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“So far, so good.”
“Yes, it would appear that way.”
“You had a final meeting with Roger.”
“I did. I said you were seriously reviewing the president’s offer but you could not make a final decision until you had clarifications. He said he had conveyed that to the president, and then he left about an hour ago for Jordan to meet with the king.”
“Do you expect any answers quickly?”
“Honestly? No. Not before the president’s phone call with the Mahdi next Tuesday.”
“Which should give us justification, shouldn’t it?”
“You haven’t accepted his request. But you haven’t rejected it either. And you’ve made it clear we’re running out of time.”
“Good,” Naphtali said. “Now, have we heard from our man in Tehran?”
“No, not yet.”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“So we don’t have a final fix on the warheads?”
“No, I’m afraid we don’t.”
“Can we go if we don’t hear from him?”
“I’m not sure that would be wise, but yes, we can. We’ve been running additional satellite passes over all the known targets on our high-priority list. We’re finalizing the target packages now. I’m ready to do a full briefing for you in the morning, if you’re ready.”
“I will be,” the prime minister said, shifting in his seat.
“Nothing, it’s just that . . .”
“I need to know who our source is in Tehran.”
“You already know his code name, Mordecai—our eyes inside the Persian palace.”
“No, not his code name,” Naphtali said. “Who is he? What’s his real name? What does he actually do? What’s his rank? Does he have a family? Why do we trust him?”
“Mr. Prime Minister, please, it is better if you do not know such specifics—safer for our asset, safer for you.”
“Levi, I have to know. How am I supposed to make final targeting decisions based on what he says, assuming we hear from him quickly, which I pray to God we do? How am I supposed to trust someone I know nothing about?”
“Asher, listen, I can’t tell you now, here, flying up the Jordan Valley. But even if we were alone, it’s not a good idea. Mordecai has always been accurate, has always steered us in the right direction, up to and including the Saddaji assassination. I have full faith in this asset, my friend. You should too.”
“That was good enough until now,” Naphtali countered. “But this is different. I am facing the most dangerous moment in the history of the modern State of Israel. No prime minister—not even Ben-Gurion or Eshkol—had to make a decision like this. The weight of the world is on my shoulders, Levi. I have to know whom I’m listening to.”
Shimon looked out the window as they flew over the farmlands of Samaria. “I need to think about it overnight,” he said at last.
“Very well,” Naphtali said. “Have breakfast with me tomorrow morning, and we’ll discuss it then.”
* * *
“Do you believe them?”
“I have no reason not to,” Birjandi said. “They are brimming with confidence, David. They are acting like men who have the wind at their backs and believe Allah is on their side and they are about to see a great victory for the Muslim people. They are so blinded. They are about to bring great suffering to the Muslim world. But I believe the Lord is allowing it all to happen, to shake Islam to its core, to persuade Muslims to abandon Islam and start following Jesus Christ, the only hope for any of us.”
“I need to get this back to my government,” David said.
“Of course,” Birjandi said. “I would have told you sooner, but I realized that I had no way to get in touch with you.”
“I brought you a present to take care of that.”
“What kind of present?”
“It’s a satellite phone. It’s in my trunk. I’ll give it to you when we get back to your house. It’s totally secure. You can call me at any time, day or night. Will you see them again soon, before Monday, at least?”
“Actually, they want me to meet the Twelfth Imam.”
“In the next few days. Maybe this weekend. They’re going to call me.”
“That’s good,” David said, brightening slightly. “Actually, that’s amazing. You’ll be in the room with the Mahdi. You’ll know exactly what he’s thinking.”
“No,” Birjandi said curtly. “It’s out of the question.”
“What are you talking about? We need this. You have to go.”
“There is nothing he can tell me that I don’t already know, David, or that the Lord cannot tell me Himself if I really need to know. Which brings me to the most important topic—have you been thinking about what we discussed last time?”
“Which topic?” David asked. “There were so many.”
“The gospel. Have you been thinking about the gospel?”
“Yes, a little, but much has happened since I saw you last. That’s part of what I want to tell you.”
“David, you need to take this seriously. You need to make a decision to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior or reject Him forever. The Scriptures say, ‘But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.’ But you’re running out of time, and honestly, I’m scared for you. I pray for you night and day.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute,” David replied. “Let’s not get off the subject.”
“That is the subject, David. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the appointed time of God’s favor. You may not get another chance. You don’t know what tomorrow holds. None of us does. You need to humble yourself and repent of your sins and receive Christ into your heart before something terrible happens.”
“We’ll get to all that,” David said. “I promise you. But right now we need to get you in the room with the Mahdi. And then you need to call me and tell me what he said. Do you realize how much hangs in the balance?”
