“This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
The words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh.’”
—Shakespeare, The Merchant Of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1
CHAPTER I—SPRING 2014
Dr. Kate Farrow sits on the edge of the standard-issue chair in front of the large oak desk. She presses her lips together and clings to the notepad balanced on her lap. She has been in this room only once before.
Dr. Cameron Krug’s shadow precedes him as he turns and walks back to the desk. He holds his hands loosely behind his back. Above his plump midsection are broad shoulders and bulk muscle. Once a fit man, he is still strong, and there’s something about his presence, something imposing, that makes his arms and legs seem longer than they actually are.
“National security,” he says. “That is our top priority. We may wear the uniform of medical doctors, but our first oath is one of allegiance to our country.”
“Understood, Dr. Krug.”
Kate smiles and takes a deep breath as she gazes at the electronic equipment smothering the walls of Krug’s office. Most of it is surveillance equipment monitoring rooms throughout the facility.
“Disorder. Assorted threats to our society. Violence. Senseless killing. Information has always been the key to preventing harm and winning each battle in the war against terrorism. How long have you been with us now?”
“A little over three years, sir.”
“All right, we’ll come back to that later. First, I want to make sure that you fully understand what’s at stake here. Subject 13 is a senior member of a terrorist network with links to fundamentalist groups operating in Central Asia, groups involved in the trade of black-market weapons, in drugs, in human trafficking. Their objective is to highlight, combat and resist Western investment in Central Asia. The subject possesses information crucial to preventing planned attacks against financial institutions based in London.”
He raises his bushy gray eyebrows: “Imminent threat.”
Kate’s pulse races.
“What sort of information do we believe the subject has in his possession?”
“Contacts, organizational structure and methodology, individual targets. Perhaps more. This is, it goes without saying, an extremely sensitive and high-priority assignment.”
Krug leans back in his chair and observes Kate through his black, square-framed glasses. His silver-blue eyes comb over every aspect of her, searching for any flaw in her character. She feels her shoulders about to curl forward.
She straightens her back and tightens the grip on her pen. Although still young, she is an experienced and highly trained psychiatrist, but one who has so far been assigned to mainly low-profile cases—monitoring and ongoing interrogation, nothing high risk. She knows why. But for some reason she is now being given an opportunity to prove her worth. She feels the pen slipping from her hand. This is it, Farrow, don’t blow it.
“Can you tell me a little more about the subject, Dr. Krug?”
“He has been with us for just over three months.”
“Standard information-retrieval procedures?”
“We have known from the outset that the subject is a key source. Given the nature of the risk involved, we have taken some extra steps to break down his resistance, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
Krug lowers his shoulders, visibly relaxing, and nods at Kate. She mirrors his movements, and nods back.
“It’s a two-step process, as I’m sure you’re aware. De-patterning and suggestion. Sensory deprivation and overload, intended to produce just enough psychological regression to make the subject more susceptible to revealing what he knows.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Some of our best interrogators were put on the case.”
“What were the results?”
“The information the subject has is vast. We know it has been transcribed and is hidden somewhere. We have been unable to convince him to reveal to us its whereabouts.”
“What can I do to help at this stage?”
“Apply your knowledge of psychological therapy in an … effective way.”
Krug grimaces and rises from his chair. He turns away from Kate and gazes out the window.
Through the thick glass of a lower pane, Kate catches a glimpse of the rolling green of Kent. The facility, an old farmhouse, is sheltered from outside intrusion, nestled amid oaks and willows, miles from the nearest village. A winding driveway leads to a front entrance area and continues behind the building to the staff parking lot. The lawns are groomed and maintained at a consistent length and shade of green. At the end of the drive there is an entrance gate, manned by one guard.
She turns her attention back to the contours of the room. The walls are painted a pale shade of blue, and the paint is starting to flake in the corners. The standard office maroon-colored carpets are faded and worn. The furniture is an institutional blend of varnished pine and oak, appointed with cracked green imitation leather. Krug twists the dusty white blinds on the window to dampen the light. Everything about the room leaves Kate feeling listless.
Krug continues: “We believe the subject is now in an advanced state of dissociation. He is amnesic and delusional. He is showing signs of psychosis.”
“How much de-patterning was he subjected to?”
“It’s all in the file. We’ve obviously missed something. It is quite unusual for a subject to withstand the treatment that he’s been through.”
“Do we have any medical information on him prior to detention?”
“Precisely what level of dissociation is he demonstrating?”
“Tertiary. Impairment of personal identity. He believes his name is Jack Pierce. He has paranoid delusions, wild notions of conspiracy and intrigue, hallucinations, flights of fancy. At times, he believes he is an investigative reporter, or some kind of detective solving a mystery or some damn thing … A total loss of touch with reality. It’s a mess.”
“So what you want is for me to try to reverse the damage?”
Krug turns and lowers his brow.
“We are considering giving you the opportunity to use your methodologies to locate in his memory the whereabouts of the information we require.”
“I meant no disrespect, sir.”
“We are familiar with your views on the information-retrieval procedures we have in place. But I remind you that those procedures are designed to assist us in saving innocent lives.”
“Of course. If we think his current state of dissociation is a result of the interrogation program, I believe psychological methodologies may be one way to help recover his memory.”
She feels her stomach turn. Of course I understand saving lives. I also understand the human instinct for brutality.
Krug returns to his seat.
“He’s an American citizen. Highly intelligent. He turned … He’s a crossover, radicalized. We think he might respond to some sort of narrative therapy, or whatever it is you call it these days.”
“Treatment for trauma. An American citizen, Dr. Krug?”
“It’s all in the file. Dr. Farrow, explain to me, broadly speaking, how you might work with such a subject. And how this would secure for us the information we need in a timely manner.”
She gazes up at the screens on the wall, each one showing images in soft gray tones. Each a cell with one prisoner. She scans for the one who might be Subject 13 but to no avail.
She returns her gaze to Krug.
