Authors: Ben Coes
“He was on a cell list of one of the tertiaries in the Dahab, Egypt, bombings in ’06,” said Calibrisi. “Nothing proven, just a phone number. Your predecessor freed him, Mr. President.”
“That was nice of him,” said President Allaire. “What’d we find in the minivan? Explosives?”
“The car was clean,” said Nova.
“Which means what?” asked Lindsay, the secretary of state.
“It could mean anything,” said Nova. “It’s too early to know.”
“Where is he now?” asked Jessica.
“We flew him to Amman,” said Calibrisi, the director of the CIA. “We conducted a pharma package aboard the C-130, but he stayed silent. Obviously, we need to find out if there’s an imminent threat here.”
“Is he talking?” asked President Allaire.
“Not yet,” said Calibrisi. “Jordanian intelligence is working the prisoner. I’ll report back if they surface anything material.”
“Let’s go to Pakistan,” said Jessica.
Jessica nodded to Calibrisi, the CIA chief, who was seated across from her.
“The summit in Tehran ended three hours ago,” said Calibrisi. “This was the first meeting between Pakistan’s new president, Omar El-Khayab, and Mahmoud Iqbar, Iran’s president.”
“What came out of it, other than the usual rhetoric?” asked the president.
“Iqbar and El-Khayab signed a treaty,” said Elm. “They’re calling it the ‘Mutual Cooperation and Permanent Friendship Document.’ It’s an economic and military alliance between Pakistan and Iran, technology sharing, planned war games, et cetera.”
“We expected this, right, Jeff?” asked President Allaire.
“Yes. In fact we’d already seen a draft of the ‘treaty,’ if you want to call it that, thanks to NSA. But there is a material alteration between that draft and what came out. For the first time, Pakistan has agreed to assist the Iranians in the development of their nuclear program.”
“This isn’t a surprise,” said President Allaire.
“We’ve worked very hard to prevent this from occurring,” said Secretary of State Lindsay. “The significance lies in the public statement. They’re flouting the Russians. The Pakistanis and Iranians are asserting themselves. It is a new and emboldened stance. We have no way of knowing where a unified, radicalized Middle East could go, especially with nuclear weapons and the knowledge and infrastructure to supply chain warheads.”
“The Iranians now have enough yellowcake to manufacture thirty to forty weapons,” said Calibrisi.
“Where’s Musharraf when we need him?” remarked the president, shaking his head.
“What are we picking up?” asked Jessica, looking at Piper Redgrave, the NSA chief.
“We picked up one significant thread involving India, a conversation at a restaurant on the third evening of the summit,” said Redgrave. “Two high-level Pakistan security officials. We’ll need to brief New Delhi as soon as possible. Lashkar-e-Taiba has two large kill cells, one in New Delhi and the other in Mumbai. There was significant discussion among the Pakistanis about targets, infrastructure and people. It’s clear they’re planning a strike using Lashkar-e-Taiba.”
“I’ll call Indra Singh after the meeting,” said Jessica.
“There’s something else,” said Calibrisi. “Aswan Fortuna was seen at the conference, inside Tehran. We confirmed that one of his Gulfstreams was at the airport. They parked it in a hangar but one of the Reapers we had overhead snapped a photo of it before they got it under cover.”
Jessica leaned forward in her seat. “Obviously, it couldn’t have been coincidental.”
“Definitely not,” said Calibrisi. “Fortuna was apparently involved in several meetings between El-Khayab and Mahmoud Iqbar, the president of Iran. He’s close to El-Khayab. As we all know, he helped to organize and fund the radical cleric’s run for the Pakistani presidency. He spent at least twenty-five million dollars to get him elected last year. He believes El-Khayab is the Second Coming of Ayatollah Khomeini.”
“How old is Aswan Fortuna?” asked President Allaire. “I mean, not to sound too blunt here, but shouldn’t he be dying one of these days?”
“He’s seventy-five years old,” said Calibrisi. “And if we had any luck, he’d be dead already, sir. It would be a crying shame if this guy died from old age.”
“How much of his son’s fortune is still floating around?” asked Lindsay.
“When we killed Alexander Fortuna, we were able to freeze more than twenty billion dollars that he had scattered about in various accounts,” said Jessica. “Switzerland, Abu Dhabi, England, even the U.S. But he had at least ten billion more than that. Most, if not all, is controlled by Aswan now.”
“Why would we not have taken the opportunity to, well, to reduce his presence?” asked Lindsay.
