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Coffee and surveillance were not a good combination. After finishing off two pots of black coffee there on Beef’s front porch while keeping track of the red blip on the GPS monitor, all that caffeine had Raynes so tightly wired that the moment the blip on the GPS screen crossed the boundary line designated as the hot zone, a number of things went wrong.
Startled by the fact that the blip on the device now appeared to be moving in a direct path to Khalid’s house, she sprang to her feet. “It’s on!” she cried. “The target is hot! Waziri is at Khalid’s!”
As she sprang to her feet, Raynes knocked over her entire com-mand post and both her laptop and the GPS monitoring device sailed off the table and crashed to Beef’s porch, creating a tinkling sound as shards of broken glass scattered in all directions.
Lobo, who had been sleeping peacefully at Beef’s feet, sprang up, staring curiously. Brushing the dog aside with one hand, Beef used his free hand to pick up the device, spilling more shards of broken glass from the screen as he did so. He examined it.
“The blip is gone,” he said, worry lines creasing his forehead. “Here,” he said, removing the thumb-drive from the port of the track-ing device. “Check your laptop. See if it’s still working. This will at least pin point his last location.”
“Damn!” Raynes said, angry with herself for being such a klutz.
Beef lifted the table back up and placed it on the deck before them. Raynes placed her laptop on the table top. She turned the machine back on and slipped the thumb-drive in its port. After cycling through the start up screen, the computer kicked in, evidently no worse for the wear. Using the built-in mouse pad, she hastily brought up the coordinates, transferring them from the thumb-drive and downloading them into Google Map. In seconds, two images appeared on the screen.
Beef said, “68th and Kearney. Three blocks away from here. And Waziri’s is there! Time to call in for backup!”
Shooting him a nervous look, Raynes started walking to her SUV parked in the street. “At this point, K9 Tory, arm yourself accordingly and follow me! To be quite honest with you, we are the backup!”
Raynes sprang off the curb on her way to her SUV parked in the street. She rounded the front of her SUV, and discovered a small boy kneeling down in the street next to her vehicle. The dark-haired boy sprang to his feet, leaving a six-inch knife buried in the front tire of the Homeland SUV.
As the kid ran away, Raynes said, “Kareem Abdullah, son of Fariq, Waziri’s right hand man? Why would the little shit slice my tires?”
Beef said, “Jabar Waziri started this mess by stealing his father’s gun. The blip on your GPS tracker? The four trips to the playground? I think it was Muslim boys plotting an attack on Khalid.”
Raynes frowned and said, “I hope you are wrong.”
Suddenly, Beef’s cell phone rang. He slipped it out of his pocket and answered it. Raynes stood there fuming as Beef conversed with the caller. A few seconds later, he closed the phone and said, “That was Detective Glass. He’s still in the hospital with respiratory problems, but his snitch has eyes on Waziri right now down at Ballard ballfield. The snitch claims Waziri is buying a chemical substance from Crow. Glass wanted me to intervene and arrest them.”
Raynes asked, “If Waziri is at the ballfield who has his gun?”
Beef said, “How do we play this? You head to Khalid’s? While I arrest Crow? Shouldn’t you wait for SWAT? And what if it is Jabar?”
Raynes sprinted away, saying, “I’ve no problem using my gun on Waziri, but if there is a God in Heaven, it will not be the boy, Jabar.”
Khalid lowered his gun. “If you were my son, he would ask him-self if I would really want him to do this thing. Taking a life is a serious matter. If you end my life, all you will accomplish is placing sorrow in your father’s heart by being separated from him when the US courts sentence you to prison.”
Jabar puffed up his chest. “I am not Waziri’s son! My father was killed by American soldiers in Iraq! I am a Jihadi Warrior! Waziri is my handler! I failed him badly when I took this gun to school un-loaded. It is not unloaded now. Prepare to die, Shiite!”
Khalid started to respond, when a stern voice came from the open sliding door at the other end of the kitchen: “Jabar? This is not what Achmed intended for you to do! Come, and give me the gun.”
Khalid exchanged uncertain looks with Fariq who aimed his own gun directly at him from across the kitchen. It was obvious then that Jabar was acting on his own. This assassination attempt by the young Muslim boy was not a direct order by Waziri.