“David, you’re not hearing me. I’ve been in the room with Jesus Christ. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He told me that you were coming to see me before I had even met you, remember? He told me that David was your real name. He told me you worked for the CIA and that you were in love with a girl named Marseille and that I was supposed to tell you things I had never told anyone else. Do you remember all that we spoke of?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then you, of all people, should know that I’m telling you the truth. You’ve got your eye on the wrong person. You’re fixated on the Twelfth Imam, on all the death and destruction and chaos he is planning. But Jesus Christ is the one you need to focus on. He’s the one you need to hear from, not the Twelfth Imam. The Mahdi comes to rob, kill, and destroy, my friend; but Jesus came that you might have life, and have it abundantly. That’s what the Holy Scriptures say, and it’s true, if only you have the ears to hear it and eyes to see it.”
“Look, Dr. Birjandi, I appreciate your concern for my soul. I really do. And I have been thinking a lot about what you said, and I’d love to talk about it. But not right now. My country sent me here to stop the Mahdi, to stop Hosseini and Darazi. I need to track down all eight warheads, and I only have a few hours—at most a few days—to do it. If I fail, then one of two things will happen. The Mahdi will fire the weapons at Israel, and a second Holocaust could occur. Or Israel will launch first to thwart a genocide, but we could see the entire region go up in flames. Our only hope is to find these warheads and destroy them before any of that happens. And for that, I desperately need your help.”
Birjandi stopped walking. He turned to David and took both his hands. “Young man, I am doing everything I can to help you. But honestly, you’re not listening to me. Now go, call your superiors. Tell them about the two warheads on the ships. But as for going to meet with the Mahdi, I simply cannot do this.”
“But why? Can you at least tell me that?”
“Because my Lord told me not to.”
“What do you mean?”
“I told you before, when you first came to see me. The Twelfth Imam is a false messiah. I suspect he is possessed by Satan. He is certainly guided by demonic forces. And in Matthew chapter 24, the Lord Jesus warns His followers that there will be false messiahs who arise in the last days. Three times in the same chapter He makes this warning. What’s more, He says these impostors will deceive many. He even says some of these false messiahs will be able to do ‘great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.’ But He is crystal clear that ‘if anyone says to you, “Behold, here is the Messiah,” or “There He is,” do not believe him.’ And ‘if they say to you, “Behold, He is in the wilderness,” do not go out, or, “Behold, He is in the inner rooms,” do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.’”
“I hear you, Dr. Birjandi. I do. But I’m not asking you to believe that the Twelfth Imam is really the messiah. You know he’s not. I know he’s not. So it’s not a matter of believing in him. It’s a matter of meeting with him, eliciting information from him, so we can defeat him, so we can save Iran and the United States and Israel and everyone in between.”
Birjandi turned and started hobbling back to his house. “You are a good boy, David. I like you very much. And I know you are passionate about your work, your mission. But there is a false messiah on the planet. He is deceiving millions. He wants to deceive me as well. So when my Lord tells me not to go meet him, I am going to obey. I’m not that bright, David. I cannot outfox the devil. All I can do is listen to the words of Jesus, and if I love Him, then I will obey Him. And I love my Jesus more than life itself. How could I disobey Him, especially when He is coming back so soon?”
David was about to take one more run at the old man, however futile it appeared to be, but just then, one of the young clerics came bursting out Birjandi’s front door.
“Uncle, uncle, come quickly. There is a man on television. You must hear what he is saying!”
DC Metro police cars flooded the zone.
Within minutes of Zalinsky’s call, the BBC’s Washington bureau was surrounded and all roads sealed off for two blocks in each direction. Then two dozen heavily armed FBI agents—led by a counterterrorism SWAT team—stormed the offices and studios.
“Get down! Get down!” shouted the lead agent, wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an MP5 mach
ine gun, as one team moved through the front entryway and past the secretarial staff.
“Go, go, go,” another shouted as a second team burst through the back doors and sealed off the only other avenue of escape.
Guns drawn, they moved quickly and methodically through the five thousand square feet of rented space. But Dr. Najjar Malik wasn’t there.
* * *
David couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
What on earth was Najjar Malik doing on television? Why was he telling his story to the world? Didn’t he know how seriously this jeopardized David’s mission?
Feeling angry and betrayed, he watched Najjar’s interview on the Persian Christian Satellite Network. He tried to imagine how Eva and her team could have allowed Najjar to escape in the first place. Then he racked his brain to come up with a reason why Najjar would put himself, his family, and the CIA’s primary operation inside Iran at risk by going on worldwide television. Was Najjar going to expose the CIA’s tradecraft, how they got him out of Iran, the safe house in Karaj, the safe house in Oakton, the communications gear they used? Was he going to name names? Was he doing this out of vengeance, to settle personal scores? David was about to storm out of the house and call Zalinsky immediately and find out what in the world was going on, but he found himself struck by the young clerics, who were glued to Najjar’s every word.
