Friday, August 17, 2012

Executive Murder by Michael Pearson

Two cops work against the clock to prevent a terrorist attack against a rising star Presidential candidate in Michael Pearson's unabashedly old-school thriller.

The DJ switched tempo, and put on an old school dance record by C and C Music Factory. The mostly early thirties crowd cheered, danced and sang along.

"Hey Captain America, can I have your autograph?" Ingram shouted over the noise as he handed me a Stella from the bar. The crowd at the Front Page was loud tonight. Loud and seemingly unaware of my recent exploits in the Bart Custer case that had my partner in a sarcastic mood.

"Jealous, old timer?" I returned fire. "I'm sure you would have done the same... if you could have run fast enough... shot well enough... thought -"

"Alright, alright, cupcake. You done good this time. But don't let it go to your head. Over the years I've seen a few good agents get too cocky after a big bust, and then wham!" He smacked his fist into his open palm. "Ya know what I mean?" He looked at me, nodding his head.

"You worry too much, Dave." I gently slapped him on the shoulder.

"Just promise me something..."

"Yeah, what's that?"

Just then, two hands came from behind me and quickly covered my eyes. I was startled, but not scared. These hands weren't threatening.

"I'll promise you something." A soft voice gently whispered in my right ear. "If you come home with me tonight, you won't be disappointed."

I recognized those soft hands, and that cute sexy little voice. I'd been listening to it for the last five years. Ever since I married Christine.

"Well old timer, I think it's time to call it night," I said in Ingram's direction.

I grabbed my wife's hands, and spun her around. We all had a good laugh. Why not? It was a great night. We were celebrating, and things were only going to get better.

Right?



Most old motels in the north east section of Washington DC aren't four star establishments. The Firebird Lodge was no exception. The single story row of twelve rooms connected to the front office looked worn and neglected.

There were a few loose boards hanging down from the roofline. Most of the exterior walls needed to be repaired. A mural, painted in graffiti, adorned the side wall that led down to a back alley.

Just across the street was a subsidized medical clinic. The kind that offered free health care to anyone, no questions asked. Their services brought out some of the city's homeless, addicts, and criminals. People who couldn't show themselves in a hospital.

Some of these people made it into the Firebird.

She grabbed onto the cheap brass headboard and tilted her head back, eyes closed. The loose old bedsprings made loud squeaking noises as she rode him aggressively. Her large tattooed breasts fit perfectly into his cupped hands. He squeezed them firmly, prompting her to let out a less than genuine moan. The dingy lamp next to the bed gave a yellowish glow to the dirty, outdated motel room. On the floor, next to the bed, was a brown messenger bag covered with trace amounts of cocaine - a leftover from the evening's earlier activities. A stack of twenty dollar bills lay on the edge of the nightstand next to the bed. If she wanted it, he was going to make her earn it.

This wasn't Abdalla's first time with a prostitute. It wasn't even his first time with Monique. He liked them black and rough. Big gold earrings and long fake nails - the more ghetto, the better. Good Muslims weren't supposed to be with hookers. Abdalla hadn't been a good Muslim for a while. Since his arrival into the US ten years ago, he had allowed himself to be corrupted by the western culture of greed and excess. All the more reason it should be destroyed.

Suddenly, the room door was kicked in, causing the wooden door jamb to splinter. A large figure dressed in black military style fatigues and a black ski mask raised a large handgun towards the bed. The girl didn't have a chance to turn around. The top part of her head was now splattered on the wall behind the bed from the silenced shot fired. Her body fell over to the side like the deadweight it had become.

"What the -" Abdalla yelled in horror as he jolted back against the wall trying to cover up, as if it mattered at this point.

"Who are you? What do you want?" he screamed with an Arabic accent at the imposing figure now standing at the foot of the bed.

"Time to meet your maker, towel head," said the deep voice coming from behind the mask.

The man in black raised his gun, pointing it directly at Abdalla's head. Abdalla put his hands in front of his face. He managed to get out a pathetic whimper - something in his native tongue. Two quick shots were fired. The first to the head, the second right through the heart. Abdalla's dead, limp body lay there in a pool of warm blood.

The old, dirty motel room that had been previously filled with the loud sounds of illegal sex and drug use was now totally silent. The man in black was gone - and so was the messenger bag.



In an old row house in south east Washington DC stood Omar Al Amin and three of his henchmen. They huddled themselves quietly in the dark musty unfinished basement. Their only light was a single forty watt bulb dangling from the floor joists above.

Omar held his hands clasped behind his back. He was a little man in stature, only five foot four and about one hundred forty pounds. What little hair he had left was now white to match his trimmed goatee. He appeared to be much older than his mid forties. Dressed entirely in black - dress pants and a button down shirt - he concealed a gold chain around his neck. On the chain, a small gold pendant - the Arabic symbol for brotherhood.

"Where is the guy?" one of the henchmen spoke up.

Omar glanced down at his watch, and shook his head in disgust. "Americans. Undisciplined."

A door opened upstairs. There were a few quick words spoken by the armed guards watching the front of the house. Then the door leading down to the basement was pushed open. Heavy footsteps, from large military boots, came clunking down the steps. The large man in black fatigues placed the brown messenger bag on a work bench in front of Omar.

"I trust everything went according to plan?" Omar asked the man in black.

"No problems."

"And what of Abdalla?" Omar asked.

"Does it matter?" replied the man.

Omar paused, gave a blank look, then proceeded to unzip the messenger bag.



Omar slowly pulled the contents of the brown messenger bag out, and onto the wooden workbench. First came a light blue pinstriped work shirt. The Marriott name was embroidered on the right front side. On the left, a sewn on patch that read Abdalla. The shirt was dirty and smelled faintly of marijuana.

