Spy Thriller: The Fourteenth Protocol: A Story of Espionage and Counter-terrorism (The Special Agent Jana Baker Book Series 1) (9 page)

 

 

17
             
 

Jana Baker had been on the FBI’s counterterrorism squad for just a few months. The truth was, she was a rookie, fresh out of Quantico. Atlanta was a prized assignment to new trainees, and she was excited beyond words to be there. The city was vibrant, clean, and a hell of a lot more affordable than other places. There were no easy assignments in the FBI, but some duty stations were worse than others. Detroit was dreaded. And even New York City, which carried so much appeal, was so expensive that agents routinely lived ninety minutes away. No, Atlanta was a prize. It beat the hell out of Brownsville, Texas, that’s for sure.

A multi-year stack of transfer requests hung over the Atlanta field office. But this particular field office was short on young female agents. Some surveillance roles desperately needed a female to play the part. As an agent on the counterterrorism squad, she spent much of her time assigned to track suspected terrorists, or those that might sponsor them. Although the bureau would never have said it publicly, they not only needed a female, they needed a young, attractive female to fit into some undercover assignments.

Jana hadn’t thought of this type of work while in college, but she inadvertently created the perfect background for just such a career. Her major in accounting gave her a decided advantage over other applicants. She spoke fluent Spanish after years of high school and college classes. And she was a marathon runner; the bureau loved athletic applicants. After all, this was the FBI, not some charm school.

Even though she never considered a career in federal law enforcement, the truth was, she was exhilarated by it. Counterterrorism was the pinnacle unit within the bureau, and she wasn’t about to screw it up. Just after she arrived in Atlanta, the office had received a call from a Homeland Security agent who interviewed a Saudi Arabian citizen named Waseem Jarrah as he entered the country in New York. He wasn’t on a watch list, but the agent didn’t like some of the answers to questions he provided. There was nothing illegal about his entry, and they had no choice but to release him from the customs holding area at La Guardia. The agent called the FBI because of what he called “a hunch.” The bureau had made a few mistakes of late in not following up on potential terror leads and so had tightened its stance on suspicious persons.

New agents typically work with a senior trainer, but Jana was ready to be out on her own, particularly where surveillance was concerned. Waseem Jarrah was her first solo assignment. She was the one to field the call from Homeland Security, and since this suspect was a “no-priority,” her shift supervisor gave her the green light. After all, he figured this would be a good case for a rookie to start on. He told her he wanted solid background work. Where did Jarrah come from? What was his real name? Who were his associates? Where was he going? Who was he meeting with? Arriving from Saudi Arabia on an Air Emirates flight didn’t exactly win him points with Homeland Security. It would be Jana’s job to fill in the blanks.

The high sun created a glare across the closely mowed grass of the baseball field. She watched the men as they stood on the pitcher’s mound facing each other. Baker looked for anything to exchange hands and needed to find out who this Jamaican-looking male was, his neck draped in long dreadlocks. As she slipped the small earphones over her head, she looked more like she was listening to music than working a terrorist suspect. Aiming the laser mic, she strained to hear the conversation through her headphones. The light breeze caused some distortion, but she double checked and found the mic was working properly. She didn’t want to return to the office and have nothing to show for it. The camera shutter discharged once, twice, then several times in rapid succession. The two men paid her no attention. She was too far away. The breeze eased, and the conversation became clear in the headset.

“. . . and der ain’ gonna be no more o’ dis bullshit, mon. You got me?” said the tall Rastafarian.

“No bullshit?” replied Waseem Jarrah. “What the hell are you talking about? Your money is being used for exactly what we said it would be. You wanted people to die? People are dying. You wanted people to panic; people are panicking. The eleventh strike of our jihad happened yesterday morning. Perhaps you’ve heard about it?” Waseem said, his impatience beginning to boil. The Tucson bombing had been splashed across every news outlet in the country. “And something else. I told you we exemplify precision. No one can hit like this. Eleven events in eleven months. Precision. And did you notice the timing of the events? They are cycling down,” needled Waseem. “Each occurring one day sooner than the last. These pigs will panic once they figure that out.”

Jana’s heart leapt into her throat. She could barely believe what she was hearing.

“Oh. So de timin’ of de bombin’s goin’ to put de fear o’ God in dem, heh?” replied Bastian, pounding a finger into Waseem’s chest.

“Back off me, motherfucker. Not only does each bombing happen one day closer than the last, they happen one hour, one minute, and one second earlier than the last. Just watch and see. The media will get hold of that piece of information, and it will spread like a wave of panic across this armpit of a country. You just wait. They’ll have a countdown to the next bombing. Everyone will know exactly when it will happen, but no one will know where. The pigs will be so scared, they won’t even leave their houses. Commerce will stop, and commerce is what moves the beast.”

