They had been in the water for less than five minutes when they saw two SUVs racing up the beach with their light bars flashing. Someone must be drowning, Harvath thought. Looking at Lara, he wondered if she was thinking the same thing too. Then he saw the expression on her face and realized the wave of painful memories that must have been crashing against the rocks of her mind right now.
Why today? Why did this have to be happening now?
They both looked up and down the beach, but couldn’t see signs of anyone in distress. Everything looked fine. Then, the emergency vehicles slowed and came to a stop right in front of them.
Harvath had no idea what was going on, but it was obviously serious, and he led the way out of the water and back onto the beach.
The windows of the lead police vehicle were down and the officer shouted, “Are you Scot Harvath?”
He nodded and, handing Marco back to Lara, approached the SUV. “What’s going on?”
“Someone pretty important has been trying to track you down. I have orders to transport you to Camp Edwards. Apparently, there’s an aircraft waiting for you there.”
He’d not only turned his cell phone off for the day, he’d pulled the battery out and left it in Lara’s beach bag. That explained why no one had been able to reach him, as well as how the police had been able to find him. The battery itself acted like a GPS transmitter. All someone with the right technology had to do was know that it was his battery and they’d be able to zero in on his location. There was only one person who had access to both of those things and that was the Old Man. Something was definitely up.
Harvath looked over his shoulder at Lara and Marco. This was not how he wanted their day to end. “Don’t worry about your family,” the officer said, “We’ll make sure they get back to where you’re staying.”
Harvath was about to say something about them not being his family, but stopped himself. He liked the sound of what the man had said and liked even more that they looked like a family.
“Give me a minute.”
The officer looked at his watch. “I was told to get you there as quickly as possible.”
“I understand,” he replied, as he walked over to where Lara was stand-ing, Marco on her hip. “Something’s come up.”
“I kinda got that impression. Anything you can share?”
“I have no idea. That officer is supposed to take me to Camp Edwards. The one behind him is supposed to make sure you and Marco get back to the hotel.”
“Edwards isn’t far from here. It’s part of the Massachusetts Military Reservation. All sorts of things happen out of there.”
“Are you two going to be okay? I suppose he can fit the bikes in the back of his SUV.”
“We’ll be fine,” she replied.
“I’m guessing he doesn’t have a car seat, though.”
“Go. We’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” she said, putting her hand around the back of his neck and pulling him in for a long kiss. “Call me as soon as you can.”
“Will do,” he replied, tousling Marco’s hair and giving the little guy a kiss on the cheek.
“And be safe,” she added, as he jogged over to their blanket and gathered up his belongings.
“I’m always safe.”
Lara doubted that and laughed as she shook her head.
Picking up all of his things, Harvath gave them each one more kiss and then hopped into the lead SUV. “I’ll call you as soon as I can.”
As the vehicle sped off down the sand, he reassembled his phone. Instantly, it started blowing up with voicemails and texts—all from the Old Man.
He dialed his number and Carlton answered on the first ring.
“We just got word from Argentina. He’s awake.”
Phil Durkin had lost a lot of blood and had suffered a bullet wound to the back of the head, which had put him in a coma, but he had survived. Had Harvath and his team not shown up in Tierra del Fuego when they had, William Jacobson might have stuck around long enough to make sure the job was complete. Now, Durkin was talking.
“He gave up the official in Saudi Intelligence who coordinated every-thing,” the Old Man continued. “But more importantly, he gave up the plot’s architect—Ahmad Tariki. He’s the Saudi minister of finance and a high-ranking member of the Saudi royal family.”
Even though he had a feeling he knew the answer, he asked anyway, “What’s waiting for me at Edwards?”
“A plane. The President wants you to handle Tariki personally.”
“And the other guy?” Harvath inquired, mindful of the fact that the police officer rushing him toward the base could hear his half of the conversation.
“The President is giving him to the Jordanians.”
“How long before they act?”
“Not long,” said the Old Man. “That’s why you need to get moving. Sloane and Chase are already on their way to Abu Dhabi.”
“Why? What’s going on there?” said Harvath.
“They’re arranging a pickup. You, though, are going to Dubai.”
“Abu Dhabi? Dubai? What’s this all about?”
The Old Man paused. “How much do you know about the Saudis and their addiction to falconry?”
United Arab Emirates
The Burj Al Arab was the most striking hotel in the world. Seated upon an artificial island a thousand feet from shore, it looked like an enormous sail. Legend had it that the Burj was the only seven-star hotel in the world. Opulent didn’t even come close to describing it. Reminiscent of an Arab ship known as a dhow, it was an iconic structure that rivaled the Sydney Opera House and even the Eiffel Tower itself.
Falconry was a cultural obsession for many wealthy Middle Easterners. Outsiders referred to their addiction as “feathered cocaine.” There were few falconers as obsessed with their birds as Ahmad Tariki. He had brought his falcons to the world’s premier falcon hospital in Abu Dhabi for their annual checkup and had decided to spend the weekend in Dubai before returning to Saudi Arabia.
Dubai had a very special reputation amongst wealthy Saudis. For those in the know, it was said that Allah could not see you in Dubai. This meant that almost anything could happen there, and normally did, provided one was willing to pay enough money.
Tariki had been in town for only twenty-four hours, but had already done a lifetime of living. He particularly liked fair-skinned, blond women from Eastern Europe, and they flocked to Dubai by the plane-load. The right girl could send more money to her family in a month than she could make back home in a year. They also didn’t complain if Tariki got rough, which he usually did. They knew any reports to the authorities, especially against a powerful Saudi, would only get them deported, or worse.
