Out of Africa

The Simplicity of Evil

"We always vilify what we don't understand."
~Nenia Campbell.

Nairobi, Kenya.

INTERVIEWER: Could you please state your name and country of origin?

BAH: My name is Angelo Bah. I am from Senegal. I—

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any form of identification?

BAH: Any what?...Ah, no. No, they—they took all our wallets, all our passports, and burned them. They said we did not need them anymore. I thought—I thought they were going to kill us.

INTERVIEWER: Tell me the first thing you remember. Go back, think about everything you did, from the moment you arrived at the shopping center.

BAH: I…I don't know. It all happened so fast—I just went to get some things, some little souvenirs for my daughters—it wasn't until the gunshots and the shouting that I knew something was wrong….They were killing people. They just—they shot a little boy, a helpless little boy...[indistinct crying].

INTERVIEWER: I understand that this was a very traumatic experience, Mr. Bah. But I need you to think very carefully, and tell me everything that you remember.

BAH: Yes. Yes, of course. Anything to help. These monsters. Such monsters. How could a person do such a thing?

Ahoo set down the transcript for a moment, leaning back in her chair to stretch her muscles as she rubbed her tired eyes. She'd read and re-read these pages for hours now; nothing new had been gleaned from it, and yet she forced herself to read it again, just one more time, to hopefully find something she'd missed.

Mariatu Wasaki had posed as Angelo Bah, a Senegalese tourist. He'd even cried, for fuck's sake. Sobbed like a baby. And yet, it was just for show—this man had done a dozen things more horrible than this, a dozen times over.

Monsters. Such monsters. He was one of them. At least the other monsters had some kind of twisted religious logic, some reason for their actions. But what did Wasaki gain from this? He had no god, no country under siege, no allegiance to any philosophy. He was simply evil.

Simply evil. George had taught her that such a thing did not exist. Nothing was simple or pure, not even evil. Everything was diluted, odd shades of grey. Mariatu Wasaki had to be the darkest shade of grey that ever existed.

She gave a frustrated sigh, taking a second to glance at her watch. It was almost time for zuhr, the midday salat. She needed to walk around, clear her head and get some air before beginning her prayers. She looked over at Eric Silver, who noticed her gaze and then checked his own watch. He gave a slight nod, silently informing her that he knew it was close to prayer time and that he had no issue with letting her go. She gave a small smile and rose to her feet.

As she exited the elevator into the lobby of cool, dark grey marble, she passed Yonah Zamir, who was entering with a fresh cup of coffee. Zamir gave her a glance as she walked by, but nothing more—no smile, no sneer, no interest or curiosity of any kind.

Still, Ahoo resisted the urge to shrink away. Zamir had been civil, even polite to her, but Ahoo always had the sense that the older woman was merely a serpent who was smart enough not to strike until provoked. She knew that she was transferring centuries of unrest between their two faiths onto a woman who hadn't shown the slightest hint of hostility towards her, but she couldn't help herself. Something about Zamir seemed unknown and dangerous, in a quiet way that was much more chilling than the usual unpredictable and reckless personalities that usually registered as unsafe on Ahoo's radar.

Now you're being ridiculous. You should get more sleep. The voice in her head sounded like her mother's. As a child, she'd possessed a fanciful imagination (flighty, her mother had called her—Ahoo, learn to keep your feet on the ground, before your head runs away with you), and with it had come many unfounded and often ridiculously over-thought fears. Most of the time, she could push away her own neurotic tendencies, but the fast pace and sleepless nature of this particular case had worn down some of her defenses.

She pushed the heavy glass door open, out into the hustle and bustle that swirled around the impressive police building, where the sun could warm her skin and bring her back to some sense of reality. She'd never been in the field for this long or in such an exotic location, and she was beginning to drift. She could feel it, like the light rocking a skiff feels as it slowly but surely dances further and further away from its anchor. It was a disorienting sensation, though not unpleasant. Still, she wondered if she would be able to bring herself back, once this was all over. She thought of her little flat in Ottawa, with its beautiful view of the park—would it feel foreign, unbalanced to her, when she returned?

She closed her eyes, turning her face to the sun and taking a deep breath. More ridiculous thoughts, she told herself.

"Mother. Mother—I've already told you—yes, yes…I will be back soon. No, I don't think I will be back tonight. There's too much to be done here—as I have said a dozen times. Mother…."

It was the heavy, smoke-filled voice of Constance Connelly, but there was something in her tone that Ahoo had never heard before (not that she'd heard much of Connelly's voice to begin with—they had just met, after all). A higher pitch, an almost-neediness mixed with exasperation and impatience.

The same way I talk to my mother, sometimes, Ahoo thought with a slight inner smile. She shifted slightly, watching the older woman out of the corner of her eye.