“You mean to kill him?” asked Calibrisi. “There’s a presidential directive allowing us to target and remove Fortuna as well as his son, Nebuchar. We’re allowed to say that, Mr. Secretary.”
“You had him pinpointed in Tehran?” asked Lindsay.
“We took the photos by drone,” said Calibrisi. “This has been the debate. Kill Aswan Fortuna and what happens next? I would happily order one of my kill teams to take him out or have one of my Reapers turn him into an ink stain. But we had all better be prepared for the consequences.”
“We have significant tracking measures in place,” said Jessica, looking at Lindsay, then the president. “We know where most of his money is, where it’s going. If we kill Aswan Fortuna there is no way of knowing what will happen next. It will be chaos. Look at what bin Laden did with two hundred million. Aswan Fortuna has somewhere between eight billion and twelve billion dollars.”
“That’s fine, Jess,” said the president. “But we can’t just sit back and watch him spend it. That’s tantamount to not knowing about it.”
“Jessica’s right, Mr. President,” said Calibrisi, looking at Jessica. “If we take out Fortuna right now it will be chaos, especially when you look at Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is a cheap fuck, excuse my language. He’s sprinkling the insurgents and various jihadist splinters with a few million here, a few million there. If he’s gone, we could be talking about fighting against an enemy, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with as much money in the theater as the U.S. And remember, these nut jobs don’t need cotton sheets and flush toilets like we do. They can go a lot farther on a buck. Right now, we’re better off with an avaricious Aswan Fortuna alive than with ten billion on the street. His largest investment to date was in El-Khayab’s election.”
“We now have a radical Islamist as the democratically elected president of the sixth most populous country in the world,” said President Allaire. “A country with a nuclear weapons arsenal. A strong ally of China. Next to a country they’ve vowed to destroy, India, which, by the way, is a U.S. ally and a key piece of our regional strategy to thwart radical jihad. If Fortuna had been killed a year ago, El-Khayab wouldn’t be president of Pakistan.”
“It would’ve been hard to kill Aswan Fortuna a year ago, Mr. President,” said Calibrisi. “Just to remind everyone, he went dark following his son’s death. We would’ve had to invade Lebanon to find the guy. Even now it wouldn’t be a straightforward operation. He moves around the hills above Beirut on a nightly basis. He has a series of tunnels and safe houses spread over a couple hundred square miles. He’s guarded by a small battalion of Al-Muqawama. We would have to just saturate those hills with bombs. The toll in civilian casualties would be tremendous.”
“But it sounds like we could’ve killed him in the past twenty-four hours,” said John Nova, the secretary of Homeland Security. “Is that right?”
“Yes, John,” said Jessica. “But El-Khayab would still be president of Pakistan. Iqbar would still be president of Iran. It wouldn’t change a thing.”
“The point is,” said the president sharply, looking at Jessica, “there was no discussion. No debate. I should have been told we had the guy in the crosshairs. We could’ve still determined not to take him out.”
“So that’s how we want to conduct strategy against the terrorists?” asked Jessica, not backing down an inch, looking first at John Nova, then the president. “Seat of the pants? ‘Hey, Mr. President, I’ve got Aswan Fortuna on radar. Should I kill him?’ Is that what you want?” Jessica paused, held the floor, looked around the Oval Office. “We have a policy. That policy is established. The policy is: leave Fortuna alive. Listen to him. Watch him. Track him. Avoid the potentially greater danger of his substantial resources being dispersed across the jihad infrastructure. We can change the policy. We can change it right here, right now. But we shouldn’t change the policy just because we suddenly have the guy in the crosshairs.”
The room was silent. The president, slightly chastened, looked at Jessica sternly. Then, a slight grin came across his face.
“You’re right, Jess,” said President Allaire. “As usual. We do have a policy. It’s the correct policy, for now. But I would like to review it. I want to know where Fortuna’s money is. If we can identify the location of enough of it, isolate it, build contingency around what happens if he’s gone, does it make sense to reassess the policy and remove him?”
“The timing for a review makes sense,” said Jessica.
“For the first time in nearly a year we are tracking him in real time,” said Calibrisi. “Thanks to the sighting in Tehran, we now have redundancy between the air and ground. We should be able to keep him under tight surveillance.”
The president nodded. “Anything else?” he asked, looking at Jessica.
“Nothing urgent,” she answered.
“Okay, that’s a wrap,” said Allaire. He stood up. “See you at noon.”
The daily briefing broke up, and everyone except the president left the Oval Office.
