THE OPENING MOVES SUMMER
Behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.
CIA Headquarters Langley, Virginia
Aweary and worried Allen Trumble got off the elevator on the seventh floor where he had to submit to a third and final security check. There wasn't a lot of activity in the corridors, but then there usually wasn't except during shift changes. But from the moment he'd entered the front doors he was struck by the underlying tension here, which did nothing to dispel his gloomy mood. What he was bringing to the deputy director of Operations wasn't going to help much; not the CIA and certainly not himself.
The civilian security officer handed Trumble's pass and ID back. "Just down the hall to the right, sir."
"Yes, thank you, I've been here before," Trumble said. But not often and not lately. Most of his seventeen years on the payroll had been spent in foreign postings, most recently as chief of station Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. But it was time to come home now, maybe. His life was beginning to unravel and he didn't really know why or what to do about it, except that a change of scenery might help.
He was an unremarkable looking man of medium height with thinning light brown hair, a slightly stoop-shouldered gait, and puffy features from living for too long in the dry desert climates of the Middle East. But he was an Arabic expert and that's where the work was happening. In fact because he had lived for so long in-country he probably knew more about the region than all but the most senioranalysts here. Certainly enough to know that very large trouble was brewing.
But until now he'd also considered himself to be a very lucky man. He had a job that challenged him, a wife who loved him and two children who thought the sun rose and set on their father. All of it going down the toilet. In the past year Gloria had become distant, spending most of her free time watching reruns of American television sitcoms. It was as if she had forgotten what home was like and she was trying to remind herself. Their sixteen-year-old daughter Julie had experimented dying her hair first orange, then pink, but their Saudi neighbors had begun to complain and Trumble had to put his foot down. Julie was still resentful, and she moped around the house speaking only when spoken to, and then in monosyllables. In their twelve-year-old son Daniel's estimation it was time to go home. Most of the people they'd met over there were okay, but they didn't really like Americans, and he was getting tired of it. He wanted a Mickey D's, a real mall, Little League baseball and some new video games. Never mind that he had been born in Baghdad, and had never spent much time in the States. He missed it and he wanted to go home.
The deputy director of Operation's suite was at the end of the hall from the director's office. Trumble hurried down the broad, carpeted corridor, and went inside not at all sure exactly what sort of a message he was bringing home with him. He was the Arab expert, but this time he was out of his depth and he knew it.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Trumble," the DDO's secretary, Dahlia Swanfeld said pleasantly.
"Hello," Trumble smiled, trying to hide his nervousness. "I have a two o'clock with the deputy director." It was one minute before that time now.
"He's on the phone. Shouldn't be long. Would you like some coffee?"
"No thanks. We had a late lunch, McDonald's."
Ms. Swanfeld smiled and nodded. Though she'd never married--the CIA was her life--she sometimes acted likea kindly grandmother. Trumble could feel genuine interest and good cheer radiating from her like warmth from a wood stove on a cold winter's day. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so good.
"How is your family? Happy to be on vacation and back home?"
"It's going to be hard to drag them back to Riyadh. But I think we might be coming home again for Christmas. My folks are insisting on it, and it's hard to say no to your mother, wife and kids. I'm sorta outnumbered."
"I'd like to meet them." The light on her telephone console blinked out and she picked up the phone. "Mr. Trumble is here." She looked up. "You may go in now."
Kirk McGarvey, his jacket off, his tie loose and his shirtsleeves rolled up, was pulling a thick, red-striped file folder from one of the piles on his large desk. Stacks of newspapers and news magazines from a dozen different countries were piled neatly on the floor around him, and a television monitor, the sound very low, was tuned to CNN. The computer monitor on a credenza next to him was on, but showed only the CIA's seal.
"Nice to see you back in one piece." McGarvey got up, came around the desk and shook Trumble's hand. "Gloria and the kids okay?"
"They're out shopping. We need vacation clothes, but God only knows what they're going to buy for me. Whatever it is, though, I'm going to have to wear it and like it."
At fifty, Kirk McGarvey had worked for the CIA for twenty-five years and kept himself in superb condition by a strict physical regimen that included running and swimming everyday and working out at his fencing club whenever he could. He was a hard man, who until he'd taken over the job as DDO twelve months ago, had been the best field officer the CIA had ever known. The fact that he had been a shooter and had killed in the line of duty was widely known. What wasn't so well known, however, was the number of people he had killed, or the tremendous physical and mental toll the job had taken on him and his family.
