The Confessor: A Jayne Robinson spy thriller, book 3
Cardinal sins uncovered . . . The horrific killing of four cardinals in Washington, DC, en route to the White House. Deadly threats and intrigue at the Vatican. And Jayne Robinson battling an unknown enemy to find out the truth for a desperate pope.
Intelligence operative Robinson is deployed by the CIA to discover why the American cardinals were murdered on their way to a top-level government meeting—with a mysterious message they were unable to deliver.
At the same time, a British cardinal and key ally of the pope asks Jayne to help with his own line of inquiry—before it's too late.
The case becomes increasingly complicated as the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, is sucked into the drama in a most unexpected way as the international political stakes rise.
And tension mounts rapidly as Jayne fights for her life in the West Bank city of Ramallah against plotters ruthlessly determined to prevent the facts emerging.
The Confessor, book number three in the Jayne Robinson series, is a gripping modern spy thriller with sharp twists that will stun the reader.
Release date: May 6, 2022
Publisher: The Write Direction Publishing
Print pages: 458
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The Confessor: A Jayne Robinson spy thriller, book 3
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
The flashes of bright red cassocks and skullcaps stood out against the pale sandstone building like flames in the night as the three cardinals and the archbishop filed out of the Apostolic Nunciature building. Above them, the gold-and-white Vatican City flag flapped in the breeze.
“There’s no going back now,” Cardinal Daniel Berg, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, muttered as he paused at the bottom of the five steps that led to the driveway. He turned his neatly coiffured white head to his colleague Cardinal Lewis Brennan and caught his eye.
“Of course,” Brennan said. “Nor should we. Our path is straight. This should have been done a long time ago.”
Berg, a cardinal for the previous nine years, nodded and clasped his leather document case tighter beneath his left arm. Brennan was correct. As was often the case in the Catholic Church, they had dithered and delayed for too long, wary of triggering a direct confrontation. Procrastination seemed to have been wired into the DNA of too many of them.
The men turned as a black BMW sedan drove through the gate to their left and crawled around the neatly symmetrical semicircular drive before coming to a halt directly in front of them. The driver opened his door and got out.
“Your Excellence, Your Eminences,” the driver said, nodding at the archbishop, then the three cardinals in turn. “Please do find yourselves a seat.” He circled the car, opening the front passenger and rear doors.
Berg moved first. Easily the tallest of the group, he knew his aging knees, with their steadily worsening arthritis, wouldn’t enjoy sitting three abreast squashed up in the rear.
“I hope you don’t mind, gentlemen, but I’m just not going to fit in the back,” he said, glancing behind him. He made straight for the front passenger seat without waiting for a response.
He pulled his cassock up behind him, lowered his angular frame, and slowly levered himself in.
“Don’t worry about us,” said Brennan, the archbishop of Chicago. “We know you only fly at the front of the plane.”
The other two men gave a muted laugh. One of them, the somewhat rotund Cardinal Simon Kluwers, was archbishop of Detroit. The other, Antonio Delgado, who unlike the others wore a black cassock with a purple silk sash around his slim waist, was an archbishop and the papal nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States. This made him Pope Julius VI’s representative in Washington, DC, as well as responsible for the Vatican’s relationships with the Roman Catholic bishops in the US. He was a certainty to be elevated to the rank of cardinal once his term in the States had ended.
Delgado’s office, staff, and living accommodation were in the elegant, historic nunciature at 3339 Massachusetts Avenue, which the men had just left and which was within the Embassy Row neighborhood.
Berg glanced out the window at the three-story building, which dated back to 1893. He couldn’t help envying the nuncio, who certainly lived and worked in style. The expansive reception rooms contained a wealth of ornate Roman furniture, artwork, tapestries, and other artifacts.
The driver made another circuit of the BMW, closing the doors as he went, before climbing into the driver’s seat. “Next stop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said as he turned the ignition key.
Indeed, the White House was where they were headed.
