here among his northern brothers, despite sharing both a Faith and a common heritage distinct from the detested Hindu who oppressed his homeland, the accent sounded strident, harsh, even hostile ...

"I said, your papers, Captain," a gruff voice repeated, startling Yusef from his thoughts. He looked up into the face of a middle-aged man with hard eyes. One hand was extended impatiently; the other rested on the folded stock of a paratrooper's H & K G3A4 that hung from a combat sling across the soldier's chest.

Yusef watched as the guard, a sergeant, examined his identity card with the intensity of a man come late to the written word. Finally, the soldier thrust it back to the officer and turned away as if to scan the crowded hallway.

Instantly, as if he had been waiting for a signal, a thin-faced youth appeared wearing a pinned armband embroidered with the double stripes of a brevet corporal. He gestured with the thick plastic wand he carried, an apologetic smile on his features.

Obediently, Yusef raised his arms to shoulder level and the guard quickly traced his outline with the scanner. As he did, the small green LED on the device flickered, then glowed scarlet; but no telltale electronic buzz sounded, and Yusef supposed that the audio alarm had been disabled.

For an instant, Yusef saw the guard's eyes flicker upward to meet his own steady stare. There was fear in the man, he saw, and something more; but the unspoken contact lasted only an instant.

Is he one of us? Yusef wondered. No; he has not the passion of a fedayeen. Merely a useful tool our friends here have coerced into doing this thing. But he serves the Faith, nonetheless.

Then the guard looked away, waving him through with a passable imitation of deference.

God is truly great, Yusef told himself, as a rush of what he was surprised to recognize as relief surged through his body. Still, his face betrayed no emotion as he pushed through the high double doors and into a room, lighted brightly by banks of miniature white-hot suns on thin metal stands.

Here, a throng of mostly Western journalists was tightly packed, milling about and fighting each other for position. Yusef glanced at them with disdain, but only briefly; as he elbowed through the horde of foreign parasites, his attention was on the pair elevated on a podium at the front of the room. There, they stood behind two lecterns festooned with colored cloth.

Behind the first speaking stand — the one draped in a green-and- white bunting that mirrored the miniature flag set next to the microphone — a short man in black-framed glasses spoke in reply to a question shouted from the floor. The dark green dress uniform he wore today was identical to that which clothed Yusef, save for the golden stars on the shoulder boards.

You need not risk too close an approach, Yusef heard al- Bandir's caution echo in his mind. It will suffice merely to be inside the conference room.

Still, Yusef wanted more, wanted at least to look into the eyes of this traitor who would today be his personal servant in Paradise. Perhaps there will even be an instant when this dog, this betrayer, will see me and recognize that he is helpless to deflect God's will. That is surely a thought to savor.

But it was the sight of the second person on the dais, standing behind a lectern swathed in the hated tri-color, which added a cold fury to Yusef's resolve. This one — a middle-aged man who stood, tall and patrician, with a stern dignity so pronounced that his expensive worsted suit seemed itself a uniform — embodied the Great Satan itself. As such, it was this infidel — rather, Yusef corrected himself, the corrupting Evil for which he is but a symbol — who was the real target in this room today.

Yusef pushed forward, forcing a path through the tightly packed journalists. Most of them appeared oblivious to his passage, caught up in their own jostle for position. But one — a whore of a woman whose cropped, flaming red hair was shamelessly uncovered — stood as if planted in his path. Yusef's chest rammed hard against her shoulder as he passed.

A little closer, Yusef told himself, a few paces more and I will be in ...

* * *

As a journalist, Annie Yarells was used to the chaotic rough-and- tumble of her chosen profession, where one fought for position and advantage regardless of age, infirmity, status or gender. Sometimes the battle was metaphoric — but not always, and never in a breaking- news situation such as the one she was covering today.

Annie had learned to push and shove with the best of her peers, throwing with equal enthusiasm both scrotal-withering glares and the occasional elbow, all the while recording every question and response in her omnipresent notebook. Her willingness to stake out and hold her ground had won her a grudging acceptance among her colleagues; but there was always some over-enthusiastic newbie on assignment, ready to challenge for Annie's turf.

