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The CIA’s reactions were mixed. Zalinsky and Murray were clearly put off by all this spiritual talk. For them, Malik’s depiction of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Hamadan called into question the validity of everything else he said. Murray went so far as to mock Malik’s claim of seeing a vision of Jesus. But for David, the opposite was true. Everything else Malik had told them had proven to be accurate. Indeed, they were basing much of their current strategy on what they’d just learned from him and from his interpretation of the files on Saddaji’s computer. Didn’t that enhance the credibility of Malik’s spiritual claims? They were strange, to be sure. It wasn’t often one met someone who claimed to have met God face-to-face, and David privately conceded that in another context he might have dismissed Malik as well. But what about Sheyda? She claimed to have seen Jesus too. So did Farah Saddaji, Sheyda’s mother. And what about Dr. Birjandi back in Iran? He was arguably the most respected authority on the Twelfth Imam in all of Iran, probably the world, yet he had told David point-blank that he and his wife, before her death, had renounced Islam and become followers of Jesus. Could they all be crazy?
David needed a break. He got up, went to the back of the plane, and made himself a cup of coffee. Then he returned to his seat, buckled up again, leaned back, and shifted gears. His thoughts turned to Marseille, and he replayed her phone message in his mind.
“Hey, David, it’s Marseille. Hope you’re good. I really enjoyed breakfast with you. It was so great to see you again and to talk with you and give you a hug. I knew I missed you. Guess I didn’t even fully realize how much until I was sitting with you again after all these years. Anyway, I hope your business emergency gets worked out. I’ll be praying everything goes better for you than for me right now. I’m stuck here in DC. All the flights out to Portland are canceled due to the storm. So I’m at a hotel for a few days with nothing to do. I’d love to talk again. Call me when you get a chance. And let me know how your mom is doing. I’m praying for her. See you. Bye.”
David had wanted to call her before takeoff, but it was the middle of the night and he didn’t want to wake her up. Nor had he wanted his call to be picked up by the NSA. He felt sensitive enough about this relationship. The last thing he needed was the US intelligence network eavesdropping on his personal life. At this point, the best he figured he could do was call her from a pay phone in Germany before heading back into the abyss that was Iran.
En Route to New York
Eva Fischer was on a CIA jet to New York.
Her mission for the next twenty-four hours was to link up with the FBI team interrogating the only suspect they had in the attempted assassination of the president and help the Agency determine who exactly was responsible for the attack and what they might be plotting next.
Midflight, Eva received an urgent flash-traffic message from Zalinsky and learned for the first time of the attack against the Twelfth Imam in Beirut. Zalinsky also forwarded links to the latest stories off the wires and ordered her to log on to a secure conference call with him at Langley. The message indicated that David, on his way to Iran, had received the same directive. Both complied immediately.
Zalinsky briefed them on what he knew, which so far was precious little more than what the media was reporting.
“The stop they made in the refugee camp,” Eva said. “You’re saying that was unscheduled?”
“That’s right,” Zalinsky said.
“So they weren’t scheduled to be on the street they were going down when the attack happened?”
“Not that we’re aware of.”
“Then how could someone have known to plant all those car bombs and IEDs in that particular place to go off at that particular time?”
“No idea,” Zalinsky conceded. “None of us here have come up with any viable explanations.”
“What if they weren’t car bombs or IEDs?” David said.
“What do you mean?” Eva asked.
“What if the attack was designed to mirror the attacks in Manhattan?” David continued.
“Not possible,” Zalinsky said. “We’ve been monitoring all police and military radio traffic in Beirut. There’s no indication of RPGs, grenades, nothing like that. The Lebanese intelligence services have canvassed the entire neighborhood. They’ve talked to hundreds of witnesses. No one saw anything out of the ordinary. And believe me, the police were out in full force. If someone had fired at the motorcade, someone would have seen something. And besides, I’m looking at live Keyhole satellite images of the scene. These were car bombs, David. You should see the craters that they left. RPGs and grenades don’t leave craters like this.”
“What if it was a drone attack?” David said.
Eva hadn’t considered that before, but she was intrigued.
“Think about it,” David continued. “What if someone was using a UAV to track the Twelfth Imam’s movements in real time?”
“Go on,” Zalinsky said.
“They would have seen him enter the camp. If they were a terror group, they probably would have attacked right then. But if it was a foreign intelligence agency . . .”
“They wouldn’t have wanted all the collateral damage,” Eva said.
“Exactly. Too many civilians. So what if they waited for the motorcade to leave the camp and then saw him head through a residential area? Risks there, too, but more if they waited for him to get to the stadium.”
“Then they fired missiles from the drones,” Eva said.
“The cars parked along the side of the road would have provided a perfect cover,” Zalinsky added. “To the world it looks like a series of car bombs and IEDs. But a drone strike is far less complicated to plan and far more precise.”
“It’s just a theory,” David said.
“It’s a good one,” Eva said, increasingly impressed with David’s quick mind and sharp instincts.
“Can you get the analysts to review all the videos of the first explosion?” David asked. “If you slow them down enough, you might actually be able to see the incoming missile and its initial impact.”
“We’ll get right on it,” Zalinsky said. “But let’s say you’re right. It wasn’t us, so who was it?”
Does he really have to ask? Eva wondered. She knew exactly what David was going to say: the Israelis.
“It was the Israelis,” David said without a trace of doubt in his voice.
“I hope you’re wrong,” Zalinsky said. “The president is going to go ballistic.”
“Why?” David asked. “The Mossad is trying to avenge the attack on their prime minister. They’re trying to cut off the head of the snake. Personally, I’m surprised they hit back so fast, but I don’t blame them one bit.”
“The president is doing everything he can to avoid a new war erupting in the Middle East,” Zalinsky said. “This now almost guarantees the war will happen anyway.”
Eva strongly disagreed. “Jack, come on; if a war is coming—and I grant you it probably is—it was Iran’s nuclear bomb test that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, not this.”
She tried to picture David on the Citation, looking out the window of the jet at the blackness below, smiling, thinking he couldn’t have said it better himself. They made a good team, she thought. She just wished she were traveling back into Iran with him.
Zalinsky, however, had a different perspective. “If you take a shot at a man in control of eight nukes, he’d better not make it off the pavement,” their boss said with an intensity she hadn’t anticipated. “If it was the Israelis, it was an enormous gamble—and it failed.”
* * *
The phone rang in the darkness.
Roger Allen fumbled for the light and his glasses. He’d been home less than an hour and asleep for no more than thirty minutes. But just seeing the caller ID gave him a jolt of adrenaline. It was the White House Situation Room.
“Allen speaking. . . . Yes. . . . Right now? . . . I understand. . . . Of course. . . . I’m on my way.”
His wife rolled over and tried to rub the sleep from her eyes. “Who was that?” she asked.
“The chief of staff,” Allen said. “They’ve got a plane waiting for me at Andrews.”
“Where are you going?”
“But you just got back.”
“The president is terrified Naphtali is going to launch a preemptive strike on Iran in the next few days.”
“Can you blame them?”
“Not entirely, but he wants me to talk them off the ledge.”
“I serve at the pleasure of the president.”
“No, no, obviously you’re going to go. But can you persuade Asher not to go to war after all that’s happened?”
“I’ve known him since college, but honestly, sweetheart, I have no idea.”
“Did they give you new instructions of what to say?”
“No. They just said get moving. We have the entire flight to figure it out.”
* * *
Marseille was up at the crack of dawn.
She got on her knees, prayed for a while, and began her morning devotions. She was trying to follow a plan her pastor had asked everyone in their church to do: read through the Bible in a year. But she was way off. She was supposed to have covered Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians the previous October, along with everyone else. But here it was March and she was only in chapter two.
There were lots of reasons. Sometimes she was just plain lazy. It was hard to get up so early and study the Word before going in to teach, and at night often she either was too tired or just wanted to curl up with a movie or a novel. Other times, she was so fascinated by a particular passage that she would hunker on it for several days rather than sticking to the plan. That had been the case all the way through 1 Thessalonians and in the first chapter of the second letter as well.
Who could not be fascinated with—and deeply concerned by—verses like “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day”?
As Marseille began chapter 2, however, she found herself entering into an arena she had never studied before.
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken
from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
As best she could tell, these were prophecies about the coming of the Antichrist. But as she read, she found the description reminded her of things she had seen and heard about the man calling himself the Twelfth Imam.
She had never really done a study on the Antichrist, she realized. She had heard the term many times in sermons and from other Christians, but she had never bothered to consider the term carefully or figure out what it really meant. As for the Twelfth Imam, she didn’t know much about him either, except for what she had been reading in the papers and seeing on television in recent days. But she was curious about both, and for the first time in a long while, she actually had some time on her hands. She wasn’t teaching. She wasn’t home. She was stuck in a hotel room indefinitely. Maybe the Lord was giving her a gift, the freedom to spend time in His Word today.
She eagerly got out her notebook and wrote at the top of a clean page: “What the Bible says about the Antichrist.” Then she jotted down a few observations based on the text.
1. The Antichrist will come before the Day of the Lord comes.
2. A period of apostasy will precede the coming of the Antichrist and the Day of the Lord.
3. The Antichrist will be thought of as the man of lawlessness and the lawless one and will be connected somehow to the mystery of lawlessness.
4. He will also be the son of destruction.
5. He will oppose all other gods and religions.
6. He will “exalt himself above every so-called god or object of worship.”
7. He will sit down “in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”
8. He will be revealed—this is mentioned three times (2:3, 2:6, and 2:8).
9. He will come “in accord with the activity of Satan.”
10. He will come with “all power and signs and false wonders” and will be engaged in deception of wickedness.
Marseille shuddered. She had only just started developing her list. There was so much more to learn, so many more passages to explore. But it was clear that a great evil would rise, and she was beginning to wonder if it was already here.
Brooklyn, New York
Eva shouldn’t have been thinking of David at that moment.
She had far more important matters before her. But she couldn’t help it. The arrest report she was quickly reviewing said the suspect was six feet two inches tall, about 180 pounds, with black curly hair, brown eyes, olive skin, an athletic build, and an apparent Middle Eastern heritage. It made her think of David, to whom she found herself increasingly drawn. She wondered what David thought of her and why, to the best of her knowledge, he wasn’t seeing anyone.
“You ready?” asked Sean Taylor, the FBI agent in charge.
Eva wasn’t, but she said yes. She was letting herself be distracted by a guy, and she cursed herself for it and refocused. Then the massive, vaultlike steel door was electronically unlocked, and she entered the small, cold, barren room alone.
As the locks reengaged behind her, she felt her heart rate quickening. She’d conducted a lot of interrogations over the years, in Baghdad and Fallujah, in Kabul and Marrakesh, at Gitmo and in CIA safe houses around the world. But each encounter had its unique twists. She never knew what was coming. And though she’d never admit it even to her closest colleagues, she got the jitters every time. She didn’t know why exactly. She was in no danger. The suspects were always locked down. This morning there were a dozen armed agents outside the door ready to burst in and help her at any moment. There was just something about being alone in the room with pure evil that she never got used to. She wasn’t a religious person, but sometimes she wondered why not.
The floor of this particular cell, in an unmarked FBI field office in a seedy section of Brooklyn, was tiled with white porcelain, as were the walls. A box about the size of a phone book hung on the far wall, opposite the door. The ceiling was higher than others she’d seen, about twelve feet, with fluorescent lighting and a small video camera recording every sound and movement. That, she reminded herself, had its pluses and minuses.
The suspect was properly shackled and wore a thick black hood and a clean, brand-new orange jumpsuit, like he was already in prison. Wasting no time, Eva stepped behind the man, yanked off the hood, and recoiled at the gruesome mess. She had seen beatings in her years of doing this, but none quite like this. The man’s face was severely bloodied and bruised, as were his arms and hands. His eyes were nearly swollen shut. His hair was matted with blood. He had been under the hood since his capture nearly twelve hours ago. He hadn’t been offered any food or water. He hadn’t been allowed to use a restroom. And for what? Taylor hadn’t gotten a single shred of information out of him and had told Eva to her face that she wasn’t going to get any either. Maybe he was right, but she certainly wasn’t going to follow his lead. It had gotten them nowhere.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” Eva began, remaining behind the suspect and not letting him see her face. “We will make sure he has a proper funeral.”
The young man flinched. Eva waited a few moments, letting the words and their meaning sink in. Finally she began talking again, but only in a whisper, just behind his right ear.
“Your brother Rahim was only thirty-two years old. That’s pretty young, isn’t it?”
There was no reply.
“I see Rahim held an Iranian passport. Was employed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Was wanted in six countries—Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Thailand, and Venezuela. We know all about him. We know he was your older brother. We know he recruited you into the Revolutionary Guard. And now you know he was shot dead by the US Secret Service before he even got off a third shot.”