“Yes,” Khalid said, fixing the boy in his unrelenting gaze, “listen to him, Jabar. Walk away from this, son—”
“I am not your son!” Jabar snarled so savagely that even Fariq blinked in concern at how unhinged Jabar was.
The lean Muslim man said, “If you kill the Hound, that will merely bring unwanted attention on all of us. Would you like to see our operations fail because you used that gun seeking revenge?”
“You did not lose a father!” Jabar snapped. “Achmed recruited me to come here posing as his son! When I have accomplished my task, I will be a legend! Others will name me a hero! Now drop your gun!”
The gun clattering on the floor at his feet, Khalid offered Fariq a heated glare. “Do you see why it is a mistake to involve children in your terror attacks? Your imams and mullahs have created ticking time-bombs, recruiting innocent children who should have been playing kick ball in some dusty field.
“Children who should be eager to study in school. Children who should never have been infused with so much hatred and bitterness, and such self-righteous condemnation of anyone who does not accept our faith. You have nothing more here than a brain-washed child who lamely believes that killing pleases Allah.
“Now, how do you reel him in? How do you call him off?”
Jabar snarled, “Shut your mouth, Bastard! I have come to kill you and that is what I intend to do!”
Ali sat there on the front porch, looking up to greet them as Johnny pulled his van into his driveway. Lucas noted the little Muslim kid’s forlorn demeanor as he peered at them with tear-glazed eyes. “What’s up?” Lucas asked, clambering out of the van and setting Goblin on the ground at his feet.
Johnny busied himself letting his dogs out of the van, then led them to his fenced yard at the back end of the driveway. When he returned to the front porch, Ali handed him the two thick envelopes he’d carried from home. “Here,” he said, “from my father. So that he does not end up in jail like Lucas’s father.”
Puzzled, Lucas said, “Why don’t you start making sense, Ali?”
“Shhh,” came from Johnny as he gestured at Lucas to remain silent. “What’s wrong, Ali? Has something happened to your father?”
Ali sniffled. His small nose scrunched up as worry lines creased his brow. “It is not what has happened, but what is soon to happen.”
Tucking the envelopes under his arm, Johnny said, “So, your father is in danger?”
“Yes,” Ali said. “But not the danger you are thinking. He is the Hound, a title he earned as an Agent of Phantom. He is a very dangerous man. He portrays himself as a kindly man devoted to his faith, one who is scholarly, educated, and well-refined. But he is a badger when cornered. And if Waziri and his companion invade our house, to assassinate the Hound, it is they who will die.”
Johnny said, “So, what is your fear, Ali?”
“Having a future,” Ali said, “with my father. If he kills this terror cell, what will your courts do with him?”
Khalid sat in his reclining chair in the living room of his house. Beside him on the end table was his Mosin Nagant. It was a powerful weapon and would do considerable damage to a human target. Khalid was confident he would only need one shot to eliminate the threat that Waziri posed. As an agent of Phantom, he was an expert with firearms, and knew exactly where to place a bullet in an enemy, to either wound or kill. In the case of Waziri, he had determined his one shot would be fatal.
As an Islamic Extremist, Achmed Waziri had left a trail of blood and tears in his wake on his own personal jihad, and there was no chance of de-programming a Muslim man like him.
And yet, he glanced down at his dragon-headed cane resting on the other side of his chair. Yes, Khalid thought, the green light has been given. I can wholly justify taking a mad dog’s life, considering all the tragedies in his lame belief that causing such catastrophes is pleasing to Allah. But then again, allowing him to live may result in gaining a treasure trove of pertinent information in the war on terror.
Khalid had always been conflicted when it came to his sworn duty to take another man’s life. He often thought it ironic how easily some misguided Muslims could kill in the name of Islam, as though doing so fully justified such an act, when in fact, he was never certain Allah condoned such killings. Having been a devoted believer in Islam, he knew there were millions of faithful Muslims who had never taken the Quran so literally that they took someone’s life.
What separated these Muslims from the Islamic Extremists was something Khalid referred to as ‘Good Sense,’ meaning that despite the sword verses, there had to be something more meaningful in the way he conducted himself. If he’d devoted himself to be a jihadist, carrying out commands to kill all infidels, where did that leave him in regards to other aspects of his life?