He was six feet tall, two hundred pounds and built like a rugby player with not an ounce of visible fat on his broad-shouldered frame. But he was a Voltaire scholar and that curious combination--killer, academic and now administrator--seemed to fit him well. He exuded self-confidence, intelligence, honesty and above all dependability. He had never let one of his people down, he had never held anything back from them, unless in his estimation they didn't have the need to know, and he was surrounded by a staff of very bright, very dedicated friends who excelled under his direction. There was a comfort zone around him. When you were with McGarvey you knew that everything would turn out okay. All hell might break loose, but you'd come out of it. He'd make sure of it.
His face was wide, handsome and friendly, unless he was being lied to. His motto was: Don't bullshit the troops; tell it like it is, or don't tell it at all.
"Do you want a beer?" McGarvey motioned toward the couch, chairs and low table by the window.
"Sounds good." Trumble set his attaché case on the coffee table, dialed the combination and took out his report contained in a thin file folder.
McGarvey got a couple of beers from a small fridge in his credenza and brought them back. He took the report. "Not much here."
"You might want to take a quick read, Mr. McGarvey."
"Mac. But I'd rather hear it from you first. What are our chances?"
"Osama bin Laden is not a good man," Trumble said, opening his beer. His hand shook a little and McGarvey noticed it. "He might be crazy."
"What'd he say to you? What does he want?" McGarvey asked, giving his COS his entire attention.
"Well, he says he wants to talk to someone in authority. Someone higher than a chief of station. It's a good possibility that he means to assassinate whoever we send to him, providing he thinks that person is a worthy enough target." Trumble had made the arrangements to meet with the Saudimultimillionaire terrorist in Khartoum, at McGarvey's request. No U.S. intelligence officer had been able to get anywhere near him or his business interests in the Sudan, or his camps in the mountains of Afghanistan, but McGarvey had a hunch that he might be ready to talk. The bad part was that a lot of people here in Washington and in London believed that bin Laden was getting ready to make another spectacular strike again, but no one knew when, where or how. In 1998 more than five thousand people had been hurt and more than two hundred killed when a bomb exploded outside the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. There'd been many other attacks with loss of lives, but Nairobi had been the biggest to date. The general consensus was that there would be a next time and it would be even worse.
"They took my tape recorder before they brought me up to see him, but it really wouldn't have mattered if I'd been able to keep it, because I wasn't with him for more than two or three minutes. He told me that I was the face of evil and that if I were to die then and there, no one would shed a tear."
McGarvey sat back, a dark, calculating expression in his gray-green eyes. Bin Laden hadn't balked at the meeting, in fact he'd agreed to it almost too readily, which meant he wanted something, unless he was stalling for time. It was a possibility they would have to consider. Bin Laden could be keeping them talking while he was getting ready to strike. With the latest information McGarvey had seen and the reason he'd sent Trumble orders to set up the meeting, this time when bin Laden struck it would be worse than Nairobi, much worse than anything they could imagine.
"Did he give you any names, Allen? Anyone in specific who he wanted to talk to?"
"No, just someone more important than me." Trumble shuddered. "The bad part is that he knows more about me than I know about him. He told me to get out or die, but I thought I could push it just a little. Maybe he was bargaining,they do that a lot. So I promised that we'd lift the bounty on his head like you suggested."
"What'd he say to that?"
Trumble looked McGarvey in the eye. "His exact words. He said, 'Your wife's name is Gloria, isn't it? Your children are Daniel and Julie?'"
"Jesus," McGarvey said sitting up suddenly. "Were you followed back to Riyadh?"
"I don't think so. Look, it was just his way of letting me know that his intelligence was at least as good as ours and that he wasn't screwing around. Saving face is everything out there and we are the infidels. He's taken to heart the idea of knowing his enemies. He could have killed me then and there, dumped my body somewhere it would never be found." Trumble shook his head, as if he were trying to shrug off the incident, but he wasn't doing a very good job of it. "He doesn't operate that way, on that small a scale, I mean. If he wants a bigger fish, killing me wouldn't have done him any good."
McGarvey got up and went back to his desk. "Who's your ACOS?"
"Is he ready to run a station on his own?"
