Excerpt Number 1
Said Ali al-Wahishi got out of the battered, dusty pickup truck just before sunrise in front of the abandoned one-room schoolhouse in the village of Gerdi, just north of Peshawar on the A01 highway. The cool, sweet mountain air was a pleasant relief to the oil-laden pickup truck exhaust he had been breathing through rusted floorboards for the past several hours.
Wahishi’s body still vibrated from the impact of rutted roads driven at night, with no headlights for the last three miles, in a vehicle whose abused suspension system was long ago suspect. Waiting for him in the schoolhouse was Haydar Abu al-Adel, al-Qaeda’s number two in command. They were to meet alone. The day’s first light enabled him to see his way into the schoolhouse without a flashlight, which might be seen by US electronic eyes. This was Wahishi’s second summons to a meeting with Adel in three months.
“As Salaam Alaikum,” Wahishi said to Adel as Adel arose from his sitting position on the floor.
“Alaikum Salaam,” replied Adel. They embraced and kissed three times. There was no personal warmth in the expressed tone of voice or body language of either party. They both sat facing each other on wool mats placed over the damp concrete floor. Adel pulled a new-looking red thermos from a much-used, tobacco-colored, goatskin shoulder bag. He next brought out two porcelain cups wrapped in a dirty white cloth. He poured some welcome, hot tea. They exchanged limited pleasantries in the still air, their breath forming white clouds in the coolness of the dim light of early morning. Wahishi remained reserved waiting for the senior al-Qaeda leader to tell him what this meeting was about.
Adel was a short, thin and wiry man in his mid-sixties. His hair and beard were grey and noticeably unclean, matching his well-stained robes. Body odor wafted from his presence. Wahishi knew Adel’s physical appearance was intentional. No one ever gave him a second look or seemed inclined to be close to him. This persona enabled Adel to move about and conduct al-Qaeda business more effectively, free from prying eyes.
Wahishi by comparison was handsome, in his late-thirties, of medium height and athletic build. His hair and beard were still black, well-trimmed, and his robes were neat and clean. It was his eyes that made Wahishi memorable. Wahishi looked directly into your eyes as if he could read your innermost thoughts. His presence was always disconcerting to someone wanting to keep his innermost thoughts secret from Wahishi.
“When we last met,” Adel began, “I told you how highly you are regarded in al-Qaeda. With more experience, maturity, and patience, we think you are capable of great things. In our last meeting, I told you of our concern about your criticism of our leadership and our strategy to simply outwait America’s presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ours is a long-term plan, proven trustworthy in the past. Yet since telling you of the discomfort we have for your criticism, you persist. Why?”
Wahishi slowly swirled the tea in the ancient, long-ago chipped, white porcelain cup. He took a sip, looked down into the cup, and then looked up. “I told you before,” Wahishi began slowly but deliberately. “Some of it is personal and some of it’s not. I watched my brother vaporized by an American drone-fired missile. One moment he was smiling, saying goodbye to me and waving as he drove away. The next, without warning, he was dead with nothing left for us to bury. A second sooner and I would have been vaporized, too.”
Adel looked solemn. “Many times we have expressed our sorrow over your loss, and our thanks for your good luck.”
Wahishi continued to look fiercely into Adel’s eyes. “Their drones, electronic warfare superiority, and anti al-Qaeda financial incentives to other Muslim countries all make this a war of attrition we are losing.”
Adel started to interrupt, but Wahishi shook him off and continued.
“We cannot even communicate with each other except by messenger. We have failed to follow 9/11 with any significant attack. Instead we are on the run, hiding. Where have we instilled fear since 9/11? We are becoming irrelevant. We send out useless videos pretending to inspire our colleagues and instill fear in our enemies. We are just making fools of ourselves. Neither is effective. Instead, those videos highlight our weaknesses. You in the leadership refuse to listen. Perhaps it is time you heard.”
Adel interrupted Wahishi with a quick wave of his hand. “You have no idea what we plan for the future and I cannot tell you now. You are a soldier and you need to learn a soldier’s discipline, and to obey orders when given.”
Wahishi countered with his own interruption. “There are many like me who are sick of scurrying about, hiding like rats, avoiding the daylight. Can’t you see our inaction means America is winning and we are losing? Do you think your shoe and underwear bombers will bring America to its knees? We need to do more, now!”
