In this, Chapter 29, Devlin uses advanced technology to track down and confront the Iranian terrorist who’s directing the Bombay-style assault on Manhattan.
New York City
Arash Kohanloo had spent a great deal of time in New York, especially for an Iranian national. Under some circumstances, his passport might have proven a bit of a bother, but the Tyler Administration had been determined to turn its back on the old ways. The fact that he was attached, however tangentially, to his country’s U.N. mission facilitated matters greatly and, even if all else failed, he had multiple passports from multiple countries, including a Swiss passport that was tantamount to an international laissez-passer. It was amazing what the combination of money and power and fear could win you.
The hotel, of course, was in lockdown. The New York authorities were smart; they had gone to school on the Bombay massacre, and knew that the fancy hotels were natural targets for gunmen with grudges. The elevators were all switched off, except for a couple of service elevators being guarded by private security. You could order room service to eat, but you had to stay in the hotel, and preferably in your room, until the “incident” was over.
All of which was fine with Kohanloo. In fact, that was just the way he wanted it. Fewer people milling about suited him just fine, and as long as the cell phone service worked he could stay in touch with everyone with whom he needed to stay in touch, and then events would unfold as they unfolded.
At the first news of the attack he had informed his people back home. He had also made certain that a specific sum of money had been wired to several bank accounts in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, and one of the Channel Islands between Britain and France. One could no longer rely on the discretion of the Swiss. In the crackdown on international money transfers that followed in the wake of September 11, including the so-called Swift program that enabled the government to trace “terrorist” financing and thus disrupt the usual remittance channels and other mechanisms of Shari’a-compliant finance, the damned Americans had disrupted everything. This had necessitated a change in the networks, which funneled money between the Muslim lands and their bankers in London and Brussels, and for a time the stream was partly damned. But money is like water and soon enough it finds its way to its inevitable destination.
He didn’t have to come here, and it was not part of his arrangement with Skorzeny that he do so. But the opportunity to strike a blow at the heart of a politically correct America, and to supervise the operation right under their noses and in the heart of their greatest city as an honored guest was too good to resist. Skorzeny had warned him off taking personal charge, but Skorzeny was a bitter old man, not only weak but with too many weaknesses, and whatever game he was playing was known only to him.
Kohanloo looked at the array of cell phones on the table in front of him. They were all local, off-the-shelf, no-contract communication devices — “plain vanilla,” as the Americans said. To anyone tracking cell phone use — and even the Americans were not so stupid as to not be doing that — they would appear to be completely innocuous. What a pleasure it was to use the enemy’s technology against him, to take the things his infidel culture had created and to turn even the simplest things into weapons. Whether the Brothers had used box-cutters or knives on Sept. 11 was immaterial; the real weapons they wielded on that glorious day was the institutional cowardice of the Americans, especially the men, and turned that weakness into the powerful flying bombs that, Allah be praised, had taken down the Twin Towers and nearly the Pentagon itself.
For what sort of men were these, who would not fight back? Who would not defend their women and children? Who would go so willingly to their deaths, Christian lambs to the slaughter? For all its sexuality, its braggadocio, its exaggerated cartoons of men and women, it was at root exhausted, played out, expired. This was one thing that he and Skorzeny had agreed upon from the start: that what they were doing was not murder but a mercy killing, the merciful thing to do when a living organism was in its terminal stages.
The idea behind the operation was simplicity itself. Either America would fight back or she wouldn’t. The Holy Martyrs who had struck the Great Satan on Sept. 11 had succeeded beyond the Sheikh’s wildest dreams, but in a larger sense they had failed. They had not precipitated the final war between the dar al-Islam and the dar al-Harb, nor had they set the Americans to each other’s throats in a civil war over their precious national freedoms.
But this was different. This was a direct attack, man to man, on the streets of the Great Satan’s financial capital and its greatest city. This was a challenge so direct that not even The New York Times could rationalize it away. This was the event that would finally force the cowardly Americans to choose sides and then, once they had, it would be but the work of a lifetime or two to hunt the infidel dogs down — with the assistance of the collaborators, of course — and destroy them. In the end, all would be well, and all would accept the Call.
