Excerpt from Kris’s Story

 

Hello! Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes!

I took a short hiatus last week, but we’re back better than ever! This week, I bring you an excerpt from Kris’s forthcoming novel. 🙂

Note: This section of Kris’s novel takes place immediately following the attacks on September 11th, 2001. Kris is two years into his employment with the CIA. Much of Kris’s story is based on real life events and people.


 

September 15th, 2001

Langley, Virginia

 

Carter Black shook him awake. “Get up. We’re going to see the president.”

He stumbled out of the cot in the basement command center of the CIA, almost falling on his face. Someone loaned him a fleece pullover with the CIA crest. He ditched his button-down and slid into the sweater. The arms were too long, but at least he didn’t stink anymore. He shaved and splashed water on his face, gargled some mouthwash, and met Carter Black at the east entrance.

A full motorcade waited for them.

“We’re going to the White House with the Director. He’s in the next SUV.”

“George Tabat? CIA Director?”

“Yes. The president wants to know everything about Afghanistan. Tabat said to bring the experts. That’s you.” Carter Black shifted, the dark leather creaking as the motorcade pulled away from Langley. “Kris, the president is getting ready to make a decision. We’re going to respond to these attacks, and we’re going to respond quickly. The CIA is going to do something we haven’t done since we were OSS, back in World War II. We’re going to go to war, and we’re going to lead this war. This is the last briefing before the president decides what our response is going to be.”

Kris sat stunned. He wasn’t ready for this. He wasn’t a presidential briefer. He was just an analyst. A junior CIA officer. But who was ever ready for their world to be upended, for planes to fall out of the sky, for buildings to tumble like blocks, and for the weight of thousands of lives to hang around your neck? Failure tasted like ash, like flame, like dust that filled his teeth and gathered at the junctures of his bones. Shame was his shadow, a bitter pill of regret he could never swallow.

He took a breath. “What do you need me to do, sir?”

“The president is a talker. He thinks with his thoughts. Goes with his gut. Tabat is good at talking him through things, thinking out loud. Audible cognition, of a sort. With this president, the last in-person briefing will usually be the deciding factor. He’s going to be listening to what you say, to any answers you give, very, very closely.”

“Who else will be there?”

“The president, the vice president, the national security advisor.”

Kris nodded. His mind whirled. It didn’t get any higher than that.

“Listen, the N-S-A and Tabat don’t get along. She’s a tough nut to crack. She and Tabat are like oil and vinegar. The V-P thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. He’ll go behind all our backs and double, triple check everything we say. Don’t worry about talking to them. Speak to the president.”

 

 

He could smell himself as they clambered out of the SUV at the secured entrance to the West Wing of the White House. Secret Service agents hustled them inside quickly, past the massive show of force the Secret Service had deployed. Agents with snarling dogs, rifles, and heavy weaponry were on full display, ready to destroy any intruder who dared bend a blade of grass on the White House lawn.

Kris tried to keep his arms down, hide his unwashed stench. He couldn’t do anything about the bags under his eyes, but hopefully the president wouldn’t remember him as ‘the smelly one’. He hadn’t been home in four days.

In the Oval Office, the president and vice president sat side by side before the great fireplace, with the national security advisor on the sofa beside the president. They stood, shook hands tersely, and beckoned Tabat, Black, and Kris to sit on the other sofa.

“Break it down for us,” the president said, lacing his fingers together. His Texas drawl was deep, a sign of his stress. “What do we have today?”

Director Tabat spoke urgently, summarizing everything the CIA had learned in the last twelve hours. He’d been briefing the president twice a day or more, since the attacks. Everything he shared, Kris had been a part of, working with the response team in the basement.

While Tabat spoke, the vice president stared at Kris, watching him closely. Kris stared back.

The president leaned back, his lips pursed as he frowned, thinking. “Musharraf in Pakistan has come around. He’s decided the Taliban aren’t worth committing political suicide over.”

“Good. We’ll need their full cooperation. Border posts and frontier bases along the border with Afghanistan opened up to American forces, a rescinding of all ‘no-go’ areas, unrestricted access to Pakistani airspace and full, unimpeded landing rights at all air bases and airports.” Tabat scrawled notes as he spoke.

“State is working on it.” The national security advisor’s voice was clipped, perfunctory.