“First of all, I need to gain his trust and lead him to believe that he is now safe. Then I would work with him to confront his memories, leading him back gradually to his former self. During that process I would attempt to uncover the information—”
“We don’t want him to be his former self. We don’t have time for ‘gradual.’ We only want the whereabouts of the information.”
Kate swallows and relaxes the muscles in her face.
“I … I could design a program around this objective only. It would involve exposing him to events or triggers surrounding the concealment of the information, perhaps some hypnosis. Perhaps some role play.”
“Of course, you know my position on this. I’m only willing to take things in this direction because we’re desperate and all other strategies have so far failed. Some tactics just sent him further along with his fantasies.”
“Understood, sir. I can say I will try—”
“Let’s be clear. I’m not asking you to engage in any sort of holistic therapy. I want you entirely focused on one thing.”
“National security. I am fully aware that this is a very big opportunity for me. And I will be absolutely focused on recovering the information as quickly as possible.”
“You will be monitored at all times. I should say, the subject is …”
Krug looks past Kate to his assistant, who stands quietly at his office door.
“Orderly here to see you, Dr. Krug. Regarding Subject 13.”
The orderly steps into the room.
“He had another outburst today. We’ve taken the subject back to solitary confinement. We’ve administered anti-psychotics. Risperidone.”
As Krug walks over to discuss this in whispers, Kate runs her eyes over his desk. His pen rests on top of his pad, at its head the emblem of the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Cameron Krug. Former president of the APA, world-renowned and widely respected psychiatrist and neurologist. She thinks back to his scholarly articles, his insights and ideas. His work has long been core reading for any psychiatrist’s training. She looks across to some books leaning against his computer screen. Among them, Battle for the Mind by William Sargant, and KUBARK, an old CIA interrogation manual. And Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Could the mind be wiped clean, tabula rasa, and then rebuilt? It is a thought that Kate long ago dismissed as lunacy.
She focuses her eyes on the edge of the desk and blots out everything else. The atrocities inflicted on innocent people by suicide bombers are the result of indoctrination, brainwashing. What other label could they be given? There is a battle for the mind raging out there. And I will use my skills to fight for the right side.
“It’s 13. You should be aware he is exhibiting aggressive behavior.”
Kate clears her throat and forces a smile, determined to look untroubled by this.
“He has seriously injured some of the other subjects. You will need protection, preferably someone with you in the room at all times.”
“That might be counterproductive.”
“Then just outside the door.”
He watches her adjust the collar of her blouse.
“Are you sure you’re up for this? You have had experience with dangerous subjects, have you not?”
“And, if necessary, you will be prepared to defend yourself.”
“Yes, sir. I am not fazed by aggressive behavior. This assignment is the reason I took a job with MI6. I will do what is necessary for queen and country.”
Krug’s assistant returns to his door. Beside her is a tall man in a dark-blue suit, with long silver hair tied back and a black beard.
“Dr. Krug, an agent is here to see you regarding the Parliamentary Oversight Committee investigation.”
Krug waves him in as he stands up. He places his hands in the pockets of his white coat, faces Kate and smiles.
The man grins as he passes her, revealing a raised, five-inch scar on his left cheek. As she leaves the room, she is overcome by the feeling that she has forgotten to say something, but is not sure quite what.
Kate sits in her office waiting for Subject 13 to arrive. She knows she’s exaggerated to Dr. Krug her experience with dangerous subjects, and he’s probably seen through this. But she is determined to take control and work with this one. She knows that this is a turning point, a moment in her career where she either passes on to the next level or she’s out. I plan to stick around for a while.
There’s a knock on the door. She feels her hands tremble. She reassures herself it’s not fear, but nervous anticipation. She checks the room, where he will sit, her mobile phone resting next to her on the desk, the red emergency buttons hidden from view.
The orderly guides Subject 13 into the room. Her first impression is one of relief. At least he doesn’t look like a monster. He’s unshaven, his hair is disheveled and sweat rolls down his anguished face. He’s spaced out and strung out, but underneath the orange suit and shackles, she can see traces of something she can work with. He was, or still is, a handsome man, tall, strong.
She stands and directs the orderly to place him in the chair across from her desk. She turns to the orderly who stands beside the door.
“I think it would be better if you could position yourself just outside.”
“Are you sure, Dr. Farrow?”
“Yes, quite sure.”
“You’re clear on the emergency system?”
Kate observes the man seated in front of her. His head is tilted slightly, seemingly too heavy for his neck, his eyes flittering. His hands are cuffed together and rest on his lap, but tremors run up and down his arms.
“My name is Dr. Farrow.”
He shifts suddenly in his chair, as if startled. He glares at her. She smiles and searches for a response but none comes.
“And you are Jack Pierce.”
He looks out the window and frowns. He says nothing.
“I understand you’ve been here—”
“You’re very attractive. Soft green eyes, slender. Late twenties, I’m guessing.”
He runs his eyes over her, taking everything in.
“Your accent is English, from the South East. Boarding school, but with a trace of something else. Olive skin, Mediterranean look. Hmmm.”
“My mother’s family is Italian. Where are you from?”
Jack Pierce stares down at his cuffed hands. Kate picks up her pen. As she jots down some notes, she can feel him staring at her. She tilts her head as if to read what she has just written.
“She whispers, there is no darkness in the soul, no night of cruelty. Nor the cold light of immortality. Only the burning fire of life.”
“I’m sorry, what was that you said?”
“She talks of power. The futility of power when it’s exercised. How it never wins history. But power reinvents. It shifts mercurial, attracts promiscuous and infects infinite. It charges humanity against itself. And we wrestle death as a hollow stench rises.”
“Who is ‘she’?”
The tremors in his arms have subsided. As she looks on, he gazes up and they make eye contact for the first time.
“Why, you, of course. Light enters through the wound. It’s a river running through you. Find the river. Let go your mind and senses.”
“You’re quite poetic. But I see you have some difficulty staying focused.”
Pierce straightens his head.
“On the contrary, I am quite focused. It’s a matter of priorities.”
“And what are your priorities?”
Pierce gapes at her, mouth hanging open. Kate feels the muscles in her left leg twitch.
