Book One

 

June 11

The sizeable commercial fishing boat was quite stable, floating on the gentle Gulf swells. It was a perfect morning for deep-sea fishing, among other things. The sun had not yet risen above the horizon, but a faint glow of light was beginning to emerge in the eastern sky. The boat’s engines idled as the skipper held a steady course to the north, some 100 miles due south of New Orleans. Ahmad went into the hold and pulled a fire axe out of its sheath. Then he went onto the aft deck and began chopping. The first mate left his post with the skipper at the conning station and ran down to inquire exactly what (in God’s name) Ahmad thought he was doing.

“What is going on?” the man asked, with a heavy Cuban accent. “You are destroying the boat. Do you want us to sink?!”

Ahmad, knowing that he could no longer keep the purpose of the “fishing trip” from the two nonessential crew members, replied, “I am preparing the missile.”

“Missile! What missile?!” the man inquired.

“This one,” Ahmad said, sweeping away some wood chips, revealing part of the modified, multi‑stage Taepodong missile concealed within the belly of the boat.

The Cuban man’s eyes became very big at the sight of it, but before he could say another word, Ahmad pulled out a pistol and shot him in the head, killing him.

Kim Kang Sung ran up to Ahmad, protesting, “What did you kill him for? Do we not still need the crew to take us to the rendezvous point—and the escape vessel—to pick us up?”

“We only needed them to navigate to this spot. Our escape will happen here,” Ahmad lied. “I think you should go into the cockpit and calm down our pilot,” he added, motioning to the helm, where the skipper had been observing the situation with a frantic look on his face.

Kim took a deep breath and then said, “I’ll take care of it.” He walked into the cockpit.

Ahmad continued working, while Kim tried to reassure the skipper, who was gesticulating hysterically. Finally, Kim called down to Ahmad, saying, “I don’t think I can calm him down. What should I do?”

“Do you think you can hold this heading while I prepare the missile for launch?”

“Yes, I think so,” Kim replied.

“Then throw him overboard,” Ahmad said, not knowing whether Kim would take him literally.

To Ahmad’s bemusement, Kim used a couple of advanced martial arts techniques, breaking the man’s neck, and then, obliging Ahmad, he threw the man into the Gulf.

It took about an hour for Ahmad to prepare the missile, set the controls on the platform to raise it to the correct angle immediately prior to launch, and to prepare the warhead. The sun was just above the horizon by this point.

Ahmad walked to the helm to steer the boat, asking Kim to double-check the settings on the missile launch platform to make sure they were correct. Kim returned quickly, saying, “The missile is ready. Shall I launch the skiff while you set the timing device?”

“That is a good idea, my friend,” Ahmad said, misleading the North Korean Army missile technician.

As soon as he turned his back, the Iranian operative shot him in the head at point‑blank range. Ahmad thought it was unfortunate that Kim had been unaware this was a mission of shahada. Perhaps Allah would have mercy on him, even though he was an infidel, since he had been instrumental in bringing things to this point.

Be that as it may, there is but one thing left to accomplish.

Ahmad tied the boat’s steering wheel to keep it on course. Then he walked back to the missile platform’s controls, initiating the commands to raise the missile and launch it into the sky. Powerful, computer-controlled, hydrodynamic thrusters located along the hull’s waterline became active to stabilize the boat as the missile was raised and the center of mass shifted. Fragments of the boat’s faux exterior cabin, made mostly of lightweight balsa wood, splintered and fell into the water. After several minutes, the missile’s systems were powered, and it was ready to launch. As the main engine ignited, the boat shook mightily.

Ahmad looked up and said aloud, “Allah, I crave martyrdom and await my reward,” making no move to get into the lifeboat.

The missile launched toward its target far above the earth, shattering the boat’s center section into pieces.

 


 

Book Two

 

Chapter One

 It was the middle of the morning as my friend Yusef and I sat in the back of a coffee shop near Fredericksburg, Virginia, sitting in an alcove in comfy brown wing chairs, sipping a couple of cappuccinos. We had just arrived in the area from southwest Florida, via Interstate 95. We stopped the night before and stayed in a motel outside of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, getting up early this morning to finish the drive. Even with two drivers, we’d decided not to drive through the night, since we were towing my 30‑something‑foot performance boat to its summer home on the Occoquan River. The rig technically qualifies as a wide load, so we were careful to drive in the right lane at or near the speed limit.

I’m Mike Norris, and I am someone who is commonly referred to as an Internet Millionaire, which is one reason I’m a snowbird, albeit younger than most. I started working for AIC, the American Internet Corporation, in 1991. It was my first job after I finished college. At the time, AIC was a newbie company in the cyberspace arena. So, when I was hired as a staff computer programmer the company couldn’t pay competitively, at least in terms of salary. Having just issued company stock to the public, however, AIC attempted to make up for the meager paychecks with huge grants of stock options. Lucky me—I got in early while the stock price was low.

I worked my way up to the level of senior programmer and then fellow (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean). But then, thanks to the Internet Bubble that burst in about the middle of the year 2000, I instantly became wealthy beyond my wildest imagination. I sold my stock near the top of the Bubble. Again, I was lucky—a matter of being in the right place at the right time—and it was time to retire.