But the Jamaican, Bastian, was not impressed. “I was lookin’ far a little bigger bang for de buck, mon.” His anger was apparent. “Your timin’ of little bombs, heh? We be up to one million dollars US. Dat’s a lot of green. Could buy me a lot o’ ganja for dat mon,” he said. “I tol’ your man dat I was lookin’ for revenge in a beeg way.”

In the excitement, Agent Baker strained to hear over her heavy breathing. “Holy Christ!” she said out loud, quickly stopping herself, afraid her excitement would be on the recording. It was like adrenaline mixed with crack cocaine and sex all wrapped up into one euphoria. She almost didn’t know what to do.

“And where de hell is Rashid, anyway?” continued Bastian.

“Rashid”—Waseem yawned—“ah, yes, Rashid.” Waseem squinted across into right field. “Well, Rashid is the reason you are talking to me right now, isn’t it?”

“Tell me what I don’t know, mon,” said Bastian. “Where de hell is he? I tol’ him de bank was gonna run dry unless he put me onto the sons o’ bitches what could make a decision. I suppose dat’s you? Are you Meestah Beeg Shot? I was sick a talkin’ to a message delivery ser-veece. But de fact is, I don’ truss you, mon. You don’ look like you know your ass from a hole in de wall.”

Waseem’s glare pierced. “Rashid will not be joining us.” The words ricocheted out of his mouth like spitfire. “As these pagan-worshiping Christians would say, Rashid received his ‘calling.’ We invited him to go to a little town in the southwest. A little place called Tucson. He performed admirably. However, his usefulness is now scattered across a Little League ball field, not unlike this one.”

Jana’s camera clicked repeatedly as she struggled against shaking hands.

Bastian’s only response was a glare. His earlier contact, Rashid, was dead. He knew he was now dealing with what he was looking for: a decision maker. Having slowly given chunks of money to the terrorist organization, he had worked his way up to the level of the real players, the ones who controlled the smaller terror cells that had spread across the United States like a cancer seeding itself in an unknowing body—quiet, patient, then deadly.

 

 

18
             
 

Cade got into work early on Monday. As much as he dreaded it, he knew today was D-Day. It was time to start working on the seventeenth floor, what he had not-so-affectionately began to call “Red October,” named after the famed Russian submarine movie. He grabbed a cardboard box from the copy room and emptied his desk contents, not that there was that much to grab.

Whitmore walked over but stopped short. “What the . . . ? What are you doing? Wait a minute, there’s no way they fired you! Well, you can just kiss my gay white ass if they think they can fire you! You know, I’m so sick of this crap!”

Cade held up his hands, already laughing. Just like old Whitmore to get all spun up about something that he didn’t yet understand.

“No, no. Dude, relax. I’m not fired.” Cade’s scrunched face foretold that whatever he was about to say, he wasn’t happy about. “I’ve been moved upstairs. I’ve got to go work on DEFCON 4 up on seventeen. I guess you can tell I’m thrilled about it.”

“Seventeen? What the hell do they want with you up there?” The heavy emphasis made it sound like Cade was not “upper-floor” material. “I mean, not that you’re not good enough or something. You know, I mean I’m sure they think you’re good at your job and all, I just meant . . .”

“Whitmore, Whitmore, Whitmore. Slow down there, Mr. McBacktracker. I’m sure they think I’m okay at my job. No, that’s not it. I just got called up there last week, and they were in a big mess. But honestly, I don’t know why they want me. I didn’t fix anything. It was like, I found out what was going wrong, but before I could do anything about it, the e-mail send job was over anyway, and they sent me out.”

Whitmore said, “So what was the big deal they couldn’t fix themselves? What, was it some big important e-mail or something?”

Cade didn’t want to say too much, but he also hated being evasive. “Oh, I don’t know. I’m sure it was some critical e-mail job that alerted customers to the 5 percent off sale at Penney’s or something. I never even saw the e-mail content. I don’t know what happened. Whoever normally worked up there wasn’t around, so they came and grabbed me. Now that I think about it, I wonder what happened to the other guy.”

“Well, if you find a big box up there full of body parts, let me know; I’ll help you move it,” said Whitmore grinning.

“Hey, maybe we can get together for lunch. I don’t know about today, but maybe tomorrow if things settle down.”