“Perhaps I should tell you a little about myself and why I am meeting with you.”
“If you like. But I already know. You are here to save me … and I will save you.”
“Why do you believe you or I need saving, Jack?”
He crashes his shackled fists on the desk. Kate recoils.
“A savage beast, lurking inside, reborn to wreak havoc. A thin line defending the boundaries of right and wrong, good and evil. Civilization hung precarious on a cliff, blowing in the wind.”
His head shakes as he stands over the desk. Kate reaches for the button but stops short of pressing.
“Jack, may I speak?”
The raised veins in his neck sink back into his body. She catches his eye.
“Please sit down.”
He lowers his head and returns to his seat.
“We are going to spend some time together, just talking. Would that be OK? But we will have a very specific purpose to our discussions. I will be trying to help you regain your memory, Jack. You know you are having some difficulty remembering things, putting things in context.”
“Everything, full of gods. But I see only walking shadows now. I look for my own and see none. Just silent stony secrets. I cannot connect … nothing with nothing.”
“Jack, it is very important to me that you feel absolutely safe and secure when we meet. I am here to help you. Do you think you can open up to this idea?”
“She who was living is now dead. But we who are dying can live again.”
He stretches his arms high above his head and lets them flop into his lap.
“Yes, we could try that.”
Kate regains her composure and speaks in soft tones.
“Jack, I’m going to talk a little about memory and identity. Our identity is based on the information we receive through our senses and store in our memories. When we have memories we are uncomfortable with, we sometimes separate ourselves from them, until we can make sense of them and incorporate them into our identity. I think this is what is happening inside of you. Do you understand?”
He wets his lips.
“More than you can possibly know.”
“But the feelings stay with you. You re-experience the sensations of trauma, uncontrollably. When we are together in this room, we will explore those feelings and try to reconnect them to the memory of events that triggered them. Does that make sense?”
“How are you feeling now?”
“I’m fine. It is you I am worried about.”
“Why are you worried about me?”
“Because they will use everything in their power to discredit you. Drown out your message. Make you out to be a fantasist, a conspiracist. Destroy your identity.”
“Who is ‘they’?”
“The government, of course.”
“Why would the government do that?”
“Because you are a whistleblower.”
He leans in and whispers.
“We need to make a plan. Fight back.”
“I am what?”
“You are in danger. We are …”
Kate clamps her hands together on her desk: “Do you believe in conspiracies?”
“No, no … this isn’t a simple conspiracy. It’s much more organized, institutionalized. Conspiracy theories are the last resort of the powerless, of people who are just trying to find meaning and interpret what is happening all around them. They see forces of light and darkness. No, there’s much more to it than that.”
“It’s people put in jobs with objectives prioritized, constraints de-emphasized. It’s the way we organize society. It’s all around us.”
Kate reflects for a moment. A problem with society, it fits the profile. Whatever his personal experience, he seems to hold a grudge against society in general. While he’s somewhat articulate, he’s clearly delusional. And his aggressive tendencies are consistent with the psychosis of a terrorist. She leans forward and locks eyes with him.
“Will you help me, Jack?”
“That’s why I’m here. You know, the newspapers are under a lot of pressure from government when it comes to matters of national security. Perhaps you should dramatize your story? Sometimes a story communicates a message much better than a straight rendition of the facts. Sometimes it’s the only way to tell the truth. You know, like protest songs.”
“National security? Whatever made you think of that?”
He taps his fingers on his cheek.
“But then again, drama is just another game, isn’t it? Deferring information, making mystery out of reality. Creating new truths.”
She lowers her voice.
“Do you … have information relating to national security?”
“No, but you do.”
“I do? I see. Will you help me find it, Jack?”
“Do you believe it’s all meaningless? Sound and fury signifying nothing? That we’ve all been reduced to scientists, workers or brutes?”
Kate glances upwards and to her left, to a corner space of the room. Fixed to the ceiling is a CCTV camera. It is mounted on an adjustable, electronic stand and fitted with a zoom lens and microphone. She turns away and stares at Pierce. Drool drips from the left side of his mouth.
She thinks for a moment: perhaps she’s taken on too much. Something’s not right. She senses a film of sweat on her brow, and wipes it with the back of her hand. She stares at the pen on her desk and pictures herself having cracked the case, rising to the next level of the organization.
She looks straight at the surveillance camera, determined, then returns her focus to Pierce.
“It’s a possibility. A possibility worth fighting against. Will you help me find the information?”
He squints and mumbles something to himself.
“There is a mystery we must solve first, then we will find your information. I promise you.”
“Where should we begin?”
“At the beginning of course.”
“OK. Let’s start with you. Do you remember that you are an American citizen?”
“The error is believing there’s something behind the mask.”
Pierce rolls his eyes back and grips the chair. His eyes close and he moans, then rolls his head around.
“I like you, Dr. Farrow.”
He glances at the name on her notepad.
“Kate. But that’s enough for one day.”
Chapter 1—Autumn 2013
“Sam’s just trying to do the right thing.”
Ahmad Ghazali wiped his brow with his handkerchief. His dark-blue business suit showed signs of perspiration around the collar. He gazed out beyond the Dubai Canal at the glittering sun refracting off the open sea. No breeze from the Persian Gulf came to the rescue.
The two men sat on the upper deck of the hundred-foot Baglietto yacht, moored in the Dubai Marina Yacht Club. The marina was jammed with plush yachts and state-of-the-art racing boats and more, but the Al Kamar stood out for its sleek design—polished, with a prominent position at the forefront berth. Attendants dressed in crisp blue-and-white uniforms busied themselves washing down the decks, preparing the marina for its daily schedule of VIPs. Beside the Al Kamar, the Marina Restaurant and Bar teemed with members taking breakfast, dressed in haute couture.
Omar Sadir sat across from Ghazali, wearing traditional thawb and gutrah. Ghazali straightened in his chair, fiddled with his teaspoon and made a failed attempt to stare Sadir straight in the eye.
“What I’ve told you today only came to light recently.”