Trumble was a little confused. "He's coming along. I didn't hesitate leaving him in charge. He can handle the routine, although his Arabic is a little weak. The Saudis get along with him okay."
McGarvey picked up his phone. "Dahlia, have Dick come right over and then get me Dave Whittaker." Whittaker was the area divisions chief in charge of all foreign CIA stations and missions. McGarvey held his hand over the phone. "Is he married, any kids?"
"No kids. He's divorced, his wife's back in Michigan, or someplace in the Midwest."
McGarvey turned back to the phone. "Dave, I have a housekeeping job for you, but I want it done on the QT. I'm pulling Allen Trumble and his family out of Riyadh, effective immediately. In fact he's in my office right now,so I want you to send a security detail over there to shut down his apartment and get his things back here."
Trumble was floored, and he started to object, but McGarvey held him off.
"I'm putting his ACOS Jeff Cook in charge for the time being. We'll see how it works out." McGarvey was watching Trumble. "But listen to me, Dave, tell security to watch their step. Allen's apartment could be rigged."
Trumble's stomach flopped. The thought that bin Laden could have ordered someone to booby-trap his apartment had never occurred to him.
"Bin Laden," McGarvey said. "That's what Allen told me, but I don't want to take any chances. This isn't going to turn out to be another Buckley case." In 1985 CIA Director William Casey sent his Beirut COS Bill Buckley back into the field after the U.S. embassy out there had been sacked and his cover blown. He'd been picked up the day he got back. He was tortured and eventually murdered.
Dick Adkins, the DDO's chief of staff, walked in from the adjoining office. Like McGarvey he wore no jacket, his tie was loose and his shirtsleeves rolled up.
"Hi, Allen," he said. "How'd it go in Khartoum?"
"Not very well," Trumble said, and they shook hands. He'd known Adkins for seventeen years, first running into him at the Farm, the CIA's training facility near Williamsburg, where Adkins had been camp commandant. At his welcoming talk to new recruits he'd impressed Trumble as a man who might be short on imagination, but who was very strong on details. The first impression he gave was that of a very steady hand on the helm. Nothing in the intervening years had happened to change Trumble's mind. Adkins was doing the job now that he was always meant to do; acting as precision point man to McGarvey's sometimes maverick tactics.
McGarvey hung up the phone. "I've pulled Allen out of Riyadh and put his ACOS Jeff Cook in charge for the time being."
"I'd just as soon stick with it, if you don't mind," Trumblesaid. "I've developed a lot of solid contacts in the last three years."
"I do mind," McGarvey said. "Your contacts wouldn't do you any good if you were dead."
"What the hell happened over there?" Adkins demanded.
McGarvey handed him Trumble's report. "Take a look at this, Dick. Bin Laden was playing games with him."
Adkins sat down and quickly read through the report, which ran only to ten pages. When he was finished he glanced up at McGarvey. "Good call," he said quietly, and then he turned his attention back to Trumble. "Did you get the sense that he was actually going to come after you and your family?"
"I don't know. That's not his style. But there were a half-dozen pretty eager looking kids in the room with him, all armed with Kalashnikovs. It would have taken just a word, or even a gesture, from their boss for them to kill me."
"Did you recognize any of them?"
Trumble started to shake his head, but then thought better of it. He had a very good memory for faces, and the station file in Riyadh had an extensive photo archive of known terrorists and their associates. Not only the foot soldiers, but the planners, the bankers, the technicians and anyone else connected with the dozens of various movements and factions in the region. He'd wanted to do a little checking on his own first before he brought it up. He didn't know if he was being foolish, but now he decided was not the time to hold anything back no matter how seemingly meaningless it might be.
"There was one man, older than the others, maybe forty, plain looking, who sat in a corner drinking tea. He was the only one not armed."
"Did you recognize him?" Adkins asked.
Trumble shook his head, trying to place the face as he had done on the way back to the Khartoum airport. "I don't think so. But I got the impression that he might have recognized me. But it was just for a second, and then bin Laden was talking to me."
"Anything in your station files?"
"I looked, but I didn't find anything."
"Okay, it might be nothing," Adkins said, clearly not meaning it. He glanced at McGarvey who was content to let him run with it for now. "What's this number you mention?"
"Bin Laden gave it to me just before I left. It's not a phone number, but it obviously means something."
