The battery was dead.
For six years she had evaded discovery. For six years she had lived in their midst and endured everything she had to endure but now, after all her sacrifices — now, when it was time to go home and accept the medals no one would ever see — now, when she would be given a job where she wouldn't wake up shaking every night, terrified that the next day would be the day she'd be caught — now she was going to die because a car wouldn't start.
She overcame the urge to scream and pound the steering wheel in frustration. She needed to stay in control. She needed to think. But she couldn't stop the tears leaking from her eyes.
She couldn't understand why Carson had waited so long to tell her to flee. As soon as the story appeared in the newspaper she knew she was vulnerable but Carson had told her not to panic, that too many people had attended the meeting. Then, four days later, he sent the text message to her cell phone. Just a single word: eclipse!
Eclipse meant: run. Run for your life.
For the last two years she had been begging Carson to let her go home, and he kept saying that he would but he needed her to stay just a little bit longer. Just give me six more months, he said — and then it was six more after that, and six more after that. The manipulative bastard. If he had kept his word, she would have told her lover that she had to visit a fictitious dying aunt in Bandar-e Maqam and taken a routine, commercial flight to the coastal city, after which a navy SEAL team would have picked her up on the beach. But now she couldn't do that; there was no way she would be allowed to board a plane. So she had to use the backup escape plan, the plan they had never expected to use. And maybe that's why the battery was dead: because someone had forgotten to check on the car they'd parked in the garage so long ago. Or maybe, because Carson waited too long, no one had time to check.
She had fled from the ministry as soon as she received Carson's message and immediately called the four people in her network to alert them. None of them answered. That was bad. If they had been picked up they may have already talked. She knew they'd talk eventually because everybody talked in the end, no matter how strong they were. All she could do was hope they hadn't talked yet.
The backup plan had been for her to pick up a car hidden in a small, private garage two miles from the ministry and then drive to a house twenty miles east of the city. There she would be hidden, for weeks if necessary, until they could transport her safely across the border into either Afghanistan or Kuwait. When she left the ministry, she had wanted to sprint the entire distance to the garage but had been afraid that she would call attention to herself. So she had walked as fast as she could, knowing each minute she spent walking was one more minute for them to get the roadblocks in place.
But now the roadblocks didn't matter. Without a car she had no idea how she would get to the safe house. She couldn't take a bus: there were no bus routes that went near the house. And as for walking or taking a cab ... the police, the military — and, of course, the brutes from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security — would all have her picture. They'd be showing it to cabdrivers and stopping every woman walking alone — and here, few women walked alone. And if she took a cab, and if the driver remembered her, not only would she die but so would the family who hid her at the safe house.
She forced herself to take a breath, to suppress the rising, screaming panic. Did she have any other options? Any? Yes, maybe one: the Swiss Embassy. The United States didn't have an embassy in Iran but the Swiss did. Moreover, the Swiss were designated as a "protecting power" for U.S. interests in Iran, meaning that if some visiting American got into trouble the Swiss would do their best to help him out. But what she wanted the Swiss to do went far beyond helping some tourist who had lost his passport.
The Swiss Embassy was close, less than a mile from where she was, and if she was careful — if she used the alleys and ducked through buildings — she might make it there and she might live. They would know if she entered the embassy, of course, and it would cause the Swiss enormous political problems, but maybe they would provide her sanctuary until her own people could get her out of the country through diplomatic channels. God knows what sort of trade they'd have to make for her and she couldn't even imagine the international uproar that would ensue, but she didn't care about any of that. She was too young to die.
The way she'd lived the last six years, she'd never had the chance to experience the joys of being young. Her youth had been stolen from her — so they owed her, and to hell with the political fallout that would occur if she ran to the Swiss. She had done her job — and now the diplomats and the damn politicians could do theirs.
Her mind made up, she exited the useless car, ran to the side door of the garage, and threw it open — and was immediately blinded by the headlights of two vehicles. Men armed with machine pistols closed in on her.
She just stood there, head bowed, shoulders slumped in defeat, unable to move. She could feel something draining from her body — and that something was hope. There were no options left. There was no place to run or hide. She wished, more than anything else, that she had a gun; if she had had one she would have killed herself.