“Are you saying Sam Hawkins, or you, for that matter, were not aware of these offenses? I find that hard to believe. Hard to believe such things, apparently running rampant throughout an organization of this standing, could not have been known to one of its key officers.”
Ghazali caught a glimpse of his reflection in Sadir’s mirrored glasses. His face was burning in the sun. He observed Sadir, his skin rugged and dark, acclimatized, rooted firmly in place.
“Of course, Sam has known about some indiscretions, but certainly not the extent to which the firm has been involved in such activities.”
Sadir turned away and looked toward a group of young children beside the Al Kamar, gleefully and noisily acting out a game of sailors and pirates. The deck echoed with the rapid beat of their footsteps.
Across the canal from the marina, a man set up his Remington MK 13 Mod 5 rifle and attached a suppressor. Located in a specially equipped mobile unit camouflaged as a food supplies truck, he checked the rifle’s positioning at a window in the side of the truck’s rear cabin. From his gauge he measured the distance at approximately three hundred and fifty yards; then he made some final calculations.
He picked up his headset and spoke into the microphone. The reply came: “Commander, you’re good to go.”
Sadir poured himself some more tea and then clasped his hands together in front of him. Ghazali looked on as Sadir gazed past his hands at the golden liquid swirling around in his cup.
“The way you have described these so-called activities, they can’t be anything but central to your firm’s business.”
Ghazali paused and stared across the canal at the luxury hotels facing out to sea. It was still early morning, and the canal was quiet.
“I know this isn’t the best way to share this intelligence. But Sam wanted you to get the information now, before any further actions are taken. By you or—”
“Sam Hawkins worked hard to gain our trust. It is troubling that this revelation has come so late in our relationship. You are asking us to see Sam and the firm separately, when in fact Sam is, above all, a representative of your organization.”
“But trust is a personal matter,” said Ghazali. “Not one between institutions. Sam is acting of his own accord. He is putting himself in great danger to bring you this information.”
“As are you.”
Sadir looked up to the sky. He scratched his beard. He rose from the table and began pacing the upper deck.
“Indeed, we are all vulnerable.”
“The point is, it’s not too late. You have a choice. You are our most important client. You give us credibility in the region.”
Sadir raised his arm and pointed.
“Look around. All of this towering architecture. What do you think? A testament to progress or mere commercial sprawl?”
Sadir turned and frowned.
“Grand structures, an affirmation of our mastery over our environment? No, Ahmad, they are sinking waste, erected in sand. Meaningless, unless people inhabit them. We cannot insulate ourselves with the proceeds of our work. No more than a thought can protect the mind that gave birth to it. Only people, the bonds we create with others, can protect us. Only they can keep us safe.”
Ghazali looked out past the shadows of the tall office buildings rising from the coastline. Burning sun and what looked like desert sand blasted at the towers, seemingly eroding their squared edges. He gripped the arms of his chair.
“You and DIA can stop all of this. In a way that has more impact than any one individual.”
“How can we? We’ve invested in your firm’s platform continually for the last six years. At best, we have been negligent.”
“Sam and I don’t see it that way. All the details can be hashed out when Sam arrives.”
“We might be important clients, but your firm has the backing of some very powerful institutions, some very powerful people from across the globe, who are not going to take a challenge to your firm’s objectives lying down.”
Ghazali raised his hand, and it quivered.
“Look, I know Sam has a plan, a plan that will preserve the reputation of DIA. If not you, then who?”
He picked up his phone from the table.
“Will you excuse me for a moment, Omar? I must call Sam now.”
Ghazali walked downstairs and entered the main cabin, complete with Barcelona chairs, silver steel, ebony and alabaster. He dialed a number and left a message.
“Sam, I have spoken to Omar. He is still digesting the information, but I think he’ll get his head around it soon and call Samarrai. I still don’t see how all of this is going to fit together. You need to be here.”
Ghazali returned to the upper deck and smiled at Sadir. Sadir smiled back and turned his focus to the children playing beside the yacht. There was a moment of silence. Ghazali stopped, looking up again at the tall buildings surrounding the marina. He ran his fingers through his hair, then walked with a confident, assertive stride toward Sadir. Just as he was about to speak, the yacht exploded.
Flames flew up thirty yards into the sky and debris was blasted in every direction. The force of the explosion destroyed the entire rear of the yacht and everything around it. The front row of tables in the restaurant was blown back and smashed into charred debris. Bodies and body parts were strewn about on the floor. Survivors took cover behind the remaining pieces of furniture still intact. The blue-and-white uniforms ran in every direction, looking for some kind of guidance.
Desperate, agonized, panicked screams and cries echoed throughout the marina building and down the canal. The deck beside the Al Kamar was obliterated. Fragments of metal and wood rained down onto the ground and into the water. A cloud of acrid black smoke smothered the area. What remained of the Al Kamar slowly began to sink beneath the waters of the marina.
Further down the canal, a man with a thick beard and dark skin, dressed in an ashen robe and a red and white shemagh, packed a control device in his satchel and walked down the quay, away from the Dubai Marina Yacht Club. The first policemen were already running frantically toward the marina. The bearded man stopped and looked on with a somber expression as they passed.
He raised his phone to his ear.
“Secure line. Our project for the day is completed. Time 3:33 p.m.”
A voice replied: “No leakage?”
“No communications to DIA. One call was made. To Hawkins.”
The commander took aim and fired his MK 13. The man carrying the control device fell. The sniper looked at his watch and wrote down ‘3:33 p.m.’ He secured and packed his rifle, turned on the ignition and drove away from the site. He reached for his phone.
“The yacht has been destroyed.”
“Have all targets been eliminated?”
“Yes. All clear.”
“What are the causes of terrorism?”
Joe Hawkins rubbed the back of his neck and peered out at his students. An evening lecture. A hundred or so had gathered in the sleek TS Eliot Theatre at Merton College, one of Oxford’s oldest colleges. Inside, there were no remnants from the past, no indication of the institution’s distinguished history, just new, polished oak against rows of gray auditorium seats rising to the back, with the overhead lights set too brightly.