Islam had inspired him to be a good person. A devoted worshiper of Allah. A good husband. A good father. And that had been where he drew the line, not at all feeling obligated to carry out senseless killings because someone else believed differently than he did. And now that he had two men possibly coming to his house to eliminate him, what choice did he have? Muslims have been killing Muslims since the 7th century, which to him had always seemed so contrary to what the faith was all about. Yet certain flaws in the reasoning of believers resulted in him having absolutely no choice in the matter.
He would kill.
Or be killed.
Khalid heard a noise. It came from the back patio. Earlier, he had considered moving out there to await the arrival of those coming to kill him. Any confrontation he had with Waziri was going to be messy and bloody. After an encounter with him, he also knew that replacing the carpet in the living room would be necessary. If the exchange of gunfire between them became too intense, he would need to find a new house afterward.
Slowly picking up the pistol beside him on the end table, Khalid now wished he had taken up a defensive position outside on the patio. He was confident. As an expert marksman, he would place his bullets skillfully with headshots to avoid sending hot lead flying into any of the nearby neighbors’ houses creating collateral damage. He did not wish to place any of his fellow neighbors in danger.
In a manner of speaking, he had brought this fight to the suburb of Havelock, and the last thing he wanted to do was to cause harm or create a tragedy in an American city he had chosen for their home.
The noise came again.
It sounded like someone had bumped into one of the three metal lawn chairs situated on the open-air patio. The scrape of metal on concrete was barely audible, and yet Khalid was sure he’d heard it. He looked toward the two glass doors leading to the patio. He’d opened the shades as an open invitation to Waziri to try the unlocked door.
Flicking off the safety on his pistol, he arose and swiftly moved down the hallway and into his bedroom. Holding the gun out to one side, he peeked outside through a crack in the curtains. Movement came from the back of the garage. Khalid spotted the large figure of Fariq Abdullah trying to blend in with the thick shrubbery at the back of the patio. Fariq, second in command of Waziri’s cell, was an expert in hand-to-hand combat. The man could move with lightning speed, using fists, feet, or knives to exact damage on his victims. But today, Khalid saw that the big man was armed with a silenced pistol. He could even see the dragon engraved on the end of its barrel from his place at his bedroom window. Fariq was lean with a hawkish nose, reminding Khalid of a weasel. He gestured at someone near the house. He wasn’t, however, signaling his accomplice to advance, but rather that he stand down.
Which seemed very odd to Khalid.
A faint whoosh! of sound came from the kitchen.
Khalid knew at once the sliding glass door had been opened, and seconds later, footsteps could be heard as someone entered the house.
Khalid took his pistol in a two-fisted grip and started toward the kitchen. As he cautiously made his way forward, he said, “Achmed, one of us will not survive this encounter. If Allah is willing, I will give you a quick, clean death. You do not deserve it with all the harm you’ve caused, but it shall be. I am an honorable Muslim. If it is me who walks away from this, I assure you I will get a message to your son, letting him know your passing was swift. I give you my word.”
He paused, then added, “How odd isn’t it, that we both traveled here to America, and our sons end up in the same school? And yet one being Sunni, the other Shiite, they could never get along. Just think, if us fathers had adapted here and assimilated, maybe our sons could have one day played together as most boys do.”
The voice that came from the kitchen startled Khalid: “Shut up, you Shiite dog! Come to me! Be prepared to eat a bullet!”
Khalid entered the kitchen, his pistol raised and prepared to fire. He looked into the dark eyes of the assassin that had come to kill him and froze, unable to pull the trigger.
For a kid with such low self-esteem, Lucas was feeling quite good about himself as they exited the church of the Den. Johnny’s reactions to finding his dogs inside his van was priceless.
As he dosed each of the dogs with attention, he said, “Rules were broken to even allow you in church. And the diplomatic skills you showed maneuvering your uncle into that deal over his dog. If some ghostly scribe is keeping track of biker history somewhere beyond the clouds, I’m sure his ink was barely dry on the page when you whipped out those hundred dollar bills, bringing Dom’s fight to the council table. And to garner the support of Gypsy and those other Den members? Amazing, kid, simply amazing!”