Yusef al Jahfar, on the other hand, still worked for AIC. The company hired him about the time I resigned. As a matter of fact, I interviewed him to replace me. After that, AIC stock crashed, so he has continued working for salary only, stock options having become worthless in terms of employee compensation, or making someone rich. We still stay in touch, and every year I pay for him to fly to Florida, where I spend my winters, and then drive back with me to Occoquan, Virginia, the aforementioned summer dwelling place for my boat and me. He enjoys the all-expenses-paid vacations, and I enjoy the companionship and extra driver.

For most of the trip our conversation had focused on the current gossip at AIC. This morning, though, we began talking about some topics that intrigued me. Yusef is a Muslim, and I had been doing some work relevant to Islam since I left AIC. My current “job” was not employment in the traditional sense—I hadn’t been financially compensated for my services—nor was it something that I could ordinarily talk about openly.

Yusef continued the conversation in his heavy Arabic accent. “Mike, you need to understand that there is a modern day Axis of Evil.”

I nodded and said, “Yes, the famous ‘Axis of Evil’ speech.”

Yusef said, “But talking about it simply in terms of alliances between specific countries doesn’t necessarily paint the Axis with a broad enough brush.”

“I’m not following,” I said.

Yusef continued. “The concern should be about ideologies. For example, I am a Sunni Muslim. The Sunnis make up the vast majority of the Muslim world. Now, we have radicals within our ranks called Wahabites who would, as opposed to the majority, applaud the September 11 hijackers’ actions, as if taken during a holy war.”

“But you don’t see it that way,” I said.

“Many of us do not,” he replied. “We do not take the teachings quite so literally.”

Although I was already aware of some of the facts he was speaking about, I wanted him to continue so I could glean more on the subject.

Yusef added, “Now here’s where you really need to follow me. Iran, which is not Sunni, has a mainly Shiite population. Amongst them there are also anti‑west radicals. Here’s the dangerous part: Although Sunni and Shiite radicals would ordinarily be at odds, they have, in some cases, allied themselves with one another.”

I said, “So, radical Sunnis and radical Shiites, typically mortal enemies, have made a truce in order to destroy, or at least weaken, the west, especially the United States and Israel, right?”

“Right,” Yusef said.

Wanting to probe Yusef further, I asked him, “So, how does North Korea fit into the equation?”

“Neither Syria nor Iran should be friendly toward each other or North Korea, because their radicals are on opposite sides of the aisle and have no religious commonality with the secular Korean regime. But they have formed relationships of convenience to fight their common enemy, the United States.” Yusef paused and then added, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“The Axis,” I echoed. Then I said, “That’s one thing that I don’t get, though. If the radical Sunnis and radical Shiites are enemies who have made a truce in order to defeat the U.S. and Israel and they succeed, what then? I mean, what do they do with each other once we are out of the way?”

“My theory,” Yusef explained, “is that each side figures that after they jointly succeed, one shall double-cross and then either destroy or dominate the other.”

I nodded, and then Yusef said to me, “Well, enough about international intrigue. Tell me what’s been going on with you these last few months. You’ve been so secretive and difficult to get in touch with. What is up? Is there another lady in your life?”

“Well, actually, I’ve been—”

Before I could finish, the lights went out, and one could hear an attenuating whine, indicating that the air conditioner had suddenly stopped. It was obvious that a power outage had just occurred, and we experienced one of those unnerving moments when a room unexpectedly becomes dark. We were tucked away in the back of the establishment, away from the windows, and it took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the darkness.

I wasn’t wearing a watch, so I reached toward Yusef and motioned for him to show me his. “I need to see your watch. It’s battery operated, right?” Yusef nodded and held out his left wrist with a puzzled look on his face. I looked at it for several moments. The second hand did not move. The watch had apparently stopped the moment the power went out. I said to him, “I think I know what this is, and if I’m right, we won’t have power for a while—a long while.”

“What?” he inquired, reaching toward his waistband with his right hand. I did likewise. Yusef and I were fellow marksmen.

I smiled and said, “When did you put on your piece?”

“At the rest stop immediately across the Virginia border, when you were in the restroom,” he replied.

(Although we were both licensed to carry concealed firearms in Virginia, some of the states to the south had not yet granted reciprocity. One was required to transport firearms unloaded until crossing the state line and entering the Commonwealth.)

“Well, my friend,” I continued, patting my concealed holster on the right side of my waistband, “if this is what I think it is, we will be very glad to have these.”

“Tell me about it,” Yusef said.

The marina where we were supposed to take the boat did not close until 5:00 p.m., assuming power was restored. On the other hand, if I was right about what had just caused the outage, it, along with any other establishment requiring electrical power, would most likely be closed starting today—and remain so for a long time.

“We’ve got time, maybe a lot of time,” I said, knowing that Yusef would probably enjoy the story as much as I the telling. As we sat in the eerie darkness of the coffee shop’s alcove, I began my saga. “Remember when I retired from AIC? I went down to Florida and rented a house on that key near Charlotte Harbor, off the Intracoastal Waterway.”

“Yes, I remember—your ‘earlier-than-usual midlife crisis,’ several years ago,” Yusef said, with a wry grin.

I shrugged and then continued. “Well…”

 

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