Near the back of a seedy bar in the Bronx, in one of the deeper recesses and darkest corners, FBI agent John Savas hunched over a shot glass, a caramel-colored liquid halfway to the rim. His slumped posture and a deep-blue Mediterranean fisherman’s cap obscured most of his features. Dark hair flecked with gray spilled out from under his cap and partially melded with the rough layer of stubble on his face.
A large man stepped inside, his appearance clashing sharply with the interior of the bar. A battered trench coat poorly concealed his expensive tailored clothes. His skin was a sandy brown, his features faintly Arabic but obscured by the fat deposited over many years of high living. His stance indicated a man of power, now unsure of his footing. As the door closed behind him, two hulking bodyguards remained posted outside. The man nodded, almost imperceptibly, toward a lone drinker near the door, a carbon-copy of the two guards outside. The man had obviously sent in a scout and had brought more muscle with him.
Savas swiftly returned his gaze to his drink and smiled to himself. His contact was anxious; frightened men were far easier to manipulate. Now the trap will be set.
The Arab walked slowly toward Savas at the back of the room. His eyes darted in several directions, and he approached the booth like a hunted animal. He slid into the opposite seat, placing his hands on the table. “This place is not safe.”
Savas looked up from his whiskey and nodded, his olive skin blending subtly into the stained wood behind him. He scratched the three-day growth of beard on his face, a useful contribution to the role-playing game he undertook with his criminal contacts. Along with his dress and body language, it had become part of the dangerous act often required to infiltrate terrorist networks that were all too real and growing in America. His friend across the table was as big a fish as Savas had ever hooked.
“What place is safe?” he replied, a false Greek accent, modeled on his immigrant grandfather’s, partially garbling the words. He spread out his hands on the table. “You want to be safe, sell smartphones. You want to bring in your shipments, talk to me.”
The Arab once again glanced around the room.
He is very frightened.
“Dimitri,” began the Arab, “I have my connections. We must know who we deal with. Your name doesn’t show up on any shipping records. Your prints don’t match anything in any database. You don’t seem to exist.”
Savas mulled this turn of events. His contact was indeed becoming paranoid. He thanked his own paranoia that forced him to insist on the latex false-skin worn over his fingertips. He only hoped these guys didn’t have access to DNA analysis. “Ambassador Hamid,” he began with his most crooked smile, “I have been a disservice?”
The ambassador rumbled deeply over the bar sounds. “No. But before we go further, we need to know more.”
Savas shook his head slowly. He hoped his cover had not been blown. He felt the bulge from his pistol and wondered how he could survive a firefight if the man turned his goons on him. “If you know more, it’s not so good for me, katalaves?” He held up his hands. “No one knows these hands, Ambassador. My business is better with shadows. Not you, not the Americans, no one knows Dimitris.”
“Is that your real name?”
Savas only smiled. “I have boats. Good boats, also shadows. Never traced. We pay good money so they stay shadows. If you change your mind, then find other boats.” He paused dramatically. “If you can.”
The ambassador looked distinctly uncomfortable. Savas did not envy the man and the two-faced game he played at the UN. His position gave him tremendous opportunities to exploit weaknesses in US security. But he risked much to play the role of a terrorist pawn, whatever they paid him. Savas didn’t fool himself that Ambassador Hamid was any kind of idealist. He was simply the greedy scum that enabled the monsters.
The ambassador whispered tensely, “We would have been less uncertain if you hadn’t disappeared for a month!”
Savas had anticipated this. His injuries from the Indian Point insanity had pulled him off the street. Hamid had asked for meetings he could not honor. Dimitris the smuggler had simply disappeared. “It was, as the Americans say, too hot, Ambassador. Dimitris was in danger.”
The look of fear in the ambassador’s eyes was unmistakable, and the depth of it shocked Savas. “Danger? From where? Who knows about you? Can they connect you to me?”
The fake Greek captain waved his hand up and down toward the ambassador. “No danger, no discovery. After those bombs at Indian Point, the FBI was very busy. Nuclear power plants make them very nervous, no? Everyone was quiet.”
“FBI?” the frightened man asked, almost desperately.
“Yes, FBI. Who else?”
The man visibly relaxed. Relaxed! Whatever Ambassador Hamid was afraid of, it was not the FBI or discovery by US law enforcement. On the one hand, Savas was relieved, pleased that his cover was not blown, that he still had a hook in this big fish. He was also disturbed. What would frighten this man so much that arrest, and possible life sentencing by the FBI, seemed a relief in comparison?
“Who, indeed?” said the ambassador, a false and awkward smile forced onto his wide face. Again he glanced around nervously then checked his watch. “Then we are still good. If you do not disappear again! But we must meet in more protected locations.” Hamid seemed to have finished an internal argument of some kind. “Captain Dimitris, we will have our deal.”
Savas put on his greediest grin, but he was also smiling internally. Swallow the bait whole, Ambassador. Soon the FBI would have a catch of unprecedented visibility, but only after they had exploited Hamid to obtain all the underground contacts this octopus’s tentacles reached. Then they would crash on him hard, force more information out of him to save his skin, and toss him in jail until he was too old to remember his lucrative moonlighting. Diplomatic immunity be damned.
The ambassador continued. “We will contact you when we are ready. It will be soon. You will come to a place we designate.” Savas groaned inwardly; the ambassador was introducing complications.
“Of course, Ambassador. But, after Indian Point, business is much more difficult. More expensive. You understand?”
The ambassador hardly frowned. “Yes, of course. This was anticipated.” Savas nearly laughed out loud. How predictable the criminal mind. “What are your terms?”
Savas knew he had to drive a hard bargain to cement his character. “Double, Mr. Ambassador, and a quarter in advance.”
“So is whatever you want to smuggle in.”
The man nodded. “We will consider it and be in contact.”
Hamid rose, having never ordered a drink, and checked again with the bodyguard by the door. He then walked with his nervous glances back across the bar to the exit. The seated goon followed him out, and Savas could see them through the window standing together, waiting for their driver.
Savas pushed his untouched drink to the side. There was much to consider, much to plan in this setup. He would return to the FBI and talk to Kanter. They would need enormous resources to bring in Hamid. After two years of tedious work, slowly bringing to life the character of Savas’s Greek smuggler, luring several interested parties into the net, Savas had hit the jackpot. The monsters needed gremlins to sneak them in, and there were always greedy men like Hamid to serve in those roles. Relying on them was a weakness, a trail back to the hive. Savas intended to exploit it.
A sharp sound tore through his consciousness—a strong slap from outside. He could instantly visualize several possible weapons involved, but his mind lurched away from the details, and he stood up, looking through the window.
The music had stumbled to an awkward halt. People in the bar were screaming and backing away from the window. Like the first stages of a Jackson Pollock commission, red paint seemed to have been flung sharply across the glass, thick, languid drops tracing slow paths toward the sidewalk from a central bull’s-eye. Crumbled on the ground against the glass was a figure in a trench coat, three large forms bent in panic over it, screaming into cell phones. The back of the coat had a fist-sized hole blown out of it and, like the window, was stained in bright red.
Savas was dumbfounded. Within seconds, years of work had collapsed along with that form. Important and carefully orchestrated openings into international terrorist organizations had slammed shut. As chaos erupted and patrons scrambled to exit the bar, Savas stood still, staring at the downed shape outside, knowing too well that it would not rise. The shot was perfect, through the heart, the bullet chosen and aimed by a professional.
Ambassador Hamid had been assassinated.