The president’s gaze flicked to Kris. “Director Tabat says you’re the Agency’s number one Afghanistan analyst. That you know that country better than anyone. Tell me. Do you think the Taliban will give up Bin Laden?”

Everyone looked at him. Everyone.

The president had issued an ultimatum to the Taliban the day of the attacks: give up Bin Laden, or your government will be destroyed. Bin Laden had been granted refuge in Afghanistan since his exile from Sudan. As the president said, while smoke still rose from lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, any nation that harbored terrorists would be treated as an enemy. “You’re either with us or against us.”

What he said next would shape policy, shape the world. The unit secretary at CTC still couldn’t remember his name, even after two years working there, he was that inconsequential. Yet here he was, briefing the president. Deciding the course of history. His palms slicked with sweat. Ice flowed down his spine.

“Mr. President, the Taliban will never surrender Bin Laden.”

“Why?” The national security advisor frowned. “If they want to survive at all, they have to give him up.”

“It’s not the Pashtunwali way.” Everyone frowned. “The Taliban blend tribal traditions and fundamentalism Islam into their repressive form of totalitarian rule. It has less to do with Islam and more to do with Tribalism. Pashtunwali is their ethical code. Melmastia, hospitality and protection of all guests, nanawatai, the right of a fugitive to seek refuge within the tribe, and, badal, blood feuds and revenge.”

“Shit,” the vice president grumbled. “So he’s going to hide under the Taliban skirts and claim tribal law?”

“The Taliban and al-Qaeda aren’t friends. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, repeatedly ordered him to stop antagonizing the US. To stop giving interviews and drawing attention to themselves, and to the other Arab jihadist training camps. When Bin Laden pledged his allegiance to Mullah Omar, he was trying to pave over Omar’s complaints. But right after his pledge, he launched the embassy bombings in Africa. Mullah Omar was furious when the US attacked the training camps.”

“Why didn’t he kick Bin Laden out then?”

“Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia tried to convince Mullah Omar to hand him over. Muslim to Muslim. He flew to Afghanistan on a royal jet, on royal business. Mullah Omar threw him out. He said he was sickened to see the prince of an Islamic state, and the guardian of the two holy cities of Islam, doing the bidding of the ‘infidel West’. He accused the prince of being a takfiri, an apostate.”

“Bet that went down well,” the vice president grunted.

“Turki stomped on the feast Mullah Omar had spread out for them and stormed out.”

“So why not give him up now? If he didn’t want Bin Laden attacking the US, then why is he willing to die for him now?”

Kris swallowed, images from the attacks flashing in the darkness behind his eyes every time he blinked. Flame, smoke, and screams. Papers fluttering like rain, falling as if time had slowed. Ash blanketing the world. Bodies falling, jumping. He shook his head. “Bin Laden assassinated General Massoud September 10th. He sent two al-Qaeda bombers, posing as journalists, to his command center. They blew themselves up, and decapitated the leadership of the Northern Alliance, and the one man who was a serious threat to Mullah Omar. Under Pashtunwali, he paid Omar a blood debt, one they will be honor bound to return. They will never hand him over, Mr. President.”

Silence. The president stared at him, as if measuring his soul, taking the weight of his words. Finally, he nodded and sat back. “I don’t want to give the Taliban any maneuvering room on the world stage. We’re going to keep demanding they turn over Bin Laden. They’re demanding proof that he is responsible. What do we have that we can show the world?”

“Source reporting from Kandahar and Khost. Jubilation in the streets. Our intercepts before the attacks. We knew they were planning something. We just didn’t—” Tabat’s voice croaked, choked, and died. He looked down.

“Whatever we show as proof will be exposed, Mr. President. We cannot burn sources and methods at this time. Not right before a war.”

Kris jumped in. “There’s Yemen.”

“Yemen?” The vice president frowned.

“The USS Cole bombings. The FBI is running a fusion cell in country, working on prosecuting the attackers and conspirators in Yemeni courts. They have an al-Qaeda operative there, someone who used to be Bin Laden’s bodyguard, in jail. We could question him.”

The president nodded. “Get on it. I want confirmation for the world that Bin Laden was behind these attacks, something we can show off.”