The class was ‘Terrorism, Theory and Policy.’ Hawkins had come to Oxford on secondment. It was week three, but he was still not settled. Time had slowed down, but he was not yet relaxed.
“We’ve looked at various ways to define terrorism. I think we’re at least agreed that terrorism is politically motivated, involves violence against innocent people, and is usually intended to influence an audience. I want to spend some time now focusing on causes …”
He’d made nightly excursions to the local pub where he’d consumed too many pints, but he had gained no more insight into why he was here or what he needed to do. He stared out into the space in the middle of the room.
“Number one. Social and political injustice causes terrorism. People commit acts of terrorism when they are trying to right what they perceive to be a social or political or historical wrong. People resort to terrorism when they have been stripped of their land or rights or economic welfare. When they believe there is no other course of action …”
He had spent two years at Columbia and then put in a request for temporary residence at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. He could think of no specific career-related reason. He just needed to get out of New York for a while.
He shifted his eyes and pulled at his red turtleneck sweater. As he scanned the room, his gaze landed and briefly fixed in turn on two men in dark suits and trench coats who had walked in, one at the side door and the other on the side gallery. They were wearing discreet earpieces and seemed to be talking to one another. In the context of a university lecture hall, they couldn’t have stood out more.
“Number two. Ideology causes terrorism. Terrorism must be justified by ideas, socially and psychologically, before it can be executed. Most people would never kill an innocent person to make a point. You can only turn into a person who would do that if you believe you are doing the right thing or a morally acceptable thing. You can only get there if you subscribe to an ideology that gives you the moral justification to kill …”
New York was not Washington, but it was still too close. The US Department of State brought Hawkins credibility, but at a price. It seemed like every day he was accosted by someone reminding him of his experience at State. He stroked the back of his hair. He wasn’t running away, just looking for space to breathe.
They were standing in exactly the same square position, hands clasped behind their backs. Not regular plainclothes cops. Better dressed. More aware.
“Number … three. Terrorism is organized crime. All the ideology and social theory surrounding the question of terrorism is a diversion, a smoke screen. Lots of people live in unjust circumstances but don’t resort to terrorism. Or believe in radical political change, but don’t resort to violence. Terrorists cause social disruption, social disruption creates fear, and this leads to weak states. Weak states allow organized crime to grow. Terrorists deal in drugs, extortion, commodity extraction, human trade for a large profit. It’s all economics. Terror is big business. Any questions so far?”
Credibility, he thought. Open policy analysis. And debate. Diplomacy. Consensus. Versus … intelligence. Counter-terrorism initiatives. Covert military action.
They must be service guys. How on earth did I ever get involved in government work when I’m allergic to this kind of thing? He cracked his knuckles.
One well-dressed student toward the back of the theater stood up confidently to speak.
“It seems to me that the term ‘terrorism’ is overused in the world we live in today. You can’t open a newspaper without reading about some act of terrorism being committed somewhere. Is that because there is just more terrorism exposed today, or is the term being used more broadly now?”
“Interesting question. Lots of terms are used when referring to political acts of aggression: freedom fighters, clandestine groups, guerrilla warfare, insurgencies, rebel fighters, rogue states, civil war. Terrorism is a political term. In the world we live in today, it’s probably one of the most politicized terms out there. And there is, of course, the tendency to classify acts by the ‘other side’ as acts of terrorism. One of our tasks here is to wade through the double-speak to get at what we think is an unbiased approach to assessing it all. But even if we’re successful in this, we’re unlikely to agree in the end.”
After the lecture, he took some questions. The two men then simultaneously gestured for a word. He watched as they approached from separate angles, closing the triangle. The room was hot, his mouth dry.
“Mr. Hawkins, how do you do? I’m Detective Inspector McLeod,” said the taller one as he passed him his card. “We were hoping to have a few moments of your time.”
McLeod was standing too close.
Hawkins pointed to the front-row seats. McLeod and Hawkins sat, while the other officer stood and watched.
“We are from the Economic and Specialist Crime Department of the London Metropolitan Police,” said McLeod. “We’ve come about your brother. Have you seen or spoken to him lately?”
The officer who was standing rocked back and forth on his feet, toes pointed outward. Hawkins crossed his arms and swallowed in an effort to counter the burning, nauseous sensation in his throat.
“No, not for some time. Is something wrong? What’s happened? Is he in some kind of trouble?”
“No, nothing to be alarmed about at this stage. It’s just we’ve been trying to find him for two days without success.”
“Why is the Specialist Crime branch looking for my brother?”
His stomach twisted. He bit the inside of his left cheek to distract himself, to help him focus.
“We’re part of the team investigating money laundering. What we’d like is for you to come to our offices tomorrow, and we can fill you in on the details then.”
McLeod raised an eyebrow at Hawkins.
The relief of ending the meeting outweighed the frustration of the wait.
“Sure,” he said uncertainly.
The two men nodded and left.
He stepped outside the theater, lit up a Marlboro and walked through the quads and cloisters of Merton College. The cool air and the warm smoke hit his lungs. He gazed up at the gargoyles and dragons on the College Chapel sneering down on him. From a distance, the bells of Tom Tower chimed through the night. Sam is always pushing the limits, he thought. What kind of trouble is he in?
He made his way down Merton Street, across Oriel Square to Bear Lane and the Bear Inn public house. A very old pub. Even at 5’10”, Joe had to duck to enter. He walked in and found Carl Frazer at the window table with two freshly poured pints of ale.
“Joe, I did the honors. I only have time for a couple, so I thought I’d give us a head start. London Pride OK?”
Carl was the quintessential Oxford professor, elderly, larger than life and more than a bit eccentric. A longstanding member of Christ Church College, he had gone out of his way to make Joe welcome.
“You read my mind. Where are you off to tonight?”
“Supper,” he said, with a smile playfully masquerading as a frown. “Good friend of mine, Tariq Muhammad, Balliol, computer science. He heads up the Oxford Virtual Security Institute. You know the institute is making quite a name for itself internationally, and the university can’t seem to stop giving him money to do more.”