Reaching further into the bag, Omar grabbed a small white plastic card. The card had a small black magnetic strip on one side, and the words Washington Marriott Parking Garage printed on the other. Omar placed the card in his shirt pocket.

Unzipping an interior pocket, Omar finally came to what he was really after. He pulled large thick folded sheets of paper out of the bag, spreading them open on the table as the other men gathered around for a closer look. The white pages had blue lettering and lines that diagramed a location. These were the schematic drawings for a building. In the upper left hand corner of the first page appeared a small box with the words Washington Marriott Hotel 22nd St NW Washington DC.

"You have done well," Omar said looking at the man in black.

"Just make sure your people are ready. My side can't afford any mistakes," the man in black replied in his deep monotone voice.

"You can let your superiors know that we will be ready to carry out the mission as planned. Our money - make sure that is arranged as we discussed."

"Payment will be wired to your account tomorrow." The man in black turned, and proceeded up the stairs.

Omar waited for the man to disappear. He placed both hands on the workbench and leaned in closer to his men.

"Brothers. This is our time. This is our time to be heard. Very soon the whole world will hear us!



Madison, WI

The main ballroom of the Hilton on Wilson St was filled to capacity. The lights were dimmed as the guests enjoyed their surf and turf. Each table was covered with a white tablecloth, and had an elegant gold centerpiece shaped like an elephant. The hotel's best banquet staff were adorned in their black and white tuxedos, running to and fro, catering to each of the guests' demands. At each table were impeccably dressed politicians, businessmen - real titans of industry kind of people. Their dates wore expensive looking gowns and jewelry. This night, the hotel had an air of affluence. At five thousand dollars a plate, so did the people in it.

But tonight wasn't about their bank accounts. It was about the war chest the surging Republican Governor of Wisconsin was building. This election year was critical for the country, and both parties were pulling out all the stops. Presidential races are always hard fought. But this year the race had a different feel. More intense. The country was at stake. A sharp divide in the population had been forming for the last three years, and it was coming to a head. President Byron and the current administration were feeling the pressure, their approval numbers were at an all time low. They were becoming desperate, and the Republicans were ready to deliver the crushing blow.

Governor Henry Mitchell was delivering a flawless campaign speech. He was confident, and had every right to be. His campaign was hitting on all cylinders. People were drawn to Mitchell. His good looks and grounded warm persona gave him mass appeal. The country was eating his message up.

"Ladies and gentlemen." Governor Mitchell took a sip of water and began his closing remarks. "As we end tonight's event, I am reminded how truly blessed my wife Carol and I are. You see, it wasn't too long ago that I was just a Wisconsin farm boy. I grew up not too far from here. I worked hard on my dad's farm. Raising pigs, feeding chickens, making repairs... it was hard work. But I loved it! I learned so much on that old farm, with my family. I learned what it takes to be successful. What it takes to be a good son and brother. And what it takes to be a good and responsible citizen."

"My friends, we need more of that in America today!" The audience erupted in applause and cheers. Mitchell smiled and calmly looked around the room. He raised a hand, as if to ask for quiet. Then he continued.

"As we move closer and closer to our goal - the White House in November..."

"Yeah!" someone shouted from one of the tables.

"I will never forget the people who are working so hard to put me there. You. Without your support, a successful candidacy wouldn't be possible. Carol and I truly appreciate you and all the love and support we've been shown. Thank you and God Bless America!"

The audience stood and cheered. Governor Mitchell grinned from ear to ear, as he shook hands with important members of the crowd. Camera flashes went off one after another. He signed a few autographs and waved to everyone across the room. Two Secret Service agents dressed in black tuxedos approached Mitchell and quickly escorted him through one of the rear doors.

"We have the Governor, and are heading your way," one of the agents spoke into his microphone hidden under his shirt sleeve. Mitchell was briskly taken through a hotel service exit, and out to his waiting limousine parked on Wilson.

Standing by the black limo was a tall, attractive brunette with her hair pulled back, wearing dark framed glasses. She was typing something on her Blackberry, when Mitchell approached.

"Good evening Adele. Did you catch any of the speech?" asked Mitchell.

"Only the good parts," she responded with a smile. "Sir, I've sent your personal belongings ahead. Here is your itinerary. Your plane is scheduled to land in DC at 1:30am. Better get going now."

"Thanks Adele. Where would I be without the world's greatest assistant?"

"Have a safe flight sir."



Some mornings you just want to stay in bed with your wife. Let the world go on without you. Unfortunately, today wasn't going to be one of those days.

"Christine, we must have the world's worst alarm clock."

"I think it's possessed," she replied.

"I didn't set it. Did you?

"Nope."

The time was six eleven am. Way too early for a day that neither of us had to be at work. Christine was enjoying her summer break from teaching, and I was planning on taking the day off to enjoy a little rest and relaxation. It was supposed to be a beautiful day in the DC area - low humidity - which is unusual for this time of year. I thought a hike in Great Falls would be a great way to get some fresh air.

I set up shop in the kitchen. Christine loves my cheddar scrambled eggs - something I learned to make while watching my grandmother many years ago.

I cracked open a few eggs on the side of the frying pan, when my cell phone lit up and started buzzing on the kitchen counter. What now? It was Dave Ingram, my partner, calling from the Hoover building downtown.

"This better be good Dave... I've got plans today."

"Not anymore cupcake," Dave replied in his usual cheery tone. "It seems someone got themselves all shot up last night in our fine city."

"That's not exactly news Dave."

"It is when the victim has ties to a radical terrorist cell. Abdalla Al Amin. Brother of Omar Al Amin. Known member of the Brotherhood. MPD called it in a few minutes ago. Better get down here. Boss man is pulling everyone in on this."

"Alright, I'm on my way."

"Hey, is that your cheddar eggs I smell through the phone?"