Normally, such meetings were informal and were held in a meeting room in the Situation Room suite, down in the basement of the West Wing. In most cases, the only attendee on the White House side was President Stephen Ferguson’s personal aide, Charles Deacon, an academic-looking man with black glasses and a hook nose. Delgado represented the Vatican, although Berg had accompanied him on a couple of occasions. The meetings, held every three months or so, had become a very useful way for Delgado to communicate the pope’s views to the White House.
Today, however, the agenda was going to be somewhat different.
Delgado had been instructed by Pope Julius VI to communicate two key pieces of highly confidential, and rather controversial, information to the president.
The first, which Berg knew would be controversial, was that the Vatican was intending very shortly to officially recognize, and sign a treaty with, the State of Palestine, the mortal enemy of the US’s ally Israel.
This was guaranteed to go down extremely badly with President Ferguson but far worse with Israel, which had fought long and hard over the years against such recognition. The Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Katz, was due to be officially informed later that day.
The second piece of information, designed to directly offset the impact of the first and to soften the blow for both the Israelis and the Americans, was that the Vatican was to open its Secret Archive and release its hugely controversial papers relating to the Second World War. These papers would shed light on the failure of Pius XII, who was pope from 1939 to 1958, to speak out against the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews by Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Nor did he speak out against Hitler’s invasion of Poland, a strongly Catholic country, or other European states. It was something for which Pius had been widely condemned ever since.
Because Delgado had clearly indicated to Deacon exactly how contentious the agenda for their meeting would be, the list of attendees on the White House side had been expanded at a very senior level.
The secretary of state, Paul Farrar, was now due to attend, along with one of his aides. Because of the sensitivities surrounding the Israelis and Palestinians and the potential for a backlash against the Vatican, Delgado had also requested that someone senior from the Central Intelligence Agency be there. As a result, the CIA’s deputy director for operations, Vic Walter, had been added to the list.
However, there was a third piece of information the four men wanted to disclose to and discuss with the officials at the White House. It was not something directed by the pope, but rather a somewhat incendiary issue that had caused them increasing alarm over recent months after it came to light. In fact, Berg had been the one who first became aware of it.
The details of the disclosure, which would also come as a bombshell, were recorded in documents tucked inside Berg’s leather case, which he now placed on the car floor between his feet.
Berg fastened his seat belt and settled back for the drive to the White House, about two and a half miles to the southeast. The driver pushed down on the accelerator, and the car slipped quietly forward around the driveway, separated from the street only by a low fence of black metal railings and a row of ancient American linden trees, which Berg had discovered were more than a hundred years old.
The electric gates, which matched the fence, were already open, and very quickly, the car was heading south on Massachusetts Avenue NW toward the city center.
The street, with two lanes in each direction, was quiet for a change, with few other vehicles. They headed swiftly past the sprawling redbrick British embassy complex on the right, and the smaller but more elegant South African embassy on the left, with its outside statue of Nelson Mandela giving a clenched fist salute.
Then, as they passed the old Iranian embassy and approached the junction with 30th Street NW on the left, the lights at a crosswalk flicked to red. The BMW rolled to a gentle halt in the right lane, just a long stone’s throw from the Italian embassy to the right.
A couple, hand in hand, stepped off the sidewalk and headed across, while the driver next to Berg tipped his head back against the headrest in a moment of relaxation.
Berg heard a guttural roar from a motorcycle as it pulled up next to the BMW in the left lane.
He glanced sideways at the bike, a powerful-looking silver Yamaha. The rider and passenger wore black leather and black helmets with gray tinted visors. Both were staring hard at the BMW and its occupants. Berg wasn’t surprised. He had gotten used to such attention whenever he appeared in public in his red cassock and skullcap.
As he watched, the passenger unzipped his jacket and put his hand inside, his head still turned toward the car. The man took out a large handgun, and Berg’s stomach flipped over.
A jolt of electricity shot right through him as the next couple of seconds unfolded in what felt like slow motion.
The man pointed the gun at the rear window of the BMW and, without hesitating, rapidly fired one shot, then another, and another, and another, and another.
The window glass exploded, and splatters of blood spurted all over the inside of the car, specking the windshield, the seats, and everything else with splashes of red, perfectly matching the color of the cardinals’ cassocks.
