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Authors: Terrence McCauley

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BOOK: Sympathy For the Devil
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Hicks trailed as close as a quarter mile out to avoid being spotted. He knew Kamal wasn’t in any danger. This was all a dog-and-pony show for his benefit and, ultimately, for the benefit of the man Kamal was supposed to be working for.

Everywhere they went, Omar and Kamal got a warm greeting from Nairobis and Nigerians and Kenyans and Senegalis alike. Hicks’ surveillance had shown that Omar had visited many of these places before, but the extent of their affection for him was troubling. Omar had obviously been very busy; quietly making a lot of friends.

He had OMNI scan for cellphones and tablets everywhere they went, but none of the principles had any devices on them. Smart boys. Many were smart enough still to stay inside or at least keep their heads covered. This made it more difficult for OMNI to identify them from above, but not impossible. The old girl made due and indentified a fair number of them. Now they’d been tagged, they’d be tracked for the rest of their lives.

At one stop in Queens, one of Omar’s men met them and brought Kamal’s phone and battery back to him in a plastic baggie. The footage from the cellphone Hicks pulled off the system showed the bag had been sealed since Omar and Kamal left the house. Although the OMNI signal still powered it despite the lack of a battery, all it picked up was blurred images and muffled sounds through the baggie. Not even the University’s equipment would be able to make much of any of it.

Not that there’d be much worth learning anyway. Hicks doubted the stooges who Omar had left watching the safe house would have been trusted with anything vital. But now they had a location on Omar’s safe house, which was more than they’d had before.

As he watched Omar and Kamal finish glad-handing their new comrades, Hicks ordered OMNI to begin running identity checks on everyone they’d met that day. A full report would be waiting for him at Twenty-third Street by the time he got back there later that night. By that time the next night, the University would have a better idea of who they were, where they were living and why they were there by this time tomorrow. A fairly productive day by that alone, but Hicks hoped Kamal’s intel would be able to put the icing on the cake. Hicks liked icing.

 

A
T TEN
o’clock that night, Omar dropped off Kamal at the apartment. Hicks parked around the corner and watched the satellite feed while he listened to Omar’s parting words through Kamal’s cellphone. Until then, their conversations had been about the people they’d met that day and how they were all faithful servants of Allah.

In French, Omar said, “Will you be reporting back to our wise uncle about what you have seen here today?”

“I will,” Kamal said, “and I know he will be very impressed by what I tell him.”

“Do you think he will be impressed enough to aid us in our worthy cause?”

“If he—and Allah—wish it, it will be so.”

“Yes, of course,” Omar said immediately. Hicks was glad Kamal had picked up on Omar’s deference to the Almighty whenever the situation presented itself. “If you wish to discuss the matter further, I am at your disposal.”

“Good, because I will need you to be at my disposal tomorrow morning at ten. Have you or your men pick me up at the same place you’d picked me up this morning. I hope to have an answer for you by then.”

Via the OMNI feed, Hicks watched Kamal get out of the car and walk into the building. He watched the car pull away from the curb and drive down the street, only to stop next to a parked car on the other side of the street.

Hicks zoomed in on the image and saw Omar speak to someone in the other car, before driving away.

So Omar had someone watching Kamal’s place after all, Hicks thought. Smart. Like the old saying goes: trust but verify. Omar had learned a lot since losing two men in the park.

Hicks assigned the satellite’s software to detect the black box in Omar’s car and had the system track it passively, not visually. Satellites, even OMNI, had a limited bandwidth and he might need it for something else before the night was out. From now on, they’d have a record of everywhere that car went.

Hicks listened to Kamal’s labored breath as he walked up the four flights to his apartment. Prison life had clearly eroded his stamina. Hicks didn’t want to risk calling Kamal in case Omar’s men had snuck in and bugged the place since they’d left, so he sent him a text message instead:

YOU’RE BEING WATCHED FROM THE STREET. CHECK FOR BUGS, THEN CALL ME.

Kamal’s response: K

Hicks listened to Kamal enter the apartment. He heard him put the keys and the

phone somewhere, possibly on the table. He activated the phone’s camera and got a great view of the apartment’s ceiling. He heard what sounded like Kamal checking around the apartment. After a few moments, he saw Kamal pick up the phone, open the flip and text him back:

PLACE HAS BEEN SEARCHED. DIDN’T FIND ANY DEVICES, BUT THEY COULD BE LISTENING. DON’T COME UP. SOMEONE IN THE ALLEY BEHIND THE BUILDING.

That was why Hicks hadn’t placed any cameras in the apartment. If they’d been found, Kamal would’ve been killed. Hicks texted back:

WE NEED TO DEBRIEF. EMAIL ME A REPORT.

Kamal’s response:

NOTHING TO REPORT. I SAW A DINER AROUND THE CORNER. MEET ME AT 0800. TALK THEN.

Hicks didn’t like that. He texted back:

NO. LEAVE NOW.

He waited for a response like some goddamned teenager waiting for a girl to text him back. But no response came.

Hicks knew he had options. He could’ve gone into the building next door, gone up to the roof and entered Kamal’s building that way. But Omar might be expecting that, so Hicks ruled that out.

He could call him anyway despite Kamal’s warnings, but decided not to do that either. He doubted Omar’s operation was sophisticated enough to have planted listening devices in the apartment. But he hadn’t expected Omar to have such an extensive network, either.

Even in times like these, University protocol was clear. An experienced Asset had waived off the debriefing and he didn’t have enough information to overrule that call. Protocol was there for a reason because, more times than not, it worked.