We were led into one of the larger briefing rooms in the J Edgar Hoover building. The room was secure. Completely sound proof and with no visual access from outside. In the middle of the room stood a long rectangular table with a star shaped teleconferencing device placed in the center. Two large video monitors hung from the ceiling against the back wall opposite the door.

The usual assortment of FBI brass was in attendance. Two agents from the Special Task Force on Terrorism were there, along with Ingram, myself, and Jack Johnson, the Deputy Chief of Police for Washington DC.

"Good morning gentlemen," Johnson began. "Two of our patrolmen were called to a motel room in northeast at approximately two thirty this morning. They found two dead bodies, one black male and one black female. The girl was identified as Monique Hutchison. A local prostitute, we don't believe she has significance in this case. The male victim is more interesting. We now know him to be Abdalla Al Amin."

There were a few quizzical glances and shrugs going around the table.

"Who is Abdalla Al Amin?" asked one of the field agents. It's not like Al Amin is a household name.

"Getting there," Johnson continued. Abdalla is the brother, blood brother, of Omar Al Amin. I believe your Task Force on Terrorism can fill you in better than I can. Special Agent Phillips, the floor is yours."

"Thank you Deputy Chief."

Marc Phillips was a solid agent. I only had the pleasure of meeting him once or twice before. He was the son of a retired Marine Colonel. He graduated with Honors from the Naval Academy before joining the Marines and doing three tours in Iraq. He speaks Arabic, fluently, and is considered the Bureau's top expert on anything involving the Middle East.

"Omar Al Amin is the son of a wealthy Sudanese businessman. The Al Amin family is very rich, even by western standards. Omar's father, Hamza Al Amin, is reported to be worth over two hundred million dollars. He made a fortune in the politically corrupt Sudanese oil industry. He was also a prominent member of a militant Islamic group "the Brotherhood" that sought to impose sharia law globally."

"His family's wealth gave Omar many advantages. He was educated at Oxford and received a law degree from Georgetown. He could have easily returned home to a figurehead position in his father's company, but he decided to go his own way, opting instead to stay in the US, where he could have the biggest impact for his brothers."

"Omar moves around a lot, and was arrested in England two years ago for suspicious activity related to a bombing in London. He escaped custody by strangling a jail house guard. He's considered very dangerous. Any and all precautions should be taken."

"His current whereabouts are unknown, but we believe he is operating in the US, and possibly here in the DC area."

"What about the brother... Abdalla? Anything we should be aware of there?" I asked, still trying to piece things together.

"We believe the brother to be... to have been, excuse me, a low level member of this group. He worked as a maintenance man at the Washington Marriott Hotel. Probably just being used by the cause."

"Any information from last calls, phone numbers, text messages?" Asked Ingram.

"His cell phone is being examined now. We hope to have something soon."

Ingram nodded, and let out a sigh of frustration. I think we all felt that way. The brother of a known radical terrorist is found shot - execution style - in your own backyard, and there isn't much to go on right now.

"Oh, gentlemen. There is one more thing," Phillips added. "The front desk clerk at the motel said he remembered Abdalla checking in with a brown bag. The kind you wear over your shoulder. But our forensics team found nothing in the room during the crime scene investigation."



Governor Mitchell and his entourage had arrived in DC, and were staying at the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue. Despite a late flight, Mitchell was up early. He was restless, and anxious about the big speech he would be delivering in two days.

Mitchell drew back the curtains from his 9th floor room window, and soaked in the morning sun. He gazed out over the capital city. Thoughts of the importance of this race, of the office he was seeking, and the great men that had held that position filled his mind. Was he next in line to hold the Presidency?

The speech tonight could be the tipping point for his campaign. Mitchell knew the power of great speeches. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan all used the medium masterfully to rally the American people. To connect with them.

Mitchell was a great orator in his own regard. As president of the Harvard Debate Club during his undergrad years, he learned the art of delivering perfectly timed lines. He was graceful under pressure, a natural born political leader, and the crowds listened to him with great anticipation.

The speech, which Mitchell was calling America United, would strike at the heart of the matter for this campaign. It would give the American people a reason to believe in their country again. It would be a call to the people to reject the divisiveness and scare tactics of the current administration led by President Byron. It would call on the citizens to put aside their social and economic differences and think of themselves as Americans again.

Mitchell was drawing strength from his political hero and personal inspiration, President Lincoln. His speech tonight would be Lincolnesque. The message of his campaign, and ultimate goal of his presidency, would be to re-unite a broken and divided country. Just like Lincoln had over a century ago.

There was a quick knock from the hallway. Bursting through the door like a Mack truck was Clyde Gibson, Mitchell's portly campaign manager.

In his left hand he held a large latte from the hotel's coffee shop. Tucked under his right arm were four daily newspapers. Gibson moved and breathed with the pace of a wild cheetah in pursuit of a gazelle. The man never slowed down.

"Polling numbers are in!" Gibson said, so excited he was practically out of breath.

"How do we look?" Mitchell asked, turning to look at Gibson.

"The latest polls of registered voters have us in a statistical dead heat with Byron. That's up five points from last week." Gibson could hardly contain himself at this point.

"This is it Henry. Our momentum is strong. We can really put our boot on his neck. Now is the time to pull away." Gibson took a big swig from his cup.

Mitchell turned away, and looked out into the morning sky once again.

"Henry, did you hear what I said?"

"The news outlets will be covering our move in the polls tonight," Mitchell finally responded.

"Yes. You'll be the big story. Tomorrow's speech at the Marriott could be the vehicle that launches us to the White House!"



I dropped Ingram off at our field office on 4th Street, and headed over to Ben's Chili Bowl for a half smoke covered in their famous chili. Just what my stomach needed, especially after receiving this new case. But I'm a sucker for Ben's.