Berg felt the urge to scream, but the noise stuck in his throat and he couldn’t, his eyes fixed on the gunman.
Then the gunman turned his head toward the front of the car.
Berg knew that behind his visor, he was staring straight at him.
Instinctively, he tried to duck his head as low as he could and to get his body down. But the sudden movement tightened the seat belt across his chest.
It locked rigid.
Berg turned his head back to the window just as the gunman pulled the trigger.
There was another tremendous bang, a flash, and the glass next to his head erupted. Then came darkness.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
The main conference room in the White House Situation Room center was deathly quiet.
Vic Walter glanced around the long, polished wooden table. The men present were staring at a large monitor screen on the wall where the Washington, DC, police chief, Stuart Cobb, was describing what he knew so far of the horrific multiple murder that had taken place a couple of hours earlier on Massachusetts Avenue NW.
Over a secure video conference link, Cobb told them how the hit had lasted only a few seconds. It had involved two persons on a motorcycle, one of whom had fired a series of powerful 10mm Auto rounds through the windows of the clergymen’s car. Two cartridges had been recovered from inside the vehicle, and ballistic tests were already underway to identify the gun used to fire them.
Three cardinals from Galveston-Houston, Chicago, and Detroit, an archbishop who was the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio in the United States, and their driver had all been killed instantly by head shots. It was a highly professional assassination.
There had been a handful of witnesses in other cars and on foot, but based on the initial interviews, there was little information of use. The gunman and his partner had roared off quickly and had so far not been traced. Nobody appeared to have taken note of the bike’s license number.
There was a long pause when Cobb finished speaking.
The secretary of state, Paul Farrar, was ashen-faced, his arms tightly folded. He sat in the black leather chair normally occupied by the president, at the head of the table beneath the presidential seal on the wall behind him. To Farrar’s right was the tall, lank-haired figure of Phil Anstee, the national security advisor who had not been scheduled to attend their original meeting but had since been called to the building.
Another monitor on the opposite wall was tuned to one of the rolling TV news channels and silently showed a reporter standing farther down Massachusetts Avenue NW with an array of emergency vehicles, their blue and red lights flashing, acting as the backdrop for his report. The media juggernaut was already gearing itself up. The evening news bulletins and the next morning’s headlines would be messy, that was for certain. CNN, Fox, and other major news channels were already leading with the story.
Vic had a sick feeling at the base of his stomach. The impact of the assassinations on all the group had been so much greater given that the clergymen had been on their way to the White House to meet them.
When they failed to arrive on time, someone in the Situation Room had put a call through to the nunciature building, where an official then tried to call the cardinals’ cell phones, only to get no response. It was then obvious that something was seriously wrong.
A few minutes later, an urgent call had come in to the Situation Room from the police department with news of the disaster.
“I’m assuming we have no idea why this happened,” Vic said.
“The reason why is an issue for you, Vic, and for Paul,” Cobb said, staring straight into his camera. His face appeared more lined and his neatly parted hair grayer than they had when Vic had last seen him. “It makes sense for us to focus on tracking down the killers and collecting the evidence right now, not figure out why they were there. We’ve sealed the area. CSI is there, and we’re well underway with full interviews of the few witnesses. The Feds are fully involved now, as you’d expect.”
All agencies involved had immediately categorized the killings as a terrorist incident, which meant the FBI would work alongside the DC police on the case.
Vic turned to Charles Deacon and raised his eyebrows. “Were the clergymen going to tell us anything that might have triggered this?”
Deacon, who had beads of sweat visible on his forehead despite the cool temperature in the room, shrugged. “God knows. No pun intended.”
“Listen, I’ve told you all I know,” Deacon said. “Delgado hinted that Palestine and Israel would be on the agenda, but said I wasn’t to put that down on paper. My guess is that the Vatican is about to announce it is recognizing the State of Palestine, although we’ve had no previous sign of that. The Israel bit was likely to involve more detail around the planned opening of the Secret Archive and the Nazi documents—we’re in the loop on that one. That was it.”
