Before Jack could tell Frank he and Kathy wanted to come up for a meeting, Frank said he would be in Charleston tomorrow to see them. Jack got the flight number and arrival time and told Frank one of them would meet him.
The next day Kathy met Frank as he came through his gate at Charleston airport. Kathy smiled to herself as she picked Frank out of the passengers streaming out of the gate. No one seeing Frank would even imagine how important he was to their safety. He was the kind of dedicated CIA officer who did his job quietly and efficiently. Mild manner, not quite. He was very tough when needed and wasn’t big on second chances. She remembered once in the Counter Terrorism Center when a pompous middle level manager was stating that his unit had met all their objectives and had no failures to report. Frank stared at the officer and said, “That’s not quite true. You have just failed as a leader. Meeting all of your goals means to me that you have deliberately set the bar too low. Managers often do that. Leaders never do. When good people fail, it means to me that they are pushing the envelope. Taking justifiable risks. Not playing it safe to look good. I expect to have your request for a transfer on my desk within the hour.”
Kathy said, “Everyone at the table got a lasting lesson in leadership.”
An advertising sign partially screened her from Frank and she waited until he was walking past her before stepping out and taking his arm.
Frank said, “I see you haven’t lost any of your skills and you look great. All that action over the last year hasn’t aged you a bit.”
“No, but it made my hands sweat a few times and I still miss Anita.”
“Yes. So do I. While I’m here I want you to brief me on Anita’s sister and daughter.”
“You knew Kelly was Anita’s daughter!!”
“I suspected but didn’t know until now. Thank you.”
“Frank, damnit, are you always going to be a step ahead of me?”
“I hope so. Where are we going to meet?”
“Jack has set up our house as the meeting site. It’s isolated and quiet. We’ll be there in about 40 minutes, depending on traffic.”
Shadow came running up as Kathy pulled into the circular driveway. Frank said, “I finally get to meet the famous Shadow. I hope he likes me.”
“You don’t know the half of it. Shadow saved us twice last month when Jack took me to see his old house and to meet Captain Shorer of the Pittsburgh Police Bureau. That’s a long story that I’m sure Jack will cover.”
Jack met them at the front door, “Frank, welcome. I now have a better appreciation for your world than I did when we first met. Come into the dining room. I’ve set us up around a table. The Minhs have left us the fixings for lunch. Sweet tea and coffee are ready and almost anything else.”
“Sweet tea is good. Let’s get to work. Tomorrow I need to be back in Washington, and there is a lot to cover.”
As they seated themselves around the table with Shadow lying in his customary spot between Jack and Kathy, Frank said, “If you agree, I want to take the floor first.”
Jack nodded and Frank began, “Your first year was phenomenal. Your small unit was successful beyond any expectations on my part. Tracking down and killing those al Qaeda cells in America, with some help from the FBI, I expected you would accomplish, but when the trail led to India and Nepal, you were just as effective. I know Anita was killed and I grieved for her. She was a great warrior. You must put it behind you. Anita wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not finished but I want you to tell me about Anita’s family, especially her daughter, Kelly.”
“Jack, why don’t you tell the Pittsburgh story while I get lunch on the counter?”
While Kathy was showing her domestic side, she could hear Jack telling Frank about their Pittsburgh adventures. She noted he left out some parts regarding his own actions and his instincts in following Shadow’s lead. She would fill in the blanks when taking Frank back to the airport. Kathy tapped a spoon on a glass and said, “Thanks to the Minhs, lunch is not only served but it quite good judging from my grazing. So everyone, serve yourself, please.”
Frank noticed that both Jack and Kathy were never very far from the out-of-sight but quickly retrievable handguns. He thought, that is good. These people don’t take security for granted. I hope they will agree to my proposal. I need them.
Over a cold lunch of sorrel soup, potato salad and sandwiches of rare thin-sliced sirloin with Vidalia onions, sliced tomatoes and a mustard-touched horseradish dressing, Frank began his proposal.
“I want to bring you in a little closer. Without using any names or events that could identify you, I got general approval to enlist contract agents, as long as there were no identifiable costs to the CIA. No paper trail will exist. As usual this kind of relationship has one important rule – don’t get caught. As in the past, you will only report to me. Anything I ask you to do will be voluntary. You will take all the risks and bear all the costs. I will provide information and some non-specific CIA equipment when required. Neither your accounting nor CIA’s can show any links to this relationship. For starters I want you to add a few more people to your team. I have some suggestions, mostly people Kathy knows. Unfortunately, none of them will be as well qualified as Anita. Comments or questions?”
Jack said, “When we were in Pittsburgh, Captain Shorer asked us to check out a suspected serial killer who began his spree in Pittsburgh about 18 months ago with the brutal killing of two Pitt coeds. The suspect was trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is now running a rug shop in Charleston. Captain Shorer gave us badges and weapons permits. But we asked him not to inform the Charleston Police, so from a legal standpoint the badges are not of much use in Charleston. Kathy made an entry into the shop while I watched the subject. She found and copied disgusting pictures of dead naked young girls. All were killed by a counter-clockwise twist of the neck. None of the 11 kills left any recoverable forensics evidence. We had no subpoena, so the evidence will not be useful in a trial setting. A further complication is that we think the rug shop is now active as an al Qaeda support base or, as you guys say, a safe house. Kathy photographed a well-dressed foreigner leaving the shop and walking some unnecessary distance to his car in a questionable neighborhood. She thinks he may be a player.”
Reaching into his briefcase, Jack slid three black and white 8×10 photos across the table to Frank. Frank shuffled through the photos and then asked for a magnifying glass. Peering intently at the side view of the visitor, he said, “My God! This man is the ‘Professor’ AKA Mohammed Al Naziri. He was in the graduate program at Princeton the same time I was there.
“He is very high on our capture or kill list. His looks are deceiving. He is a highly intelligent planner and a cold-blooded killer. The Professor comes as close to anyone I’ve ever heard of who can kill innocent people without remorse. He is very dangerous and wouldn’t be here unless something big was in the planning stages. This is a very big deal. Let’s work out our approach, starting with the premise that the Professor is your number one priority. You can deal with Captain Shorer’s serial killer after we deal with the Professor. Agree?”
Jack looked at Kathy who had clenched her jaw, and Jack knew she was going to tell them her position.
“Frank, I recognize national prerogatives, but I want to show you some pictures. I’ll wait until you’ve finished your lunch.”
“Go ahead, Kathy. I’ve finished. So show me the take from your illegal search.”
Kathy handed Jack a flash drive and asked him to show Frank the pictures in their office while she cleaned up lunch.
After seeing the pictures, Frank said, “I see why Kathy is upset. This guy is really sick, and he surely will not stop on his own. Left alone, however, the Professor will kill dozens or more innocent people. He has to be our priority. He’s so disciplined that he will close up shop here and move elsewhere at the first indication there is a possible compromise of his security. In any event, he won’t completely trust this untested rug merchant and will be watching and testing him the entire time. He’ll have his own people watch the rug shop now that he has made contact. If we’re lucky, they may not have set up in time to see Kathy pick the lock.”
“How do we know they didn’t see her?”
“We won’t until we see the Professor again. If they saw her, he will be long gone, leaving the rug merchant to take the fall.”
“So I leave Captain Shorer out of the loop and let this sick bastard kill more daughters, sisters and wives.”
“Yes. If you try to trap him, scare him off or beat him to death in some parking lot where he’s waiting to catch his next girl, the Professor will run. He’s too important to jeopardize over a serial killer. As much as the rug shop owner disgusts me, we must leave him alone. It will take all we have to try to keep track of the comings and goings at the rug shop. Call Kathy to join us. We have some work to do.”
When Frank told Kathy about his decision making the Professor their top priority, she said, “Look, I understand that national priorities trump local serial killers, but I don’t have to like it. When you give us the go-ahead on our sick serial killer, he is going down either legally or otherwise.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent in a long planning session. Frank thought the observation post Jack set up was necessary, but they needed to move a real business into the space, a business allowing people to come go during the day and for the owner to work long, irregular hours. Kathy suggested a computer or a camera services and repair shop. She even had the perfect person to act as the owner/operator. She remembered Lou Washington, a former FBI surveillance specialist with very good technical skills, from working with him on a joint FBI/CIA operation in Washington, D.C., and he only lived twenty minutes from Charleston.
When Frank asked how well she knew him, she said, “It just so happens that I worked with Mr. Washington a few years back on a domestic surveillance problem with foreign implications. Lou is a retired FBI officer who was the expert in street surveillance operations. He now owns a camera service and repair shop in Mount Pleasant with his daughter. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind picking up some extra cash.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at all kinds of surveillance. He saved me once from an ugly situation. We were running a surveillance operation in a bad part of Washington. Three street thugs cornered me. They were just moving in when Lou arrived. He told them to move on, but they didn’t take his advice. He broke the lead guy’s knee, pushed him into the closest attacker who went down. Lou grabbed the third guy’s arm, pulled him close and hit him with an elbow strike to the side of the neck. He took my arm and we just walked away. He said later that the only difficult part of the fight was being careful not to permanently maim or kill one of them. He is not as skilled as Jack is, but he is a dependable fighter. If you agree, I’ll call him and see if we can go out to his shop.”
Kathy wondered what Jack would think of Lou. He was an impressive man, at least fifty-five and still moved like a predator. Lou and Jack were alike in many ways. Both carried themselves like warriors. No bravado or tough guy acts. People just stayed out of their way. Jack was a little taller and heavier than Lou with twenty years of Hapkido training. Still, something about them made her feel they were pretty equal.
Frank said, “Before I run to the airport, let me summarize my thoughts. First, my plans to expand your little unit have to be put on hold. The Professor is too important. Taking him down has to be our number one priority. Only add more people if you need them to monitor the rug shop. If he shows up again, call me immediately. Use the term ‘Princeton’ for this activity in your reporting to me. Don’t send any information regarding the Professor to the FBI. I’ll take care of any necessary notification of other Agencies. Lastly, no more entries to the shop or mobile surveillance of anyone coming and going from the shop without my okay. This man is one of the best professionals in the business, and I don’t want him even to get a sniff that we have picked up a thread to his operation. I can’t even go to any of our foreign intelligence liaison sources for help. I believe the Professor has his agents inside all of them, especially the Pakistanis. Any questions? Okay, I see we are all on the same page. This is a great lead and we’ve been lucky to get it. Good work. Now, Kathy, can you take me to the airport?”