Constance gave a slight nod, a tuck of her head at some verbal blow. Her voice got quieter, "Yes, I remember—six thirty-four. I have to go now. Yes, yes—soon."

She ended the call with a heavy sigh, slipping her phone into her back pocket with one hand as she pulled a pack of cigarettes from her front pocket with the other.

"I had cut down to only a few per day," she announced dryly, the simple statement a recognition of Ahoo's nearby presence. "I've been on this case for less than a full twenty-four hours and I'm almost through an entire pack."

Ahoo turned, smiled perfunctorily, unsure of how to respond.

"You don't smoke." It was an observation, not a question.

"No," Ahoo admitted, almost embarrassed.

Constance gave a small nod of approval, lighting her cigarette before decreeing, "Good. Don't ever start. Black pit habit, that is."

She took a long drag. Ahoo watched her hands—knuckles weathered, nails buffed and shining, skin lightly freckled. The cigarette hung from her fingertips with a certain grace that reminded Ahoo of all those black and white era movie stars with their luscious furs and thin roll-ups, a Lauren Bacall of the modern day.

Constance noted her gaze, merely gave another feline smile in return. She was the kind of woman who was used to being watched; she never minded it. She also knew how to blend in whenever she wanted to, a throwback to her days as an agent—but after years of traveling under the radar, she found that being seen was actually quite a nice sensation. Especially when the voyeur had such lovely eyes.

"This job will do that to you," Constance picked up her earlier vein of conversation, holding up her cigarette in explanation. "Bring out the worst in you—in habits, in addictions, in fears. You're a rookie, so I'll give you some advice: find a way to get away, from time to time. Garden, go for runs, learn to crochet, whatever. Find an escape that won't kill you, in the end."

"How'd you know that I was a rookie?" Ahoo was torn between curiosity and irritation at the idea that she was such an easy read.

"Because," the redhead gave another cryptic smile. "You still have a lovely hopefulness about you. You glow with conviction. Quite endearing, actually."

Ahoo didn't know how to respond. Constance looked out at traffic, suddenly bored and tired, "Well, I suppose I should get back—only one boy left to go."

Ahoo turned fully to her, her dark features etched with open curiosity, "Everyone else refers to them as terrorists, hostage-takers, ANAM members—but you always call them boys. Why?"

"Because that's what they are," came the simple reply. "Just silly little boys, playing a game that they don't fully understand. All boys are foolish when it comes to war—they see it as some grand thing, rush into it without any real thought. My brother was a boy like that. His fervor and naiveté got him killed, eventually."

Despite her harsh words, her tone was soft, almost motherly. With a slight shake of her head, she took another drag of her cigarette. "Al-Noor Al-Mujahedeen. You know what it means?"

Ahoo gave a small nod, "Soldiers of the Light."

"Yes." Constance's voice was even softer. "Soldiers of the Light."

She flicked a column of ash from her cigarette. "The only thing I see here is darkness. Whose light did they think they were following? I can't think of a single god who would find glory in such an act. No god worth praying to, that's for certain."

"Every religion has its silver-tongued devils," Ahoo gently replied.

"You mean the men who take the words of holy scriptures and forge them into weapons of war and hatred?" Constance's smile was wry, twisted lips without warmth. In that moment, she looked eerily like a painting of Durga that Ahoo had seen in a temple once, while spending a semester in Nepal. Knowing smile, wary eyes, cold beauty—for the briefest of flashes, it seemed as if the Hindu Goddess of Victory of Good over Evil had returned in living flesh. But the vision disappeared as quickly as it had come.

I really do need to get some sleep, Ahoo quietly chided herself.

Constance's cellphone buzzed again, and she easily retrieved it, giving another frustrated sigh as she read the caller ID. Flicking the cigarette on the sidewalk, she ground it out with her shoe as she answered, "Yes, Mother?"

She stooped, gingerly picking up the crushed butt and tossing it into a nearby trash bin. She looked over at Ahoo, almost sheepishly, Sorry, gotta take this call. Mothers, you know.

Ahoo simply smiled again, turning away. She walked down to the end of the block, enjoying the chance to move her muscles after hours of being cooped up in the conference room. When she returned, Constance was already gone.

She thought back to George's observations from earlier—this time, she'd looked for tell-tale signs of attraction from the older woman, but she'd seen nothing.

Of course, she then had to ask herself why she cared, why she even wanted to look for such signs.

Just because she asked, didn't mean she had to answer, though.

It's just curiosity, she told herself. You just want to prove George wrong.

Rubbing the bridge of her nose in tired irritation, she entered the lobby again. Constance's words had made her feel older, more tired, less certain. Boys. They really were just boys. Boys who never had a chance to be anything else.

Eric Silver intercepted her as she made her way back to the third conference room, which still wasn't in-use and had become her unofficial prayer room.

"I'm sorry," he said, his tone flushed and urgent. "There's been a new development."

