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Authors: Terrence McCauley

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Sympathy For the Devil (10 page)

BOOK: Sympathy For the Devil
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Hicks knew the Dean wasn’t a deliberate man. He never came at something head on. He also never simply thought out loud. Everything he said or wrote had a purpose, even when it was in the form of a question.

“You know I never deal in hypothetical questions, sir, but if that was the case with Omar, I’d be very interested in what you had to say.”

“Good, because it’s the real reason for my call. It appears Omar is in quite a panic. He’s been on the phone since midnight calling every fundamentalist financier in the book, begging them to send him money.”

Hicks had learned long ago to never doubt the Dean, but he still found it difficult to believe. “How could Omar even get their numbers, much less get them on the phone?”

“An excellent question, and one we need to answer quickly. Omar has called several well-known patrons to ask them to finance an imminent, major offensive he’s prepared to launch against the West. Part of his pitch is that time is of the essence and he needs financing to pull it off. Unfortunately, he’s not giving out with any details unless they agree to fund him.”

Hicks quickly re-clicked through Omar’s OMNI profile and the profiles of all the drivers. None of them had used any of their known cellphones or email accounts in over a day. “Where the hell is he calling them from? OMNI is tracking every number Omar’s been near in the past six months, and I’m coming up with zero.”

“That’s because he’s in flight,” the Dean explained. “He’s been making the phone calls I just mentioned from throw-away phones while parked in a series of strip mall parking lots all over central New Jersey. Never more than one call from the same number and never two calls from the same lot. It’s primitive but effective so far.”

That only raised more questions for Hicks. He kept clicking through Omar’s OMNI file. In the year since he’d been tracking Omar’s movements, both passively and actively via Colin, Omar had never gone anywhere near New Jersey. Not even as a driver in one of his own cabs.

Omar had secrets.

And so did the Dean.

“How do you know all of this, sir?”

“Because Omar contacted a man in the Middle East who has been a friend of the University in the past. Two men, in fact, though one is more of a friend than the other. There have been times when this man has informed us of radical actions that would damage his interests so he was more than happy to let us know about Omar’s call. As you know, these men pride themselves on anonymity and discretion. A stranger calling them out of the blue begging for money for a mysterious attack has caused them to circle the wagons. They’re wondering how an unknown like Omar was able to reach them and they’re very unhappy.”

Hicks didn’t mind that. The longer these old bastards kept their checkbooks in the drawer, the fewer people got killed. “Has Omar gotten anyone to finance him yet?”

“Everyone’s turned him down except our friend, who has agreed to string Omar along until we tell him how we want to proceed.”

“Who’s our friend?”

“Compartmentalization, James. I’ll tell you at the right time,” the Dean said, “but now’s not the time.”

Hicks hated working blind, but he knew the Dean wasn’t the kind of man you pushed. If he was holding something back, then it was for a reason. “Did this source tell you why Omar needs funds?”

“No. For a beggar, he’s being very cagey about details. Omar isn’t being greedy, though. He’s only asking for a pledge before he agreed to tell them more, especially over the phone. Omar implied that he’s being hunted by the Great Satan and in dire need of assistance quickly. He’s telling people that he’s working on a sacred plan that will strike deep into the heart of the infidels and leave a scar that will take generations to heal. His very words, according to our source.”

It sounded like a lot of desperate bluster to Hicks. He knew Omar wasn’t a trained terrorist, just a very enthusiastic amateur looking to make it into the big time. Colin must’ve discovered whatever Omar was working on, but Colin hadn’t told him who he worked for. If he had, Omar wouldn’t have sent rookies with him to Central Park. The phone calls Omar was making proved that whatever he was working on required an infusion of cash.

Hicks didn’t waste time wondering what Omar was planning. He focused on the opportunity he had to find out for certain rather than speculating.

“We can either grab him and turn him over to Roger and hope he can break him,” Hicks said, “or we can put someone close to him and pull the information out of him that way.”

“Of course, I know the path I would choose, but since New York is your office, it’s your call.”

