GM - Story #3

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Chapter 22

“Damn it, Henry” Cael Block stared out the 45th floor window of the Grace building in New York City. His unabated view past the Empire State Building to the Freedom Tower raised his blood pressure with memories of the old twin towers cascading into a hot molten pile of burning rubble and flesh. “It’s too much publicity too fast. How can we possibly maintain our security protocol?”

He threw a copy of the New York Post onto the coffee table next to the crisp white couch by the window. The stark white headline read “Jesus Trump” with a picture of Donald Trump, in a frock with a cheesy ring of thorns gauging into his forehead. Do we really need a cartoonish headline reading “Jaio Effin Trump” plastered across these damn rags?”

“The kid from DesMoines was the last member of the terror cell,” Henry replied from behind his all glass desk. “The immediate threat to Jaio has passed. We cleaned them out with the arrest at the Mosque. We are just going to allow this reporter to embed with us. He’s even agreed to give us visibility into his articles before he publishes them. He’ll be a mouthpiece for Jaio.”

“The threat is never gone,” Cael uttered in a deep throaty voice. “It’s like cancer. One cell fails, two more rise up to take its place. The Middle East is not the only source of threat.”

“You’re on it and we’re on it,” said Henry. “We’ve shut Jaio down since Iowa just like you did after Bethlehem. We’ve limited public appearances and contained him to the academic and theo circles. We’ll push his on-line presence for as long as we can. But in order to gain traction, we are going to need to get out and speak with more of the general public and not just professors, sympathetic members of my network and friendly hand-picked community group audiences. At some point, and soon, we are going to need the masses. Jaio wants to reach out to ordinary, everyday people and I committed to help him do it. So far, nobody has connected him to Bethlehem. But they will. And when they do, wouldn’t we rather be ahead of that message and control the way it is meted out?”

Henry stood up and walked toward Cael. He put his seemingly tiny hand on the big man’s rock-hard shoulder. So much had changed in his life. Most significantly, Olivia’s hiccups vanished upon first contact with Jaio. The elimination of the constant annoying noise freed him to better focus on Olivia’s laughter and her chirpy banter. He had continued to increase his quality time with her and reduce his footprint at Deltanomics as if a lame duck near-term target for early retirement working out his final days with a new casualness and nonchalance.

But beneath his quiet interior, his planning engine burned like coal in a steam engine. Today marked a milestone in that plan to change his direction and follow his heart.

He stared out at the awe-inspiring view of lower Manhattan and couldn’t believe he had occupied the office more than 15 years without ever stopping to soak it in. A twinge of sadness tweaked him as he glanced at the boxes of papers, photographs, awards and other personal items in the corner by the door. His empty office, laid barren by his staff of assistants, contrasted with the sea of human development that stretched six miles south to the tip of Manhattan Island.

Giving up his role as CEO of the company had not been an easy choice. Over the past three decades, he had elevated the organization from a mid-sized political analysis and strategy firm to a multi-faceted conglomerate of government-facing and government-supporting tangible goods, services and solutions. He could reach out to contacts that had literally been through wars with him. He guided Presidents of both the United States and other partner countries. He affected the outcome of domestic and international political skirmishes and influenced the direction of major geopolitical events.

He had also risen to a point in his career where he no longer labored over the work he produced, which consisted only of his ideas and the guidance he provided to his staff.

He wondered how it would feel to manage such a smaller initiative with reduced staff and resources. He doubted himself.

But when he did, he pulled out the laminated baby picture that he carried with him in his wallet and reminded himself of the inspiration he felt from his interactions with Jaio and the passionate belief he had in Jaio’s message.

Henry did not question his resolve to hand over the bulk of the company to Lloyd Burnham and carve out a small organization of loyal followers to pursue his new mission.

A cute blond girl, petite, her legs like sticks in her dark stockings and tight black skirt entered the room to inform them that she had arranged for several Facilities staff members to help carry his boxes. The girl paused before leaving the room. She looked back over her shoulder at her former boss and turned to give him a hug. Henry whispered words of thanks in her ear and wished her luck supporting Burnham.

Cael waited until she left the room, grabbed his duffel bag and slung it over his shoulder.

“I still don’t like the publicity,” he said. “Ruben and I will need to remain dark to avoid unwanted interest.”

“I’ve got a whole handpicked, tight-lipped pro-bono shadow team working with you and Ruben,” Henry spoke more softly. “We’ve got a lot more resources now. We’re monitoring the channels, watching and listening with the resources and creative expertise that we have to offer. I’ve got eyes and feet in the Middle East hotspots.”

“I get why we have to do it.” Cael turned his back to Henry and stared out at the orange sun drenched streets of New York City in the early evening. He gazed out at the Freedom tower one last time.