The night before, Tariki had gone out on the town with his security detail quietly in tow. Tonight, though, he was staying in. He had already selected the women he wanted from the password-protected website of a very expensive local procurement service and was enjoying dinner in his expansive upper-floor suite.
His favorite dish was pheasant, and no one made it better than the head chef at the Burj. Whenever Tariki dined at the hotel, he always had the same dish. Not only did it not exist on their menu, but one of its primary ingredients—bacon—was forbidden by the Muslim faith. The white truffles that accompanied the pheasant were the most expensive mushrooms in the world, costing thousands of dollars per pound, and were hunted for with actual pigs. Washing the entire meal down with a 1978 Montrachet made the meal an indulgence that was sinful on almost every level. It was a good thing Allah couldn’t see him. But while Allah couldn’t see him, someone else most definitely could.
The Arab was wiping the grease from the corners of his mouth when Harvath walked into his suite with a small, suppressed pistol pointed right at him.
“Who are you?” Tariki demanded. This was a keycard-protected floor in one of the most secure hotels in the world.
“Hands where I can see them, please,” said Harvath. The Jordanians had assembled exceptional intelligence on the Saudi finance minister. They knew everything—from his trip to the falcon hospital all the way down to his plans to stay in Dubai, what hotel he would choose, what floor he always stayed on and what meal he would order. They even knew that once in the hotel, he felt safe. He normally kept only a couple of bodyguards in a separate room on the same floor. In case of emergency, they could be summoned by a wireless panic button, which Harvath relieved him of.
Standing across the table from the Arab, he asked, “Do you know who I am?”
Tariki nodded, “A dead man.”
Harvath smiled. “How was your dinner?”
“Who are you?”
“A messenger from whom?”
“The President of the United States.”
Harvath’s expression hardened. “You obviously understand why I’m here.”
“Did you come to kill me?”
“If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already.”
“Then why are you here?” Tariki demanded.
Harvath didn’t like the man’s arrogant tone, but the President’s instructions had been crystal clear. Harvath was not allowed to hurt the man, at least not physically. “I have a message for you and the message is this—if you ever try to blackmail the United States of America again, we will rain hell itself down upon Saudi Arabia. And when it is all over, and you are thoroughly demoralized and defeated, we will hand your country to your enemies. Do you understand?”
Tariki studied the man’s face as well as the weapon still pointed at him and had no doubt he was in the presence of someone who had killed before and would kill again. He said nothing in response and simply nodded.
“Good,” Harvath stated. “There’s only one more thing I need before I go. You still haven’t told me how your meal was.”
“Why is that of any concern to you?”
“I’ve never eaten falcon before.”
There was a quick flash of panic that raced across Tariki’s face. His falcons were his greatest source of pride. He loved them as if they were his own children. But they were safe at the hospital in Abu Dhabi. This American was just trying to get a rise out of him.
As quickly as his body had tensed with panic, he relaxed and a smile spread across his face. “You’re mistaken. I don’t eat falcon. This was pheasant.”
“Really?” asked Harvath as he reached into his pocket and retrieved a small silk jewelry bag. “I could have sworn I gave the chef falcons. With all that bacon, though, it’s probably hard to taste the difference.”
Tossing the jewelry bag onto the table, Harvath turned and exited the suite.
As soon as he heard the door close, Tariki scooped up the bag. Merely feeling the outline of what was inside, his heart dropped and his stomach began to feel upset.
Turning the bag upside down, he watched in horror as a cascade of the leg bands he used to identify his falcons spilled onto the table. He picked the first one up, just to be sure, and as soon as he did, he was overcome with a wave of nausea.
He made it only halfway to the bathroom before falling to his knees and vomiting profusely.
It came in wave after wave. By the time it stopped long enough for him to stand, he could hear his cell phone ringing back in the dining room. He needed to alert his security detail to what had happened.
Stumbling back to the table, he snatched up his phone and activated the call. Instantly, he regretted doing so as he heard the voice of the President of the United States on the other end.
“Do you know who this is?” the President asked.
“Yes, I do,” Tariki replied.
“I want you to know, Ahmad, that no matter where you go and no matter what you do, we can get to you. There is nowhere you can hide from us. Do you understand?”
“Do you also understand the message that was relayed to you about what will happen to Saudi Arabia if it ever tries to blackmail the United States again?”
“Good,” said the President. “Now, I have one final message for you. Please go to your living room window and tell me when you are there.”
Tariki did as he was instructed. When he reached the living room, he stated, “I am here.”
Within seconds, a helicopter appeared and hovered level with the window. Sitting in back with the doors open was the American operative who had just been in his suite. He was surrounded by cages. Tariki instantly recognized the birds inside as his falcons. He hadn’t eaten one of them after all.
He stood transfixed, and for a moment, forgot that his cell phone was still pressed against his ear.
The President’s voice shook him from his reverie.
“The birds you see out your window now belong to the United States.”
“What are you going to do with them?”
“The Iranians are quite fond of falconry. I’m sure the mullahs there will take good care of them.”
As the cell phone fell from Tariki’s hand, Harvath flipped the Saudi the middle finger and the helicopter banked away from the hotel and sailed out over the water.
Over Harvath’s headset the President asked, “How’d he take it?”
“Not well, sir,” Harvath replied.
“Good. Make sure you and your team get those birds back to theUnited States in one piece. There’s a national wildlife refuge in Montana that’s looking forward to their arrival.
The falcons were about to start a new life, and as Harvath thought about Lara and Marco, he hoped to himself So am I.