Hicks admired the Old Man’s sensibilities. By allowing Hicks to make the choice, the Dean had plausible deniability if things went to shit. Even the Dean ultimately answered to someone, namely the University’s Board of Directors. Hicks’ decision made it Hicks’ mess if things went sideways.

“Interrogations can always be tricky,” Hicks said, “so I think we need your source to help us get close to Omar.”

“I’m happy to hear you say that,” the Dean said, “because I’ve got an idea on how we can do it as safely and quickly as possible.”

Hicks thought he would. The Dean probably didn’t get out of bed in the morning without knowing what he’d dream about that night.

“I want to use Omar’s zeal and inexperience to draw him out and trip him up,” the Dean explained. “He’s obviously very desperate, and he doesn’t have the slightest idea of how these kinds of operations are funded. We’re going to use his naivety to our advantage by sending in someone to play savior for him. We’re going to make sure an emissary from our Middle Eastern friend will arrive at just the right time with a bag of cash and the promise of more to follow; as soon as Omar reveals everything about his plan, of course.”

Hicks liked the plan, in theory. But there was nothing theoretical about field work. A solid op took weeks, often months, to plan properly, and they didn’t have that kind of time. If Omar really was ready to hatch some kind of an attack, they’d need to move fast.

“Unfortunately” the Dean went on, “I don’t think you have anyone On Staff who could serve as a convincing bag man on such short notice, do you?”

Hicks didn’t, and the Dean knew it. He had trained Faculty Assets from nearly every ethnic group at his disposal. Dozens of men and women of all races, colors, creeds, and backgrounds who could pass for damned near any nationality in the world if they had enough time to back away from their current assignments. As big as Omar’s plot may be, the University still had dozens of important deep cover operations underway throughout the city.

Hicks wouldn’t throw one of his own people into this without proper prep time. Hurry and haste usually got the wrong people killed. “I’ve got Enrollees and Assets who could do the job, but none are in New York right now. No men, anyway, and I know Omar will not accept a woman as an emissary.”

“I know,” the Dean said. “Which is why I’ve already got someone in mind.”

Hicks figured he did. But he didn’t like outsiders coming in on one of his operations, even one as flawed and rushed as this one was shaping up to be. Hicks’ New York team was diverse, and they’d all been handpicked by him. He knew all their strengths and weaknesses. He knew how to use them and when. A new player in the mix, even just one man, could throw all that off. “I’m still confident one of your people can handle it, sir. I’ve got a man who was in deep cover in Tehran and another who...”

“Who has been working in J.P. Morgan for the past ten years and hasn’t been undercover for almost fifteen years,” the Dean said. “I’m familiar with all of your Faculty Members, Assets, and Enrollees, James, but I’m afraid this decision isn’t up for debate. Omar has already surprised us with his ability to evade surveillance and discover Colin’s identity, at least in part. Besides, we don’t know what Colin may have told Omar about our operations in New York, so we can’t risk one of your men going in. We need to embed someone who is trained in this sort of operation very quickly before Omar gets desperate and does something wild. Amateurs are at their most dangerous when frightened.”

Hicks knew he was right. The Dean was always right. That didn’t mean he had to like it. “Of course, sir.”

“I need you to alert all of your people about what happened to Colin and let them know they need to be on guard just in case Colin talked about them,” the Dean said. “Send the alert via the liquor store spam email so they know it’s a critical message.”

Hicks didn’t need to be reminded of protocol. “I’ll send it out as soon as possible, but I’d like to talk more about the man you have in mind for the Omar mission, sir.”

“I’ve already got our people vetting several candidates I’ve deemed suitable. In the meantime, I need you to take an educated guess on how much money we should offer Omar to satisfy his immediate needs. If we give him too much, he’s liable to think he’s being set up by the CIA or one of our brother agencies. We give him too little, he’ll only waste time bartering for more. You’ve been studying him for months, so your input is vital.”

Hicks had seen this scenario play out in other parts of the University before. An Office Head would let their superior run an operation and, gradually, the Dean’s office pushes the Office Head out of the entire op. Hicks wasn’t about to allow that to happen to him.

