Cael lay on Greyson’s couch. He stared at the ceiling. Tactics ran through his head repeatedly like a Times Square ticker.
He had joined his cousins in a thoroughly pleasant group chat with Clarence and Harriot Horniday via the Trinity channel that Michael arranged. The man who practically raised him to manhood looked great, but old and frail. His hair had completely whitened and retreated into a ring above his ears. His skin had toughened like rawhide left in the sun. And his voice had more gravel and thinness to it. He had aged quite a bit in his time away.
The kids took turns speaking and updating each other. The conversation about Jaio loosened and they all shared stories of their interactions. Greyson asked about Jaio’s condition when he arrived at their camp after having been shot point blank. But both the Horniday elders and Cael confirmed that Jaio never seemed to experience any ill effects and plodded forward in his activities as if the entire incident had not occurred.
Cael participated, although sat back, on the far end of the couch and let the gathering play out for the Hornidays. On several occasions, Cael sensed Clarence seek him out with his eyes and give him an approving smile. Cael returned the look with a barely perceptible nod. They didn’t need an elongated dialog. Just setting eyes upon each other and sharing a look was all either of them needed for reassurance of their commonality, their mutual respect and the appreciation they both held for each other.
Jaio even came out of the second bedroom to say ‘Hi’ after wrapping a series of conversations with leaders of his homeless assistance crews.
The entire evening had a festive feel to it. Michael, Greyson, Cael and Jaio gobbled their Pacific Rim food and washed it down with sodas while Melanie brought her children to the screen to say ‘Hi’ to their grandparents.
After about 45 minutes, the call ended with tears in several eyes and promises to reach out to each other more often. The Horniday parents pledged their support of Jaio and offered to host him any time he chose to return. And they expressed their pride in the way their clan had rallied together around a common cause.
But that all had happened hours earlier. And the euphoria that Michael took with him to his hotel room and the personal satisfaction that Greyson took to sleep with him did not linger with Cael.
He had unfinished business to complete.
At two am, he arose. He slung his backpack over his shoulder. And he exited the apartment into the quiet night.
The street had settled to only the most obscure of night walkers and sporadic cars passing. Cael had surveyed the environment of the apartment across the street and had his plan of attack branded into his brain.
Around back, he silently hoisted himself up the fire escape, counted the windows and positioned himself for entry. The target apartment had two front windows and two back windows. The front rooms consisted of an open living space with a combination kitchen and eating area. But the back two windows led to two self-contained rooms. The right side consisted of the bedroom and the left was an office or spare bedroom.
Cael snapped his headset to night vision mode and peered into each room to confirm his previous observations. As expected, his target lay asleep in the bedroom.
Fixating on the unoccupied office, Cael took what looked like a small electric shaver out of his backpack. Despite the occasional uneasiness at relying so heavily on Deltanomics for security support, their technology made his mission considerably more manageable.
The device had a round attachment with three rings. He held the rings to the window, just above the locking mechanism on the inside and turned the switch. The gadget made no noise, but the outer ring turned red and started to heat the glass in a round pattern. After a minute, the second ring, just inside the first started to spin. And as it spun, sharp blades protruded from it and the hot, softened glass started to give.
When the blades finished cutting through the glass, the third innermost ring created a mild suction and the little round section of the pane broke free without making a sound.
Cael reached in, unlocked the window and seeped into the room like a winter wind gust.
He slinked through the apartment and approached his sleeping target with ease. He removed a small needle from a plastic bag in his pack and pricked the target in the neck to immobilize his muscles and anesthetize his larynx.
As Cael flipped the lights. The target’s eyes flared wide. His mouth opened slightly and unevenly, like a stroke victim. But he didn’t move his body other than several flinching motions in his eyes.
Cael removed the duct tape from his pack and lashed his arms and legs to the rails of the bed as well as applied a strip across his mouth.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” he spoke softly to his target. “I just need to see your phone.”
Cael glanced to the night stand and then to the bureau, finding the phone in seconds.
“Password?” he asked. “You know what. I bet I don’t even need it from you.”
He grabbed the man’s thumb and pressed it against the round button at the bottom of the phone causing the operating system to light up and all his available icons to fill the screen.
“Let’s see who you are first,” he said, scrolling through his profile and contact list. “Anthony Mangano. Where are you from Tony? Atlanta? You’re a long way from home, Tony. I see you’re quite the photographer.”
Cael scrolled through Tony’s recent photos and videos, deleting each of the grainy images of Grayson’s apartment windows. None of the pictures or videos revealed much as the window treatments and slotted shades obscured the view. The distance across 54th street also made it hard to focus on any of the features of the people in the pictures. But clearly Tony had attempted to peer into Greyson’s kitchen and gain insight into any activities or visitors he could make out.