“What do a metaphysics professor and a cyber-security guru talk about over, let me guess, a decent bottle of claret?”
“Reality.” He grinned. “Actually, that’s the problem, Joe. When he talks shop, I’m with him until about half-way through the first sentence and then I’m floating somewhere outside of space-time. Without the claret, that part of the evening would be a total disaster. He was banging on the other day about variable-length encryption keys and randomly generated passwords on demand. Mean anything to you?”
“No.” Hawkins took a deep glug from his pint.
“But he’s a lovely fellow, and after the shop talk is over, there’s always some good banter. I meant to tell you, there were some rather serious-looking chaps asking for you today at the porter’s lodge.”
He crinkled his owl-like eyebrows.
“I think I just met them.”
“Asking all sorts of questions, where you were from, when you arrived, where you were staying. Asked for contact details. Anything to worry about, Joe? If you are having any visa issues or that sort of rubbish, please do let me help you sort it out.”
Joe focused on the candle on the table, watched it flicker as the pub door opened and another customer stepped up to the bar. The door creaked shut. He felt the walls of the pub closing in on him, his mind spinning. Then he took a deep breath and smelled the mixture of beer and oak wafting throughout the pub.
“No, but thanks, Carl.”
“No high-jinx espionage or anything like that?”
“I really don’t know what it’s all about. All they told me was my brother has gone missing, and they would like to ask me some questions.”
“Is this the investment-banker brother you’ve mentioned?”
“Private equity, or merchant banking, something like that, yes. He’s flying out somewhere every week, so I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Joe stared at the floor to the side of table.
“But it does seem a bit of a coincidence.”
“Coincidence? Ah, I think you mentioned you had some unfinished business with your brother.”
“Younger brother. Sam and I were … close when we were very young. But we drifted apart.”
Joe shifted in his chair and smiled at Carl.
“Indeed. Listen, before I forget, there was a package for you at the porter’s lodge. I dropped it off at your office before coming over.”
Joe went to the bar and leaned against it, noticing on his right the grad student from his Wednesday seminars. She flicked her blonde hair and smiled. He made a half-assed effort to smile back, then returned to the table.
“She’s been eying you since you walked in, Joe. Drifted apart, you say. How so?”
“Maybe not drifted … more like a rift. It’s messy. My mother died many years ago. My father passed away just two years back. So now, it’s just the two of us. I’m hoping to break down some walls while I’m here.”
Joe stared at the grad student at the bar.
“You know, Joe, Schopenhauer could offer some guidance with this, with your brother, that is.”
Joe held his right hand up.
Carl continued, undaunted.
“For Schopenhauer, all nature, including man, is the expression of the insatiable will to life.”
The grad student trained her eyes on Joe.
“And while things we experience out here in the world are separate and different, our inner experience is this undifferentiated will to life, which is the same will that thrives in all other living things.”
Carl tapped his finger on his temple. Joe, almost entranced, awoke to Carl as if he’d snapped his fingers.
“And here’s the point, Joe. If we are all derived from this same source, this same universal will to life, then all our dealings with each other can be reduced to one simple idea—compassion.”
He held his hand to his chest.
Joe closed his eyes for a moment, feigned a smile.
“Sounds very Buddhist.”
“Compassion is the golden thread that runs through all of the world’s great religions. You just need to separate the wheat from the chaff. You must make amends with your brother, Joe, sort out whatever differences there are. You will find a way, of that I am sure.”
Joe widened his eyes. Carl Frazer, a dying breed. He looked back at the bar. The woman was gone.
Walking home. Schoolyard. Wire fences. Three blocks up the East Side. Sam following two yards back. Eyes on the candy and everything around him. Not inside, like Joe. Sam looking for the next thrill, while Joe debated in his head the principle of things, anything that happened, on any particular day.
Seven and nine years old. The currency: marbles. A game, played only to accumulate, good for nothing else. Together, they had amassed a marble fortune, Sam cutting every corner to get there, inching the marbles closer to the pot, adding his winnings to the chest. The lectures Joe gave Sam on playing fair. Sam shared everything with me.
Sixteen and eighteen. Joe, long hair and scruffy beard, retro gear, party crowd. Sam clean-cut, athletic, ambitious. The principles of rebellion. The will to lead. Joe relaxed into the path of least resistance. But Sam craved something more. It was always about the reward.
Both had the grades. Joe packed in college and traveled through Southeast Asia for a year. Sam graduated early and was accepted into an undergraduate program in math at Princeton.
The year everything changed. The importance of belonging. The shape of time.
He was walking home. One foot in front of the other. Thoughts hitting from behind, racing ahead, vanishing behind dark corners. Joe looked up to check his location. Broad Street. It wasn’t the shortest way home.
He stopped at Martyrs’ Memorial, pulled out a smoke and lit up. The nicotine fired its way through synapse, leaving no record, nothing new. He looked down and read, “To the glory of God, and in grateful commemoration of His servants … who near this spot yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truths which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome …”
A headstone for the faithful. A golden thread, Carl, perhaps … but so much chaff.
He turned the key to his front door, dropped his bag on the staircase and his jacket on the balustrade. The college townhouse was small but had a modern, open design with the living and dining rooms toward the front and a kitchen to the rear. There were two bedrooms and a study upstairs. As he made his way to the kitchen, his mobile phone rang. He was startled: only a handful of people had his new UK number. It was Frank Clemens, a CIA operative within the National Clandestine Service while Joe was with the State Department. He didn’t know much about Frank’s role within NCS, but suspected he had led covert initiatives as part of the Special Activities Division.
“Joe the man. Say, how are things across the pond in jolly old England? Do you have your ’brolly with you now?”
Frank could do many things. Morphing his Louisiana accent into an English one wasn’t one of them.
“I’d kill for a porterhouse, but other than that, good. How are you? How’s the family?”
“All good, man, all good. Semi-retirement. Teaching a course in international security at Georgetown. Out, but still inside, you know how it is. Now, Joe, let me ask you a question. Why the hell are you over there?”