“Everything comes down to our response,” the vice president said. “Everything. We have to find these terrorists, and we have to stop them. Wherever they are. By whatever means possible.”

“George,” the president said, turning to the CIA Director. “I want the CIA to be the first on the ground. As soon as possible.”

“Yes, Mr. President. We’re on our way.”

 

 

They hurried to the motorcade, waiting outside the West Wing. Tabat huddled with Black as Kris followed, herded by hulking Secret Service agents who bracketed him right and left.

Black waited for Kris as Tabat climbed into his SUV, already on the phone. “Kris, great job. Take the last SUV back to your place and pack a bag. You’re going to Yemen. You leave in three hours.”

 

September 17th, 2001

Sanaa, Yemen

 

Kris sweated in the backseat of a creaking Yemeni government SUV, roaring through Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. At one in the morning, the streets were deserted.

Since September 11th, all American officials moved at night, and under the glowering auspices of the Yemeni national police.

Carter Black had arranged for a private CIA jet to fly him directly to Yemen. He was the only passenger. He’d spent the fifteen-hour flight reading everything the FBI had on the al-Qaeda terrorist incarcerated in the Yemeni federal detention center.

Abu Tadmir was the former bodyguard of Bin Laden, and the emir, or leader, of one of the guesthouses for Arab fighters traveling to Afghanistan to join with al-Qaeda. His guesthouse was connected to the advanced tactics training camp where all of the hijackers had most likely received specialized instruction.

On the flight, Kris received a cable from Langley. One of the hijackers had stayed at the guesthouse. In fact, the hijacker was called “a friend” of the emir. They’d spent Ramadan together in 1999. They were close.

Finally, the SUV pulled up to at the federal detention facility. Two Americans in cargo pants, fleece vests, and ball caps waited inside the gates. Gold badges hung on chains around their neck.

“FBI,” his driver grunted. He didn’t sound thrilled to see the agents.

Both FBI agents stared him down through the SUV’s dusty glass as they pulled to a stop. They didn’t say a word, didn’t blink, just stared. They didn’t say hello as he climbed out of the SUV, or came to their side.

Kris hitched his briefcase higher on his shoulder. “I’m here to see Tadmir.”

Nothing. It was like the FBI agents were statues.

Finally, one agent glared, his eyes narrowing to slits. “You CIA guys have anything you want to pass along? You know, anything you haven’t shared that might save lives?”

The man’s words eviscerated him, sliced him from belly to heart. Everything in him wanted to scream, to vomit, to rip his hair from his head. The names of the hijackers flashed in his mind, cartoon exclamations that followed his every footstep.

He forced his voice to remain steady. Forced steel into his spine, when he wanted to collapse and beg for forgiveness. He had a job to do. And maybe, just maybe, there would be some measure of atonement at the end. “I am here on the orders of the president of the United States to get information from the al-Qaeda operative you have in custody. I am here to do my job.”

The FBI agents both snorted. “You guys really did a hell of a job.”

“I am here to help. Help everyone. Move forward, and do the right thing.” Fireballs bloomed behind his eyelids. A scream hovered on the edge of his mind. “You can help me, or you can get the hell out of my way.”

The FBI agents shared a long look.

“The time for blame will come later,” he whispered. And when it came, it would come for hm.

“You’re Goddamn right it will,” one of the FBI agents said.

They led him into the prison, a dank square building of concrete and cinderblock. Sandstorms had chipped the dingy mustard paint to shreds, and dust-covered bare bulbs hummed behind rusted cages. Only every other lightbulb was lit. Down a long hallway, two Yemeni guards waited outside a door marred with black char marks and pocked with large dents.

“My mission is twofold. I need to secure a confession that al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack.”

“We already know they’re responsible.”

“The president needs this for the international coalition and to pressure the Taliban.”

“What else?”

“We need to know everything about the al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Their armaments, their personnel. Capabilities, locations, numbers. Everything, for the invasion.”

“We’ve had this guy for a year. We’ve been questioning him. Everything he’s given us, we’ve sent back to Washington. He hasn’t said much, and, no offense, but I doubt you are going to be the one to crack him.” The FBI agent looked him up and down, a cold glare etched on his face.

Kris bristled. Indignity made his spine straighten, pulled his shoulders back. “Things have changed since you captured him.”