Haydar Abu al-Adel sat back on his heels and took a sip of tea from his own porcelain cup and thought about what the young Arab in front of him had to say. It was true enough, but hardly respectful. He did not want to alienate this intelligent man with many followers. He was too valuable. He, Adel, must bring him into the tent and give him a difficult but important assignment, where he would be busy with little time to criticize. His sarcastic words about the current leadership were being repeated by others, more and more.
Adel sat forward again. “It is obvious you think our experienced leadership is inadequate. We too hear the murmurs of mockery, but they are from those who do not know of our plans. We see the fall-off in contributions from our supporters. You have not helped in this regard. Adel now smiled and said, “We have an important role for you to play now, but it requires patience and discipline. We are placing you in charge of all al-Qaeda operations in Yemen. We have been slowly moving our critical operations from the Northwest Tribal Area to there. Yemen is our future and there you will be in charge.”
Wahishi was stunned. He came expecting confrontation and a dressing down for his outspoken views. Instead of a tongue lashing, he was getting a promotion. His first reaction was suspicion. Wahishi went on full alert but remained quiet as Adel resumed speaking with his measured voice and quiet demeanor.
“We have a good relationship with the Yemeni government. They pretend to be cooperative with the United States. Yemen will get access to US intelligence and will be plugged into their drone bases. The US military will be restricted by Yemen from acting unilaterally while on Yemeni soil. We will know what they are doing at all times. We need you to organize, unify and train our forces already in Yemen. The Americans already have a hint about our shift. We need to be ready for them when they realize the full extent of this relocation.”
Wahishi looked Adel in the eye and slowly nodded his head. He said nothing. Adel continued by handing him a folded, food-stained white envelope taken from inside his robe. “Here are your contacts. I included some travel documents we made up for your new identity.” Adel reached into his goatskin shoulder bag and pulled out a dirty, brown cloth pouch with a tie of string leather at the top. “Here is cash to get you started. Your financial contact in Yemen is experienced and awaiting you. We think the future for you is unlimited. But we must see evidence of your maturity and the required discipline to lead.”
Again, Adel sat back on his heels and looked into his teacup.
Wahishi knew the meeting was at an end. Both men stood and embraced. There was still no personal warmth, no trust, evidenced between them in this exchange.
Each left thinking the meeting had been successful. The older leader believed he had pulled the too-impatient, too-ambitious, younger man back into the tent and put him into a position where any management weakness might be exposed. At least he would be too busy in Yemen to be a bother. He might even prove to be a good leader. They needed a leader.
Wahishi left knowing his criticism had found its mark. He did not share with his superior his own plan occupying his thoughts for some months. If no one else knew what he was thinking, no one could betray him. Wahishi was now in a position to lead. He could now create action, decisive action, which they would later sing about around camp fires in all of Arabia. He would bring respect back to al-Qaeda and to jihad.
Excerpt Number 2
Patrick took the MBTA Green Line to Copley Square. He walked across the street and entered the front door of the Boston Public Library. The BPL, as it was commonly known, is regarded as the finest public library in the country. An architectural gem, well-appointed with murals and artworks tracing the history of the Commonwealth, the BPL serves as a foundation for cultural and educational excellence in the city. The BPL is one of the most used and loved buildings in Boston. Patrick felt he was entering a very special place every time he visited.
A couple of years ago, a café was established on the north side of the first floor just off the garden courtyard. A more formal dining area was adjacent. Patrick walked into the café.
Liz was already seated at a table where she could view both areas. Patrick sat down and waited. In a few seconds, someone was standing in front of him. He did not even notice where she came from. She just appeared.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Patrick. My name is Maria. May I sit down?”
At the same time, Patrick instinctively stood.
Patrick was not expecting this. He shook hands with Maria. Her handshake was firm, her smile was electric. She was beautiful. Maria was dressed in a beige suit, a white silk blouse, accompanied by minimal but what appeared to be very expensive jewelry. He guessed Armani for the suit. She was tall, shapely, with black hair, dark eyes, and exuded a look of quality and intelligence. He would guess her age to be about thirty-five.
After both were seated, Maria said, “Mr. Bocca is in Sardinia on a fishing trip. I am here to have a conversation with you on a matter of importance to this country.”