"When Mariatu Wasaki was pretending to be a victim of the attack, he inadvertently gave up some personal information," Clyde Easter stood at the head of the table, surrounded by the rest of the international task force. "He claimed that he was Senegalese—which, as we all know, was one of the guesses as to his homeland, and which also happens to be the nationality of Andwele Ade, whom we now know to be Wasaki's heir-apparent. Now, every bit of intel suggests that Ade and Wasaki are still in the city."

Emily Prentiss, who was sitting to his left, spoke up, "Using this information, our analysts began pulling surveillance footage from areas near Senegalese restaurants. We have just been given confirmation that Andwele Ade has been picking up food from one restaurant in particular for the last three days."

There was a round of light murmurs at the pronouncement—could they really be that lucky? Could this be what it all came down to, a traffic cam and some Senegalese take-out?

Clyde gave a quick glance at the clock on the wall, "If Ade sticks to his schedule, he should be arriving at the restaurant in six hours, which gives us about four to get a detail in-place. I know, that's not much time, but if we can set up undercover details, we may be able to track him back to wherever he and Wasaki are hiding—or at the very least, apprehend him."

More murmurs of approval.

Eric Silver spoke up, tucking his hands into his pants pockets in an oddly authoritarian stance, "Have you devised a full-range operation already?"

"No," Clyde answered succinctly (and that was the part that always flummoxed Emily—he could be direct and concise when the moment called for it, without the mind games and shaded meanings). "Not yet, anyways. I'd prefer to spend the next hour with the heads of each division, analyzing every tactical maneuver possible."

Silver gave a curt nod. Agents began shuffling around—division heads and team leaders moving towards the table, while the others transitioned back into the other room to continue work on various other aspects of the case.

Emily glanced over at Aaron, the concern evident in her pale face. He knew that she certainly wasn't a coward when it came to undercover ops or busting down doors, but they both knew that Wasaki wasn't their run-of-the-mill UNSUB, and the lack of proper planning time didn't sit well with her.

The simple set of his mouth told Emily that he shared her concern. Still, they took their places at the table and set their minds and determination to finding the best possible way to end this scenario.

"Ade's going to be armed," Eric Silver announced as he sat down, readjusting the seat's height to accommodate his lanky legs. "He won't have any qualms about firing into crowds of innocent civilians, either."

"Agreed," Clyde sat down as well. "Which is why I vote that we do not try to apprehend him at the restaurant. Trail him—or perhaps stage a pinning."

"A pinning?" Laurenz Blanke, the head of the German team, was confused by the phrase.

"It's a staged physical contact in which we place a tracking pin on an item of the target's clothing," Emily leaned forward as she explained. Her eyes remained on Clyde as she continued, "However, it's not easy to pull off—it's dangerous for the agent performing it, and most of the time, even if it is successful, targets are savvy enough to scan for trackers before returning to their location."

"Trailing him could be just as futile," Silver pointed out. "He'll be crossing and covering his tracks for sure—a tail could be noticeable, or worse, lost."

"We need to consider the cost of apprehending Ade immediately, versus taking the chance and possibly losing him with a tail," Aaron Hotchner spoke quietly, but his voice carried well.

"I personally don't think that he's going to give us Wasaki, if he's taken in alive," Easter pronounced.

"Our profile suggests he'd rather die than give us the upper hand," Hotch concurred.

Emily nodded, giving a small hum of agreement. "Our best bet is to trail him. Perhaps we can use the satellites again—once one of our undercover operatives confirms his identity, have the satellites follow him back to the location. He might can spot a couple of guys following him, but he'd have to have an eagle eye to notice a satellite."

Nods of approval all around. Yonah Zamir was uncharacteristically quiet, almost distracted. Her left hand played with the button of the breast-pocket on her cotton shirt. Emily felt a small fissure of worry.

"And who shall we assign to the task of identifying Ade?" Zamir finally spoke, her amber eyes searching the other faces at the table.

"Someone inconspicuous," Easter said, turning to Emily again. "At the risk of being politically incorrect, I suggest Agent Kimathi."

She had to nod in agreement, "Mika's technically a native of this country—he's got a better chance of blending in than anyone else."

"So it's settled, then," Easter sat back, suddenly energized. "We've got a plan. Now, to make it foolproof."

Hotch felt Emily's light sigh—he knew that she wasn't happy about sending her partner into possible harm's way. He gently placed his right hand on the table, closer to her. It was as much as he could do, in this moment, but it was still a sign of solidarity, a silent I understand, I'm here, it's going to be alright.

She didn't smile, but the creases around her worried eyes lifted.

That would have to do, for now. Aaron tried to quell the nerves building inside his own veins at the impending operation.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

"When the noise is gone, and the air is still . . .prepare for survival."
~John-Talmage Mathis.

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