“The attacks? Yeah, they made most of the jihadis jubilant. Victorious. Hardened their resolve. You’re not going to get anything.”

“I’m going to try. You can participate or not. Observe or not. But I have my orders.”

“Well, we’ll go in after you’re done. See if we can salvage the night.”

 

 

Abu Tadmir, whose kunya, or family name, meant ‘father of destruction’, strolled into the interrogation room in the company of two Yemeni prison guards. He was clean, his bread trimmed, and he was fat. The guards wore masks over their faces, hiding their identities.

Tadmir was obviously doing just fine in the prison. He was well cared for and had no fear of prison. The guards, instead, seemed to fear him, or feared him learning their identities. Arrogance, power, intimidation. Kris had seen it all before, albeit a world away.

He’d been arrested by the Yemenis in a roundup of al-Qaeda suspects following the USS Cole bombing at the behest of the FBI and the fusion cell working the USS Cole case. He hadn’t given up much in the year he’d been behind bars.

Tadmir pulled out the rickety metal chair on his side of the interrogation table and dropped into it, slouching. Kris stayed seated, silent. He let Tadmir stare, and ignored the way he grinned, laughing, dismissive.

Kris pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered it to Tadmir. Tadmir took one, but said nothing.  “As-salaam-alaikum.”

Wa alaikum as-salaam.”

He flicked his lighter, igniting the end of Tadmir’s cigarette. After, he lit his own, and took a deep inhale. “My name is Kris. I am with the CIA.” He spoke in Arabic, the words rolling off his tongue, clear and strong. Stronger than he felt.

Tadmir arched one eyebrow. “You speak God’s language?” he asked in Arabic.

Nam.” Yes.

“Yet you are an infidel?”

Nam.”

“I will not speak to you in Allah’s language.” He switched to English. It was stilted, halting.

Kris followed him, speaking English. “How are you? You look well.”

Tadmir grinned. He puffed on his cigarette. “Very good. I am very good.”

“I want to check. You are Abu Tadmir, member of al-Qaeda, and former bodyguard of Osama Bin Laden. Emir of the guesthouse, the House of Leaves?”

Tadmir smiled again. “I am Abu Tadmir.” Pride shown in his eyes. “Of course I am he.”

Over the past year, Tadmir had confirmed, through questioning, all information the FBI had been able to gather about him from interrogations of others, captured al-Qaeda documents, and intercepted communications. But, no further. The file stated he admitted information he knew only after being called out in a lie, an arduous process of questioning, challenging, and then his admission. Back and forth, fact-based, closed questions had led to multiple dead ends.

He had to try a different angle. “So, why join al-Qaeda? Why become a jihadi?”

“It is the duty of every Muslim to wage jihad. To fight for Islam. To defend Islam, when invaders and occupiers attack Muslims and take Muslim land. Islam also calls for the end of tyranny, as the Prophet, peace be upon him, all blessings and glory are his, showed in his example. We fight all oppression of Muslims. In Bosnia, in Chechnya, in Afghanistan against the Soviets, against Israel… and against you.”

Tadmir’s eyes gleamed. Kris filed that away as he took a drag of his cigarette. Tadmir enjoyed the spotlight. He enjoyed having an audience. “Where is the oppression?”

Tadmir threw his head lack, laughing. Ash dropped from the end of his cigarette. “Where is the oppression? Oh, you are funny. You are a funny man. Muslim holy lands are under oppression. Occupied by filthy Saudi royals, who are just puppets for your West. Infidels walk on the holy land of Arabia. Israel, and her Western supporters, attack Muslims every day.” Tadmir switched to Arabic, seemingly not even noticing. “Throughout this century, Muslim lands have been invaded time and again. By soldiers. By the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, by Russia in Chechnya. Americans in the holy lands, fighting Saddam. We could have fought him! We did not need any infidels on our land! But that is what you do. You invade, everywhere. Western culture, western ideas, western innovations. We cannot look at the world and see anything but your invasion. This is why Bin Laden issued his fatwa. To liberate the oppressed.”

“America also wants to liberate the oppressed. That’s what we try to do. Did we not help Bin Laden expel the Soviets from Afghanistan?”

Abu Tadmir blew smoke into Kris’s face.