“Where is the money coming from, sir? I take it that our Middle Eastern friend won’t agree to finance it.”

“Not a chance,” the Dean said. “He’s an ally, but an irregular one at best. We can’t compel him to pay for anything like this.”

That was music to Hicks’ ears because now he knew how he’d be able to control the entire operation. The oldest form of control there was. “An op like this will take at least a hundred grand for Omar to take our decoy seriously.”

The Dean skipped a beat. “Did you say a hundred thousand dollars?”

“I did, sir. Omar probably doesn’t know how much to ask for, so a hundred grand is a good way to buy our decoy a seat at the table. We don’t offer it all to him at once, of course. Maybe half to start with as a good faith effort to get the conversation started.”

Hicks could practically hear the calculations going on in the Dean’s mind. The University bureaucracy was far more streamlined than the bureaucracy of any intelligence agency in the world, but it was still very much a bureaucracy. A hundred grand was more than he could approve through petty cash. And Hicks knew that.

“Are you sure you’re not being too generous? That’s an awful lot of money to offer a small time operator like Omar. Maybe we offer …”

“Omar has shown enough sophistication to detect Colin was spying on him. He’s proven that he has enough resources to get the contact information of some very influential financiers in the Middle East. And he’s confident enough in whatever he’s planning to have risked getting himself killed by calling them out of the blue. A hundred grand is a nice round number. I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.” He moved in for the kill. “Besides, I have a way to get the money outside the University system.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary. The University has more than enough in the Bursar’s account to finance it.”

“I know, but it’ll take a couple of days for you to get all the approvals to release that kind of money. We don’t have that kind of time. Luckily, I’ve just closed a new Asset; a finance man who’s cash heavy at the moment and is looking to stay in my good graces. Why finance it ourselves when we can use other people’s money? Risk free, too.”

“That’s the Russo man, isn’t it?” the Dean asked. “I still don’t see why we need another finance man. We’ve almost got as many money men as lawyers enrolled as Assets these days.”

“This one is better than most at moving large amounts of money very quietly,” Hicks explained, “and we’re going to need a lot of cash on hand to get Omar to trust us. If he checks and sees our man only has fifteen thousand, he might clam up and that defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do here. My man’s got a hundred grand just sitting in his safe right now.”

This time, the Dean skipped two beats. “A hundred thousand? Are you sure?”

“Positive, sir.”

“I suppose you have a point, but are you sure you’re that liquid?”

Between his dozens of extortion operations and other legitimate investments, Hicks’ New York office brought in over three hundred grand a month to the University’s Bursar’s office. That didn’t count for the operating capital he held back to independently finance the New York office, which was close to that. “I’m plenty liquid, sir. And I know for a fact that Russo has that much cash on hand. He’ll be happy to get it to us quickly and quietly.”

“Not to mention that providing the money will give you a certain level of operational control.” He heard the smile in the Dean’s voice. “Well played, James. Well played indeed.”

Hicks lied. “I’m only thinking about the success of the mission, sir.”

The Dean laughed. “You’ve never thought of only one thing in your life. I think a hundred thousand is more than generous, but as they say, it’s your money. How long would it take you to have that much on hand?”

“Within a matter of hours at most,” Hicks said. He hoped Russo hadn’t moved it from his home safe. “When do you think your operative will be here in New York?”

“The process is already underway. I’ll be in touch with the particulars.” The line went dead.

Hicks tossed the handheld on the desk and slowly pushed himself away from the computer. Away from the phone and OMNI and anything to do with the University. Just for a little while, he needed quiet.

There was no other sound in the bunker, not even the pop and creak of his chair as he moved. Just the antiseptic hum of the florescent lights and the computer’s drive.

Conversations with the Dean were often closer to sparing matches than knife fights, but still took their toll. The Dean never came straight out and said what he wanted and he always held something back, even when he didn’t have to. Secrecy was the hallmark of their business and details were a way of keeping score. In the University System, the truth was an arduous process and something to be avoided at all costs.

BOOK: Sympathy For the Devil
3.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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