So when a moving form crashed solidly into her — of course, just as the Secretary of State was about to respond to the Pakistani president's statement — Annie Yarells reacted automatically. She stutter-stepped to keep her balance; then, as he pushed past, she leaned back and whipped an elbow, hard into the interloper's vulnerable ribs.

Rather, to where they should have been.

Instead, her elbow smashed into something hard and metallic. Annie winced in sudden pain, almost dropping the notebook she held. For an instant, she glared at the starched-uniformed back, now already several feet away and moving steadily toward the podium.

Then Annie's mind processed what her body had recorded, passing it through the filters that five years in four Third World war zones had developed in her.

Her eyes opened wide, and she drew in a sharp, shuddering breath ...

* * *

Rockefeller Center NBC News New York City

Dennis Littrell's eyes squeezed shut, and he drew in a deep, shuddering breath. The yawn he could not quite stifle was not his first during what had become a long and uneventful day — nor, he was sure, would it be the last. It was quiet now, even though the newsgathering process at NBC never really ended. Still, with the Nightly News' West Coast broadcast now only a memory, and the Today Show early-arrivers just beginning to stir in the studio several floors below, the pressure was off, if only relatively.

And so he sat in the control room, where the satellite feeds from various bureaus around the world came in to be filtered, analyzed, edited.

Littrell enjoyed telling the younger staff here that they were watching history, though he was aware that the statement was more literal than most of them might otherwise have realized.

The signals — sent live via microwave from the scene to a geostationary satellite orbiting 22,000 miles overhead, relayed to yet another, then downlinked to the New York studios for processing and mix — took slightly more than 1.7 seconds to make the trip. What arrived here was an after-the-fact image, already part of the irretrievable past — a history doomed to be repeated, if only for technological reasons.

The thought never failed to bemuse Littrell, though it had worn painfully thin on the control room technicians and producers with whom he repeatedly had shared it.

"Not the same, is it?" a young-sounding voice broke into his reverie. "As being there, I mean."

Littrell's gaze did not move from the screen — one of a dozen monitors banked above the editing board in the large-but-mostly deserted control room.

"That's the problem," Littrell said. "It's almost exactly the same as being there."

Littrell gestured at a monitor that was screen-labeled Satellite Pool Feed Alpha; on it was a wide two-shot of the Pakistani president and the American Secretary of State. "These press briefings are dodo dances, Todd. You think either of those two are going to say anything unexpected? They're as scripted as your average Broadway play, just not as entertaining."

He glanced over at the young producer, whose expression betrayed the condescension all Young Turks feel for the Old Guard.

"C'mon, Denny," Todd Lieberman said, his tone carefully skeptical.

"You spent the past two decades out there. Are you saying you didn't get off on it?"

"I started in print journalism, Todd. Things like this —" Littrell jabbed a thumb at the scene on the monitor "— sure, you cover 'em; you have to. But the way it should work, you spend most of your time in the field, finding people who haven't read the script. When I moved over to the broadcast side, I found out what happens when you're tied to a camera and crew. Hauling around a fifty-pound pencil is a bitch, believe it; makes it tougher to find the real story, let alone tell it."

"So how come you didn't go back to newspapers? Or just freelance?"

"Stayed at the party too long. Got a little too used to the money."

Besides, he thought but did not say, there comes a time when you're a little too ...well, let's call it "seasoned" ... to keep playing Ernest Hemingway. If you're lucky, you figure that out yourself, before somebody else proves it to you first. If you're real lucky, somebody offers you a comfy little network desk job back in New York City, where the biggest danger is maybe dying of boredom.

Instead, he stitched a practiced, wry smile on his features as he studied the live video feed from Islamabad.

