Authors: Brian Haig
The President’s Assassin
Man in the Middle
The events and characters in this book are fictitious. Certain real locations and public figures are mentioned, but all other characters and events described in the book are totally imaginary.
Copyright © 2010 by Brian Haig
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Grand Central Publishing
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
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First eBook Edition: August 2010
Brian, Pat, Donnie, Annie
Special thanks to:
My family for their love and support… and especially the kids for mostly behaving while I wrote this book.
My good friend and agent, Luke Janklow.
Everybody at Grand Central Publishing for everything they do.1
bdallah shuffled and squirmed a little deeper into the dark, dirty culvert. The day was hot, almost blisteringly so, though slightly more bearable in here. He drew a deep breath of air, cupped his ears, and listened hard for the noise of loud engines.
Hadi, his best friend of twelve years, and currently his partner in crime, was holed up in a room on the third floor of a large building abandoned during the bombings, then gutted and neglected ever since. For generations, the building had belonged to the Fadithi clan, a private enclave surrounded by lush gardens nurtured and tended by half a dozen workers.
The Fadithis were richer than anybody; they rarely slipped a chance to let you know it, either. Big, fancy imported cars, scholarly tutors for their tribe of rottenly spoiled kids, and they escaped every summer to long, luxurious vacations in the cool hills of Lebanon.
The farthest Hadi had ever traveled was to the tiny village two miles to the south, a tiny lump of dirt-infested squalor that bore a disappointing resemblance to his own sad pile of dust and concrete.
Local lore had it the Fadithis had fled out of their house during one of the American air raids and blindly dodged straight into an American bomb. Like that—boom—pulverized into mist, the
richest family in town, nothing more than a revolting smear on the street.
Inside two days, the big building hosted a raucous neighborhood bash—the furniture, the clothing, the wiring, the heaters from the backyard, even the windows torn out and hauled off by the laughing neighbors.
Allah did indeed have a cruel but just side.
Abdallah and Hadi had rehearsed this stunt the day before, a brief run-through before their attention shifted to a pickup soccer game three blocks down and they spent the remainder of the afternoon booting around a ball given to the neighborhood boys by one of the American invaders, a large man in dark glasses with a fierce sunburn and a bright smile loaded with phoniness. The ball had a queer shape. It quickly proved worthless, like somebody had grabbed it at both ends and tugged so hard that it never snapped back. With each kick, it flew off in weird directions, bouncing and bobbling and skittering in the dust. What a hoot.
Americans! Whatever made them believe they could conquer and rule this country when they couldn’t even design a workable soccer ball?
Abdallah gently fingered the device in his right hand—a trigger, the man who provided it had called it. Didn’t look like a gun trigger, though: Abdallah had seen plenty of those, he bragged to the man, and this, well, no, this definitely wasn’t a trigger. The man got mad, poked him with a mean finger in the stomach, and reminded him who was paying the money; it was whatever he decided to call it. Well, whatever it was, the funny device fit cleanly into the palm of Abdallah’s small fist. It was not in any way he could see connected to the big bomb stuffed inside the large garbage barrel beside the road. No wires, no fuse, nothing. But the man swore the slightest squeeze would produce a terrible explosion.
And afterward, he warned with a deep scowl, Abdallah had better drop the trigger and scatter as fast as his chubby legs would carry him.
The man doing all the talking, Mustafa, was a two-bit loser who
had rolled in and out of Saddam’s prisons with disturbing frequency. He had tried his hand at forgery, bribery, holdups, a little drug dealing, and failed pathetically at all of them.
Mustafa’s last incompetent attempt at crime was a harebrained holdup at a local shop that ended badly and was still the topic of great laughter among the old men at the local tea shop. The shopkeeper leaped over the counter, easily took the knife out of Mustafa’s hand, and stuffed it in Mustafa’s leg. Mustafa howled and bled, and tried his damnedest to crawl away. The shopkeeper sat on his back and slapped him on the head till the cops showed.
In consideration of all his past illicit deeds, Mustafa got twenty long ones in Abu Ghraib, far and away the most appalling sewer in Saddam’s sprawling prison system. Few survived even ten years there, and Mustafa, being small and definitely unlikable, was deemed less likely than most to make it to the other end. The village breathed a sigh of relief and thought it had seen the last of him.
Allah, though, in his infinite wisdom, had other paths for the small-time hood. Only six months later, in the hard, tense weeks leading up to the American invasion, Mustafa found himself dumped back onto the streets along with all the other crooks, pimps, and kidnappers—a gift from Saddam for the Americans.