But there was another, larger, and vastly more important reason behind the martyrdom operation. The arrival of the Twelfth Imam, pbuh, could only be hastened by blood; he would not come, with Jesus at his side, until the Great Conflict was well and truly underway. All was in readiness in the Holy City of Qom, where the path had been made straight and the centuries of the false Mahdi would soon come to an end. What better way to encourage Mohammed ibn Hasan al-Mahdi al-Muntazar to finally reappear than to set the dar al-Harb aflame?
Arash Kohanloo glanced over at the television set, another typical product of western decadence. Who had need of such a monstrosity, when a simple black and white set would do? This was the problem with America: need had nothing to do with its desires, and the word “want” had transferred its meaning from the former to the latter. He was from a far older culture, an infinitely greater culture whose art and poetry before the Conquest had been unsurpassed, and while some sacrifices had had to be made in order to accommodate Revelation, the memory of the Persian Empire was imprinted on every Iranian’s soul. Even the name of the country — its new name, not the old one — signified its glorious antiquity and pride of place in the human community: Aryan.
He had lost a few of the warriors yesterday, but the rest had gone to ground as per instructions, while they waited. This, too, was part of the plan. Warriors were only martyrs who had not entered heaven yet, and his job was to supply the afterlife with fresh souls.
Still, losing warriors was one thing; having one of the enemy speak to you in Farsi was another. He sounded like a Brother, from his accent, but his words had been puzzling and mysterious, beginning with his question in French about the number of the names of God and continuing on with various obscure theological questions about the suras and the life of the Prophet, concluding with a discussion of the Twelfth Imam. And then he had lost contact with Brother Alex, whom he now must assume was dead.
But why would a Brother kill Alex? It was possible that it had been a mercy killing, that Brother Alex had somehow been wounded and had been put out of his misery in order to enter paradise. It was also possible that Brother Alex’s security had been compromised, and another of the Brothers had terminated him. It was even remotely possible that Brother Alex had been taken out by one of the New York City Police Department operatives, although the chances that the man would be a native Persian, or speak Farsi like one, were nil.
There was a fourth, and more worrisome possibility, however: that Skorzeny had double-crossed him.
Kohanloo thought for a moment. His eyes fell upon the mini-bar. It was so tempting… In the interests of taqiyya, it was permitted a devout Muslim to deceive the enemy A beer, or perhaps two, would aid in the deception.
That Skorzeny would attempt to euchre him would not surprise him in the least. The man’s reputation preceded him and if, in fact, that turned out to be the truth, it would be the last time he ever did that. For while it was permissible for him, Arash Kohanloo, to deceived a westerner with false promises, such behavior in an infidel — worse, an atheist — would not acceptable, and would have to be punished with the utmost Koranic severity.
In fact, as he looked back on it, he realized that Skorzeny had been planning an elaborate deception all along, especially the bit about his not having to come to New York. Clearly, that had been his intention all along: to force Kohanloo to accept the challenge to his manhood and specifically ignore the advice he was being given. Skorzeny had wanted him to supervise the operation from ground zero, and not from the operational safety of, say, Canada, where the Brothers were numerous and the government almost as naive, trusting and unsuspecting as those of Scandinavia. Islam had never laid historic claim to any of the lands of the North, not to mention the new world, but now, with so many Brothers acting religiously as an army of infiltration, taking advantage of the enemy’s trusting nature, his generous social-welfare programs (which were really just an inverted form of racism, since the Brothers were discouraged from gainful employment), there would soon be enough Believers to assert Islam’s historically necessary pride of place and conquer all the lands of the West, once and for all time.
He looked at the cell phone that linked him directly to Brother Alex. Should he pick it up and dial again? For one of the few times in his life, Arash Kohanloo hesitated. This was a new experience for him. having survived multiple changes of regime in Iran, from Mossadegh to the Shah to the Ayatollahs to whatever undoubtedly was coming next, he was used to acting boldly and decisively. In the Middle East, nothing was ever to be gained by caution, except the perpetuation of the same way of life that had obtained for hundreds of years. For all his piety, Kohanloo was a man of the future, not of the past: he looked forward to the inevitable victory of the dar al-Islam and was doing his best to hasten it.