“You know the story, Frank. I’m trying to reinvent. It was too claustrophobic at Columbia. Crazy stuff. I think I was starting to get paranoid. I needed to get out for a while. Just breathe, you know?”
“You’re thirty-six. If you slow your breathing down just a notch more, you’ll be flatlining. Is that the plan?”
“It’s hard for me to explain.”
“Not to me. We’ve been through it all, right?”
Clemens toned it down.
“Joe, you know I keep pretty good contact with everyone still. The outlook seems to be shifting somewhat. It’s not a revolution or anything, more a subtle realignment of policy. Your work in counter-terrorism is still highly respected. I think there could be a role for you.”
“Don’t go there, Frank. It’s physically impossible for—”
“You’ve got a brilliant mind, Joe, a mind that DC needs. Why are you hiding, keeping it to yourself?”
“I’m not keeping it to myself. I’m just not good at compromise. You know, caving in on all your beliefs.”
“Bit extreme, my friend. It’s just politics. You knew that coming in.”
“I’m not cut out for it. Full stop. That part of my life is over.”
“You are cut out for it, that’s the point. I’m not sure what you’re running from, but you were good at this.”
“Now you’re just starting to piss me off, Frank.”
“Chill. Chill, chill. All right, I get it. I know what it’s like. This stuff can damage you. It’s radiation for the soul. I just don’t want to see a good guy, a great friend, waste away, and waste his talents.”
“I’m getting back to what I do best. I’m good at ideas, concepts. I’ll leave implementation to my former colleagues.”
“All right, all right. You call me if you ever change your mind, OK? Meantime, don’t forget, you still have friends.”
Frank meant well, but he didn’t understand. He was still together, scarred but not broken. He could still put up with the insanity of it all. Joe scratched his head and stared out of the front window. Change my mind? Change my life … A different trajectory.
He grabbed a can of beer from the fridge and a pack of cheese and onion crisps and sat down at the table to look over the personal emails on his laptop. His eye was immediately drawn to …
Received: Friday 11 October 2013 5.36
Subject: Trust Account
Here are the details for the trust account I have set up:
Account Name: Hawkins Family Trust
Bank Branch: Briggs Bank, Jersey
IBAN: 99 32 86 56000 7093 0035 90
You are principal beneficiary under the trust. Our lawyers Crossfeld and Bane have all of the documentation and can execute any transactions you suggest.
To a very successful year!
And there was another one below:
Received: Friday 11 October 2013 7.23
I’ll meet you later this week. We need to talk about our clients. The only way this game works is if we’re calling the shots.
Joe shook his head and took a swig. He hadn’t received an email from his brother in as long as he could remember. He’d been busy and hadn’t had time to check his personal email address all week. What trust account? What game? Clients? It was beyond bizarre. He felt the skin on his face tighten.
He moved to the couch and leaned back with his palms over his eyes. It was time to make the call. He’d been rehearsing and procrastinating long enough. He dialed Sam’s mobile and went straight to voicemail.
“Sam, it’s Joe. I received your emails today. Look, I’m in England, believe it or not. Visiting professor at Oxford. I’ve been meaning to call. It’s been a long time. When you get a chance please call me back. 09873 638 739. Hope you’re well, Sam, we should talk, we really should.”
He stared out the front window, and it hit him. Sam might have left a message on his US number. He hadn’t used it since he’d arrived. He ran upstairs and dug the phone out from the chest of drawers beside his bed. Thirty-three messages. Great. He skipped through till he heard Sam’s voice. He sounded breathless.
“Joe, it’s Sam. I’m in trouble. I know some dangerous things. Things I didn’t want to know. What they’re doing here is wrong. And I was part of it … I’ve sent you a package. Lucy told me you were in Oxford. Just keep it safe, Joe. I’ll come to meet you later this week and explain. Let’s make it right, OK?”
He replayed the message. “Message sent Thursday 10 October 2013 at 9:36 p.m.” Before the emails.
He tried Sam’s number several times. No answer. He tried calling Lucy but couldn’t get through. Lucy was Sam’s wife—she had been. They’d been separated for more than three years now, only recently divorced. He’d try her tomorrow while in London.
He poured himself a shot of Macallan, turned on some Dylan and sank back in to the couch. He swirled the liquid around in the glass, then balanced it at an angle, just at the tipping point. Flinch and it will spill, he thought. And then the glass is empty … What the fuck is Sam up to? Fucking Frank. Waste away? Too much. The sound of “Visions of Johanna” filled the room. The harp soothed his mind as the whisky trickled down his throat. He closed his eyes and plunged into the music.
Outside, a man in a black Audi was parked, three doors down. He skimmed through the same emails Hawkins had just read. He closed his laptop, scanned his handheld monitor and could see that the wireless cameras on the street, the main floor and upstairs were all functional. He checked the GSM monitor installed on Hawkins’ US mobile. He removed the plugs from his ears and dialed his phone.
“23:13 He’s asleep on the couch. All installations complete and operational. There’s a voicemail you should know about. Transferring now. Will report back in the a.m.”
The Audi sped away.
Sofi Watt observed Hamish McLeod through the glass door as he patrolled the conference room on the thirty-sixth floor of the tower. He was looking out across the Thames at the latest addition to central London’s skyline, the Shard. He’d been waiting twenty minutes now for her to finish the conference call with her boss in the adjoining office.
The morning sun shone in on the mostly glass barrier of the Gherkin causing McLeod to raise a salute over his brow as he stared straight out. He turned and helped himself to another croissant from the tray on the table, then took in the sights below—St. Paul’s, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge—as he gorged himself on the pastry.
McLeod had spent most of his career in the special forces of the London Metropolitan Police: various groups within Specialist Operations, including forensics, intelligence, serious crime and counter-terrorism. He was now in the Economic and Specialist Crime Department, not at all a forensic accountant, but he knew how to sniff out a scam. He had street experience. Forty, she guessed, a little gray on the sides.