It was a beautiful day, so I decided to sit outside and enjoy the view. DC in the summer can be great for people watching. There are the usual street performers that you might see in any big city. Dancers, musicians, kids banging on plastic drums - all looking to make a quick buck. I watched a young black kid, no more than fourteen, with a bright green Mohawk, do a contortionist routine that would make Cirque de Soleil proud.

The women around here can be easy on the eyes too. The warm weather brings out long legs and short skirts.

I found a semi-clean park bench nearby at the corner of 13th and U, and finished off my lunch. My cell phone made a 'ding' noise. It was a text message from Marc Phillips that read:

ABDALLA'S PHONE RESULTS IN. LAST SENT TEXT WAS: P1-37 IS BEST - DIAGRAM WILL CONFIRM...

P1-37? I had no idea what that could be about. This case was looking more and more like a difficult puzzle. A puzzle that was missing a few pieces. How were a dead terrorist, a missing messenger bag and a P1-37 text message related?

I was starting to feel a little anxious. The heightened alertness since Nine Eleven makes these cases - involving suspected terrorism - that much more intense. Intense makes everyone agitated. It's human nature I guess.

I called Christine, and told that her that I would be home a little later that evening. She is used it now. The spouses of cops have patience that would make a saint jealous.

I headed back to our field office, to do a little more research on our Sudanese friends. I just hope we can put it all together before someone else gets hurt.



Omar Al Amin was alone in a studio apartment downtown. The building was old and partially vacant. It was quiet, except for the occasional domestic shouting matches from the neighbors upstairs.

There were only two other tenants on his floor, and few people saw Omar come and go. That was perfect for him. He lived modestly, and blended in very well. Hiding in the wide open.

His lifestyle here in the US was a far cry from what it could be back home in Sudan. In his home country, he could live like a king. With his family's wealth and power, he could have almost anything he wanted. Almost anything.

What really drove Omar was his blind hatred for the West. He'd seen too many American and British imperial wars. The bloodshed of his brothers. America and her partners in death needed to be brought to justice. Just the thought of having revenge, however small, was enough to send a chill down his spine.

There were no lights on in the apartment. The walls were bare and white. The space was empty, except for a small futon, an old armchair and the TV set that provided the only illumination.

Omar sat quietly in his chair. He took a sip of hot tea, and changed the channel with the remote. There was no expression on his face as he stared at the TV. The news stations were focused on the presidential race between the incumbent President Byron and candidate Governor Mitchell.

"Devils," Omar quietly murmured to himself.

He clicked around and landed on Fox News. They were about to go live to a reporter in DC.

"Let's go live now to Laura McKenzie downtown. The big news, Laura, is that the Mitchell camp has rocketed up in the polls, and has now passed President Byron by five points," said the anchorman to the reporter.

"Yes, Nick. The Mitchell camp is really pleased with their progress in the last couple of weeks. They appear to be gaining momentum, and plan on using tomorrow night's speech here at the Washington Marriott to reach a national audience with their message of Unity. They feel this could be a real difference maker for them."

The news people kept up their banter back and forth for a few minutes. Omar stopped paying attention. He just smiled a sinister smile.



Benjamin Ginsberg stood in a pay phone booth at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Nash Street in Arlington, Viginia. His hands were shaking, but it wasn't from the cool night air. He quickly glanced over both shoulders. Can't be too careful. He nervously shoved his right hand into his pants pocket and grabbed a handful of quarters. A moment before, the operator had demanded more money to continue the call. I should have brought more change - this might take a while.

"Ms. Beverly? Are you still there?" Benjamin resumed.

"Yes, Mr. Ginsberg. Please continue."

"Okay. Uhh... Where was I... Oh, yes. I think a crime is about to take place. A murder."

"A murder?"

"Yes. Well really more of an assassination. And it involves high ranking government officials."

"An assassination?" Ms Beverly responded doubtfully. What makes you think -"

"I know there is a large sum of money - from my department - that is unaccounted for. I think it's being funneled into a slush fund."

"What do you do?"

"I'm an analyst. I work with numbers. Mostly models of -"

"Where do you work Mr. Ginsberg?" Ms. Beverly insisted.

"The Treasury Department."

"Well that may be, but that hardly qualifies as- "

Benjamin cut her off. "I overheard a conversation at work, taking place with someone in the White House. It was late, after everyone had gone home. I stayed to catch up on a few things - no one knew I was there. I overheard a Treasury official say 'The wheels are in motion, sir. He'll be hit this weekend.'"

"Do you know who they were talking about?"

"Not yet. But I think I can find out. I have access to -"

"Mr. Ginsberg, can you please hold for a moment?"

"Sure." Benjamin let out a sigh of frustration. Do I have a choice?

"I'm going to need your exact location Mr. Ginsberg."

"I already told you. I'm calling from a payphone in Arlington. I need to speak with someone who can help!" Benjamin's tone was becoming impatient.

"We're going to help you Mr. Ginsberg. Please stay on the line with me."

Benjamin shifted his weight, and leaned his tired head against the cool glass of the booth. Maybe it was the late hour, or maybe the gravity of what he was doing, but it was taking a toll on him.

Exposing corruption at any level - more so at the highest - was dangerous business. Whistleblowers had disappeared in the past. There would be consequences. He could feel the stress building inside. What is this going to cost me?

During the day, Arlington bustles with traffic. The city was quiet now. Eerily quiet. The sky was dark, with only a pale moonlight shining in and out of a few passing clouds. A heavy set black woman wearing a white wig walked her teacup Chihuahua down a nearby sidewalk.

The roads were empty, with the exception of a white service van that had parked about twenty feet away on Nash Street. Two rather large men wearing grey coveralls and white hardhats got out of the van and began to set up orange traffic cones around a manhole.

Just across the street was the parking garage that Mark Felt, better known as 'Deep Throat,' made his secret rendezvous with Bob Woodward during the Watergate investigation. How symbolic, Benjamin thought.

