Authors: Andrew Kaplan
To my son, Justin, who makes everything better,
to the men and women of the U.S. intelligence services,
who pursue in shadow the most elusive commodity on earth—truth
For readers interested in additional information on the characters, organizations and agencies described in this novel, a glossary and a list of characters are provided at the back of the book.
“You know how it is at Princeton on a dark winter morning, five
before anyone else is up? Coming out of 1915 Hall in my sweats, because I was never the glamour girl. I was the serious girl, the one who didn’t flirt with the boys but who maybe was going to do something. I would start my run without touching the stopwatch. The campus silent, no one anywhere, the air so cold it hurt to breathe. Running all the way to Nassau Street, shops shuttered, streetlights reflected on the icy pavement. Then right on Washington, back on campus, past Woodrow Wilson and Frist to Weaver Track.
“I would stop, my breath coming out in clouds, the sky breaking gray, then click the stopwatch and run the fifteen hundred as if my life depended on it, trying to remember the pacing, but I swear, Saul, there were times, even when it was killing me in the final two hundred, I thought I could run forever.”
“What do you want, Carrie? What the hell do you really want?”
“I don’t know. To be that girl again. To feel the cleanness—is that a word? He’s hiding something, Saul. I swear to God.”
“Everybody’s hiding something. We’re human.”
“No, something bad. Something that’s going to really hurt us. We can’t let it happen again.”
“Let’s be clear, you’re not just risking your life and both our careers; it’s national security, the Agency itself. You sure you want to do this?”
“I just realized something. I’ll never be that girl again, will I?”
“I’m not sure you ever were.”
Ashrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon
Nightingale was late.
Sitting in the darkened movie theater, second seat, fourth row from the back, Carrie Mathison tried to decide whether to abort. It was supposed to be an initial contact only. “Passing ships,” Saul Berenson, her boss and mentor, had called it during training back at the Farm, the CIA’s training facility in Virginia. Get a close-up look at one Taha al-Douni, to whom they’d assigned the code name “Nightingale,” let him get a quick look at her for the next time, whisper the time and location for the next meet and leave. Strictly by the book.
If the contact was late, Company protocol was to wait fifteen to twenty minutes, then abort and reschedule only if the contact provided a damn good reason why they hadn’t shown. An everyday excuse such as Middle Eastern time, which could be anything from a half hour to a half day late, or the regular Friday-evening traffic mash-up on Boulevard Fouad Chehab during the
cinq á sept,
the hours between five and seven
when businessmen met their mistresses in discreet little Hamra-district apartments wouldn’t cut it.
Except Carrie wanted this one. According to her source, Dima, a pretty Lebanese party girl from March 14, a Maronite Christian political group, whom you could find every night at the rooftop bar at Le Gray in the Central District, al-Douni had two things that made him someone the CIA would die to get their hands on: one, he was GSD, an officer in the General Security Directorate, the brutal Syrian secret intelligence agency, which gave him a direct pipeline into the Assad regime in Damascus; and two, he needed money. A foxy Egyptian girlfriend with expensive tastes was bleeding him dry, Dima said.
She checked her watch again. Twenty-nine minutes. Where the hell was he? She looked around the theater. It was more than three-quarters full. Since the movie started, no one had come in. On the screen, Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione were in Mad-eye Moody’s class, watching him put an Imperius curse on a lethal-looking flying insect.
Her nerves felt taut as a violin string, though that didn’t mean anything. She couldn’t always trust her feelings, because there were times when she thought her nervous electrical system had been put together by the same idiots who built the Washington, DC, power grid. Bipolar disorder, the doctors called it. A psychiatric mood disorder characterized by episodes of hypomania alternating with depressive episodes, as a psychiatrist once recommended by the student health center back at Princeton, had described it. Her sister, Maggie, had a better definition for it: “Mood swings that cycle from ‘I’m the smartest, prettiest, most fantastic girl in the universe’ to ‘I want to kill myself.’ ” Even so, everything about this contact felt wrong.
She couldn’t wait any longer, she told herself. On the screen, Hermione was screaming at Moody, begging him to stop a curse that was torturing the poor insect to death. Perfect timing; lots of noise and special effects. No one would notice her, she decided, getting up and making her way out to the theater lobby.
