An excerpt from A Thick Crimson Line
Lisa Walton stood up from behind her desk and grimaced as pain shot up her left leg. She sat back down, out of breath. Three months had passed since the shootout in Koltsovo, Russia. Since then, she’d had good days and bad days. Today was one of the latter. Nevertheless, she was grateful to be alive. She shivered as thoughts of the Sheik played with her mind. She tried to block them out, but the smell and taste of his urine always seemed to barge through her defenses. It was a vivid reminder of how close she had come to dying at his hands. She took consolation in knowing that Mike had kicked his ass back in Mykonos, and that the Sheik was now in an underground prison without any chance of seeing the light of day again.
“You okay, Lisa?” Mapother asked, placing his hand gently on her shoulder.
“I will be,” she replied. A medical doctor herself, Lisa appreciated how long the human body needed to recuperate from injuries. Wounds from bullets that tore through muscles and ligaments wouldn’t heal overnight. The psychological wounds took even longer.
It was her third day back in the office. She had jumped at the opportunity to get back to work the moment the doctors cleared her. She had had enough of staying home. And she was worried about Mike. A lot. She had gotten used to being in the field with him. From Africa to Europe to Russia, they had made a great team chasing down the terrorists responsible not only for the death of their unborn child and their two-year-old daughter Melissa, but also for the worst terror attacks since 9/11. Sheik al-Assad—the man who had orchestrated these attacks—had killed their entire family during the first phase of his assault on the North American financial markets two and a half years ago. If it had not been for Mike and a few other heroes, the economic consequences would have been even worse.
She pushed the unpleasant memories of her time in the Sheik’s captivity out of her mind and focused on the video feed Mike was sending to the main flat screen of the control room.
“Start cross-referencing today’s feed with yesterday’s,” Mapother said.
Lisa’s fingers danced over her keyboard. It was difficult not to marvel at the capabilities of the IMSI. Even though the IMSI’s existence was known only to a select few, Mapother’s organization had grown into a redoubtable counter-terrorism force. But the IMSI’s many achievements had been overshadowed by some monumental failures, and Lisa wasn’t sure what would happen after the next presidential election. Mapother had assured her that everything would remain the same, but she wasn’t convinced. Director of National Intelligence Richard Phillips, who had previously been a staunch supporter of the IMSI, was now an unknown player. Lisa could hardly fault him for it. DNI Phillips’s main job after protecting the country was to shield the president from any repercussions caused by the possible implosion of the IMSI. If the IMSI’s true purpose was brought to light, the president’s involvement with the IMSI would be more than enough to get him impeached. Operating under the cover of a foreign-market analysis center working for nine of the biggest corporations in the United States, the IMSI’s cover was solid but had come under pressure recently when it was discovered that Steve Shamrock—one of the IMSI’s founding members and the CEO of Oil Denatek—had been a traitor and the financier behind the Sheik’s terror network. Charles Mapother had cleaned up the mess, but DNI Phillips had never fully regained his confidence in the organization. But he still called on the IMSI to execute the missions he felt should stay at arm’s length from the United States government.
“I got something here,” Jonathan Sanchez said, walking into the control room. Sanchez was a close friend of Mike and Lisa and had played a major role in bringing them to the IMSI. A former member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, he had fought alongside Mike in Serbia during Operation Picnic. A round had shattered his knee and forced him out of the field.
“What?” Mapother asked.
Sanchez took a picture out of a blue folder and showed it to Lisa and Mapother.
“That’s Anja Skov,” he said. “She’s the lady Zaid al-Menhali had lunch with yesterday.”
Lisa looked at the picture. Anja Skov was strikingly hot. Tall, blond hair, big blue eyes. She could have been a Victoria’s Secret model.
“What do we know about her?” Lisa asked.
“She’s the personal secretary of the Danish ambassador.”
Lisa scratched her head. “Why would he go after her? She seems of little value. Unless she has the ambassador’s ear . . .”
“You’re right,” Sanchez said. “I doubt her security clearance alone is enough to warrant al-Menhali’s attention. But she’s an activist, and her boss’s brother is an influential member of the Danish parliament.”
“What do you mean by ‘activist’?” Mapother asked, taking a closer look at the picture.
“She’s very active on social media,” Sanchez replied. “Mostly on Facebook. She believes the Danish government should do much more to accommodate the Muslim community and she wants it to repeal the 2002 law that made it harder for immigrants to bring their families over.”
“The Danish Aliens Act,” Mapother said. “I remember when this was voted in. It raised an uproar within the United Nations Human Rights Council—”
“Really?” Lisa interrupted her boss. “What doesn’t raise an uproar these days?” She wasn’t a big fan of the United Nations. In her opinion, the United Nations had been hijacked by political self-interest and had become a global talkfest. It was too big, consisted of too many endless bodies and committees and was good only at producing thousands of reports that nobody cared about.
“I don’t disagree with you, Lisa, but that’s not the point, is it?” Mapother said.
“Didn’t the UN actually come up with a report condoning the Aliens Act just last May?” Sanchez asked.
Mapother nodded. “So you think she’s in love with him?”
“He represents everything she’s fighting for,” Sanchez said.
“And we shouldn’t forget that al-Menhali is a local celebrity within the Muslim community,” Lisa added. “It’s because of his thinly veiled threats of violence that the Greek parliament voted to speed up the taxpayer-funded mosque they’ll build in Athens.”
“So where does that leave us?” Sanchez asked, looking at Mapother.
“It doesn’t change anything. At best, she doesn’t know anything about his involvement in the Paris attacks, and, at worst, she’s a minor player.”
Lisa agreed with this assessment. “If al-Menhali were to die in Athens, I don’t think the Greek authorities would launch an international investigation, but even if they do, we’ll make sure it doesn’t gain any traction.”
“But if an employee of the Danish embassy is killed, that’s another story. So we stick to the plan and let Mike and Zima take him out at their discretion. She lives,” concluded Mapother.
That’s it? Did we just decide who lives and who dies? The feeling was frightening and empowering at the same time. In the field, Lisa never had an issue taking down a target. In fact, Mike had recently told her he thought she was a bit too eager to pull the trigger on some occasions.
She had to.
Telling him the truth would have ruined her chance of getting back in the field.
“Sir?” This was from Anna Caprini. She was holding a phone against her ear. “Mike says you either give him the green light on al-Menhali now or he pulls the plug.”
“Why? Did I miss something?” Mapother asked.
Lisa wondered the same.
Caprini continued, “A drunk crashed their party at the Grande Bretagne.”
Lisa swore under her breath. She looked at Mapother. He was the one calling the shots, and he didn’t delay in making his decision known.