McLeod’s assignment was to assist her with police matters. She was an MI5 agent on loan to the Economic Crime Command, a division of the National Crime Agency. A lawyer in the City for a number of years before moving to MI5, she understood financial structures. But she was never a cop. McLeod needed her and she needed him.
McLeod lifted his chest and sucked in his waistline as she entered the room. She adjusted her jacket and took a seat at the far end of the table, pretending not to notice his eyes fixed on her as she walked past.
“Hi, Hamish, so you found us OK?”
“Nice shop—where’s the Jacuzzi?”
“We need to be in the City in order to fight City crime. ECC is experimenting with different locations. I don’t expect this one to last. For the time being, it’s HQ for a number of our more complicated files.”
“But the boss is camped out in Victoria? How does he feel about that?”
“He’s OK. So how did it go yesterday?”
“Fine. Hawkins has agreed to come here later today. He knows I work in money laundering. Can you give me a little background now?”
Sofi leaned back in her chair.
“I’ve been working on a file for six months or so involving a merchant bank called Density Capital.”
“Well, that’s the best way to describe them. Density’s owned by some very wealthy individuals who made their money in the City. It floated ten years ago and now has a wide institutional backing. Its main activities are in private equity. The founders put in significant amounts of their own capital and have attracted institutional money to co-invest in their funds. They invest primarily in control positions of private corporates. Main focus is emerging markets. Highly illiquid stuff.”
“Why not just refer to them as a private-equity firm?”
“Density doesn’t limit itself that way. While they are best known for their private equity business, they also have credit and trading capabilities, and they deal in commodities and other banking activities that support or tie into their EM investments.”
“OK, so what led to the investigation?”
“One of Density’s most successful funds is called Passage. Passage invests in companies operating in Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. We started investigating some of the investors in the fund that looked suspicious. Certain charities. You know, Hamish, some charities are, well, anything but charitable.”
McLeod reached for another pastry.
“Sure, some are funnels for moving the proceeds of crime. Some back all sorts of dubious activities.”
“The two charities in question were fervently religious: Christian fundamentalist. Set up offshore and receiving funds mostly from the US, but also Canada and some countries on the continent. Mostly high-net-worth individuals and family offices. We had some help from the US Justice Department who also had their eye on them. We did most of the work here and Density assisted us openly. In the end, we couldn’t find any illicit sources for the funds. Their activities were confined to supporting their religious views. Density’s KYC ‘know-your-client’ procedures were reviewed, and they passed with flying colors.”
“So what are we here to discuss?”
“About a week ago, Density filed a suspicious activity report. It concerns the activities of one of its key employees, Sam Hawkins. Hawkins is one of the top marketers for the Passage fund. He raises capital from clients mostly in the Middle East, from wealthy Arabs, institutions, sovereign wealth funds. The report filed didn’t relate to these types. It related to some commodities-trading accounts set up by Hawkins for other clients that didn’t match this profile.”
McLeod raised his eyebrows and leaned forward.
“We followed the money through a series of shells, and it led back to a few well-known entities supporting terrorist activities in North Africa. The commodity trades involve the physical delivery of gold and diamonds. Seems Hawkins was taking a healthy cut and transferring funds to a trust account in Jersey. Density claims he fraudulently manipulated the KYC process to clear the way for the trades.”
“And Hawkins has bolted. A couple of my guys are out looking for him as we speak.”
“But something doesn’t add up. I know Sam Hawkins from my prior investigation. My main contact was Density’s head of legal, Claire Nelson, but Hawkins was heavily involved. He knew everything there was to know about the Passage fund. He was put forward by the CEO himself.”
She crossed her arms and ran her fingers over her necklace.
“Sam is a big hitter at Density. Why would he take such risks when he was already taking home a treasure trove, and his star was on the rise? But also, he didn’t strike me as the kind—”
“What kind do you mean?”
She stroked her neck with her hand and, from the warmth, thought it must be deep red.
“Not the kind who would get involved in terrorist activities.”
“How does all of this involve brother Joe?”
“Claire Nelson forwarded me two emails that HR recovered from Sam’s files. The bank account in Jersey is mentioned. The emails could implicate Joe Hawkins. As Sam’s nowhere to be found, I thought we better get the brother in for a friendly discussion.”
“Let me stop you there. There’s something else you should know. MI6 have contacted me with some further information on Density.”
Sofi stood up, glanced at Hamish and walked over to the window.
“MI6? What could they possibly—”
“Vincent Avery. I’ve known him for years. He’s in their counter-terrorism group. MI6 have intelligence on a bombing that took place in Dubai. It involved an employee of Density.”
“Oh, my …”
She felt a sting in her temples. She paused and looked down.
“No. Not Sam Hawkins. A guy by the name of Ahmad Ghazali. He and another chap, Omar Sadir, and two crew were on board a yacht last Thursday. Sadir was an investment manager at the Dhatan Investment Authority. The yacht was blown out of the water. The UAE Police Special Unit is calling it a terrorist bombing.”
“Ghazali? I recognize the name. He worked on Hawkins’ team. He was a junior, helped Sam with accounts in the Gulf States. DIA is one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the region.”
“Avery called me yesterday. Somehow or other he knew about your investigation into Density. I guess he called me because he knows I’m working with you.”
McLeod took a few calls. Sofi returned to her desk and pored over her documents and diagrams. Three months ago, she had packed all these files away—case closed. But here she was, back on the case. She flicked through the pages marked with yellow Post-It notes. For what? Most likely all this recent stuff was completely unrelated to her earlier enquiries. A coincidence, surely. Except for Sam.
This file was closed. It was never intended to last. There was some chemistry, yes. Maybe for a few brief moments she’d strayed over a line that she’d initially drawn. A few moments in time. It was a fling, nothing more. She and Sam had both made that clear. He was fun, so why not? Her investigation was already safely shelved before anything had happened. And what had happened was a one-night indiscretion … possibly a few nights. She smiled at the memory. It was just a minor diversion. A pit stop along the way. Ancient history and …
The phone rang, and she picked up: “Sofi Watt.”