“We want to be a force for good in the world. To help the oppressed. Like it says in the Quran. No man is free if one man is oppressed.”

“You Americans want to be good. But all the world sees is force.” Tadmir sat back, sucking his cigarette between two fingers. “Only Muslims can save other Muslims. Infidels cannot save Muslims. Besides, you are only interfering in Muslim revolutions. Leave us alone. We will make our own way in the world.”

“How can we leave you alone is you declare war on us?”

“The war can end, if you leave the holy land, remove the infidels from Arabia, and submit to Islam.”

“Americans are not all going to convert to Islam.”

“Then the war will continue.”

“How is this war, this jihad, fought? You kill anyone? Everyone?”

“No, no. There are rules to jihad. It must be declared. Bin Laden declared war upon the infidels. He told you how to settle the war. What to do to surrender.”

“Yes, convert to Islam, leave Saudi Arabia.”

Nam.” Tadmir reached for a new cigarette. Kris had left the pack and the lighter in the center of the table.

Kris leaned back, crossing his legs. He took a drag, frowning. He wanted Tadmir to believe he was thinking hard about what he was saying. Let Tadmir believe he had the upper hand. “Okay, so tell me about tactics in jihad. Who can be targeted?”

“It is war. Jihad targets soldiers, warriors. Governments.”

“Like the embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania? American government buildings?”

Nam.”

“But there were women and children who died in that attack. Some of them were Muslims.”

“Bombings and martyrdom operations are the weapons we are given in this great war. You have your missiles. We have our bombs. And, in all wars, there are casualties. Sacrifices must be made. Allah will accept these deaths as holy martyrs for the faith. He will reward them in paradise. Any innocent Muslims will receive the rewards of jihad, as if they were martyring themselves. Their lives are given for the greater cause of jihad.”

“I’m not sure they’d see it that way.”

“They will be delighted in paradise. What is the problem?”

“How many innocent lives are too many? Or can everyone go to paradise?”

“Murder is not acceptable.” Tadmir frowned, as if Kris had insulted him. “I am not a murderer. Casualties happen in war. But murder, taking innocent lives? That is forbidden.”

Kris blinked. He flicked ash on the table. “Tell me about your friends. Your fellow al-Qaeda fighters. I want to know them. Understand them, like you’re explaining yourself to me.”

Tadmir smiled wide. “You see, I will show you the truth. You will believe.”

Kris smiled back. He pulled a binder out of his bag and opened it up. Pages of pictures, headshots taken from passports and drivers licenses and ID cards around the world, appeared. “Your friends in al-Qaeda. These are their pictures.”

Tadmir looked over the first page. He frowned and shook his head. “No, I do not know these people.”

“I think you do.”

“Okay, maybe him.” Tadmir pointed to one of the senior commanders, a man he’d already admitted to knowing in the FBI’s files. “I recognize his face. But I do not know his name.”

“Are you certain?”

Tadmir looked up, over the pictures. His eyes glittered. “Of course I am certain.”

“Four months ago, you told my friend that he was Abu Hafs, Bin Laden’s trusted military advisor. Now you want to lie to my face? How can I trust you?” Kris laid it on thick, shaking his head and leaning back. Image was important, deeply important, to Arabian cultures and to Muslims. Honor and one’s word were often all an individual had. Being called out as a liar was a stinging insult that left a deep cut of shame.

He’d use that. He’d use that all day long.

“Okay, I am sorry.” Tadmir ducked his head, his cheeks flushing. “You are right. I do know that man.”

“You are only admitting to things you think I already know. Abu Tadmir, I know everything. You have no idea who of your friends I have spoken to. Do you think I came to talk to you, all the way from America, because I know nothing? I want to trust you, but you make it difficult. How can I respect you when you lie to my face?”

“Okay, okay. Let me see the book again.” Tadmir pulled the book close, studying picture after picture, shaking his head.

Kris waited, forcing himself to breathe slowly as Tadmir lit another cigarette. Ash filled his nose, his mouth. Echoes of shrieks hung in the silence, clashing like cymbals in Kris’s brain.

Tadmir was about to turn the page, move on to the next, when Kris slapped his own palm down on the tabletop. “You lie to me again!”

“What?”

