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Larry Bond's First Team: Angels of Wrath
And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast ...
--Revelation 16:2 (King James Version)
JERUSALEM THREE DAYS LATER . . .
"Coming at you, Ferg."
Ferguson made a show of looking at his watch as their subject, a well-dressed man in his early forties, walked out of the small cafe on Ben Yedhuda Street, heading southward in the direction of Nakhalat Shiva. Ferguson began walking before the man quite caught up with him, letting him catch up and then pass him. Their subject continued past a row of restored nineteenth century residential buildings before crossing the street and going inside a jewelry store.
"All right, I give up," said Ferguson into the microphone at the sleeve of his shirt. "What the hell is he doing?"
"Got me," said Menacham Stein, the Mossad agent who'd trailed the man out of the café. "He's your guy; you tell me."
Ferguson heard Stephen Rankin snicker in the background. He pulled out his tourist guide, leafing through it as if lost. Inside the store, their subject went to one of the side counters and bent over a display: completely innocuous, but then everything he'd done since arriving seemed completely innocuous.
"Hey, Skippy, you in the market for a watch?" said Ferguson, speaking to Rankin.
"Screw yourself, Ferg," said Rankin. He'd been called Skip since he was a kid, but absolutely hated being called Skippy. The fact that Ferguson found this amusing irked him even more.
"Make it an expensive one," added Ferg.
Rankin pushed out of the side street where he'd been waiting. Ferguson took a step back on the sidewalk as Rankin approached, watching their subject inside. As far as Ferg could see, he hadn't spoken to the proprietor yet.
Though two inches shorter than Ferguson at five eleven, Rankin weighed close to forty pounds more. Bulky at the shoulders and with a face that looked as if it belonged to a middle linebacker, he appeared naturally menacing; the owner drew back apprehensively as he entered the shop.
"So, Menacham, this jewelry store a cover for something?" Ferguson asked as he played up his lost tourist act, fumbling with a map and moving to the side of the street.
"Few jewelers are known for their radical beliefs," replied the Mossad agent. "Maybe he's looking for a good deal on a ring."
Ferguson examined his map. He and two other members of the First Team had trailed Benjamin Thatch to Jerusalem the day before as part of an operation to break up an American group that called itself Seven Angels. The title was a reference to a passage in The Revelation of Saint John the Divine in the Bible concerning the Apocalypse. Based loosely around a church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the group was dedicated to facilitating the Apocalypse's early arrival and had apparently amassed more than a million dollars to do so. The FBI, which had initiated the case, believed the money would be handed over to radical terrorist groups willing to cause mayhem in the Holy Land.
Some of the briefing papers on the group erroneously identified them as "fanatical Christians." In fact, the members viewed Christianity, as well as Judaism and Islam, as having run its course. Only a few of the group's active members had even been born Christian; the rest came from Jewish, Buddhist, and agnostic backgrounds. They interpreted various scriptures, especially John the Divine's Revelation, to predict a new two-thousand-year millennium of peace ... built on incredible bloodshed, of course.
Among the many various groups of crazies the FBI kept tabs on, the church had caught their attention not because they looked toward the destruction of holy sites in the Middle East, but because an eccentric millionaire had apparently bequeathed them money to encourage it. Failing to penetrate the church's membership, the Bureau had put several of its leaders under surveillance over the past few months. The church's leader had recently declared that the time for the new age to dawn was rapidlyapproaching. With the exception of some minor currency and tax violations, the Bureau lacked evidence that the group had committed any actual crimes. Then one of the members had made plane reservations to Israel using an assumed name. The man was Benjamin Thatch.
The CIA and the Office of Special Demands had been brought in to help only a week before. In Ferguson's opinion, it was one of the only things the Bureau had done right. They didn't know who Thatch was meeting or exactly where he was going; they didn't even know that much about him, except that he was an accountant.
As the agent in charge of the First Team, Ferguson had high standards. Officially known as the Joint Services Special Demands Project Office, the First Team was a CIA-Special Forces unit that could call on a wide range of resources, including a combined Ranger/Special Forces task group that had its own specially modified MC-130s. The Team had been created to address unconventional threats in an unconventional way, without interference from the bureaucracy of either the intelligence or military establishments. The arrangement made Ferguson and the men and women who worked with him essentially free agents, and Ferg was a free agent par excellence.
The Mossad had been called in on the Seven Angels project not only because they had a handle on all the radicals in the region but also because it was nearly impossible to run an operation in the Middle East without their knowledge and at least tacit approval. As usual, Ferguson found the Mossad operatives assigned to assist incredibly efficient and utterly dedicated. They were also, he knew, potentially ruthless and ultimately loyal to Israel, not the United States.
"Coming out," said Rankin.
Ferg pulled a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket.
"What was he doing?" asked Stein.
"Don't know. Didn't talk to anyone that I saw."
Ferguson bent down, pretending to admire the display in the store he'd stopped in front of. He watched Thatch's reflection as he passed, counted to three, then started to follow.
"Where we heading?" Ferguson asked Stein.
"Not a clue," said the Israeli. His accent had a decidedly Brooklyn flavor to it, a legacy of several years as a case officerin New York City. "You're moving parallel to the Old City, which would be his most likely destination if he were a tourist."
"Maybe he's lost," said Ferg. "It's his first time overseas, let alone here. I was just about born here, and I'm confused."
Ferguson slowed his pace to let Thatch get farther ahead as he crossed the street. He followed at about ten yards as the subject continued to the next intersection and then turned right. A block later, the distance had widened to fifteen yards. Ferguson decided to close it up as Thatch turned right down a side street; he trotted forward, then stopped abruptly at the intersection, momentarily unsure where Thatch was. Cursing silently he started to trot again, then stopped as Thatch appeared in the crowd a few paces ahead. Ferguson followed as the traffic cleared. Thatch waited a moment at the curb for the traffic and crossed, all alone on the block. Ferguson crossed behind him.
A short, frumpy-looking woman wearing a raincoat turned the corner and walked in Thatch's direction.
Someone at the other end of the block shouted. As Ferguson turned to see why, the woman exploded.
Copyright © 2006 by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice