Fort Marcy Park
NSA surprises me by cooperating. They call back before Silver can, and they share information like they might care if Alex lives or dies, but not one of the IMSIs Ayda's search passed on to us was anyone for whom we had records.
New threats. Inexperienced captors are one of the worst things that can happen to a hostage. They're terrified, they don't know what they're doing, they're cruel for no reason.
I meet Ayda Khoury at Fort Marcy Park. She’s exactly what I expected, a short Lebanese computer jockey hiding her figure under baggy black cargo jeans and a T-shirt declaring NO PASSWORD IS SAFE. She follows me like a lost child as we hike over the old earthworks. I stop in a clearing with a picnic table and she climbs up and sits on it with her feet on the bench. I sit below her on the bench; there's no playing posturing games with a humiliated child.
She toys with her phone so she doesn't have to look at me. "They're investigating the domestic program. They want me to testify."
"As an expert or a defendant?"
"A defendant," she says miserably. They're breaking up my operations team for the Ankara fiasco over Congressional hearing roulette. "Did they let you have a lawyer?"
"The first time," I tell her. "Back then they expected it."
"The first time?"
"These things have gotten common; they're not news anymore. Now the press will make it look suspicious, like you have something to hide."
"What do I say?"
"The transcripts of the older ones are public record, go have a look. Read mine. Read Ollie North's. Read General Alexander's even if it's terribly redacted, and see what he admitted to when he defended your agency."
When Silver and Hart and Ollie and I traded arms for hostages with Hassan and his Hezbollah proxies, I thought it was all about the hostages. I was young like Ayda, and I didn't understand the escalation that would follow, the hostage-taking industry, the exchange rate of 383 Palestinians to the Israeli that Silver got saddled with because the Israelis then and always traded. Or the hearings.
There's a star on the wall for our own chief of station William Buckley, because we won, but we won too late, despite everything we could do, despite the arms, the anti-Sandinistas, the Congressional hearing that accused us of arms dealing, taking bribes, misappropriating funds, and misleading the American people.
"It's an asset recruitment," I tell her, "You get yourself a friendly congressperson, and you spend the whole affair convincing that one, before the hearing and on the floor. Not Harris or Georges, they're unpopular; that's why they were punished with the Intelligence Committee. No one who might have approved this thing; they're next and they're going to be covering their own rear ends. You're an intelligence officer, go read voting records. Find someone you can convince it's in their interest to give the NSA a show trial for the press and a good outcome."
She nods, quiet for a moment, considering, then looks up from her phone. "Did any of the IMSIs match up?"
NSA's got gold here and they're throwing it away. An agent who's on your side when you're not on hers is a rare commodity. "You know I can't answer that."
My phone vibrates in my pocket and I steal a glance. North Ridge.
"North Ridge didn't have the number. I called a friend." She wants me to know she called home for me. I'm already thinking of what I can give her to pay this one back. "That hardware belongs to Sacha El-Shafei," she says. "Your chief of station is with Hezbollah."
El-Shafei, the Intercessor, is a cunya, a nom de guerre. He's got an Interpol red notice. He's the new Imad Mugniyeh. For the bus bombing in Bulgaria, an oil-drilling facility rocketed from Syria, the assassination of Iranian Green Movement protest leaders, he gets credit.
Hezbollah has a long history of killing Americans, from the Marine Barracks bombing to the Lebanese Hostage Crisis, the one that became Iran-Contra.
But they'd have terrible support in Sunni Turkey.
"You still with her?" asks Silver.
"Fort Marcy Park." This is going to destroy the Vienna negotiations if it can't be dealt with quietly. I was meant to leave for Austria tomorrow. "I can come back to the office."
"No, she should hear this." Old code between us for running an approach. Recruitment isn't just for enemy countries; it's how anyone gets anything done in the Homeland-infested alphabet soup of Washington. "They're her identifiers." She reiterates Ayda's potential value for emphasis. She's afraid I don't remember this game.
Silver expects me to be COBALT from Beirut. I'm not him anymore, but I can fake it for long enough to run an operation. I liked him.
"You want us to wait for you?"
"Let's go to that place you always said you'd take me."
If she were ever in the States. There's a lot of things we said we'd do if she were ever in the States. Hart would have gotten a kick out of us all being on the same side again.