She stepped outside to the street, feeling conspicuous, exposed. To a certain extent, it was always that way for a Western woman in the Middle East. You stood out. The only way to disguise yourself would be to wear a full-body-covering
and veil, and hope no one got close enough to get a good look. But with her slender build, long straight blond hair and all-American face, Carrie couldn’t fool anyone except at a distance, and in any case, that wouldn’t work in North Beirut, where women wore everything from
to skintight designer jeans, and sometimes both at the same time.
It had grown dark while she had been in the theater. Traffic was heavy on Avenue Michel Bustros, the headlights of the cars and the lighted windows in tall office and apartment buildings making a mosaic of lights and shadows. She scanned the street looking for watchers. Broken contacts were always potentially dangerous. And then her heart almost stopped.
Nightingale was seated at a café table across the street looking right at her. Totally wrong. He couldn’t have misunderstood the instructions passed to him by Dima at Le Gray last night. Was he crazy? And then he made it worse. He beckoned her with a hand gesture that in America means “go away” but in the Middle East means “come here.” Instantly the pattern resolved itself, like one of those kaleidoscopes that you shake and suddenly all the pieces fall into place. It was an ambush. Al-Douni was supposed to be GSD. A seasoned intelligence professional. He couldn’t be doing something so amateurish.
Whether it was GSD or Hezbollah, they weren’t above killing a CIA agent or, better yet, taking one hostage for their own purposes. For them, grabbing an attractive blond female CIA spy would be like hitting the lottery. In her mind, she could already visualize the media circus as they paraded her before the camera, denouncing yet more American interference in the Middle East while they kept her locked in a closet for years, torturing and raping her because after all, she was a spy, not to mention that many men in the Middle East believed Western women were all sluts anyway. Nightingale motioned to her again and as he did so, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted two Arab men getting out of a van on her side of the street and moving toward her.
It was a snatch. She had to decide instantly; in a few seconds she would be a prisoner. She turned and walked back into the theater.
“I forgot something,” she mumbled in Arabic, showing her
to the ticket taker. She walked down the aisle, squinting to readjust her eyes to the dark. On the screen, Dumbledore was announcing that Hogwarts was to host the Triwizard Tournmanet as Carrie stepped out the side emergency exit into an alley. They would be coming in after her, she thought, heading back to the avenue. She peeked out from the side of the building. Nightingale was no longer at the café. The two men must have entered the theater.
She ran out onto the avenue, making a turn around the corner and down a narrow street away from the traffic. How many were there? she wondered, cursing herself for wearing high heels. Part of her cover. Unless she was in an
no self-respecting woman in Beirut would be caught dead in flats. There wouldn’t be just the two men, she thought, stopping to pull off her heels. Not if they were serious.
The street was dark, shaded with trees. Not many people around, not that having people around would stop them. The two Arab men from the van came around the corner. One of them pulled something out of his jacket. It looked like a pistol with an attached sound suppressor. She started to run. They had underestimated her, she thought. She had been a runner. She could outrun them.
Just then she heard a sharp ping and felt something sting her leg. She glanced down and back and saw a white scar on the sidewalk from a bullet. They were shooting at her. She dodged left, then right and touched her leg, feeling a tear in her jeans and a smear. Blood. A bit of sidewalk must have ricocheted and hit her, she thought, running for her life, the concrete hard on her bare feet. Turning the corner, she raced down an empty street. She had to do something and fast. On her left was a large gated house behind a wrought-iron fence; on the other side of the street, a Greek Orthodox church with a domed roof, spotlighted white in the darkness.
She raced to the side door of the church and yanked on the handle. It was locked. Looking behind her, her heart pounding, she could see the two Arab men running. They both had pistols with silencers now and were getting closer. Ahead at the corner, a Mercedes sedan screeched to a halt. Four men piled out. Shit! she thought, running as hard as she could for the main door to the church. She yanked it open and ran inside.
There were perhaps a dozen people, nearly all women dressed in black, in the church. They were walking around, lighting candles and kissing icons or just standing facing the altar with its arches and gold-backed icons. A bearded young man, a priest in a black robe, came down the aisle toward her.
“Christ is in our midst,” he said in Arabic.
“Of course he is, Father. I need help. Is there a back way out?” she replied in Arabic.
Instinctively, he glanced to the side toward his shoulder. She ran that way, just as the main door burst open and the four men from the Mercedes ran in, two of them holding automatic rifles. A woman screamed and everyone began to scatter. Except the priest, who walked toward the men.
” he shouted.
“This is the house of our Lord!” One of the men bowled him aside as he ran down the aisle toward the alcove where Carrie had disappeared behind a curtain that led to a door.