“We run the risk of opening doors not just for foreign agents,” he continued. “We will have to account for domestic zealots and our own government.”

“There will be some initial excitement, and with that, new risk,” Henry conceded. “But without the risks, we reap no reward. Eventually, we can control and even settle the publicity, manage the perceptions and control the dialog. But we won’t let up in our objective to keep Jaio safe and his mission strong.”

“History dictates that it’s during the lulls that the Jihadists strike.”

“Then we won’t allow there to be a lull,”

In the early 1980s Akhid used to fall somewhere on the spectrum between a small emerging city and a large growing village. Elevated 1,200 feet in the mountains of the Northeast tip of Syria, it served as a remote meeting place for entrepreneurial Syrian businessmen from western cities such as Damascus and Aleppo to trade arms and drugs with the Syrian and Turkish Kurds that inhabited the area.

In its high days, the city consisted of a dozen two- and three-story buildings with a population in the low 20,000s. It would hardly be considered a significant city by American standards, but in the nearly desolate eastern provinces of Syria, it had all the makings of a high-potential future economic center.

In the late 80s, Akhid gained a reputation for another fast-growing enterprise; training camps. Radical extremist groups flocked to the remote city to set up camps and practice their fighting and killing tactics. With the influx of several thousand mercenaries from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Pakistan and other further places came a strange and disturbing new diversity. While different in looks and genetics, the commonality in their brutal mentality frightened many of the residents of Akhid. And, with the population shift toward these more volatile characters, many existing Kurdish residents opted to migrate away to other less troubled areas. At one point in the early 90s, there were nearly as many terrorists occupying the living spaces in Akhid as there were ordinary citizens.

As with many of the clashing mid-east cultures that crash into each other like rough waves against an immobile rock seawall, tensions flared. Violence broke out. Local Kurdish youths rebelled and sought to take back their city. The tensions led to regular firefights and all out deadly conflict.

The Kurds pumped mortar shells into the heart of the city on a regular basis. The Syrians dabbled in chemical and biological attacks. Neither side made headway. Instead they only managed to drastically deplete each other over the years.

Al Khomeni Massad sat in a second-floor office in the only building left in-tact from the decade-long mini-war that had been fought over the city of Akhid. He looked out his window at little other than rubble and debris scattered across a deserted main street. By 2010, the population had dwindled to less than 1,000. Akhid had lost power. All roads in and out of the city had been lined with so many IEDs, it had become virtually unreachable by any form of motorized vehicle beyond a helicopter. Running water had ceased to flow through the damaged and largely destroyed network of pipes. And virtually all of the freestanding buildings had been bombed into oblivion by both sides of the conflict. Like many similar cities caught in the eye of the Middle East, Akhid had fallen into an unrecognizable shell of its 1980s form.

Once the residents had all fled and most combatants on both sides of the battle had been killed off, the city quickly descended into a dusty ghost town, occupied only by Al Khomeni Massad and his followers.

Massad’s office ran on power obtained from several massive generators that his group had set up. Below him, on the first floor, he had a team of technology experts managing and maintaining his data center. His web servers supported his global presence with his network of terror cells. His secure e-mail servers, which bounced signals across slave PCs all over the world allowed him to communicate with his loyalists right under the noses of their enemies.

In another room, on the level below the first floor, they held more than two dozen hostages. They had cared for them just enough to keep them alive, but not well enough to give them any hope of a satisfying existence. They would hold their captives and use them as leverage when needed. Almost nothing stung their enemies more than a highly public and savagely graphic execution. The one act that topped a public execution took the most effort to pull off. The planning alone took years. The placement of hidden resources and the acquisition of needed materials took a near miracle to coordinate. But the result, a successful mass murder attack on the enemy’s soil, caused the greatest pain like a knife to the heart.

To Massad and his followers, these enemies consisted of anyone they deemed to worship Allah any less than they did. This included virtually the entire North American hemisphere, especially America. But closer to home, it included the Jews in Israel, the filthy capitalists in the UAE with their massive cities mocking God and the moderate Muslim clerics that sought to make harmony with the enemies of Allah.

Massad checked his e-mails and scrolled through a spreadsheet of his operatives in France, in London, in Montreal and in New York City.

He added characters in Arabic to his spreadsheet indicating the status of his operatives. He marked his good friend Abud Terhani as “Martyred” and Senjeep Zendawi as “Compromised”. He reviewed his numbers in the United States and made plans to increase his footprint, particularly in DesMoines, Manhattan, Hackensack and Bayonne.