He picked up the phone, a basic Nokia. then another thought occurred to him:
What if it was the NCRI? The National Council of Resistance of Iran?
That put a whole different spin on things. The NCRI, up to this moment, had been a joke. But the open rebellion against the fixed Iranian elections of 2010 had only served to encourage the diaspora Iranians, at least half of whom, it seemed, lived in Beverly Hills or elsewhere in the Greater Los Angeles area. In the old days, poor countries used to export their most miserable people to the United States, so that the those left behind might have a fighting chance at survival. Iran had gone history one better: it had exported its best and its brightest and its richest, its doctors and its bankers and its lawyers. The Revolution had driven away precisely those people a functioning modern country needed, and sent them screaming into the arms of the Great Satan himself, to luxuriate in the southern California climate and plot revenge; they were like the post-Castro Cubans, but with more money.
Up to this point, truth to tell, neither he nor any of the mullahs with whom he did such a profitable, if irreligious business, had given much of a thought to the NCRI. To put the organization in historical context, it was like one of those movements of national liberations that popped up everywhere in the 19th and 20th centuries, groups of raggedy-assed anarchists who threw bombs and occasionally got lucky in their choice of targets, but aside from Princip had very little effect upon the course of human history.
Of course, Gavrilo Princip had had a very great effect upon the course of human history. Incredibly lucky — imagine the Archduke Franz Ferdinand returning by the very same route on which he had dodged Princip’s first attempt on his life earlier that same day — but also incredibly determined, Princip had rearranged the map of Europe and, all unwittingly, doomed the West, although it had taken just about a century on the nose for that fact to become so abundantly clear. The cream of the crop of the infidel had died in the trenches and at the Somme and at Verdun, and those who were not killed were removed from the gene pool three decades later when the same war broke out all over again. As an example of national and cultural suicide, it was unequalled; no wonder their enfeebled descendents wanted nothing so passionately as to terminate themselves, their offspring, and their civilization.
Well, he was here to help that with that. If the west had become a giant suicide cult, Islam was just the death cult it was longing to meet. At last, a battle that had been waged since the seventh century was about to enter its final stages.
He still held the cell phone in his hand. In every operation, once the shooting started, there was something that would go wrong, and almost immediately. War plans were blueprints for buildings that would never get built; what emerged instead was some bastard combination of thought, luck and happenstance, and you lived with the result until you were strong enough to overturn it, or weak enough to be unable to defend it.
He pushed the redial button.
The phone rang. Once, twice…
The security signal was four rings. Anything after four rings mean the connection was compromised, and that the Brother was considered compromised, whether he was in fact dead or not. A wounded Brother was of no use to him. At four rings, the order would automatically go out to the others, identifying the fallen Brother’s last known location, with the orders that he or she should be terminated immediately. Mercy was an unknown commodity, for only Allah could dispense mercy.
Arash Kohanloo’s finger hovered over the Stop button. As soon as the fourth ring ended, he would end the call and send the signal.
A voice, in American English. What he expected, but not at all what he expected.
“Who is this?” he found himself saying.
There was a long pause at the other end of the line — of course, there was no line, only the infidel’s technology, which Kohanloo and his countrymen, although unable to duplicate, were only too happy to employ against the enemy — and what sounded like a clicking noise.
“Go ahead please,” came a female voice.
Now it was a male voice that spoke: “Target located. Sherry-Netherland Hotel.”
“Stand by,” said the infidel woman.
Arash Kohanloo tried to control his breathing. His heart rate was up, that he knew. The doctors had told him to keep it down, keep it calm, keep it within the target range lest he find himself in trouble. Damn that Skorzeny and his wily ways. Here he was, in a situation he should never have been in, and his heart rate was rising along with his blood pressure. He tried to stay calm and listen for whatever came next. There was nothing to worry about.