“You claim you do not know this man!” Kris pointed to one of the pictures, a small passport photo of a half-smiling Arab near the bottom third of the sheet. The man had glasses and a goatee and looked like a computer programmer. “You truly expect me to believe you do not know Abu Mahraj? The man you spent Ramadan with in 1999? You broke your fast with him every day, sharing your dates and yogurt with him. And yet you lie to me that you know him?”

Tadmir flushed. “Yes,” he said slowly. “I do know him.”

“He is your friend?”

Nam.”

“You are both in al-Qaeda together?”

Kris stared into Tadmir’s eyes. Abu Mahraj, whose real name was Marwan al-Shehhi, was the lead hijacker on United Airlines Flight 175.

The names of the hijackers hadn’t been released yet. Tadmir had no idea.

“This man is also your friend.” Kris pointed to another photo. An unsmiling, square-jawed Egyptian, serious, and with cold, dark eyes.

“Awag al-Sayyid.” Tadmir bobbed his head. “He was very serious. He was with Abu Mahraj, and they were friends. But I did not like that he never smiled.”

The serious man with the cold eyes, the picture Kris touched, was Mohammed Atta, hijacker of American Airlines flight 11, which slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at eight forty-six AM, six days before. He wanted to recoil, shake his hand until the evil of Atta left him, shake him off like he could shake off a bad dream.

“When did you last speak with your friends?”

“After Ramadan, they were away training for some time. Training with the Sheik.”

“Training with Bin Laden?”

Nam.” Tadmir seemed proud, and he smiled as he blew smoke toward Kris. “I was happy for Abu Mahraj. He seemed happy. We did not talk about it, though. He left Afghanistan, and I came to Yemen on my own mission for the Sheik. But I was arrested, and I have not spoken to Abu Mahraj since then.”

A year. He hadn’t spoken to al-Shehhi for a year. But the training had happened before that, in 1999. Kris’s heart pounded. His breath sped up. All he could smell, all he could taste was ash and flame.

“Have you heard about what happened in New York City and Washington? Do you know that hundreds, maybe thousands, of Muslims died in those attacks?” The death toll was still rising. Maybe it wouldn’t ever be known. Kris swallowed back vomit. It tasted like ash. He stubbed out his cigarette. The towers tumbled like blocks flashing every time he blinked.

Tadmir took a long drag of his cigarette. He nodded. “You have only yourselves to blame for Muslim hatred. Your foreign policy, your occupation of Muslim lands, your support of Israel.”

“So you support the attacks?”

Another long drag. “No.” Tadmir shook his head. “Those were not allowed under jihad. No shura council would authorize those attacks. Those are a crime. Murder. Anyone who knows jihad knows they were not allowable. Civillians are not to be targeted.” He frowned. “Clearly, this shows those attacks were the work of Israel and the Americans.”

Kris stopped breathing. “How so?”

“To justify the invasion of more Muslim land. Where will you invade next? If you try to take Afghanistan, the mujahedeen will rise, and they will slaughter you like they slaughtered the Soviets!”

“I know who committed he attacks.” His voice was calm, soft. Almost a whisper.

“Then why are you here? Go chase them! Why bother me?” Tadmir scoffed

“I am chasing who committed the attacks.”

“You are not! You are bothering me!” Tadmir waved his hand, as if trying to shoo Kris away.

You committed the attacks.”

“What?”

“Al-Qaeda is responsible for the deaths of thousands and thousands of lives.” He spoke barely above a whisper.

“No—”

“Al-Qaeda hijacked these planes.

“No—”

“Al-Qaeda murdered all those people.”

“No!” Tadmir slammed both hands down on the table. Cigarette ash went flying. “What kind of Muslim would do such a thing? The Sheik would not! He is not like you Americans!”

“I know that al-Qaeda committed these attacks. I know it.”

Tadmir snarled, “How? What proof do you have?”

“I was told al-Qaeda did it.”

“By who?”

You.”

Silence.

Kris pulled a manila folder from his bag and laid out nineteen photos. He placed Marwan al-Shehhi and Mohammad Atta’s photos right in front of Tadmir.

Tadmir’s eyes were wide, so round and huge he could see whites all around his dark irises. His gaze flicked from the photos to Kris and back, lingering on al-Shehhi.