In the elevator, Cade wondered if his keycard would give him access to that floor. He swiped it, and to his surprise, the button for seventeen lit up, and the doors closed.
Hmm. Must have gotten me cleared onto the floor.
Cade’s keycard unlocked the door from the hallway as well. He went ahead and set his box on an empty cube, looking around for Mr. Johnston.

An icy voice walked up behind him—“Hey, Radio Shack, over this way”—and continued on, never glancing at Cade. It was the William-Macy-looking guy. A slight thump of irritation registered in Cade’s gut. He didn’t like this guy, nor did he like being called “Radio Shack,” like he was just some tech nerd who had forgotten to wear his pocket protector today. Cade followed but had to catch up because William Macy was walking so fast. They walked out onto the server floor and back towards the same desk he’d been seated at last week during the Red October battle-stations alert. Fortunately, this morning, the lighting was much better, and no red strobes pulsed overhead.

Macy didn’t slow his stride but instead walked right by the desk and tapped it. He disappeared down the server rows and was gone.

Cade stopped at the desk, box still in hand and mumbled, “What an asshole.”

“I heard that,” bellowed Macy’s voice from somewhere down the server rows.

“Good God,” said Cade very softly. “The guy can hear better than Jesus.”

He unloaded the box and placed his coffee thermos on the desk along with his jar of pens and a few notepads. He hesitated to lay out his Snoopy mouse pad, but then thought,
Screw them, Snoopy stays
. His headphones went into the top drawer, but he wasn’t too sure what the policy would be up here about listening to music while you worked.
Perhaps instead of listening to music, we have to listen to old speeches of Der Fuehrer.

Rupert Johnston walked in, leaned over Cade’s desk, and said, “Gimme ten, then come into my office.”

Johnston’s office was brighter than the rest of the dark interior space; the morning light poured in with a soft hue. Cade stood at the door, not sure if it was okay to just walk in or if there would be some Doberman that would pounce. Johnston was busy banging away on his laptop, using the hunt-and-peck method of typing. Long pointer fingers flew in angry succession across the keys as if they were trying to poke someone’s eye out. Cade gazed out the window and noticed a blurry Stone Mountain off in the distance. He squinted into the blur, but it seemed like everything out of Johnston’s windows was hazy and hard to focus on.

Johnston stopped typing and extended his hand towards a chair. Cade spoke first. “Sir, are the windows dirty or something? Everything looks so blurry, like there’s something on the window.”

Johnston blurted out, “Countermeasure film. Blocks eavesdroppers and other such assholes from pointin’ a laser mic at the winder and listen’n’ in to what we’re sayin’.”

Cade stared at him like his head had just spun around 360 degrees.

Johnston glared back. “Look, son, it’s like this. Up here on seventeen, this is what we call the federal zone. We have customers that are either govermints, like state, ceety, or even the fed’ral govermint, or, they’s big cumpnees like banks and such that want their data protected real special-like. You understan’, son?”

“Yes, sir.” Cade was tiring of the apprehension that weighed upon his chest over the last three days. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Sir, what I don’t understand is, well . . . sir, what happened when I was up here last week? What was all of that?” There it was. He said it. It was out on the table now.

It was clear as Johnston shifted in his seat and cleared his throat that he was uncomfortable being cornered.
Guess somebody would rather I hadn’t asked.

“Son, sometimes, it’s jest better ta know when it’s time to ask questions and when ya should jest git on with her and git her done.” He wasn’t angry as Cade had expected. The tone was more fatherly than anything else. Cade had a strong feeling that there was more Johnston wanted to say, but he wasn’t going to.

Cade had pressed enough for one day and let the subject die. But he wanted to leave the room on a good footing with his new boss, asshole or not. There was a picture frame with Johnston holding a heavily antlered deer head. He was just about to comment on it when the set of framed diplomas beside it made him do a double take. He read and reread the text on each. The one on the left read Massachusetts Institute of Technology—the one on the right, Harvard University.

“Sir, you went to MIT and got an MBA at Harvard?” The diplomas were as clear as day. Cade couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Johnston glanced out the corner of his eye and let out a long sigh.

“Yes, dammit. I went to MIT and Harvard. Me an’ my southern drawl went up to fancy-pants Harvard and showed them northern boys what a bunch of sissies they was. Jes cause a man’s got a drawl don’ make him a fool. Folks up there could hardly understan’ what I was sayin’.” He almost smiled.

When Cade sat down at his desk, he thought about the last thing Kyle told him over their weekend together—
you’ve got to find out what was going on during that e-mail job
. He shuddered at the thought of being caught prying into anything he wasn’t supposed to. But under the pretense of being the new server guy, and since server guys were troubleshooters and always had to know what was going on during a problem, he took it as his ticket to start snooping.

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