Most of his life Lucas had put up with his dad’s constant belittling, figuring that it just came with the territory of being the son of a biker president. Anytime he got into trouble at home or at school, Lucas knew he had coming whatever punishment his dad dealt out to him. Stone certainly had no parenting skills, nor was he the nurturing type, and yet very rarely did he lay a hand on him. He was not abusive, but still, he did a lot psychological damage addressing his son’s behavior problems with angry tirades that rolled around inside of Lucas’s head for days afterwards.
Lucas often sat in school, listening to his fellow classmates complaining about a scolding they received from their parents. Yeah, he thought, boo hoo! Try these words on, you big cry babies! Twisted. Mental. Wrongly wired. Stupid. Retarded. Betcha never hear that coming from your mom or dad. Happens all the time at my house. My dad is a real motivational speaker when he wants to be!
Lucas had never had anyone talk so positively about him like Johnny did. For a moment he was rendered silent, unable to speak as he fought hard to harness his emotions. “Thanks,” he finally managed to say, turning his head so Johnny couldn’t see how red his face was turning at such high praise. “Just did it for Dom.”
Kneeling in the back of the van, Johnny laughed. “And no dog had a better advocate for his cause, Lucas. You did good, kid.”
Bummer nosed Johnny’s left hand, while Talon wormed his way beneath his right one. Ghost, the black chow, simply barged his way in between the other two dogs to get his due attention. Johnny hugged each one, then turned to exit through the open side door.
Mace approached the van, carrying Goblin. “Can’t find a place for the pup on my bike. I was wondering if you might cart him to your house. I’ll pick him up later in my truck, son.”
Readjusting the pit puppy in his grasp, Mace glanced over at Lucas and added, “You seem to be inclined to pick up strays, right?”
Johnny climbed out of the van, closing the door behind him. He turned to take Goblin from his dad. “Sure. He can ride shotgun with Lucas. Where you headed now, Dad?”
Mace watched Johnny hand Goblin over to Lucas seated in the passenger’s seat inside the van. “Heading out to the dog compound to make sure the boys have a welcoming party set up in case any of these damned terrorists follow through with their sick plan.”
Upon seeing Gypsy walking toward Johnny’s van parked along the side street, Mace turned to leave. “See you later, Johnny Boy.”
Johnny quietly said, “Yeah, see you, Dad.”
He turned to face Gypsy as he walked up to the van. The warlord said, “You made it clear that Lucas has been placed in your custody while Stone is locked up. Now let me make this clear, the Den is parking an RV in your driveway in the next ten minutes. We are posting two club members inside for a 24/7 watch on Lucas. Anything less with this threat by Crow, and Stone will take it personal that the Den did not take this seriously enough. Agreed?”
Johnny said, “Fine by me. Although I have three dogs and a 9 mil pistol that would put a damper on any plans Crow Harper had for Lucas. I won’t let anything happen to him while he’s in my custody.”
Gypsy said, “No offense, Writer, but aren’t these the same dogs Nate stole from your place? I like my security detail better.”
Lucas peered over Goblin’s head. “Thanks, Gypsy. Bodyguards greatly appreciated. And that was cool of you in church.”
Gypsy nodded soberly. “You’re not the only one who loves dogs, Little Luke. If I had my way, I’d wrap Uncle Nate in bacon and throw him into the fight ring this Saturday night!”
On the drive back over to Johnny’s house, Lucas peered over Goblin’s head, eye-balling Johnny. “You have a 9 mil? What does a writer like you need with a gun like that?”
“That,” Johnny said, “is a long story.”
Lucas planted his chin on Goblin’s head and said, “I’m listening.”
Johnny said, “It all started on my tenth Birthday. Mine was July 9th. My best friend, Tommy Wolfe’s was July 4th. Our moms used to have our parties together. They invited about a hundred kids so Tom-my and I would get a ton of presents. Sweet deal, right?”
“And this has to do with why you have a gun?” Lucas asked.
“Getting to that,” Johnny said. “On our tenth Birthday, I got a bow and arrow. Tom bet me that I couldn’t hit a running target. He ran. I fired. And I hit him on the nose! He screamed like an Irish Banshee! His dad broke my bow over his knee, and ended our friendship.”
