2 days earlier
A hideout's no good if it's easy to figure out. If he's being pursued, a pro won't stay where he'd stay, because that's where his pursuers will look. He'll hole up in uncomfortable surroundings, a place he'd be likely to avoid if he could. I once knew a Nigerian Rebel who hid for six months in a Klansman's basement, before taking his host's advice and going back to Africa.
It's also a good idea to perform whatever business you need to in public, the bigger the crowd, the better. Crowds are anonymity, crowds are witnesses, and in Miami, crowds are often really well-armed. If you're on the run, crowds are safety.
The dancer's body shone with oil as she gyrated under the hot lights, her skin a deep chocolate brown, and her large, plump nipples almost black. The small Hispanic man pointedly refused to look up into her as she reached a hand down and spread her shaved vulva. Michael smiled as he offered her the twenty, and told her, quietly, “The college boy over there had to break one of his fifties to pay for that martini. He still has a few more.”
Her expression floated from offense to avaricious amusement, and she shimmied down the bar toward the young blond man in the letterman's jacket.
Muhammad Yusuf scowled. “Harlot.”
“She's got a living to make,” said Michael. “Kids to feed.” The oil hadn't quite hidden the stretch marks.
Yusuf's scowl deepened, then, to Michael's surprise, he laughed. “I suppose she'd say worse about me, wouldn't she? Killer, murderer, terrorist.” he looked back at Michael. “A year ago, I'd have said she should be stoned to death.”
“And now?” Michael seemed only vaguely interested.
Yusuf regarded him for several long seconds. “Now, she makes me sad. Now I think that she's wasting, throwing away, something that should be worth diamonds. Now I think her sin is punishment enough.”
Michael sat nodded slowly. “And yours?”
Yusuf nodded again. “That's the question, isn't it? I know with you I'm pleading for my life. Why should you care? Why should you spare me? Put yourself at risk to save me? Mr. Harris told me you don't just work for money. He told me you have to believe. I can't tell you why you should believe I'm worth it. Most days, I can't tell you why I do.”
“Maybe you could tell me why I shouldn't,” said Michael, not really knowing why.
“Oh, now that's much easier. You shouldn't because I spent five years in three countries finding frustrated young people and telling them how the Great Satan, America, was responsible for all the world's evil. Because I helped perfect a system...
“You see, Mr. Westen, there's this guy. He's everywhere in the world, in every town, in every neighborhood. He's older, not very smart, or well-educated, but he has this earthy, boisterous sense about him, this certainty. He believes the stupidest things, and says things that would give offense and start arguments if anyone else said them, but he's a good-living, big-mouthed, roguish old fellow, and somehow it seems like there's no point in arguing with him. He's the one who tells you how when he goes to the store, he sees women use food stamps to buy luxury goods, and drive away in a Cadillac. That genetic studies done in the fifties and covered up in the sixties prove that blacks are more likely to commit violent crimes.
“In the Muslim world, he says that no Jews died in the World Trade Center.
“Well, you get him to be a youth soccer coach, to volunteer at cookouts, anyplace he's around teenaged boys, and you watch the boys. When he talks about how Israel and the CIA conspired behind 9/11, how the Jews secretly run the world's media, you watch those boys, and one in a hundred will nod slowly, thoughtfully, and you can see them thinking, Ah! That explains it!”
Yusuf scrubbed his hands down his face. “You target those boys. You start to vet them, you get somebody close to them to talk about Madrassas and the evils of America, of the Jews, and you see if they're taking it on board. Maybe one in twenty. And on they go, more radicalized, always in secret. In three years, five years, they're strapping on a bomb, and marching off to die for Allah.”
He looked at Michael. “I did that. I came up with starting with That Guy. I know about a hundred of him in England. A hundred and fifty in Spain. Ninety in Portugal. I know them because I chose them, because I taught men how to watch them and steer them. I did that.”
“So what do you want to do now?” Michael asked. “Just set up housekeeping in South Beach, and live happily ever after?”
Yusuf shook his head. “No, sir. I want... I want to see my mother again. I want to hug her and apologize to her. I want to give what I know to someone who will care, someone who will try to unmake the monsters I've made. I can't undo what I've done, but I want to make some kind of amends.”
“But not be punished?” Michael's voice was bland, his expression gave away nothing.
“There is no escaping my punishment. I live with it every day of my life. As bad as anything they can think to do at Guantanamo. I wake up screaming from it. But I can't make amends from a cell, now can I?”