They might win, but they would regret it.
Mustafa emerged a new man. A reformed man. Amazing what a few brief months could accomplish. He now sported a thick black beard and called himself an Islamic warrior, a patriot, a freedom fighter dedicated to ridding Iraq of its loathsome invaders. He took to carrying around the Koran though it was well-known that he couldn’t read a whit. Turned out Mustafa had met new friends in prison, generous sorts, men who weren’t picky and happily paid three thousand American bucks for every American he killed. Five thousand if the corpse happened to be an officer.
Mustafa wasn’t into the killing game himself. Subcontracting was his preferred method—in truth, his only method—primarily using small kids to handle the dirty work. He was particularly partial to street orphans, like Abdallah and Hadi, who brought along
a few big advantages. They were poor and indescribably desperate, for one thing. They came without baggage, for another—no pissed-off parents, no angry brothers, no vengeful uncles or clans to worry about when things went wrong.
And in Mustafa’s case, things often went wrong.
Abdallah glanced up. Hadi was furiously waving with one hand, pointing wildly to his left with the other. This wasn’t the signal they had agreed to, not even close. Hadi, though, was only twelve, small for his age, slightly daft, and tended to get carried away at moments like this. At thirteen, Abdallah was far the more seasoned, cooler, and ambitious of the pair. It was he who had talked Hadi into this little job. Hadi put on a good front, though it was obvious he was scared out of his wits and well over his head. Abdallah had to keep reminding him that Mustafa had promised five hundred dollars if they pulled this off, a fortune they would split fifty-fifty.
The bounty for dead Americans was six hundred, Mustafa swore, and out of fairness—he was a religious man after all—he would limit his own share to a paltry one hundred. But five hundred, theirs to keep, all for squeezing the tiny device in his hand. Easy money.
A few local boys warned them that Mustafa was a notorious cheat and was getting much more than that. Who cared? Five hundred was a fortune. They would eat well for a year.
Captain Bill Forrest munched loudly from a bag of Lay’s barbecue potato chips. He washed them down with deep sips from a bottled water that, over the past twenty minutes, had gone from lukewarm to nearly a boil. The day was a scorcher, never dipping below 115 degrees. He was aching to get out of the body armor, aching to catch up on his sleep, aching for the tour to be over. He dreamed of air-conditioning, of cold ice cream, of long walks in cool woods without anybody shooting or trying their damnedest to blow him up.
The idea of a week without sweat—or explosions—was almost more than he could imagine. He was trying his best, however.
“Two more weeks of this crap,” his driver, Private Teddy Davis, loudly complained, banging a hand hard off the steering wheel. “Know what I’m gonna do the second I get back to the world?”
“Pretty sure I do.” Forrest crunched loudly on another chip. Why ask? Same thing every single guy in the unit was swearing to do. Look for naked ladies. Fat, ugly, skinny, didn’t matter—female and disrobed in any shape or form would do the trick. “Keep your eyes on the roadsides, Davis.”
The driver stared straight ahead, and so did his brain. “There’s this girly house, sir. Just three short blocks from the front gate. Gorgeous ladies. They strip down to nothin’, I hear.”
“Sounds promising. Then what?”
“Then, well, I dunno.” Good question, he realized. “What’re you gonna do?”
“I’m married, right?”
“So first I’m gonna spend a few minutes playing with my two pretty little girls.”
“Sounds fun,” Davis commented, not meaning a word of it.
“Then, well, then I’m gonna take their pretty momma upstairs, lock the bedroom door, and play with her, too.” The captain smiled and Davis couldn’t resist joining him.
Bill Forrest was twenty-nine, a big man with broad dark features and thick dark hair, who had played linebacker in college, at Notre Dame, a fact that thoroughly impressed his men. On a lark, between football and classes, he had dabbled a little in ROTC in college. And though his degree was in finance, with an ambition to get seriously rich, and despite no tradition of military service in his family, he had enjoyed the military camaraderie and decided to try his hand at infantry life for a few fast years. Brief years, he had promised himself.
The last day of the third year, it was sayonara, boys, on to Wall Street.
The money would come, later.
Senior year he had married Janet, the hottest property in South Bend that year, or, for that matter, any other year anybody could
remember. Janet was blonde, lovely, and quite pregnant by graduation, then almost immediately pregnant again, spitting out two pretty blonde-haired girls ten months apart, Irish twins, which seemed quite fitting for a pair of hard-knuckle Notre Dame grads.