She ran outside. A walkway led to an avenue, or she could cross the walkway to a parking lot surrounded by a hedge. She ran through the parking lot, jogging right at the muffled sound of a shot behind her, then dodged through a gap in a hedge and out onto Avenue Charles Malek, a broad main street thick with traffic and people. She ran into the middle of the street, dodging cars, horns honking. The light turned green and the traffic was moving all around her. Out of the corner of her eye, she looked back at the side street and saw three of the men from the Mercedes on the sidewalk looking around for her. They would spot her in seconds.
She was in the middle of traffic between two lanes of cars barely eight inches apart. She felt a hand groping her ass from a car moving in the opposite direction. She didn’t waste time looking to see who had done it; she had to do something fast to get out of their line of sight.
A Service taxi was about to pass her. There was one seat in the back available. She waved her hand at the windshield in front of the driver’s face and shouted “Hamra!” The Service was already heading that way, west, and there was a CIA safe house in the Ras Beirut neighborhood not far from Hamra if she could reach it undetected. The Service stopped in the middle of traffic, horns behind him honking, and she jumped into the backseat.
” she murmured to the other passengers, slipping the shoes she’d been carrying back on and pulling a black
from her pocket and putting it on her head to help change her image. She tossed one end of the scarf over her shoulder while looking around quickly. One of the men on the sidewalk was pointing at the Service and saying something. She leaned back, so she would be screened by the other two passengers in the backseat, an older woman in a gray suit staring at her with frank interest and a young man in sweats, probably a university student. In the front seat next to the driver was a young woman ignoring everyone and talking to someone on a cell phone.
Wa alaikum salaam,
” the student and the older woman murmured back.
“Where in Hamra?” the driver asked, hitting the gas and swerving into a gap between the cars ahead to advance a few meters.
“Central Bank,” she said, not wanting to give away the actual safe house location, especially if they were still following her. Close enough to where she wanted to go. She passed two thousand-livre bills to the driver, then pulled a makeup compact out of her handbag and tried to angle it so she could see out the rear window. Nothing but traffic behind. If the van or the Mercedes was behind her, they were too far back to be seen. But they were still after her. She was sure of it. Because of her, everyone in the Service was in danger. She had to get out as soon as she could, she thought. Brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes and looking around, she put the compact away.
“You shouldn’t do that,” the older woman said. “Standing in the middle of traffic like that.”
“There’s a lot I shouldn’t do.” Then, realizing the woman was taking too much interest in her, she added, “My husband tells me all the time,” making sure the woman saw the wedding band she always wore for contact meetings even though she wasn’t married, to help prevent what Virgil, her black-bag guy, called “Everest sex.” Sex that was unwanted or with the wrong partners or the Everest part, “because it’s there, Carrie.”
They were on Boulevard General Fouad Chehab now, the main east-west street across northern Beirut, and the traffic was moving a little faster. If they were going to come at her in the Service, it would be now, she thought, eyes darting around. Cars and trucks all around and the teenage girl in front on the cell phone saying, “I know,
. Ciao.” The girl hung up and immediately began texting.
The driver made the turn by the tall rectangular al-Mour building onto Boulevard Fakhreddine. All the buildings in this area were new; the old ones had been destroyed during the long civil war. Farther up the boulevard, she could see tall cranes where still more new buildings were going up. The Service made a left and after a few blocks, the driver slowed to find a place to let someone off.
Carrie glanced back out the rear window. They were still behind her. In traffic, four cars back in the Mercedes, looking to move over. They were waiting for her to get out, then they’d pick her up before she’d gone twenty feet. What could she do? The Service pulled over and stopped near a tall apartment building. Carrie tensed. Would they come at her now? They could stop by the Service, blocking it so it couldn’t pull out in traffic. She’d be trapped. She had to do something and fast.
The older woman nodded to the other passengers and got out. After a second, Carrie got out on the street side, went around and took her arm.
“I thought you were going to Central Bank,” the woman said.
“I’m in trouble. Please, madame,” Carrie said.
The woman looked at her. “What kind of trouble?” she asked as they walked toward the entrance to the apartment building. Carrie glanced over her shoulder. As the Service pulled away, the Mercedes was pulling up in its place at the curb.
“The worst kind. We have to run or they’ll kill you too, madame,” Carrie said, starting to run and pulling the woman with her. They ran inside the building, over to the elevators, and pushed the button.