The fools! They had no idea he was not in the Sherry-Netherland.
“Shall I send a UAV?”
A few more crackles, then –
“Put the bird in the air and stand by.”
“The bird is in the air.”
Kohanloo couldn’t believe his ears. Surely they would not deploy a UAV — Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, more commonly known as a drone — to blast away an entire floor of an expensive hotel in midtown Manhattan. The Americans didn’t do things like that. They were always more concerned about collateral damage than they were about the success of a mission; why, a single snail darter could not only bring down a dam in Alaska, it could probably stop a convoy of Abrams tanks as well.
“Stand by to fire on my orders.”
It was a bluff. It had to be. His eyes stole toward the window of his luxury suite; the curtains were drawn. With the cell phone still pressed up hard against his ear, he moved slowly and quietly toward the window.
Now another voice came on the line. He couldn’t swear to it — and a good Muslim never took an oath except in a religious context — but it sounded awfully like that of the man he had spoke to earlier. In fluent Farsi, he said: “Go to the window.”
He hesitated a moment.
“Go to the window now.”
He went to the window.
“Now, open the curtains.”
How did they know he even had a window where he was? Or that there were curtains? Hotel. They must have guessed hotel.
‘Open them.” He didn’t like the man’s tone of voice, his peremptory way. An unbeliever should never talk to one of the Faithful like that. “Go ahead…”
He took a deep breath and opened the curtains, trying not to flinch –
“What do you see?”
The panorama of New York City. No hint of the sun yet, but on this summer morning, it would be up soon. Just the gleam of the lights and, to the southwest, smoke reflected in the wasteful glare.
He slowly exhaled. “I see exactly what I expect to see, and nothing more.”
“Do you see me?”
He was feeling a little braver now, more like his old self. Of course not. “Now who are you? What do you want?”
“Do you see me now?”
Was that the sun? The sky had brightened a bit, or perhaps his eyes were simply getting used to the darkness. He switched off the nearest floor lamp in order to see better.
“Do you know who I am?”
Still nothing. It was all a bluff. Somehow they had managed to trace the Brother’s cell signal. A cheap trick, and one that any Palestinian kid with a Bulgarian computer could manage. Nothing to –
“Smile, asshole.” That was in English.
A blinding flash. For a moment, Arash Kohanloo was sure he was dead, and that he would soon be entering paradise. He cursed himself for a fool, that he had not had time to perform his ritual ablutions in preparation for martyrdom, and then remember he was not expecting to be martyred this time out.
He was still alive. He could see.
The drone was right outside his window. It had him on video, and was transmitting his picture somewhere. Operational security was blown. It was time to regroup. He started to turn away –
“Stop. Don’t move or you’re a dead man.”
“Look on the wall across from you.”
A video image danced across the plaster and the reproduction of a Monet cathedral. It was the outline of a man, his facial features indistinct. “Look upon me,” said the voice at the other end of the cell phone. Funny; he had forgotten he was still holding it.
“Do you know who I am now?”
“No. I do not.”
“I am Azra’il. Malak al-Maut. He Whom God Helps.”
The name sent shivers down Kohanloo’s spine. Azra’il, the Arabic version of the Biblical Azrael was not to be found in the Holy Koran, but Malak al-Maut was. Another of his names. It meant the Angel of Death.
“And you,” the voice in his ear said, “are a fool. You have been used, Arash Kohanloo — used by your own country and your own government, but worse — you have been used by Satan himself.”
Seething and scared, he knew that what Malak al-Maut was saying was correct. He had never trusted Skorzeny, considered him little better than an infidel pig, no matter what religion he did or did not profess. He must escape, flee this place, use his safe exit out of here, get back to Iran and kill the man who had done this to him.
Or the men. He would not be surprised to learn that one of his enemies among the clerics had done this to them, suggested the operation just so that it would fail, in order to eliminate him, Arash Kohanloo, from any further position of influence within the regime.
“Perhaps you speak the truth,” he said in Farsi.
“You know I do,” came the voice. “And now you are mine.”