“God bless him!” one of the young men suddenly shouted out.
“Yes, yes, praise God for such a brave brother as this!” another exclaimed.
“It’s incredible,” a third said. “How great is our God, that He would reach down and save such a one as this!”
As Najjar continued talking about his newfound faith and why he had chosen to renounce Islam (he promised to talk more about the Iranian nuclear program and the growing threat of war later in the broadcast), David couldn’t help but notice that the young men started taking detailed notes. They were writing feverishly. They were whispering to one another in animated tones. Occasionally one would shout, “Amen!” or erupt in applause. Then one by one, each grabbed his mobile phone and began texting furiously.
It all struck David as odd and disorienting at first. The young men looked like future mullahs and ayatollahs. Some wore white turbans; some wore black. All wore the flowing robes of Shia clerics, and all but one had full-grown beards. Yet they were, as Birjandi put it, secret believers. They were apparently true revolutionaries—of a spiritual nature, at least, if not a political. Each of them had renounced Shia Islam and chosen Jesus over jihad, and they weren’t alone. Birjandi said there were over a million in Iran just like them, and their numbers were growing every day. They had no formal leader. They had no physical headquarters. They operated in the shadows, as dissidents, as rebels with a cause. But now, all of a sudden, one of their own had broken free. He had a name. He had a face. He had a voice. He was telling his story, which, David figured, was probably much like their own. He was explaining the gospel without fear, without compromise, and in Farsi. He wasn’t an outsider. He wasn’t a foreigner or a missionary or a “tool of imperialism,” as Hosseini and Darazi liked to call Western Christians. Najjar Malik was one of them, a native-born son, and he had standing. Najjar, after all, had been helping run Iran’s nuclear program. The man’s father-in-law was the father of the Persian Bomb. And now he had turned—not on his country but on her rulers, on “the tyrants” and “the madmen,” as Najjar was putting it so passionately, who threatened the very existence of the Persian nation.
“Who are you texting?” David finally asked the group.
“Everyone we know,” one said.
“Why? What are you saying?”
“We’re telling them to turn on this channel and hear what this man is saying.”
“But don’t you risk being exposed as Christians?”
“No, of course not. I’m telling all my friends a lunatic is on television. That way they’ll tune in for certain.”
“I have a database of 150,000 current and former seminary students,” another said, explaining that his father was the head of some Iranian clerical student association. “I just sent them all a message saying an enemy of the Mahdi is on television, which is true. Believe me, right now the vast majority of them are dropping everything they are doing and tuning in, or trying to find a TV connected to a satellite dish. And I guarantee you, if they miss the show, they’ll watch the YouTube clips later tonight and tell their friends and have a debate over what this man is saying. This Dr. Malik fellow, he is going to spark a national conversation, and that is good. We don’t need to let people know that we believe what he believes. Not yet. But we can fan the flames.”
Several others said things similar, but one stood apart. “It is time.”
“Time for what?” David asked.
“To stand up and be counted as a follower of Jesus,” said the youngest of the group, a man who looked barely able to shave, much less teach or help lead a revolution. “I’m telling everyone I know that I agree with Dr. Malik.”
Every head turned.
“Why?” David asked.
“Because he’s right. And I do. And Uncle Birjandi taught us what the apostle Paul said in his letter to the believers in Rome: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.’”
“But couldn’t saying that publicly get you in trouble?” David pressed.
“It cannot cost me more than what my Savior paid,” the young man replied. “Jesus gave me His life. Shouldn’t I be willing to give mine for Him?”
* * *
“What do you mean he wasn’t there?” Zalinsky yelled.
Murray and Fischer had been glued to the television. Now both turned to their colleague as he hollered into the phone.
“You’ve looked everywhere? . . . That’s impossible. Look again. . . . Then send a team over to the other Persian channel. . . . I have no idea—just look it up and go there now!”
Eva’s cell phone rang. It was the Global Operations Center.
“Are you watching this?” the watch commander asked.
“On the Persian Christian station?” she asked. “Yes, of course.”
“No, no, on BBC Persian again.”
“What do you mean?”
“Switch back,” the watch commander said.
“What are you talking about?”
“Just switch back. They’ve picked up the feed from the Christian station, and they’re showing it live.”
Eva grabbed the remote off of Murray’s coffee table and switched back to the BBC Persian channel. Sure enough, the BBC was simulcasting the feed from the Christian satellite network. Whether they were pirating it as a “news event” or had some sort of deal with the network, she had no idea. But it didn’t really matter. The point was that millions of Iranians were watching this thing. She didn’t yet know the repercussions for herself or her team, but she feared Najjar was making a horrific mistake and was going to pay dearly.
* * *
“War is coming, my dear brothers and sisters,” Najjar said finally.
The hour was coming to a close, and he was almost pleading with his fellow Iranians to listen to him carefully as he stared into the camera.