“And who did we send these images to?” Cael mused to his prisoner as he perused the phone with his thinly gloved hand. “Nothing by e-mail. Not by text. How did you send these?”
“FTP,” Cael spoke to himself for Tony’s benefit. “I am going to remove the tape. You should be able to force out a whisper by now. I’m going to ask you who you’ve sent these images to and you are going to answer me.”
Tony shook his head – no - and closed his eyes. Cael took out his 12-inch hunting knife and brandished it close to Tony’s face.
“I’m going to figure it out. Or maybe I’ll just cut off each of your fingers and toes one by one until you tell me your whole story.”
Cael lied for effect.
“You know, I once cut off a guy’s penis, chopped it up into tiny pieces and fed it to him. Can you imagine choking to death on your own dick?”
Tony’s face scrunched up in disgust at the image.
“Let’s check your browsing history,” Cael continued to play with the phone. “Looks like you are pretty careful to delete your history. Or maybe you always browse in private mode. No problem, Tony.”
Cael took out his phone. He connected a wire from his to Tony’s and called up an app on his phone called “DeltaWipe.”
“You think I can’t get at your browsing history?”
Cael called up Tony’s history and scrolled through it. It included three trends. For one, Tony clearly belonged to a fundamentalist church of some sort as much of his research and history entailed reading up on other similar sects and congregations. In ironic juxtaposition to his religious background, he also had an apparent penchant for porn. But the third trend surprised Cael.
“Are there a lot of Italian American fundamentalists in Atlanta that share your passion for Cricket?” he asked as he accessed the fantasy Cricket site that Tony appeared to visit on numerous occasions.
Clicking the directed links took him to a series of chat posts entered in an outdated fantasy cricket league.
“Any sign of him?” texted someone referred to as SevenP
“Hard to tell. Just the tops of heads.” Tony replied, listed as AntMan
“What about entrance to building”
“Nobody comes or goes - and yet they are there.”
The web site had a space where files could be uploaded. Jaio removed them, noting that they had been accessed by SevenP only a few days earlier. He sat on the bed next to Tony thinking through contingency plans for taking Tony out of play. His instinct was to simply suffocate him with the pillow. But Jaio played in his head and he swirled through alternate scenarios on how to remove Tony as a threat without harming him.
His only game plan would be to turn him over to Lloyd Burnham’s lieutenant Brad Halsey and hold him as a prisoner in some safe house indefinitely. Not ideal, but it would be the only way to take him out without murdering him.
Cael hovered over the wipe function to clear all data from Tony’s phone when he decided to dig deeper into the chat history.
“So, you are Marine?” Cael mused from the information he could glean out of the interaction with SevenP. “Or an ex-Marine? Or you’re in deep cover. Hard to tell from this.”
Cael stopped and turned more serious. There, in black and white, the story came together.
“Update on Jonas Orlando,” wrote SevenP in one of the earliest texts in the string. “Speaking to group at University of Northern Iowa. One-hour notice. Take care of it.”
The text coincided with the bombing that Jaio had survived along with the 50 students he had been addressing.
“On it,” Tony had replied.
“teach the world there is only one God almighty,” SevenP posted.
“and one Jesus Christ the Savior, Tony replied.
Tony’s next post implicated him beyond doubt.
“planted and detonated,” Tony texted about ten minutes after the bombing, followed simply by “Jonas Orlando eliminated.”
“Fallout?” SevenP asked.
“Maybe 50 incidentals.”
“Small price to pay to eliminate fake holy man.”
Cael seethed at the exchange and considered performing the vile act he had described to Tony earlier. Instead, he scrolled through Tony’s contacts to try and figure out who he might be working with.
He came across a series of names that he recalled. Spitzenger and Gerstch, he knew as base commanders that had been stationed somewhere in Iraq about seven years ago. He hadn’t worked under them or known them personally, but he had heard their names. The list of others that he thought he might know scrolled across his palm as he worked through the list. Two names jumped out of the phone. Patel and Winger.
“Are you working for Winger?” Cael asked in angrier tones. “Is Winger the mole?”
He impulsively held his finger over Winger’s cell phone number and then paused. His years of training taught him to never act impulsively. He knew Patel. Patel had served in lock step with him in the Middle East. They had protected Jaio together. Along with Herrera and the two that didn’t survive, they all faced the attack in Bethlehem together. He scrolled over to Patel’s number and hesitated.