Adkins handed the report to McGarvey, who looked at it. "He didn't give you any explanation?"
"He said that we'd figure it out."
"What do you want to do, Allen?" Adkins asked.
"First of all I want some solid bargaining points that I can bring back to Khartoum."
"Do you think he'd agree to another meeting?"
"I think so--"
"That's out," McGarvey cut in sharply. "I'm putting you on the Middle East Desk, and if we do set up another meeting it won't be with you, Allen." He and Adkins exchanged a significant look that Trumble caught.
"What am I missing?" he asked.
"Nothing for now," Adkins said. "Do you think that you can come up with a name for this face?"
Trumble wasn't satisfied with the answer, but he let it slide for the moment. "That's the other thing I wanted to try. I'd like to take this to Otto Rencke. We might be able to develop a recognition search program. At least we could narrow down the list of possibilities."
"Good idea," McGarvey said. "You can get Otto started this afternoon. In the meantime what are your vacation plans?"
"That depended on my new orders. We were going to hang around Washington for a couple of days to see the sights, and then if there was time, see my folks in Minnesota."
"Your kids have never really seen the states," Adkins said. "Dan was born in Baghdad, wasn't he?"
"Yeah. But we've been back a few times to Duluth."
"You oughta go down to Orlando. Disney World. It's a little hot this time of year, but after Riyadh it should be a piece of cake."
"They've talked about it."
"That's a good idea," McGarvey said. "Take a couple of weeks, and when you get back we'll have personnel find you a place to live. You'll be looking at some eighty-hour weeks."
"I hate to walk away from this."
"I'm not handing out charity, Allen. You've earned the desk, and right now I need your expertise here, not in Riyadh."
"Yes, sir." Trumble closed his attaché case, and got up.
McGarvey understood his frustration. "There is another factor out there, an important one. But it'll hold for a couple of weeks. Knowing wouldn't do you any good on vacation in any event."
"Just something more to worry about?"
"Something like that."
When Trumble left, McGarvey called down to Otto Rencke to tell him what was coming his way. He also read off the twelve-digit number. "Bin Laden gave this to Allen. Find out what it is, Otto. It's top priority." Trumble was a very good man; intelligent, knowledgeable and sensitive. But he was an academic, and nothing more than an academic, who should never have been given a field assignment in the first place.
"What do you think, Dick?"
Adkins had gone to the fridge for a Coke. "Two possibilities. Either bin Laden is getting tired of hiding out and wants to come back to the real world, or he's stalling us."
"I meant the serial number. If it's what I think it is, we could be in trouble."
Adkins stared out the window, almost as if he was sorry that he was here and he wanted to escape. He was a short, somewhat paunchy man who had fought a weight problemall of his life. He had light, wavy hair and a pale complexion. Sometimes like this morning he looked as if he had been sick for a long time. "Are we going to send somebody else to talk to him?"
"I don't think we have any other choice under the circumstances."
Adkins turned back, his eyes washed out. "Who?" he asked quietly. He knew the answer, but he didn't want to say it.
McGarvey didn't respond. A snatch of something from Voltaire ran through his head. The problem is that common sense isn't so common after all. But what good was common sense, McGarvey wondered, in dealing with a madman who'd dedicated his fortune and his life to one thing--killing Americans? All his life he had been witness to some very bright people making the most stupid of mistakes, himself included. He did not want to repeat the errors, especially not this time.
Office of Special Research
Otto Rencke had been trained as a Jesuit priest and professor of computer sciences and mathematics, but he'd been kicked out of the church for having sex with the dean's secretary on top of the dean's desk. His life after that had been one series of scrapes with the law after another, because he was a genius, he didn't respect authority and he thought that he knew more about computers than anyone else in the world, which he probably did. In between troubles he had done some very good and very serious work for the CIA, bringing the Agency into the twenty-first century, and he had worked on a number of projects with McGarvey. But he'd been bored. He'd simply been playing games; with the world, with the projects he'd been assigned, with himself. The fact of the matter was that he had no idea who he was, what was driving him or where he was going. A lost soul, his mother had called him on theday she and her husband had kicked him out of the house for good.
It wasn't until McGarvey became DDO and brought Rencke back into the fold that the forty-one-year-old maverick finally came into his own. He had finally found the one thing he'd been looking for all of his life: a family; someone to love him, someone for him to take care of, to fight for, to be with.