“We strike the head of the snake,” he wrote in an open letter to his highest strategy leaders. “In providing the enemy with our Martyr, Senjeep Zendawi, we have deceived them and gained the element of surprise. The imposter, who calls himself Jaio, shall pay for his infidelity to Allah. By God’s greatness, we shall execute Jihad against this Satan and all who stand by him. We will show them the greatness of Allah. God is Great.”

In a Motel Six in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Jameis Thomason sat at the four-foot square computer table that doubled as a kitchen table. The cord to his laptop dangled over the end of the laminate surface, stretched across his open suit case and plugged into the wall behind the TV cabinet.

He and Trudy had continued to fight over their finances. His newspaper salary, after all their expenses, barely covered the cost of their West Newton apartment and he hadn’t received a raise in more than three years. Trudy hadn’t worked in that same time since her layoff from Prudential Insurance. She had served as the Executive Assistant to a mid level IT manager who never really needed an assistant in the first place. As soon as the economy turned, her job evaporated.

The fighting had been going on for several years, throughout Trudy’s unemployment. The tensions had escalated, and the past six months had been nearly all-out war. They hadn’t taken a vacation. They barely went out to dinner. And Trudy hadn’t shopped for clothes since the previous Christmas when she bought all her own presents.

To add fuel to their burning embers, Jameis had given scant notice to his wife about his trip to Iowa. Her last words as he contacted her from the tarmac had been; “Don’t come back.

When he did return, Trudy waved a half dozen credit card bills in his face and screamed at him to march into his office and make them raise his pay.

“This is ridiculous,” she said, “You are such a pushover. You have no self-respect. Grow some balls and fight for what you deserve.”

“Why don’t you get off your own ass and get a job?” Jameis replied.

“I make calls every day,” Trudy screamed. “I research companies. I send resumes. What have you done to help me find a job? Nothing. And what have you done to better your own job? Nothing, as usual.”

“I’ve set you up with interviews. I’ve helped you write your letters. I’ve talked through your interview strategies with you. My God, you are an ingrate and a blamer. Your empty life is not my fault. At least I am doing something with my life.”

“In between looking for a job to cover the income that your job fails to pay you, I volunteer at the Hospital and the Church. I have people that count on me and care about me. You do nothing with your life. And the people you work with could care less about you. You’re going nowhere. You’re the one with the empty life.”

Their red-faced interaction continued until ending with Trudy telling him to leave the apartment and go live on his own for a while.

Jameis had slept in the Roxbury Motel Six ever since, ironically nearly doubling their living expenses and maxing his credit cards.

The stark white Word document brightened his surroundings. But the little black cursor mocked him. It blinked every second as a beacon to remind him that he had yet to establish the lead to his article.

He had proposed a partnership to Henry Lucas earlier that month through his connection with Melanie Johnson. Henry had called a week later to inform him that they would take him up on his offer to embed with their team. He would fly to New York and shadow Jaio, under tight supervision. He would capture and document Jaio’s platform. He would break the story and sell it to as many outlets as they could. He would cover their objectives, strategies, tactics and results and share their story with the world. If he slipped a peep about Jaio prior to their agreed launch date or in any way other than expected, the non-disclosure agreement that he signed would ruin him for life.

Access to Jaio would be close to 24/7. They would fly back and forth between Iowa and New York and he would get to know Jaio as intimately as possible. He would take residence in the same building as Gina’s Aunt Eleanor in Bayonne, sleeping in an empty apartment next door. Henry would approve the stories before Greyson published them. He would have to take a sabbatical from the newspaper and the pay would close to double his current income.

They needed him immediately. He would leave tomorrow for New York and fly later the same day to an event in Iowa.

Jameis negotiated a part time co-writer and offered the second chair to Missy Davidson who would retain her job at CSM, but freelance for him at night and during the evenings. She would spend numerous weekends in Iowa with Melanie Johnson. Her freelance pay would also close to double her salary.

The whole arrangement happened so fast, Jameis didn’t even stop to imagine the impact it would have on his crumbling marriage. He simply agreed to meet Henry in New York the next day and fired up his laptop to start taking notes and framing his thoughts.

He exhaled deeply and started to type.

Pick a God, any God,” he wrote his lead. “There are so many of them out there. God, the Father, Jesus, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Krishna, Ra, Elohim, Jehovah or just simply the Supreme Being. Some don’t believe in the presence of any God at all.

It doesn’t matter who you worship. But ask yourself this: If your God came to Earth today to save your soul and visited you in flesh and blood, how would you react? Would you recognize your God face to face? Would you be open to the possibility that your God could or would appear to you in person? Would you listen to your God’s message?

“If your God actually appeared to you here on earth, as is believed to have happened in many different religions over the thousands of years of our human history, would you choose to believe?”

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