"Not that it's always that complicated a story," the veteran newsman added. "Take these two. Our SecState is the archetypal 'senior American diplomat;' he wants Pakistan to work harder in the 'war on terror.' Fat chance: most of Pakistan thinks September 11 should be celebrated as a national holiday. That includes the larger part of Pakistan's military and about all of its intelligence service. Hell, they're the guys who hid bin Laden for most of a decade. Before that, they set up the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan, back in the day. Half of 'em are still helping hide Islamic fighters — the whole damn western side of the country is teeming with 'em, out in the tribal badlands — and our guy there knows it."

The monitor had cut to a close-up of a short man in glasses and a uniform.

"Okay, Ali Khan here — he's a man walking a tightrope. Paki general, until he got himself 'elected' president. The country's economy sucks; without American aid, it would be in freefall. From a purely military standpoint, Khan wants to keep the U.S. relatively happy. See, right next door, India's always ready to open a can of whip-ass on Pakistan's butt —"

"Over Kashmir," Todd interrupted, and Littrell noted the barely contained impatience in the younger man's tone. "Both countries claim it. India says Pakistan trains and supplies terrorists from Kashmir, who come over the border and attack."

"I like a youngster who does his homework," Littrell said, smiling to take the sting from his words. "But it's a lot deeper than that, m'lad. Fundamentally, it's a religious war — Islam versus Hindu."

Involuntarily, the young producer winced, as if Littrell had told an off- color joke.

"Seems pretty secular to me, Denny," he offered, his voice cautious. "Both countries just want to own the same piece of land."

Littrell snorted. "Don't worry. I've been around too long to let anything like that get on the air. Politically correct bullshit aside — it takes religion to build this kind of long-term hatred. They've been at it since '47, when the Brits wised up and ran for the door. A Muslim shot Ghandi, for cryin' out loud; before the dust settled from that, half a million Hindus and Muslims were dead too. Jesus Christ, neither side can forgive the other for existing! That's why every attempt to 'normalize' relations goes in the toilet. Being at each others' throats is the norm there."

The young producer nodded at the monitor. "He's over there to help the Pakistan government broker a new cease-fire, and that's progress for —"

Littrell waved a hand dismissively. "Sure, sure. And last year they made a big stir about a 'history-making breakthrough' on another treaty. All that happened was they played a couple of cricket games while India rushed through the finishing touches on a big electrified fence walling off its part of Kashmir. That put an end to those talks pretty damned fast."

"At least he's trying."

"Been tried before, Todd; never works. Hell, how many times was Powell over there when he was SecState? Remember Condi Rice and her initiatives? Hillary? We know how much good all that did. Nope — fifty years, there's hardly been a week that these two haven't been sending artillery rounds back and forth over the border. These days, of course, both of them have nukes — and came within a hair of using them back in May of '03. Sooner or later, one of them will."

Littrell rubbed his eyes. "But don't expect to hear much about it from these two; today's event is strictly for laughs. Hell, only reason I'm watching is to see some of my ol' buddies in the press corps. They'll besticking fingers in each other's eyes to get closer to the stage. Best part of the show."

Littrell grinned suddenly and pointed to a monitor labeled B- Roll/Offline/Live SatFeed Delta. It was displaying cutaway footage of the assembled journalists, most of whom were gesturing wildly for the attention of the two principals. At the lower corner of the screen, a redheaded woman had just been bumped hard by a figure clad in the deep green of the Pakistani army.

"Catch that? The lady is Annie Yarells, lately of the Chicago Tribune. Sharpest elbow in the business, Todd."

He laughed, and leaned forward. "Whoa — she just tried to coldcock the guy who ran into her. You know, you have to get a little psycho to be a foreign correspondent, but Annie's even worse than most of ... Christ, look at that! She's chasing the guy ..."

* * *

Islamabad, Pakistan

They would not listen, none of them would, despite her shouted warnings — but Annie Yarells had seen violence often during her career. She had steeled herself not to shrink from it, even to embrace it when necessary.

She flung herself forward, thrusting herself into the wake left by the uniform-clad figure before her. She knew that she was still shouting, still screaming her warning; but now it, as well as the other clamor of the room, seemed distant to her ears.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Fire Of The Prophet"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Earl Merkel.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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