Deacon adjusted his glasses and pursed his lips. “Of course, I don’t need to remind you all that the president is due to visit the Vatican in less than three weeks—Monday the eleventh—followed by meetings with the Italian prime minister. He has an audience with the pope, and the plan is that they will jointly announce the initiative on the Secret Archive—in public, in St. Peter’s Square. The president is not eager to be associated with the recognition of Palestine, although he can see the argument. But the Secret Archive is a different matter. He sees plenty of upsides there among the Jewish lobby, and so he’s on board with it. However, these killings are going to provide an awful backdrop for that visit.”
The president’s adviser caught Vic’s eye and raised his eyebrows. Vic, who was only too well aware of President Ferguson’s impending visit, said nothing but slowly shook his head to convey his dismay.
Farrar clasped his hands behind his head. “I’ll speak to the Vatican and see if they can shed any more light on it,” he said. “The Secret Service team working at the Vatican ahead of the visit there might also pick up some information.”
Vic knew that a Secret Service team had traveled to the Vatican to put security arrangements and protocols in place ahead of President Ferguson’s visit.
Farrar turned to Cobb on the monitor screen. “Do you have any CCTV of the incident, Stuart? And what do the Feds think?”
Farrar had only returned to work the previous week following a spell in the hospital after being badly injured in a terrorist attack on an offshore gas platform he had been visiting in Israel. Now this. Vic knew it was the last thing the secretary of state needed.
“We’re gathering video from surveillance cameras,” Cobb said. “The team is already going through what we have so far. We might get the bike license plate from the video. And I’m waiting to get a proper view from the Feds. I have a call arranged with Bonfield when we’re done here.”
Robert Bonfield was the FBI’s director, responsible for national security and intelligence gathering at the domestic level.
Farrar exhaled heavily. “I’m trying to brace myself for what’s coming. Are we talking isolated Islamic fundamentalists? Is it something like the Boston Marathon attack, some lone individuals? Or is it driven by one of the bigger organizations?”
There had been a series of isolated attacks by Muslim extremists in various parts of the United States over recent years, all carried out by individuals working on their own initiative rather than as part of some larger coordinated master plan. Apart from the Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three and injured hundreds, Vic recalled a hatchet attack on policemen on a New York subway and shootings at two military bases in Chattanooga, Tennessee, among many others.
“We’ve had nothing on our radar about a coordinated attack,” Vic said. “Let’s wait and hear from Bonfield, but as far as I know from my regular conversations with him, the Feds haven’t either. I would have bet it’s another isolated incident if it weren’t for the fact that those guys were on their way to the White House to discuss some highly sensitive issues with us. It might just be coincidence, but that’s unlikely. The clue is in the timing. My guess would be it’s based on inside information. A leak.”
Farrar pressed his lips together. “This is a big step too far, though. We are going to be pummeled by the media and the Republicans over this. Social media will go berserk. If we can’t keep our church leaders safe, who can feel safe?”
Vic knew the secretary of state was correct. The climate of fear amid the general population of the United States had risen markedly with each successive attack. With a presidential election on the horizon, President Ferguson had better brace himself for an onslaught from his Republican opponents, led by their candidate for the White House, Nicholas McAllister, all of whom had law and order at the top of their agendas. Without a doubt, they would make huge political capital out of this.
Vic and his boss, the Director of the CIA Arthur Veltman, did their level best to stay out of politics and just do their job. But it wasn’t always that easy, because the politicians of both major parties often crossed the line by trying to persuade their various intelligence and security agencies to take certain actions that were bound to yield political benefits.
But in this case, there was no such issue. The killers had to be caught. As soon as the meeting was over, Vic planned to get on the phone with Bonfield.
Surely it was impossible that two assassins could carry out the cold-blooded murder of four high-ranking Vatican churchmen and a driver in the middle of the nation’s capital and just disappear without a trace. They’d find them.
* * *
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
The moon was glinting through Vic Walter’s seventh-floor office window and the digital clock on the wall read 11:19 p.m. when he finally turned off his computer and his desk lamp and pulled on his jacket.