Michael sat looking at him for a long time. “All right, then.” He slid a card across to him. “This is my card. Call me at noon tomorrow, and I'll let you know where I stand.”
“Gracias,” said Yusuf. For that moment, he was just another of Miami's army of Cuban emigrés. “I will call.”
There are a lot of things I miss about working for the Government. I miss the travel, the foods, the languages. I miss knowing what I'm doing is important, that it matters to whole nations. Sometimes, though, what I miss the most is knowing that I'm just the hired help. It's not fun being the executioner, but it's a lot better than having to appoint yourself judge and jury, as well.
Lightning coursed through the sky, lighting Michael's apartment, and his bare chest and arms, in flashbulb shades of white and blue. Thunder followed almost immediately with the percussive crash of well-aimed artillery. The Miami of the movies and TV was always sunny days, clear, starry nights lit by a big full moon. A tropical paradise. The reality was long days of oppressive heat and spoon-thick humidity that built and thickened as the hours wore by, until the atmosphere exploded by the evening into electric violence. Usually storms would exhaust themselves before evening had settled into night, but now night was pushing toward morning, and still, as Michael wandered, sleepless, through the large spaces of his flat, the tempest lashed at the sturdy club building.
Images kept flowing through his mind as he paced. Shaky home-video footage of innocent civilians being carried away from the London transit bombings. A quote from a newspaper interview with a World War Two veteran: “I've been blown up by better than you lot!” The grim, sincere brown man, hunched over his soft drink at the strip club. The little brown boy he'd only seen in Harris' words, laughing as he leaped through the water of a lawn sprinkler. Thick black smoke roiling from twin skyscrapers.
If you knew Shezzi, you would love him. Lightning strobed through the loft again, freezing him in space in stark white. I've been blown up by better than you lot! The thunder rattled the small metal items in bins at the workbench. A three-inch bolt fell to the floor, and Michael stooped to pick it up as it rolled to his feet. There is no escaping my punishment.
The burring sound of ringing was background noise, and he almost started when Fiona's sleepy voice said, “Michael? What is it, are you all right?” from the phone he was surprised to find himself holding to his ear.
“What did you think on 7/7?” he asked, hoarsely.
He heard her breath sucked in. “Do you want me to tell you I burned with hatred, Michael? That I was sickened?”
“I want you to tell me the truth.”
There was a long silence. Lightning flashed, and Thunder followed it, and then echoed from the phone, as the sound reached Fi, and was transmitted back to him by satellite.
“I thought it was well done,” she said quietly. “I thought they did it like pros, and I was impressed. I thought the Provos never did as well.”
Michael silently absorbed this.
“What do you think now?” he asked.
“I... I'm offended. We wanted the Brits out of Ulster. It seems.... Within reach. Those kids killed fifty people in the name of global caliphate. What the hell's the point? We weren't without sin, we killed more than our share of bystanders, but... Global caliphate? It's just a waste.” She paused. “I dunno, Michael, maybe I'm just older.”
Again the silence echoed between them.
“What are you thinking, Michael?” she asked.
“I'm thinking you're my friend. You're chaotic and violent and prone to overaction, but you're someone I care about. You're a good person. If it was you, Fi? If it was you coming to me for help after working for the IRA? I wouldn't hesitate.”
“Do you think I've become a better person, Michael?”
“Yes.” His voice was barely a croak.
“Can he be?” It was the voice of a teacher, now.
“I.... I think so,” murmured Michael.
“Go to sleep, Michael,” said Fiona, and the phone lit with a message reading Call Ended.
Michael dropped it on his bedside table, and closed his eyes against the flare of lightning. By the time the rolling thunder had followed, he was asleep.
1 day earlier
Criminals are businessmen. All it takes to get them off your back is enough money to make it worth their while. Governments can sometimes be bought off, as well. With them, it's Quid Pro Quo. You give them what they want, they give you what you want. Fanatics, on the other hand, are a problem. Someone who believes he's the Hand of God is impossible to bargain with. That leaves two choices: Kill them or fool them. And after the first couple of hundred, killing them gets to seem a lot like work.
Fiona pushed her hands back through her hair, nimbly tying it into a simple ponytail with a tie-wrap from the counter. She nodded thanks to Sam as he placed an ice-cold bottle of Dos Ecces on the table in front of her. “I don't see how we can do it, Michael.”