Benjamin watched the two utility workers for a moment, and then Ms. Beverly came back on the line.

"Mr. Ginsberg, I'd like to hear more about this. Would you be able to come in and talk?"

"I don't think that's a really good idea," Benjamin said. "I'm afraid this is going to make a few people very angry. Powerful people."

"We'll protect you, Mr. Ginsberg, are you sure you cannot come in to talk with me?"

"Uhh... I -"

Benjamin looked over his right shoulder down Nash Street. The service van was still parked there, but the two utility workers were now gone. That's strange... they were just -

Suddenly, there was a strong dark presence on his left side. Benjamin turned quickly. His heart raced. His breathing seized. He became paralyzed with fear. The large dark shadow came into focus. Benjamin dropped the phone receiver and backed into the corner of the booth. He stood perfectly still, and slowly closed his eyes. The last thing Benjamin saw was the nickel plated .45 caliber hand gun that put the silenced bullet into his head.

A large hand wearing a black leather glove picked up the dangling phone. Then the man in the white hard hat hung up the receiver.



Javier Mendez stood in one of the empty meeting rooms, just off the main lobby of the hotel, holding his two way radio in one hand and his employee roster in the other. He gathered his employees together for their morning stand-up meeting. The stand-up is a tradition at the Washington Marriott, and one that Javier relishes.

They filed in one after another. The doormen, bellmen, and parking valets all wearing their red Marriott uniforms. None of them wanted to be there. These quick meetings were more like manager cheerleading events. Very corporate rah rah type of stuff.

"Okay everyone. Listen up," Javier announced.

"Today is a big day for us. We are at one hundred percent capacity, with several groups coming in today. We need everyone to be alert, and ready for the extra traffic."

There were a few groans made by the employees, mostly under their breath. Javier had a history of crying wolf - over-hyping events, and putting way too much pressure on everyone.

"Tonight is especially important. As most of you know, we are hosting the speech by Governor Mitchell."

"You mean the presidential candidate?" asked one of the less informed bellmen.

"Yes. That's the one," replied Javier.

"Now, we need to make sure that we are staffed appropriately for the event. We expect a lot of VIP guests here tonight; some are staying with us in the hotel. Valet will also be an issue, as guests will arrive by car. I need a volunteer to work a double shift tonight. Overtime will be paid of course."

One hand slowly went up from an employee standing in the back of the group. It was Khalid Ahmed, one of the parking valets.

"I'll work for you boss," replied Khalid.

"Great Khalid. Thank you. You'll be working the front tonight with Ricardo. Any questions? Have a great day everyone."

Khalid Ahmed turned away, and pulled his cell phone out of his pants pocket. He quickly sent a text message. Working tonight. Will be ready to assist.



Rise and shine cupcake. New homicide. Call me. That's what I read on my phone, after it rudely woke me up. Does Ingram ever sleep?

I splashed some cold water on my face, and walked down the stairs to the kitchen. I've never been a morning person, and I wasn't about to start today. I poured myself a cup of coffee, and tried to get my wits about me.

I turned on the TV and started to dial Ingram's number. As the phone rang, I caught a glimpse of the breaking news story on one of the local affiliate stations. A man was found shot dead just across the river in Arlington.

Ingram picked up.

"Morning sunshine," he quipped.

"I've got the news on... I think I see the new murder you were talking about. Any details yet?"

"Just a young guy - practically a kid. It wasn't a robbery. Shot at close range."

"So why are we in on this one?" I asked.

"I saved the best part for last. There's a recording."

"A recording? You mean the shooting?"

"Yep. The whole thing was caught on tape. Apparently our young victim was singing like a canary to a police tip line, when - bang!"

"So much for doing the right thing," I deadpanned.

"It gets better. He was reporting a conspiracy to commit murder. I think it involves some people in pretty high places around here too."

My stomach sank. That's all we needed now. Hunting down terrorists is hard enough. Now having to deal with a murder, possibly involving government officials, was going to make this city crazy with tension.

I hung up and got myself ready for the day. No doubt it was going to be a long one.



I checked in at headquarters. There were three other agents already huddled around a computer, listening to the recording. Hearing that was an eerie experience. I've been to hundreds of crime scenes where someone has been killed, but listening to death through a phone is enough to send a chill down your spine.

I went to the scene of the murder in Arlington. The phone booth had been closed off with yellow police tape. There wasn't much to gather there. Just some broken glass and dried blood stains. The police did find a .45 caliber shell casing. Nothing was stolen from the victim. Whoever did this was quick. Like they were performing a job.

If this was a hit, and it sure looked that way, then who ordered it? And who was listening in on this call?

I kept replaying the words I heard in the recording over in my mind. Assassination. Hit this weekend.

I hopped back in my car and headed back into the city. I had a hunch, and I've gone on much less before. I wanted to take a closer look at the motel shooting from the other day. There was something bothering me about these shootings. Were they related?

I arrived at the motel, and let myself into the room where the murders took place. Pulling the police report up on my phone, I scanned for details. Anything that might help make sense of this.

MPD was able to confirm that it was a .45 slug that killed both Abdalla and the prostitute he was with at the time. There was a stack of twenty dollar bills left on the nightstand, again, no robbery. Only a messenger bag was taken from the room.

What did a government employee reporting an assassination and the brother of a suspected terrorist who worked at the Marriott have in common? Then it hit me.

I dialed Ingram's phone number as fast as my fingers could.

"Dave!" I was almost yelling when he picked up.

"Are you at your desk?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Google events in the city tonight. At the Washington Marriott."

"What kind of events? Why? What's up?"

"Hurry!"

I could hear Ingram typing. Then he paused.

"Okay... Washington Marriott, tonight... let's see. Wait a minute! That's where Governor Mitchell is speaking tonight."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, it even says so on the hotel's website."