After returning to the CIA’s headquarters building at Langley, the rest of the day had been predictably chaotic. An endless stream of calls, video conferences, and internal meetings, all of them concerning the assassinations earlier, had left him no time for dinner. Instead, the remains of a chicken sandwich lay on a plate on his new oak desk, next to a cold, half-drunk cup of coffee.
As he expected, the evening news bulletins led with a mixture of gory details, shots of emergency vehicles and crime scene vans, and scathing criticism of the United States’ security and intelligence services for allowing such a deadly attack to take place in the nation’s capital with no warning.
He walked out the door and was about to lock it behind him when his cell phone rang yet again. He pulled it out of his pocket. It was Robert Bonfield. He pressed the green button.
“Are you still in the office, Vic?” Bonfield said without preamble.
Vic paused. “Do you have any idea what time it is? I was about to leave, finally.”
“We’re in for an all-nighter here. I’ve just come off a long call with Stuart Cobb. They’re handing most of this over to us now. Are you sitting down?”
“I’ve just shut my office door.”
“Turn around. Best take a seat. Switch your PC back on. I need you to look at a video, and there’s something in it you won’t like.”
Vic swore out loud but did as instructed. He returned to his desk, flicked on his PC, logged in, and turned on the desk lamp, which left him illuminated by an eerie half circle of light in the gloomy interior.
A couple of minutes later, he was hunched over his monitor screen as he loaded a short segment of footage from a police surveillance camera that Bonfield had sent to his secure download site.
He hit play.
The somewhat grainy footage showed a black BMW sedan approaching traffic lights on Massachusetts Avenue NW and then braking to a halt as the traffic light turned red.
A couple, hand in hand, were crossing the street.
A few seconds later, a silver motorcycle carrying two people dressed in black leather came to a halt in the lane next to the BMW.
The passenger, partially concealed from the camera by the rider, unzipped his jacket and removed a handgun, which he then immediately used to pepper the BMW next to him, firing multiple shots first through the rear windows, then the front.
The shooter then got off the bike, walked to the front passenger door of the BMW, bent down, and peered in. Next, he opened the door and took out what looked like a brown leather document case.
He then shut the door, calmly walked back to the bike, climbed back on, and tucked the document case inside his jacket.
The motorcycle then roared off through the traffic lights, which were still red.
The brief video clip ended at that point.
“Shit,” Vic said. He leaned back in his chair, feeling stunned. It was one of the ugliest assassinations he had seen in his entire CIA career, dating back to the 1980s, and he had witnessed a number. “What was in that case? Documents for the meeting, presumably.”
“Good question,” Bonfield said. “Police have been trying to trace the bike, but it had false plates. Stuart’s guys followed it via CCTV for another half mile or so to Sheridan Circle Park, but it turned off there, and we lost it in the back streets north of Dupont Circle. It probably stopped somewhere prearranged so they could change the plates again and disappear. Police have alerts out for them, but no sign of them so far.”
Vic sat silent for a moment, thinking, his tiredness forgotten. “You said you were going to tell me something I wouldn’t like.”
“It was the manner in which this was carried out. Very clinical and professional. Certainly different from your usual hit. Did the style ring any bells?”
“A professional hit is a professional hit. So not especially.”
“All right. Take another look at that video. Go to the bit where the gunman on the bike takes out his weapon, and play it in slow motion. Tell me what you see.”
Vic sighed. Using his mouse, he pushed the slider on the video clip slowly back to the point where the motorcycle pulled up next to the BMW. Then he selected slow motion and clicked the play button.
“I’m seeing him take out his gun and blitz the hell out of the car, Robert. That’s all.”
“Play it again. This time, don’t look at the gun. Concentrate on the other side of the bike, farthest away from the BMW.”
Vic did as instructed.
“I see what looks like a small piece of paper fall to the ground next to the bike,” he said. “Is that what I’m looking for?”
“Indeed. The CSI guys spotted it first. They also found it. White on one side, brown on the other. There was no wind this afternoon, and it was still there.”
“The brown side had a picture of a cow on it and a kind of multicolored flower logo.”