“I gotta tell ya, Mike,” added Sam, handing across another frosty bottle, “I agree with Fiona, which, in itself, ought to scare you some! Getting his intel isn't something we can do in a day, or even a week. It's going to be months, maybe years, of debriefing, and that's with him co-operating! I mean, Hell, he can't live here that long, and he's not safe on his own!" Sam gestured around the loft. "The only way to keep him out of Guantanamo is to keep him away from the spooks, but if we want to get his information we've got to give him to them.”
“And either way, Al Qaeda won't quit until he's dead,” added Fiona. “You could maybe smuggle him out of the country with a false flag, but I just don't see how we do that without losing what he knows.”
Michael pulled at the cold beer, listening to his friends outline the box he saw himself in.
“You gotta pick two,” said Sam. “You can save his life and keep him out of Gitmo. You can save his life and get his goods. Or you can get his goods and keep him out of Gitmo. Something's gotta give.”
Michael placed his bottle on the table. “Well, that's it then. We need his intel, and we need to keep him out of Gitmo. So we let them kill him.”
“Excellent!” said Fiona.
“Good deal,” agreed Sam. “Let's call Harris and get this show on the road.”
Fiona kept glancing over at the old man. Sam did too, but at least under cover of looking at his watch. He had good enough reason for that last: Mac Harris – when, Michael wondered, had he become “Mac?” -- was now more than ten minutes late.
“Fi, Sam, for God's sake, stop,” said Michael. “It's embarrassing. He's not going anywhere.”
“That's why I'm watching him,” said Sam. “You ever heard of an operation went smoother when he showed up?”
“Which is strange, when you think about it,” murmured Fiona, “because if there's one thing you can say about him, it's that he's very, very smooth.”
“He's older than your Grandfather, Fi,” said Michael. “You're ogling an octogenarian.”
“An octogenarian who could beat all three of us in a straight fight,” added Sam.
Michael scowled. “You don't know that.”
“Yeah,” agreed Sam, “and I have no desire to find out. The man's a legend!”
"I'm pretty sure he's older than your grandfather, too!" Michael replied.
Sam grinned. "Have you met my grandfather?"
The door from the kitchen banged open, releasing a momentary din of commotion into the restaurant, and Harris ran through, followed by the shouts of the cook. His eyes swiveled left and right through the room, and locked on Michael's, and he shook his head once, swiftly, before shouting “Everybody down!”
As Michael dove, his hands unnecessarily pressing down on the shoulders of his friends, he noticed the old man diving with the grace of a cat, overturning his table into a makeshift shield facing the door, and grabbing the ankle of the pretty Cuban waitress, pulling her behind it with him.
Then there was a thunderous ringing in the air, and Michael saw the plate glass of the front windows actually bowing in toward him before they exploded into a glittering confetti of tiny glass daggers, and Michael was trying to knock their table over as he turned away, spreading the fabric of his jacket to try to shield Sam and Fi's faces. A million pinpoints of pain erupted across his back, and then the wave of heat struck him like a giant's fist, driving him down on top of his friends.
He lay stupidly for a moment, his whole world the ringing in his head, before shaking it off. His fingers felt pulses -- “Yeah, yeah, I'm with ya,” Sam gasped – while his eyes tracked for motion, and he saw the aged form of Bond at the bar, grasping the edge and vaulting himself over, near where he'd last seen Mac.
By the time Michael was there, the old man was looking up at him from beside Harris' supine form. “Your friend's alive, Westen. As far as I can tell, he'll be all right.” Bond's Scots accent had deepened in the years since the samples Michael had heard were recorded. Bond was slipping Mac's wallet back into his pocket. “I'm surprised to see you working with the Bureau. You're very much out of favour.”
“I thought you were retired,” Michael shot back.
“I am.” Bond's voice was indifferent. “You'd think a man could find a place in the world to holiday without being pulled into this sort of nonsense.”
“Yeah, well,” Sam's voice was close behind Michael, “things are tough all over.” He gestured at Harris. “How's Mac?”
Bond's voice was almost kind. “I'm sure he'll be fine. No obvious sign of serious injury to his head or chest.” Bond's head indicated the restaurant floor. “I'm sure that's not the case for the rest.”
Michael nodded. “Sam? Fi?”
They both dipped their heads, and Sam Axe said, “We got it, Mike. Fade,” as they turned to start checking victims.
Bond looked back at Michael. “You oughtn't be caught here, I imagine. Police must be on their way. Go.”
Michael's eyes narrowed at the authority in the old Scott's voice, but the fact was, he was right, and they both knew it.
“Thank you,” he said finally, and walked quickly around the milling kitchen staff, who'd poured forth to see what happened, and out through the back.