“These are the hijackers that murdered thousands.” He tapped al-Shehhi’s photo. “Your friend flew United Airlines 175 into the South Tower.”

Tadmir’s jaw dropped. All the oxygen seemed to disappear, sucked out of the tiny, drab interrogation room. Shock poured from Tadmir, and he stared down at al-Shehhi’s photo as he shook his head, over and over, his mouth hanging open. “How… how is this possible?”

“You tell me. You’re al-Qaeda.”

“Not like this…” Abu Tadmir shook his head. “Allah forgive me, not like this. This is not what I believe in. The Sheik… he’s gone crazy.”

“These men, they are all al-Qaeda?”

“Yes, all of them. I recognize them all. They were at my guesthouse near Tarnak Farms…” He shook his head again, tears welling in his eyes. One hand reached for al-Shehhi’s photo, his shaking fingers touching the image, as if he could touch al-Shehhi’s face so gently. “Why?” he whispered.

Kris stayed silent. His heart raced, pounding a bassline drumbeat in his mind, hard enough to crack his skull. Blood burned in his veins. Ash filled his nose, his eyes, his lungs, searing everything until he could taste the flames, the jet fuel dripping through the towers’ superstructure, could feel the singe on his own soul. Across from him, Abu Tadmir wept for the friend he’d lost, and Kris tasted the bitterness of failure and shame.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Tadmir wiped his eyes, blinking. “I am sorry,” he said slowly. “This is not right. It is not what I believe. So I will help you. What do you need from me?”

“Everything.”

 

 

The FBI agents, who’d been watching the interrogation on closed circuit TVs, joined him. Together they asked Tadmir for details of the hijackers, their time at the al-Qaeda training camps, their connections to Bin laden. Tadmir gave information about al-Qaeda leadership, and the shura council. Day to day operations, and the organizational structure. Financing strategies. Everything the FBI and CIA knew about al-Qaeda was dated to when Bin Laden had been working in Sudan.

Tadmir smoked the entire pack of cigarettes, and his eyes kept straying to al-Shehhi’s photo. He shook his head, every time, and then launched into describing al-Qaeda’s defenses, and marked on the map where he knew the Taliban had entrenched their own defensive positions.

After twelve hours of listening to Tadmir spill his soul, Kris ducked out. His hands were shaking, his legs, his whole body. He held himself up, one hand on the wall, as he walked toward a dingy window. He had to call Washington.

Carter Black picked up on the third ring. The satellite connection was scratchy, as if Black were more than just a world away. “Kris, great job. Really great stuff. Tabat and I are on the way to the White House to brief the president. Come home. Fly back to DC right away. We need you for what’s coming next.

 


Abu Tadmir is based on an actual al-Qaeda operative in Yemen who provided the official confirmation that al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks. This interrogation is based on actual events.

 

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4 comments

  1. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned war story to get the heart pumping and the juices flowing! And here, that’s even without the added impact of the real events which precipitated it. You’ve got it all in this scene, and it’s marvelous. The powerful feelings that this scene sparks are balanced by an equally strong curiosity about the way the interrogation of suspects works, of how an expert questioner gets a reluctant prisoner to spill the beans, of how rage and guilt are subsumed to the requirements of the job. The whole thing is like a balancing act…fiery emotion up against icy intention, cunning deliberation vs. unsuspecting arrogance. There’s more than one way to be badass, and you’ve aptly demonstrated that in this scene. I love it!

    And then, of course, it’s such a coup that the interrogator is also the guy with the fancy threads and manicured nails from “Hush”, the guy with the over-the-top extravagance and the warm heart who loves his friend but won’t mess up his manicure to help Mike clean up after the kitchen demolition. We already knew that Kris was a conundrum, and it’s nice to see one of the other sides of who he is. Much respect to a brilliant character, and to the writer who created him. Thank you for this glimpse.

  2. Sigh – I was drawn to Kris as soon as he came off the pages of Hush. I’m glad we’re going to be getting his story and I can’t wait. I’m guessing from the time that this is set well before Hush. Does this mean we’ll get to see his story before his loss? Oh god, I don’t know how I will handle it when/if Tal kills him off. As a general rule I don’t read Major Character Death but if Tal can promise me that Kris will eventually get his HEA I’ll push through and just ugly cry while I wait for it to happen.

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