Vic nearly growled in frustration. “Cut the crap, Robert. Get to the point. I’m tired.”
“One of the techs recognized it,” Bonfield said. “It was part of a chocolate bar wrapper. Guess where from?”
Vic remained stubbornly silent.
“Parra chocolate. Often called ‘cow chocolate’ because of the logo. Made by a company called Strauss.”
Vic let out a long breath. “Holy shit.”
Thursday, June 23, 2016
“If those Mossad bastards have done this, I’ll fly to Jerusalem myself, personally pin that damned prime minister of theirs up against the Wailing Wall, and give him a kicking he won’t forget,” President Ferguson said.
An image flickered across Vic’s mind of President Ferguson’s imposing six-foot two-inch frame shoving the diminutive figure of Prime Minister Yitzhak Katz backward against the ancient stone structure of Jerusalem’s Western Wall and handing out a beating.
Vic blinked as the president rose from his chair and did a lap of the Oval Office, both hands on his hips, his face as black as a thunderstorm. “Why the hell would they do this?”
It was quarter past eight in the morning, and Vic, the CIA Director Arthur Veltman, and Robert Bonfield had just finished giving their update to the president on events of the previous day. The disclosure about the piece of evidence that appeared to link the killings to the Israelis had been the final straw for Ferguson.
“We don’t know they did it, sir,” Veltman said. “But if they did, then the upcoming Vatican announcement about Palestine might have something to do with it. We know how that would go down in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”
“No, Arthur—I don’t like the pope recognizing Palestine either,” Ferguson snapped. “In fact, I detest the idea. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to gun down a group of cardinals on Massachusetts Avenue, does it?”
“Of course not, sir,” Veltman responded, sticking his barrel chest out. “Personally, I can’t see the Mossad going down this route.” He glanced sideways at Vic, who could see his boss was looking for some reinforcing comments.
“Agreed,” Vic said, sitting up straight. “I really don’t believe they would. If there’s any Israeli involvement, it’s most likely to be a lone operator. Some kind of hawkish, right-wing extremist who has a special reason for hating the idea of recognition of a Palestinian state.” He stifled a yawn as he spoke. He’d only managed about three hours’ sleep.
“I also can’t see it,” Bonfield added. “But . . . ” He let his voice trail away.
“But what?” the president demanded. “This is bad, but we all know they’ve done far worse.”
The president continued. “Are you really ruling the Mossad out? Are you saying they’re not capable of assassinating those clergy and stealing a document case from a dead man’s hands?”
Nobody wanted to answer that question, but eventually Bonfield leaned forward. “We all know the only certainty in our business is uncertainty. There must be an explanation for that chocolate bar wrapper. We have forensics on it now. They’ll do a thorough analysis, see what they can get off it. Prints, DNA, whatever.”
“That would be a start,” Ferguson said. “I need to know. And it’s your job to find out. I can’t go and ask Katz myself, that’s for sure.”
The president picked up a sheaf of newspapers from his desk and walked back to the twin sofas where his three intelligence chiefs were sitting. Veltman and Vic were on one sofa and Bonfield on the other. The president threw the newspapers on the coffee table between them.
“Look at those,” Ferguson said. “We’ve only got four months until the election. If this isn’t resolved quickly, I’m dead.”
He sat in one of the two armchairs that faced the sofas, the ornate white marble mantelpiece that dominated the northern end of his office looming above his head, topped by a large portrait of George Washington.
He was correct about the election, Vic thought to himself. The headlines were almost universally condemning of the government’s grip on the security situation. But at the same time, he felt irritated by the president’s apparent thought that his intelligence services should win the election for him. It happened too frequently for his liking and was definitely unhealthy.
“Can’t you go and talk to your friends in the Mossad?” Ferguson asked. He flicked a hand across his neatly trimmed iron-gray hair, eyeballing Vic as he did so.
Vic creased his brow. “If you mean Avi Shiloah, I’m in a similar situation to you and Prime Minister Katz, Mr. President. It’s not a question I can ask with any expectation of getting a proper answer. Whether they’ve done it or not, he’s certain to say it’s not them with exactly the same degree of conviction. And he’s a very good poker player, so we’ll never know the truth.”