Lucas gave a chuckle. “That sucks.”
Nodding, Johnny said, “Not as bad as what Tommy Wolfe pulled ten years later. I grew up to be a drug counselor. He grew up to be a drug dealer. He got busted one night for breaking into a pharmacy. He gave the arresting officer my name and my date of birth. When he didn’t show up for court, they put out an arrest warrant on—”
“On you?” Lucas asked in disbelief. “No way!”
“Oh, yeah,” Johnny said. “Luckily, Captain Jake of the Narco squad knew me from my youth work. He personally walked me up to the City Prosecutors office. I was given the prosecutor’s card to use in case I was ever stopped. I had to use that card several times after that. Captain Jake suggested I get a pair of handcuffs, go out on the street, and track Tom Wolfe down. His exact words were, ‘Cuff him to a telephone pole! Call us! We’ll come and get him!’”
He laughed. “I got a pair of cuffs, but never did find Wolfe. But I met a lot of major dealers in my search. I even met the partner of a murdered narc named Kelly Drake. Her partner shared with me the whole story of her unsolved murder. Later, I wrote a book about her. Well, one night I got a call from a guy who said, ‘The bastards who killed that narc may come looking for you one day. If you don’t have a gun, I suggest you get one!’”
Lucas took several moments to mull this over, then said, “That’s why you have a gun, right?”
Johnny let out a long sigh. “Yeah. My dad, an Irishman to the core, claims this whole story is like a Celtic Hoop, one strand of fate inter-weaves with another strand, and like a snake chasing its tail, it keeps circling back to impact my life.”
Lucas thought about it some more, and finally concluded, “Great story, though. Too bad it had to be true.”
Johnny laughed. “Too bad I was such a good shot with that bow. If I had missed, none of those other things would have happened.”
Beef opened his front door after Agent Raynes rang his door bell three times in rapid succession. He was not pleased to see her.
“Raynes,” he said, dryly. “The answer is no. You saw what that powder did to those three cops, and I am not putting my dog at risk again. Lobo is officially retired. Period. End of story.”
Raynes said, “I do not need your dog. I need you.”
Beef listened as she explained, “I researched Waziri. He’s a known terrorist, and yet he has committed no crimes here. The consensus at Homeland is to give him enough rope to hang himself. Khalid inter-vened last night, foiling plans regarding US service dogs. But Waziri contacted the imam who first sent him directives, demanding another gun. Not only did he receive the gun, but the imam gave another mes-sage to Waziri, keeping him on course to destroy those dogs.”
Beef asked, “How do you know this?”
“Homeland has an informant,” she said, “who has infiltrated this particular cell. This informant phoned this morning saying Waziri has plans to assassinate Khalid.”
“What?” Beef said.
Raynes said, “I phoned Khalid to let him know.”
Beef gave a dry laugh. “That he is now the bait in this operation?”
Placing her purse and laptop on the wooden picnic table on Beef’s front porch, Raynes rummaged around in her purse, producing a handheld GPS device. “I assured him we would be keeping a watch on Waziri. With the GPS device our informant managed to install in Waziri’s pistol, I’ve been keeping track of him throughout the day.”
Turning to open the front screen door, Beef allowed Lobo to join them outside on the porch. The dog greeted Raynes in a friendly manner, and said, “The blip on here is the tracker inside the gun.”
Beef said, “You’ve just been following this blip all over Have-lock? You didn’t actually have eyes on the target all this time?”
Raynes said, “My superiors considered our options. Since Have-lock is such a small suburb, they did not put a tail on him, knowing he could easily spot an agent shadowing him. They said follow the gun. If the gun gets anywhere near Khalid’s residence, then I may call in agents waiting on stand-by. My superiors suggested that since you grew up in this area, you would willingly help us keep track of the—”
“The beeping gun,” Beef said, interrupting her, “before it becomes the smoking gun? Is that it, Raynes?”
Nodding at him, Raynes patted Lobo seated beside her. Beef held out his hand, his gaze fixed on the GPS device. She handed it to him. Beef tapped the Program button and read the times and locations to determine where Waziri had been so far. Raynes removed the thin thumb drive from the GPS device and slipped it into the port of her laptop, and connected with Google Map. They studied the screen together, reading the coordinates.