"Dave. Call the Mitchell campaign. Tell them that there is going to be an assassination attempt. Tonight!"



Ingram and I raced over to see Clyde Gibson. We needed to try and stop the speech Governor Mitchell was to give tonight. I knew that would be an uphill battle. Presidential candidates can't afford any negative attention, and this wouldn't help his campaign. Maybe a personal visit to Mitchell's campaign manager from Ingram and I would help them to see how important this was. We could sit down and rationally work out some other arrangement for the Governor.

We walked into Gibson's suite at the Mayflower. Gibson was on the phone, both shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He was barking out orders to a staffer. Ingram and I sat down and waited our turn.

Once Gibson had finished his call, he turned to us. We pleaded our case.

"Have you two fools lost your damn minds!" I thought Clyde Gibson's head was going to pop off of his body right there in front of us.

"Let me tell you something, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that we are going to cancel this speech tonight! In case you haven't noticed, we're running for President here. Voters tend not to like candidates who cancel speeches and hide."

"That was received well," Ingram deadpanned under his breath to me.

As we listened to Gibson's tirade, my cell phone received another text message from HQ. The ballistics reports for both homicides were a match. Ninety nine point nine percent certainty. I knew they were connected.

"Mr. Gibson, with all due respect, these people we are after are serious individuals with an agenda. And that agenda is to kill Americans while attracting the most attention possible," I responded with a little frustration.

"So. Catch them," Gibson fired back.

"That's what we're trying to do!" I was now getting angry.

"Look, fellas... I've got a campaign to run. So, if there is nothing else..."

I was furious and started to charge him at that moment. Ingram quickly held me back, and turned me around to the door. What arrogance. How could someone choose to ignore such an obvious threat?

"You might not have a campaign after tonight!" I shouted and pointed over Ingram's shoulder on the way out. Gibson slammed the door shut.

"Now what, cupcake?" Ingram asked.

I leaned up against the hallway wall and tilted my head back. It was hard to think straight. Information was coming in fast, but I still didn't have it all. Who was the assassin going to be? How would they try to pull this off?



Omar sat in a Lexus SUV, parked on New York Avenue. He checked the time on his wrist watch, and watched traffic go by. He was waiting for a meeting to begin. Omar was a patient man. Wars were not won overnight. Slaying the Great Satan was a war of attrition. The Brotherhood was willing to wait - to out-wait - their enemy.

In the eyes of the Brotherhood, Americans don't have the resolve to fight a long drawn out war. Americans are soft. They want quick gratification - self gratification at that. Making sacrifices and paying a price are what is needed to win. Americans, so used to their comfortable lifestyle and insatiable appetite for anything that pleases them, could never summon the will to defeat an enemy like the Brotherhood.

Omar's thoughts were broken, as the door on the passenger side was opened. Sliding into the front seat was Samir, one of the Brotherhood's soldiers.

Samir was young, only twenty two. He had a short and stocky build. A baseball cap covered up his premature balding. His English was good, despite being in the US less than a year. He came from a poor but educated family in Sudan, and used his quick wits to survive here in enemy country.

"Are you ready to serve your fellow brothers?" Omar asked.

"Yes. I am ready."

Omar smiled, and placed a comforting hand on Samir's shoulder.

"Do you remember when I first found you here, Samir?"

Samir nodded, wondering where this was going.

"You were living on the streets. You had nothing. No money. No home. No purpose. I took you in, Samir. Taught you things. Gave you a new life. A purpose."

"Yes boss. I thank you," Samir replied.

"The time has come for you to fulfill your purpose. Now you must bring glory to our cause. Tonight you will be a hero to your brothers."

Omar reached down behind the driver's seat. He grabbed the brown messenger bag that once belonged to Abdalla, and rested it on his lap. The bag that had been filled with paper drawings was now heavy. Omar handed the bag to Samir.

"Take it," Omar instructed.

"You'll also need this," he said, and pulled the Marriott parking pass from his shirt pocket.

Samir took the pass, and put it away in his wallet. He felt the bag, trying to figure out its contents.

"Go ahead. Open it."

Samir gently unbuckled the front straps, and unzipped the long main zipper. His look of puzzlement was quickly replaced by one of horror.

Inside the bag was a black Kevlar vest, the kind military and law enforcement personnel wear. Attached to the vest were four sticks of c-4 explosives. There was a black box with a digital clock, connecting each of the explosives with small red and white wires.

Samir reflexively jumped back in his seat. He looked at Omar in astonishment, mouth open. His hands began to shake with anxiety. Omar gave him a steadfast and encouraging look.

"You... want me to -" Samir struggled to get the words out.

"Yes my son. You are to park your vehicle in the space designated by brother Khalid. Wait for the time clock to read eight fifteen, then use the hand held remote."

"Couldn't we just leave the device in the building somewhere?" Samir was almost pleading.

"No. Not this time. We cannot afford any mistakes. You must ensure the detonation yourself. The Brotherhood will be watching. You will be remembered for your act of bravery."



The Washington Marriott was already at full capacity, and the Governor's speech tonight really had the place humming with excitement. The front of the hotel was busy with people checking in and out. Limos and cabs started to arrive with early guests for the night's event.

Ingram and I pulled up in front, and parked across the street. We quickly hurried through the automatic sliding glass doors that lead into the hotel. The lobby was spacious and grand. Beautifully tiled floors that connected to elegant Italian marble walls made for an impressive entrance. We were warmly greeted by the hotel's Assistant General Manager, Kathy Townsend.

"Ms. Townsend, can you please direct us to the Secret Service agent in charge of Governor Mitchell's protective detail tonight?" I asked quickly as I flashed my badge.

"Is there a problem?" Ms. Townsend looked concerned.

"Nothing to be alarmed at... we just want to go over a few security protocols. That's all." I smiled.