Besides, he needed to get that envelope analyzed. Hicks hit the ignition and put the car in gear.

 

A
FTER DROPPING
off the storage unit envelope for analysis at the University’s facility in Washington Heights, Hicks stayed up half the night analyzing the OMNI reports on all the people Omar had introduced to Kamal earlier that day. Most of them were African ex-pats who’d come into the country legally and held regular jobs. A few were clerics who had peaceful congregations. None of them had any warrants or raised any red flags except through their association with Kamal. Hicks ordered tacit tracking on them anyway. Now, for the rest of their lives, they’d be scrutinized by OMNI.

He also checked the footage from the camera in the TV in Kamal’s apartment. He wanted to see who’d searched the place and when. And when he watched the footage, Hicks did not like what he saw.

 

H
ICKS WAS
already on the move when his handheld started buzzing at seven that morning with text messages from Kamal:

SEE YOU AT THE DINER AT 0800

Then, a few minutes later, Kamal texted:

YOU THERE?

At eight o’clock:

WHERE ARE YOU?

At eight thirty, he texted:

MISSED YOU AT THE DINER. MEET ME AT THE PARK AROUND THE CORNER.

And thirty minutes after that, at just after nine in the morning, Hicks was sitting on an ancient metal chair in Kamal’s kitchenette when Kamal opened the door. He was aiming the .454 Ruger at the center of his chest.

Kamal just smiled as he shut the door behind him. “There you are.” He jerked his chin at the pistol. “That the jazzed up .38 you had on you the other day? All that little thing is gonna do is make me mad.” He looked at the long Islamic wall calendar Hicks had taken off the wall next to the door and placed on the kitchen table. “At least you did some redecorating while you were here.”

Hicks kept the Ruger level. “You’ve disappointed me. I told you what would happen if you disappointed me.”

Kamal nodded at the gun. “What are you gonna do? Kill me? What’ll that get you? I’m supposed to meet Omar’s boys with the money in an hour.”

“Why did you lie about the place being searched?”

“What made you think I lied?”

“Because there’s a camera in the television set, asshole. And I ran the footage, so I know the only one in this room yesterday was you. Omar’s boys should’ve searched the place, but they didn’t. Not a bright group of boys you’ve joined up with, Kamal.”

“Who says I joined up with them?”

“You did, the moment you jerked me around about meeting for the debrief. Did you think I’d just show up at the diner? I’m running this operation, Ace. I choose the rendezvous points, not you.”

“So that’s what this is about? A pissing match about who’s in charge here, you paranoid motherfucker? I’m in the field, man. It’s my call where to meet and that diner was as good a place for a debrief as any.”

“Which is why you picked a nice public, local place to tell me the bad news.”

Kamal folded his arms. “Well, now you’ve just gone and lost me boss, because I don’t have the first damned clue what you’re talking about. And I don’t think you do, either.”

“Sure you do,” Hicks said. “Whatever Omar showed you yesterday was big. Big enough for you to change your mind about cooperating with me. You wanted to meet at the diner, thinking I wouldn’t try to kill you in a public place. You were right. I’m going to kill you here instead.”

Kamal laughed again. “Damn, man. You’ve gone field crazy, you know that? Seeing boogie men and bad guys at every turn. You need help and a shitload of serious R and R.”

Hicks picked up a dirty rag from the kitchen table. “I found this on the table when I walked in. It wasn’t here when I left, which means you brought it in with you last night when Kamal dropped you off.” He made a show of sniffing the rag. “Gun metal’s got such a great smell to it, doesn’t it?”

Hicks watched Kamal’s Adam’s apple bob up, then down. He made a slight move for his pocket and Hicks adjusted the Ruger. “Don’t.”

Kamal slowly raised his hands. “This is still a pretty public place, even all the way up here. We’re being watched, remember?”

“Man in the car out front and one in the alley,” Hicks told him. “Both trailed you to the diner, and the park, then back here.” He nodded at his handheld on the table. “Satellite surveillance is a wonderful thing.”

Kamal smiled. “But it’s not everything, is it? Because even with all your technology and all your eyes in the sky, you assholes still can’t hack what Omar’s cooking up. And that’s the beauty of it. You won’t find out, either, unless I decide to tell you.”

Hicks smiled, too. “So it’s like that.”

“That’s the way it’s got to be, boss man. Because what my man Omar is working on is just that big. And when you find out what he’s planning, it’ll blow your fucking mind.”

“But you’re not going to tell me unless I pay you what you want, right?”

“You’re smarter than you look, boss man,” Kamal said. “I had a damned nice nest egg in Afghanistan when those bastards took me down. I’d say five million ought to be enough to make me whole. Cash, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Oh, and you’ll throw in clemency. Clean record, shit like that. All of that might come in handy somewhere down the line. None of that’s what you might call unreasonable, is it?”

“Or I could just bring you in and have the information dragged out of you for free.”

Kamal shook his head. “I’ve been through all that in training. None of that Guantanamo shit ever worked on me.”

“Son, my people have places that makes Guantanamo look like a summer camp. And methods a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding. More effective, too.”

“All of which takes time, boss man. And time is something you and whoever you’re working for don’t have. Omar’s scheme is so goddamned simple, it’s perfect. It’s golden and it’s ready to pop. You won’t even know what’s happening until it’s already too late. Not unless I tell you all about it, which I’m willing to do, provided I get what I need to make me whole.”

BOOK: Sympathy For the Devil
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