Winger could not have sold him out. Sure, Winger was pissed about the desertion. After all, Winger was his mentor. Winger had taken him as an aimless recruit and molded him into the Marine he had become. It was Winger’s orders to body guard the holy man. And Winger ordered in the helicopters to minimize the carnage in Bethlehem and try to save his team.
From Winger’s standpoint, Cael had deserted and taken the asset with him. He had turned his back on his country. Cael had turned his back on Winger himself.
Cael executed the wipe process for only the photos and videos of Greyson’s apartment. He also executed a command to permanently unhide Mangano’s browser history.
He jotted a page-long note detailing all the evidence against Tony for the UNI bombing and rested it on his immobilized chest.
He executed a command to scramble his location and then dialed the number from Tony’s phone into his.
“This is Winger, who is this?”
“You’re looking for me,” Cael spoke softly. “Here I am.”
“Block?” Winger gasped.
“Yessir” Cael said, almost out of rote.
“Where the hell are you?” Winger raised his voice. “And why the hell are you calling me on my private cell phone? Why now?”
“I’m with Tony Mangano,” Cael revealed. “I’ve got him dead to right.”
Winger paused. But only for a split second.
“Where is he?”
“You tell me,” Cael replied. “He’s your guy.”
“I have no fucking clue where he is,” said Winger. “I assumed he was with you.”
At that, Cael paused. Winger continued.
“He dropped out a year ago. We’ve been looking for him just like we’ve been looking for you.”
“Then who’s he working for?” Cael asked, knowing Winger would not understand the question.
“I assumed he joined your team.”
“No,” Cael started to piece together the story. “He’s working against us. He’s working against us both. Maybe he’s working with the rads, but I don’t think so. I think he’s working with a domestic group.”
“Turn him in. Turn yourself in. We can sort this all out.”
“Oh, I’ll be turning in Mangano, alright,”
Cael went on to reveal that Mangano and someone else, possibly within Winger’s team, were in league to take down Jaio. He read the text string related to the UNI bombing to his mentor.
“All the evidence is right here on Mangano’s phone,” said Cael. “He’s duct taped to his bed. “I’m calling the NYPD terror squad to come get him.”
“You’re creating a mess for me to clean up,”
“I should be sympathetic?”
“Let me handle it,”
“I’ll give you a 10-minute head start.”
“Listen,” Winger said. “Clearly there’s a lot going on here. But you don’t have to go it alone.”
“I’m not coming out of the dark.”
“Herrera made a decent choice,” Winger pleaded. “He took the honorable discharge. He’s returned to civilian life.”
“He wanted nothing to do with this,” Cael agreed, satisfied that Winger harbored no suspicion of Ruben’s role.
“Patel made the better choice to come back to the company.”
“And you should leverage him to figure out the mole,” said Cael.
“I can help you,” Winger continued. “I can get your court martial delayed. Maybe even pardoned. You don’t have to stay underground.”
“Why don’t you focus on the enemies that are executing acts of terror on US soil instead of worrying about an AWOL officer who’s just trying to protect a team of good, productive Americans?”
“Cael,” Winger spoke with empathy. “Jaio is out in the open. He’s speaking in public. He’s gathering crowds. How long can you keep this up? It was one challenge to hide him away and protect him from the shadows of some safe house somewhere as he reached out to the world through the lens of a web cam. But how are you going to contain the Abud Terhani’s, the Sanjeep Zendawi’s and the Tony Manganos of the world all at the same time? Someone’s going to get hurt and you’ll eventually lose what you’ve tried so hard to protect.”
“Who do I trust? You? Patel?”
“Yes. We’re here for you… and for him,” Winger pleaded. “You know we were right there with you. Every step.”
“Patel was,” Cael rebutted. “You were always in mission control. It was under your oversight that we were betrayed.”
“That was not on me,” Winger snapped. “And why do you think we haven’t found you yet? We’ve been working on cleaning our own house. I put Patel on the case of finding you and he’s taken his sweet time with it.”
“Ok,” Cael said. “You want to help. I’m sending you Mangano’s entire history. In 10 minutes, I alert the NYPD. You should have just enough time to handle this. Find the mole. Take out anyone conspiring against Jaio. If you can prove to me that you’ve truly cleaned house, I’ll turn myself in as long as you agree to put Patel in charge of protecting Jaio from any outside elements. Give him a team and the resources he needs. I trust Patel with my life, and I know he can handle the mission. I just don’t trust anyone on your team until I know the domestic element is eradicated.”
“You’ll turn yourself in?” Winger repeated.
“You’ll stand up on my behalf?” Cael retorted. “And you’ll charge Patel with leading a team to take over the protection, with your full support and adequate resources to do the job?”
“Agreed,” said Winger.
“Agreed,” Cael replied.