I was lying through my teeth. But there was no sense in causing a great panic. We still didn't know what we were supposed to be looking for anyway.

Ms. Townsend led us to a small meeting room towards the back of the hotel. It was apparent that the Secret Service had established this room as their control center for the night. There were tables set up with video monitors, radio equipment and small firearm arsenals. Agents were moving around at a hurried pace, preparing for the Governor's arrival.

In the center of the room stood a tall brunette with shoulder length hair. She wore a light grey suit that fitted her perfectly. Taking a sip from her Starbucks cup, she surveyed the agents' movement.

"Agent Sterling, this is Special Agent Allen Seasons of the FBI," Ms. Townsend introduced us.

Agent Jennifer Sterling looked at me and extended her free hand. She reminded me of Rene Russo's character in In the Line of Fire.

"It's nice to meet you," I said.

"My pleasure. What can I do for you?" she responded.

"I think you might have an assassination attempt tonight."

"Yes, I heard. Mitchell's campaign manager called earlier. He seemed a little ticked."

I smiled and looked at Ingram. Maybe Gibson was listening after all.

"I have over thirty agents crawling around this hotel. They have been briefed on the possible threat tonight. No one is getting in without our knowing it," Sterling said.

"None the less, we'd like to stay," I replied.

"Suit yourself."

With that, Agent Sterling took a phone call, and immediately went back to work. Ingram and I walked back to the lobby and tried to figure out our next move.



Samir drove up the valet ramp in front of the Washington Marriott. His hands were sweating and barely controlled the steering wheel of his early nineties Honda Civic. He exhaled and rolled down his passenger side window.

Khalid took a quick look around to make sure no one was watching him, and walked casually over to Samir's car.

"As-Salamu Alaykum," Khalid said through the open window.

Samir nodded. He couldn't bring himself to speak right now. His impending doom completely dominated his thoughts.

"Where is the package?" Khalid glanced quickly through the car.

"It's in the trunk - for now."

"Do you have your pass?" Khalid asked.

"Yes."

"Good. Just follow the yellow arrows down into the parking garage. You are to park in space P1-37. Understood?"

Samir nodded in agreement and rolled up the window. He slowly drove the car down into the garage as instructed.

The garage was dark. The old grey cement that formed the support columns and parking decks was dirty and cracking. The painted lines and direction arrows were wearing away, and visibility was limited.

The valet team had sectioned off several spaces closest to the elevators for VIP valet parking. As Samir approached the designated space, Khalid appeared and removed an orange cone that had been occupying P1-37.

Samir carefully backed the Honda into the space and shut off the engine. He sat there for a moment, contemplating what was about to take place. Tears welled up in his eyes as he thought about his family back home. This was a calling from the Brotherhood. He must summon the courage to bring honor to the cause.

Khalid walked by the car. Samir rolled the window down again.

"Why here?" Samir asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Why this space - P1-37?"

Khalid smiled and pointed straight up above them.

"The devils will be directly above us."

Khalid turned and walked through the door leading to the elevators.

"God be with you," he said, as the door closed behind him.



At 7:45pm a caravan of four black SUVs pulled in front of the Marriott. Five Secret Service agents, dressed in suits, walked quickly to the vehicles. One of the agents opened the rear passenger door of the second truck. The other agents formed a shield with their bodies around the opened door.

Governor Mitchell stepped out of the truck and buttoned the top button of his suit jacket. Members of the press corps and television media rushed over to Mitchell. They got as close as the agents, then reached with their microphones, trying to get a sound bite from the Governor.

"Governor Mitchell, what do you say to your critics regarding your speech tonight being a self serving attempt to con the American people?" one reporter fired.

Mitchell smiled. Flashes went off on two cameras, and he kept walking. The Secret Service agents, with their arms extended, pushed back on the crowd of media.

"Governor, President Byron has accused you of playing the politics of personal destruction. How do you answer that?" another reporter asked.

"Governor Mitchell, do you really feel you have a chance in November?"

Mitchell stopped dead in his tracks. He paused for a moment, looking down at the concrete walkway beneath him. He slowly turned his head towards the reporter who asked the question.

"Did you really just ask me if I have a chance?" Mitchell responded almost smiling.

"Yes. Do you feel that you do?" the reporter asked again, this time laying on a thick slice of arrogance.

A hush fell over the crowd of reporters. The tension encircling them was heavy and apparent. Bewildered by the question, Mitchell glared at the disrespectful reporter. Have these people seen the polls lately?

"I'll let the American people speak for me on that one..."

Mitchell turned back towards the hotel entrance. The moving shield of bodies ushered him through the front doors and down the hall, where he disappeared into a secure room.



Ingram and I decided to split up. Still unsure of what we were supposed to be looking for, I figured we could cover more ground apart and maybe come across something that seemed odd or out of place.

"I'll start upstairs," Ingram said, as he headed up the staircase to the second floor.

"Don't try and be a hero. You find something... you call me," I said.

Ingram waved me off as his large frame trotted up the steps.

The hotel was a sea of humanity. It seemed like everywhere I turned there were people walking around, talking, coming in and out of rooms. There were tourists, which flock to DC this time of year to catch a glimpse of the monuments. Patrons of the restaurant and bar were spilling over into the lobby. The attendants of tonight's speech were elegantly dressed, and stood checking their phones, waiting for access into the Grand Ballroom.

Finding a potential assassin in this crowd was going to be real needle in a haystack kind of investigative work.

Two Secret Service agents rushed by me. I overheard one say into his hidden microphone that they were moving the Governor.

The speech was about to begin, and we were running out of time. I made my way down the main hallway from the lobby. Looking into each room, scanning each face that I saw. I felt like I was spinning my wheels. On a wild goose chase. Who or what I am looking for?

