Jack and Kathy were enjoying their third week in Charleston. To operate in a city, you have to know the city. Each day Jack and Kathy walked and drove through its neighborhoods. Life was a little slower than in McLean. Or maybe, Jack thought, there was just less wheel spinning in this southern jewel. During their meandering, they located Joel Hankins’ Oriental rug store. Kathy stopped in a few days later to case the shop and its owner. She bought an interesting five-by-three-foot tribal rug from Pakistan and spent almost an hour looking through the stacks of rugs and chatting with Mr. Hankins. Later she told Jack that Mr. Hankins was one creepy guy who didn’t like women very much. She could easily believe that Captain Shorer’s suspicions about his being a serial killer could be right on. Kathy sketched what she had seen of the shop and the next day checked in at the courthouse to gather more data about the property. The courthouse tax records showed that the property included a two-story garage attached to the rug shop.
While she was doing her research, Jack scouted the neighborhood to find a place where they could observe the shop. He found a location that looked good and, using a cover company set up by his attorney, Jack contacted the realtor. Later that day, he rented a vacant two-story building with a good view of Joel Hankins’ shop. It was across the street and about fifty yards east of the rug shop.
Joel was restless. He thought how long can I fuck around all the damn day with these rugs? There is not a lot of money to be made. It’s been three months since an al Qaeda courier had stopped in his shop. The courier said that he should expect an important visitor soon and that big things would be expected of him. He had been on a high for the first month. After that he decided his superiors had changed their minds again. He really wanted to go out and capture another young girl but knew he had to keep his urges under control. Maybe next month he would go hunting again. Tonight he would put one of his flash drives into his notebook and look at some of his best images of young women being tortured and killed. The several gigabyte flash drives were easy to hide. The hard drive on his notebook contained nothing that could get him in trouble. He stored his al Qaeda notes the same way. At times he was tempted to share his art and research, but he knew that would be almost certain suicide.
In two more hours he would close the shop and go for his one-on-one training session in Taekwondo. His test for the blue belt was coming up, and he needed to work on some of his open hand forms. As Joel was mentally going through his most difficult form, the door opened and a well-dressed middle-aged man walked in. Joel said, “Hello. May I show you some rugs?”
The man looked around and said, “You have done well. I am the man from Herat. Perhaps you have been told about me.”
Joel was shocked. He had never had an important al Qaeda visitor before. He said, “Yes, I have heard you were coming. What can I do for you?”
“Do you have a place we can sit and drink some tea?”
Joel hung the closed sign on the shop door and ushered his visitor up to his living quarters above the garage. The small area was spartan but functional and clean. While Joel was making a pot of strong black tea, he asked his visitor what he should call him. The visitor laughed and said, “Whatever you want. My name is not important but my mission is, and I will need your help.”
Joel sat down at the small table and waited for the man from Herat to talk. After sipping his tea he said, “I see you learned how to brew a good cup of tea. Do you remember what else you were taught in Peshawar?”
“Yes, but I haven’t had much opportunity to use it.”
“That will change. The time has come. Once before conflict between Americans began in South Carolina, and I see no reason why another one should not start here almost in the shadow of Fort Sumter.”
Joel leaned forward in his chair, staring at his visitor and said, “I am sorry. I don’t understand.”
“Don’t worry. I will tell you what you need to know. First, what I am going to say, you must never tell anyone. Your life and mine depend on it. You may ask some, and I repeat some, questions but I probably will not answer most of them. I will stop in often enough to keep your instructions current. The first questions you might have are, who am I, and where am I from? Those questions I do not answer. You have already guessed that I am no stranger to America and its history. I am not a citizen of any country, only a loyal worker for the cause, as you are. Now, your first task is to ready this place to keep three or four people out of sight for a few days. Buy the supplies you need but do not call attention to yourself by your purchases. Make sure you have put prayer rugs here for my people. Do not be surprised when you are excluded from some of my meetings up here. The others will be leaving. You have to stay here and the less you know, the better off both you and our cause will be. You must be prepared to carry on your activity here for at least the next year. We have a lot to do together. We are sending you some help. Within the next two weeks a man, whose name is Joseph Green, will come to the shop. He will give you a message from me. Hire him. He has been well trained and told to take orders from you. Pay him enough to rent a room and buy his meals.”
With that the man from Herat finished his tea and left, just as the afternoon traffic was picking up. Joel was both excited and frightened by his visitor. The man’s cold gray eyes cut right through him. Whoever he was, he was used to people following his orders. Joel had no doubts about doing exactly what he was told to do.