Patrick’s first reaction to Maria was to go on full alert, put on his best stone face, and reveal no observable reaction. Maria had to know she was not what Patrick expected. She would want to measure his response to her. Patrick instinctively wanted to deny her that. Maria said the right words to authenticate her contact with Bocca. He would stay on guard and see where this conversation was going.
Patrick just nodded.
“First, let me say it is necessary for you to understand I am here as a principal with full authority to speak and to make necessary decisions. I believe that Mr. Bocca made that clear. However, he has no idea who would speak with you nor is he aware now, or will he ever be, of our subject matter.”
Patrick nodded again with his stone-faced expression unchanged. He needed more information. He was having an internal debate about how to proceed.
After a pause, Patrick said, “I understand what you have said so far. You asked for this meeting. I am here.”
It was Maria’s turn to nod. Patrick decided to ask Maria a few direct questions to see how she handled them.
“Are you telling me that you are made?” asked Patrick, with his eyes locked on Maria.
Maria momentarily broke eye contact with Patrick, lowered her head, looked at her watch, then looked back to Patrick and answered: “If you insist on asking an arcane question, the answer is yes.” She didn’t break eye contact while answering. Maria knew Patrick was taking her measure and it didn’t seem to bother her.
Patrick considered that Maria could just be a well-coached actress and perhaps Bocca, or more likely one of his smarter colleagues, might be trying to embarrass Patrick by having him carry a baseless story back to the FBI. Not likely, he thought, but Patrick was ready to notch this conversation up a bit.
“Since when have women been made?” was Patrick’s next question.
Maria seemed a little more disturbed by this question. She adjusted her watch and said in a low voice, “Since this thing of ours decided to come out of the dark ages, reform itself into the modern world, and take advantage of all its potential resources. Italian women have always had a role. Some families decided to formally admit to the reality of what has always been. Things are different today. Bocca is retired and I am here ready to do business, if we can proceed?”
Patrick was impressed. He talked to enough made guys, and listened to enough wires over the years, to experience the understated influence of women in the Mafia. Their influence was in fact significant. The Sicilian Mafia was a far more matriarchal-controlled society than many recognized. Patrick thought Maria spoke like the real thing.
“You’ve done the ‘right work,’ to use an LCN expression?” asked Patrick.
Maria offered her best stone face while holding direct eye contact with Patrick. She did not alter her expression in the least and responded immediately, saying: “I understand your question Mr. Patrick. Things have changed. This thing of ours imposed that requirement in the old days when perhaps ‘hits,’ as you infer, may have been more necessary. In the end it meant very little. Having participated in the ultimate act of violence was not an accurate gauge of future behavior. Those who had it in them to be informers did so regardless of their participation in a murder. Besides, the authorities are willing to forgive almost anything these days of those who would testify for them.”
“Let us be clear. You want me to accept you are a made-member of the Sicilian Mafia, have a position of authority, and you want me to pass some information to the FBI?”
“In a word, yes. I know you find me and what I have to say surprising. I don’t intend to deliver a lecture on the current management structure of our thing. For an organization to survive, it has to adapt. You think of crime. We are almost totally legitimate. We are part of the world economy. We are not going away. Organizational control has been ceded to more innovative members who have a new business model, which is not yet published or well known.”
Patrick’s level of intrigue increased. While keeping an open mind, his gut reaction was that she was for real. This was going to be an interesting conversation.
“What do you want to talk about?” asked Patrick.
“Before we continue, perhaps you could nod to Ms. Brennick. She has a concerned look on her face and probably would like to know everything is okay.”
Score one for Maria, thought Patrick. She knew about Liz and how Patrick would have back-up. Patrick turned, looked at Liz, smiled, shrugged, and focused back on Maria.
Maria began, “Muslim terrorists intend to use a Sicilian transportation company, part of our operation, to smuggle arms, explosives, and possibly some radioactive material into the US. Even worse, they may even have a small nuclear device. The shipment will originate for us in Palermo. Our contacts are being paid to deliver the container uninspected from there to New York City. Our contacts have a certain reputation, shall we say, for the successful delivery of difficult shipments.”
“Does that spell smuggler?” asked Patrick, generating a slight smile by Maria in response.
Maria continued, “Understand what is harmful to this country and its economy is also harmful to our personal, familial and economic interests. This is about preserving civilization as we know it. Our interests are in seeing that these people do not succeed. We can do this by indirectly sharing our knowledge with your government.”
Patrick digested this information, nodded, and asked, “And what is it you want from me?”