“Odd,” he said, “this indicates he frequented the playground of the park all four visits. You sure that’s Waziri carrying that gun? Why would a grown man visit the park playground four times in one day?”
Khalid had just placed a pistol on a shelf in the kitchen, when Ali stepped in through the front door.
“Hello, Father,” he said, cheerfully. “I am home.”
“Welcome, my son,” Khalid said, forcing himself to smile as Ali entered the kitchen, earnestly looking for his after school snack.
For several moments, Khalid busied himself placing a glass of milk and a box of graham crackers on the kitchen table. The phone rang on the nearby kitchen counter. Khalid stared at it, allowing it to ring again. Ali, dipping a graham cracker in his glass of milk, noted his father’s rigid stance. Stuffing the soaked cracker in his mouth, he looked over at the phone as it rang a third time.
Khalid said, “That is Agent Raynes. For the moment, I am too angry with her to receive her call.”
Khalid frowned as the phone rang three more times before going silent. “By releasing Waziri from custody, she does not know the evil he is capable of. He has already obtained another of the Viper pistols. She is certain the tracking device inside the gun’s butt will give her plenty of warning, before Waziri makes his move. Agent Raynes assures she is conducting surveillance on Waziri but I also have taken measures to prepare for a possible visit by him.”
Khalid eyed the pistol he had just placed on the nearby shelf. It was a Mosin Nagant, complete with a sound suppressor. The Hound was an experienced hunter. He had stalked dozens of extremist prey to their lairs and safe houses. Each time, he’d been fortunate to catch his targets unprepared for his sudden, deadly attack. He had succe-eded on each of these missions only because the terrorists had become careless, and that carelessness had worked in Khalid’s favor. He would not make the same mistake they had. He was armed and ready.
He said, “There is also the possibility that he will not come alone. There is a second operative in this particular cell. If two come, then two die. And you, my son, must cooperate with me with no questions asked. Go and visit Lucas at Johnny’s house. Authorities have not yet released his father. Perhaps the boy might enjoy your company.”
Ali looked up into his father’s dark eyes. “Father, I’m not sure my presence over at Mr. Mason’s will bring Lucas much comfort.”
“Nonsense,” Khalid said. “He likes you more than he lets on. Besides, I want you to get acquainted with Johnny’s dogs—”
“His dogs?” Ali blurted. “Unclean beasts?”
Khalid said, “I am considering getting one for our household. Getting along with his dogs would be a step in that direction.”
“But,” Ali interjected, “the Quran says—”
“My son,” Khalid said, “Allah looks kindly on those who care for the creatures he has created. Many great followers of Islam have owned noble hounds throughout history. Some to guard their houses. Some to hunt with. Others to just grow fat and lazy. A dog would compliment our house and also provide watchfulness on our house.”
Ali muttered, “Wouldn’t a burglar alarm work better?”
Khalid walked over to the kitchen counter, picking up two large envelopes. “Take these to Johnny. I have his phone number. I will call when it is time to come home. Is that understood?”
Khalid handed him the envelopes. “Make certain Johnny gets these. They are dossiers of Waziri and his operative. If I am forced to eliminate the two men, those dossiers should prevent me from ending up like Lucas’s dad when the smoke has cleared in this situation.”
Ali said, “I was listening last night to your phone call to your com-mander back in Iraq. You asked if you had a green light. What did you mean by that?”
Khalid showed no anger for the eavesdropping his son had obvi-ously been doing last night. He would scold him later. Right now, he needed him to get himself safely over to Johnny’s place. He wanted to end their conversation on a good note. It could be the last time on this earth that they spoke to each other, and he did not want to send his son away thinking he was disappointed in him.
Forcing a slight smile, Khalid said, “Ali, you do know Waziri is a very bad man, right? The threat on the service dogs is bad enough, but this particular two-man cell that he leads is responsible for the bombing of a mosque back in Iraq. One that killed not only the imam of that mosque but dozens of men, women, and children. It was an indiscriminate bombing that was not carried out on enemy insurgents, but upon innocent Muslims there that day to worship Allah. Waziri is an evil man. The worst of the worst.”
Khalid then said, “And yes, I have been given a green light to take him out, my son.”