It was over.
She knew what was going to happen next.
She knew how she was going to die.
Jacob LaFountaine, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, had been a second-string middle linebacker at Notre Dame. At age fifty-two, some of the muscle from his playing days had turned to fat, but not that much. He was still a bull of a man: six foot two, broad shoulders, strong arms, a deep chest. His legs were thick through the thighs but short in proportion to his upper body. He had dark hair, muddy brown eyes set beneath the shelf of a heavy brow, and an aggressive chin. He rarely smiled and he intimidated everyone who worked for him.
He looked up in annoyance when Sinclair entered his office. Sinclair was one of his deputies, a fussy nitpicker whom LaFountaine didn't like but who was too good at his job to fire. He always looked anxious when he talked to LaFountaine but today he looked more than anxious — he looked ill, pale and waxen, as if he might be sick to his stomach at any moment.
Sinclair held up a disc. "You need to see this," he said.
"What is it?" LaFountaine asked.
"A video that was delivered to the embassy in Kabul."
"I have a meeting in five minutes."
"You need to see this," Sinclair said, surprising LaFountaine with his firmness.
LaFountaine made an impatient get-on-with-it gesture, and Sinclair put the disc into the DVD player.
"Brace yourself. It's bad," Sinclair said.
LaFountaine looked over at Sinclair, confused by the comment, but at that moment the video began. It showed the upper body of a woman wearing a typical Muslim robe and headdress. A veil covered her entire face, including her eyes. The camera pulled back and showed that the woman was kneeling, swaying slightly as if she was having a hard time maintaining her balance. Her hands were behind her back and LaFountaine thought they might be tied. The camera focused again on the woman's head and then a man's hand appeared and pulled the veil away from her face.
"Oh, Jesus," LaFountaine said.
The woman had been beaten so severely that it was impossible to tell who she was or what she had originally looked like. Her left eye was swollen completely shut, the eye socket obviously shattered. Her right eye was almost closed, and the part of the eye that was visible was filled with blood. Her lips were split, her jaw appeared to be broken, and her nose was a deformed lump.
"Is that ..."
Before LaFountaine could complete the question, the man's hand appeared back in the picture, now holding a revolver, and the barrel of the weapon was placed against the woman's right temple. LaFountaine stood up but was unable to speak. The gun stayed against the woman's head for three seconds — three seconds that seemed like an eternity to LaFountaine — and during that time the woman did nothing. Because of the condition of her eyes, LaFountaine couldn't see the fear that must be in them, or maybe at this point, he thought, she was beyond fear. Maybe it was relief she was feeling. Then the gun was fired. There was no sound accompanying the video but LaFountaine could see the man's hand buck from the recoil of the weapon and watched in horror as blood and brain matter erupted out the left side of the woman's head. The camera pulled back again to show the woman lying on her side, blood forming a wet red halo around her head. And then the screen went black.
"Was that ..."
"Yeah," Sinclair said, his voice hoarse. "It was Mahata."
"Aw, those bastards," LaFountaine said. "Those motherfuckers!" he screamed.
LaFountaine gripped the edge of his desk and the muscles in his upper arms flexed as he began to pick it up and flip it over. He wanted to unleash the rage he was feeling in a violent, destructive rampage. He wanted to smash every object in the room. He wanted to smash Sinclair. Then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath and walked over to a window so Sinclair couldn't see his face.
With his broad back to Sinclair, he said, "I've been praying for days that she made it out. When we didn't hear from her, I told myself it was because she was someplace where she couldn't send a message. But I knew in my heart ..."
He stopped speaking; there wasn't anything else to say.
He stood looking out the window for another moment, then turned and faced Sinclair. "I want that bitch arrested," he said. His voice was a low, deep-throated growl, like the noise a dog might make before it attacks. "I want her phones tapped, I want her apartment searched, and I want someone to get into every computer system she uses."
"Jake, we can't ..."
"I want her source, goddamnit! I also want every person in this agency who knew about Diller polygraphed before the day is over. That includes you."
"It wasn't one of our people."
"I want them all polygraphed. Today."
Excerpted from House Justice by Mike Lawson. Copyright 2010 by Mike Lawson. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press.