In the hallway outside the Oval Office, Jessica felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned. Hector Calibrisi, the CIA director, looked at her. He nodded, indicating he needed to speak with her. When the rest of the national security directorate passed by, she stepped forward and stood in front of Calibrisi.
“I need to talk,” said Calibrisi. “I have some information I think you need to hear. It won’t take long.”
“Let’s go to my office,” said Jessica.
Calibrisi followed Jessica down the low-ceiling hallway to her office suite in the West Wing. Jessica’s corner office had large windows that looked out onto West Executive Avenue and the Old Executive Office Building. Snow fell in wind-driven gusts against the windows.
“What is it?” Jessica asked as she stepped around her desk and sat down. “Sit down.”
Calibrisi remained standing. “It’s about Dewey.”
Jessica leaned back in her chair. She smiled at Calibrisi. She looked down at her desk. Then her eye drifted to the mint-green-colored wall behind Calibrisi’s head. A framed photo hung of her standing next to Dewey as the president hung the Medal of Freedom around his neck. She hadn’t seen him or talked to him in more than a year. In the days and weeks following Dewey’s killing of Alexander Fortuna, she had tried to convince him to join her at the White House, or the CIA. But he didn’t want any of it.
Jessica, about to take a sip from her coffee cup, paused. “Yeah, what about him?” she asked as she took a sip. “He’s gone. I don’t know where he is.”
“We both know he’s in Australia, Jess. I’m not a fucking idiot. Someone on Aswan Fortuna’s security team in Tehran said more than he should have to an informant we have inside VEVAK. Fortuna has men in Australia. They’re looking for Dewey and they’re getting closer. I thought you’d want to know. What you do with it is up to you.”
Jessica was silent for a moment. “When you say men…”
“Kill teams. Highly trained operatives. Al-Muqawama, the paramilitary wing of Hezbollah. They’re scouring the earth for Dewey. Fortuna wants revenge for the death of his son, Alexander. We know he’s posted a bounty of a hundred million dollars, but that’s old news. This is new. I read Echelon scans going back a month. The information from the Iranian informant corroborates an unexplained incident a week ago. Australian Federal Police arrested two Arabs in a car driving outside of Melbourne on the seventeenth. They were weaponed up and they had a bunch of biograph on Dewey; photos, news clips. They literally had four million dollars in cash in the trunk of the car they were driving.”
“Where are they now?”
“It was a shit show: one of the men popped a cyanide pill before they could even get the cuffs on. They got some information out of the other one but when they gave him a bathroom break he garroted himself with an electrical wire he tore out of the wall.”
“My God,” Jessica gasped.
“They don’t know where he is yet,” said Calibrisi. “They spent some money in Sydney buying what turned out to be false information. They know he’s in Australia and they have a lot of money. It’s only a matter of time before they find him.”
“How many are there?”
“AFP doesn’t know. That was one team. There could be others. There probably
others. By the way, I didn’t let AFP know Dewey was even in-country. If Fortuna’s offering suitcases full of cash for information, I didn’t want to run the risk of inadvertently helping them.”
Calibrisi noted the look of concern on Jessica’s face.
“I haven’t spoken with him in over a year, Hector,” she said.
“Well, maybe it’s time you did.”
“Yeah, sure. If I called and told Dewey that Fortuna had men looking for him he’d laugh. It would make him happy.”
Calibrisi showed no facial expression. Like the gentleman he was, he didn’t wait around to try and read her emotions.
“I just wanted you to know, Jess. That’s all.” Calibrisi turned and moved toward the door. He paused and looked at the photograph on the wall, of Dewey, Jessica, and President Allaire.
“Do you know where he is?” she asked as his hand touched the doorknob.
“He’s working on a ranch in Queensland.”
“Do you know which one?”
“You do remember what I do for a living, right?” Calibrisi asked, grinning. “You want a phone number?”
“You got it. I’ll shoot it over to you.”
“Thank you, Hector.”
When Calibrisi left, Jessica stood up and walked to the door, shut it, then stood for a moment and leaned against the door. She shut her eyes and stood still. Then she walked back to her desk. She sat down and stared at the phone. She leaned down and opened the middle drawer of her desk. She pulled a small frame from the desk. It was a sterling silver frame. Inside the frame was a photograph of her and Dewey, his arm around her shoulders. They were both smiling. It had been taken outside the Carlyle Hotel in New York City just before he left. Jessica stared at the photograph. She wondered what Dewey looked like now. Was his hair long? Did he have a beard? Was he happy? Did he, well, did he love someone, someone else, that is?