Author:William Johnstone

    Over the years, though, he had come to realize that maintaining the façade of a happy marriage was too important to her plans for her to ever direct the full force of her rage at him. All he had to do to remain safe was to exercise just the least bit of restraint and discretion.

    She had skated by on the edge of enough scandals, both personal and political, that she couldn’t afford to let any sort of “accident” befall him, as had happened to others who had gotten in her way.


    Besides, he truly did love her, despite knowing that to her, he was mostly just a useful prop. So when they were alone like this, in the upstairs quarters of the White House, he made it a habit to speak as plainly with her as he could. He wanted to help.

    “You’re right,” he went on. “They were lyin’ to you from the get-go, just stringin’ you along with empty promises so you’d keep the Israelis off their back for a while longer.”

    She nodded. “Yes, but I believed them at first. I mean, why wouldn’t I? They had no reason to fear U.N. inspec-tions. Pulling the wool over the eyes of the United Nations is no great trick. Even a cheap thug like Saddam Hussein was able to do it for years. They never did figure out what he was up to.”

    “Don’t let anybody hear you say that either,” her husband advised, and he wasn’t smiling now. “Everybody knows that Bush lied and Saddam never had any weapons of mass destruction. You don’t want to go lettin’ people think that the conventional wisdom might not be true.” She went on as if she hadn’t heard him. “All they had to do was hide the real stuff and put on a dog-and-pony show for the inspectors. Then we would have had a good excuse for going along with whatever the U.N.

    said, and without our backing the Israelis would have had to accept it, too.”

    “Maybe you don’t know the Israelis quite as well as you think you do.”

    “What do you mean by that?” she snapped.

    “I mean that when those folks feel like they’ve been backed into a corner, they’re liable to do almost anything.”

    The President shook her head. “They won’t attack JACKKNIFE


    Iran. My God, they’re already surrounded by enemies who want them dead as it is.”

    “Then they don’t have a hell of a lot to lose, now do they?” her husband said softly.

    That shook her for a second; he could tell by the way she looked. She truly believed that every setback was only temporary, that in the end everything would work out the way she wanted it to because she was smarter than everybody else. Smarter, and more decent and moral, and anyone who disagreed with her was evil or stupid or both, and therefore destined to lose. Maybe she was right—he hoped she was—but he feared that the rest of the world might not cooperate.

    She resumed the pacing that had sent her back and forth across the luxuriously appointed bedroom a dozen times so far during their conversation. “Why now?” she asked. “Everything was looking good. All the Iranians had to do was play along for a while. The whole situation would have cooled down, so that next year would be nice and peaceful leading up to the election. Why throw a wrench in the works right now?”

    “Maybe they were just stalling for time. Maybe they don’t need to anymore.”

    She stopped and swung around toward him. “You mean you think they’re ready to . . . to do something?”

    “I don’t know,” her husband replied honestly. “But I got a feelin’ there’s a shitstorm comin’ . . . and we won’t be able to deny our way outta this one.” CHAPTER 2

    Hamed al-Bashar finished entering the data into the file and saved it, then clicked on the next item in the list and opened a new window to enter more information.

    The office around him was quiet on a Sunday afternoon.

    He was the only one who had come in today. Everyone else was home watching football on television.

    Not Hamed, though. For one thing, he hated American football, just as he hated everything else about America. But football held a special place in his hatred, and had ever since he had seen news footage on French television of Arab mobs celebrating the deaths of thousands of infidels on 9/11.

    One image he had witnessed on that glorious day remained seared in his brain. An Arab man was laughing and dancing for joy in the street in Baghdad or Damascus or some other city; Hamed didn’t remember exactly where, and it didn’t matter. Perched on the man’s shoulders was his son, a boy of seven or eight years old.

    And that boy wore a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt.

    The satanic influence of the Americans had wormed its insidious way so far into the Arab world that a child JACKKNIFE


    could wear a symbol of the infidels’ national sport and not think anything of it. It was at that very moment that Hamed had known that peace was not possible, that Islam could never coexist with such evil. The only way to truly save the world was to cleanse it of all Western influences.

    Europe was no threat to that glorious goal. The French?

    That thought made Hamed laugh. He had been around the French enough to know that they would never successfully resist anything for very long, not without someone else coming to their rescue. The Germans were not much better, and the Spaniards and Italians weren’t worth even thinking about.

    The British, though, might pose a bit of a problem, but they were already showing numerous signs of giving up.

    And nowhere in subequatorial Africa or South America was there enough cohesion to represent a threat to the march of Islam. As for China and Russia . . . well, oil and oil money could always buy them off. Anyway, they would be happy to be rid of America, too.

    So America—and its godless infidel football—had to go.

    There was another reason Hamed was working on a Sunday afternoon. He was a go-getter. That was what his supervisor called him. His instructions were simple—

    blend in and wait for the summons that would call him to perform the work of Allah.

    When that summons would come, and the exact details of the mission he would be given, were unknown to Hamed, but he, like the other members of his group, was patient. Whether it took months or even years, he would be here, in Kansas City, Missouri, working in the transportation division of one of America’s largest 16

    corporations, helping to coordinate the movement of goods throughout the nation by truck.

    His passport, his work visa, and all his other papers were the finest money could buy. The paper trail, a mixture of fact and fiction, stretched back years and showed him immigrating from France to Quebec, where, according to documents in his possession, he had lived and worked for five years before applying for permis-sion to enter the United States. His record was clean and beyond reproach.

    Of course, he hadn’t entered the United States by legal means, as all his phony paperwork indicated. He had come across the border from Canada in a remote location, along with several others from his cell. The rest of the group had been smuggled across the southern border from Mexico.

    Homeland Security . . . what a joke! And the Americans’ so-called crackdown on illegal immigration was equally amusing. None of the American politicians, especially those currently in power, really wanted to stop the free flow of illegals from Mexico. Doing so might cost them Hispanic votes. As for the Canadian border, that was just too long and porous to even pretend that any sort of enforcement was possible.

    What sort of country was it, Hamed had often wondered, that not only allowed its deadliest enemies to enter it, but practically invited them in?

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