Amidst all the guests in the hall, there was this kid leaning up against the wall with his hands behind him. He couldn't have been more than ten or eleven years old. His complexion was olive, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean. He was wearing a hooded pullover shirt with front pockets. A navy blue Washington Nationals baseball cap partially covered his face. As I got closer, he saw me look at him, and quickly darted off in the opposite direction.

"Hey!" I shouted. "Stop!"

I felt an immediate surge of adrenaline. Could this kid be involved? I gave chase. Cutting through people, pushing others out of the way. The little kid was fast.

He disappeared through two stainless steel swinging doors. I ran faster, and burst through the doors. There on the other side was the bustling hotel kitchen. Men and women scurried around in their white cooking uniforms. I was immediately bumped into by a busy server carrying a tray of food. He gave me a strange look, as if to say what are you doing here?

It was loud and chaotic in there tonight. The head chef, a broad shouldered man with a thick black mustache, yelled out orders to his staff. Beside him stood the little boy in the Nationals hat. I walked towards him, and he hid behind the chef's wide figure, grabbing onto his leg.

"Do you know this boy?" I asked the chef, showing him by badge.

"He is my son. Why do you ask? Is he in trouble?" he replied with an Arabic accent.

"He ran from me." I was still catching my breath.

The chef gave his son a stern look. He leaned down until he was face to face with his son. They spoke for a moment in Arabic. The little boy rolled his eyes and looked down at his shoes. His father held out his right hand.

The boy reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a miniature bottle of vodka that he had taken from one of the room's mini bars. His father took it from him and berated him some more in Arabic. The boy gave another shameful glance at his shoes.

"That's it?" I was expecting something more.

The boy just shrugged his shoulders.

"Why did you run from me?"

"I thought you were a cop."

I got back to the crowd and made it to the end of the hallway, almost to the entrance of the Grand Ballroom, when I heard screams coming back from the lobby. I turned and quickly ran back, sliding through the guests occupying the hall.

When I reached the lobby, I couldn't believe my eyes. There was a short, stocky black man wearing a baseball cap, holding some sort of electronic device in his right hand. He was standing in the middle of the lobby. Everyone had run to get away from him. He was breathing heavy, sweat was pouring down his head and face. Ingram had his gun on him.

"Please, I don't want to die," Samir said looking at me, then Ingram.

"Just calm down. Tell us where the bomb is," Ingram replied.

"Stay back! Samir yelled, waiving the detonator in front of his face. He turned towards me.

"Easy... easy. No one is going to hurt you," I said as calmly as I could.

"My family. I want to go home." Samir started to break down.

I took a step closer to him. I held my arms out, as if to say I won't harm you. Ingram kept his Glock trained right on Samir.

Samir was in a total state of panic. People are most dangerous when they reach this point. Minds not trained for extreme situations like this lose the ability to reason. There is no telling what they are capable of, and what will come next.

If we were going to walk away from this, it had to end now. This guy was in no condition to negotiate a peaceful ending. I quickly looked at Ingram. He made eye contact with me.

"What is your name?" I asked.

"Samir."

"Okay, Samir. Look at me. Use your head. We only have one shot at this."

I dropped to one knee. Samir's eyes widened. He looked at me confused, stunned. I saw his expression change to anger when he realized what I had just done.

But it was too late. The bullet from Ingram's Glock hit him squarely in the back of the head. A perfect kill shot. I grabbed the detonator from his hand as his body fell to the ground.

Ingram rushed over to me.

"Are you ok?" he asked.

"Yeah." I just sat there contemplating what just happened.

"We've got to find the bomb!" Ingram shouted.

I carefully pulled myself up, not taking my eyes of the detonator.

"I've got an idea," I said, as I handed Ingram the device.

I pulled out my phone and scrolled through it.

"Get the bomb squad to meet me in the parking garage. P1-37."



I ran down the staircase leading to the first level of the parking garage. In parking space P1-37 sat a white Honda Civic. I knew the bomb had to be there.

I looked through the car windows for anything that could be a bomb. There was nothing visible. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw a shadow move along the concrete floor.

I turned and saw a large man dressed in black military fatigues. His face was partially covered by a black baseball cap. He was focused on me like a laser, and was walking quickly.

This wasn't one of our guys. He drew a gun from behind his back, and raised it in my direction. Instinctively I dropped to the ground. I fired two quick shots from my Glock, hitting the man dressed in black just below the neck.

He let out a yelp and grabbed his chest with both hands. His gun fell to the ground just a moment before he did. I quickly moved towards him, and kicked his weapon away. The man in black made one final wheezing sound, then went silent.

I reached down to check his pulse. He was gone. I removed his cap, and was horrified.

I recognized this man. His name was John Stiles, and he was one of us. Stiles was a Secret Service agent, and on President Byron's protective detail. He was known to be the President's favorite agent.

I stayed there frozen on one knee. My mind wouldn't let me move, as it put all the pieces together. I shook my head, and let out a sigh of disbelief.



The bomb squad removed the bomb safely, and we prevented the assassination. The Governor's big speech never did happen that night. He was evacuated from the hotel and taken to a safe location.

A few short months after the incident at the Marriott, President Byron resigned from office. His disgraced presidency could not withstand the allegations against him. His Vice President was sworn in, and lost the administration's re-election bid in a landslide.

Governor Mitchell seized the opportunity as President, and went to work re-building the torn country. His mandate from the people was strong and he led with passion and conviction.

Ingram and I were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the highest honor given to a civilian of the United States, for our courageous efforts. All seemed right in the world again, at least for now.



The man's voice on the phone was muffled. Satellite phones connecting calls from remote islands can be unclear. The message being delivered through the call was anything but unclear.

"What happened in DC was a setback. But it has not discouraged us. Our resolve is stronger than ever my brother. The Brotherhood lives."

1 comment:

  1. My favorite by Michael Pearson so far!

    ReplyDelete