When Trumble walked in on him in his third floor office, he was sitting on top of a table that was strewn with computer printouts, running his delicate fingers through his long, out-of-control, frizzy red hair.
Trumble knocked on the doorframe. "Mr. Rencke?" He'd heard about the assistant to the DDO for Special Research, but he'd never met the man, and until this moment he'd disbelieved almost everything he'd been told as simply too fantastic, too bizarre.
"Bad dog, bad dog. My father's name was Mr. Rencke, and he was the baddest dog of all." Rencke hopped down off the table and practically bounded across the room to shake Trumble's hand. He wore faded blue jeans, a dirty MIT sweatshirt, and unlaced black high-top sneakers, showing bare ankles that looked as if they hadn't seen soap and water in a month. But his grip was light, and his wide blue eyes were so intense, so deep, and so utterly warm and filled with intelligence and childlike good cheer, that Trumble couldn't help but smile. "You call me Otto, I call you Allen. Saves a lot of time that way, ya know."
"All right, Otto. I just got in from Riyadh, and Mr. McGarvey thought that you might be able to help me with something."
"The name is Mac, and you're lying. It wasn't his idea, it was yours." Rencke started to hop from one foot to the other, something Trumble had been told he did whenever he was happy or excited about something. "Trumble, Allen Thomas. Born Duluth, Minnesota, 1960. Parents Eugene and Joyce--solid folks. Poli-sci and psych double majors, University of Minnesota, magna cum. Masters in psych,then the Company recruited you from a fate worse than death in dull, dull, boring hidebound academia." He grinned, his mouth pulled down on the left. "Hidden talents. Farsi and a dozen Arabic dialects. You have the gift, and we're all desperate for gifts, ya know. Married to Gloria Porter, kids Julie sixteen, Daniel twelve, apples of their father's eye, tests off the charts in every embassy school they ever attended."
Rencke stopped in midstream and gave Trumble a strange, pained look, almost as if he'd suddenly seen something so terrible it was beyond words. "What was he like? In person, I mean. Bin Laden."
Trumble was at a loss for words. Rencke was overwhelming.
"Come on, Allen, reticence is dull. First thing pops into your head."
"Gentle," Trumble said, not knowing where that had come from.
"Gentle?" Rencke prompted.
"Venemous?" Rencke prompted again, continuing the word association.
Trumble blinked, knowing exactly what Rencke was looking for. The only true knowledge, that worth having, was sometimes to be found only in the subconscious. "He's a dangerous man because he's smart, he's rich, he's dedicated and he's completely filled with hate. It's his religion, and he has more followers now than Jesus Christ had two thousand years ago when he was out among the people spreading the Word. When he looks at you through those hooded eyes, he's as mesmerizing as a king cobra."
"Kamikazes in the flock?"
"You can bet on it," Trumble said. "He's got people around him willing to give their lives for the jihad. Without hesitation, without even giving it a second thought, exceptthat they would be gaining an early entry into the gates of paradise."
"Gotcha." Rencke broke out into a broad grin. "That's the guy we're looking for. The unarmed man sitting in the corner drinking tea while all around him the troops were twitching."
"Okay, how do we do it?"
"We're going to generate a 3-D computer model of his face, his build, his mannerisms, anything you can remember no matter how small--just like the old police IdentiKit drawings--and then my darlings will go hunting. From time to time a candidate should pop out of the slot and I'll fax it to you."
"I can stick around--"
"Bzzz. Wrong answer, recruit. The boss says you're on vacation, and this might take some time."
Trumble had to shake his head. Being around Rencke was like being in the middle of a white tornado; it left you breathless and wondering if your feet would ever touch the ground. Trumble had, in the back of his heart, figured that he was pretty smart. But Otto was smarter, a lot smarter than anybody he'd ever known including a couple of Nobel docs at the U. of M. It was almost disquieting. Thank God the man was on our side, he thought.
Rencke started hopping from one foot to the other again. "Do me a big favor, would you, Allen? Just one?"
"Sure, if I can."
"Disney World. Magic Mountain, the roller coaster. Keep your eyes closed the whole time."
Trumble laughed. "Okay, but why?"
"I always wanted to do that," Rencke said dreamily. "When you come back I want you to tell me what color it was. I'm betting red."
Copyright © 2000 by David Hagberg