Avi Shiloah was the newly appointed ramsad, or head of the Mossad. Previously a deputy director, he had been elevated to the top job less than three months ago after his predecessor, Eli Elazar, had been killed by the same drone attack on an Israeli offshore gas platform that killed the Israeli foreign minister Moshe Cohen and badly injured Paul Farrar. They had all been on an official visit when the attack took place.
Shiloah had been a long-standing friend of Vic’s. The two men knew each other from the late 1980s in Islamabad and Afghanistan, when they, Jayne Robinson, and Joe Johnson had first become acquainted as they operated for their respective services to help the Afghan mujahideen against the occupying Soviet forces.
Vic and Shiloah had remained friends, but as they rose up the ladders of their services, politics had gotten in the way, as had the tendency for both the CIA and the Mossad to mount surveillance operations on each other’s officers in both countries. There had been wiretaps, illegal room searches, and bugs planted on both sides. It had led to a few tough conversations over the years and, as a result, a certain cooling of relations.
Bonfield’s phone pinged loudly in his pocket.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said to the president. “I’ve been waiting for an update on a few things relating to this issue. Do you mind?”
The president indicated his assent with a wave of his hand.
Bonfield took his phone out and scrutinized the screen, then suddenly sat upright and cleared his throat. He looked directly at Veltman first, then Vic.
“You’re not going to like this, in view of the conversation we’ve just had,” Bonfield said.
“Go on,” Veltman said. He pushed his wire-framed glasses back up his nose, giving him a donnish look that contrasted with his muscular chest.
“Customs and Border Protection has just reported back. They’ve pinpointed two Israeli men who flew separately but on the same flight into Dulles on Saturday on El Al and who flew back to Tel Aviv last night. Their passports appeared clean, but we’ll check further. Interestingly, there were no other pairs of men flying in and out in the window we’re interested in.”
“Israelis do tend to fly to and from DC on El Al, Robert,” Veltman said in a dry tone.
Bonfield ignored him, looked at the president, and shrugged. “Doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but on the other hand . . .”
Ferguson stroked his chin. “It might. Get them checked out.”
“We’ll get Tel Aviv station onto it too,” Veltman said. “There is one other thing. Our research people reminded me that Cardinal Brennan caused something of a stir in Chicago a couple of years ago when he accused the Jews of trying to divert attention away from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by influencing the media to focus on sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Might not be relevant to this incident, but we can’t rule out a link.”
“Is that right?” Ferguson asked. Veltman nodded.
The president switched his gaze between Veltman and Vic. “Listen, I hear what you’re saying about Avi Shiloah, but I would still like you two to touch base with him, check him out. You’re closest to him, despite the issues I know you’ve had. I don’t care how you do it. Use a back channel if you have to. But I want to know what the vibe is like in Tel Aviv about the Vatican and the Palestinian recognition issue, if nothing else at this stage. That might give us something of a steer as to whether we’re on track. And I need it done well before my visit to Rome.”
“Yes, sir,” Veltman said. “We’ll get on it.”
Vic was struck by how massive a blow it would be if it turned out it was the Israelis who’d assassinated the clergymen. Was this how they were going to repay the Agency after the hugely complex and dangerous work recently done by Jayne Robinson to track down the plotters who blew up the Israelis’ gas platform?
“And I also want to know the view from the Vatican,” Ferguson went on. “Have they had threats, direct or implicit, from the Israelis about them recognizing the Palestinian state?”
“We’ve already had a few conversations about that, and so has Paul’s team at the State Department,” Vic said. “The Vatican is completely in the dark, so they tell us.”
“Has the Secret Service team in Rome picked up any useful information?” Ferguson asked.
“No, nothing,” Bonfield said.
“Find another way of getting the information, then,” the president said. “Somebody must know something. These things don’t happen without a good reason, usually.”
The president stood up and returned to his desk, signaling that the meeting was over.
“We’ll get it done, sir,” Veltman said.
Like many politicians, Ferguson had a knack for speaking the blindingly obvious, but making it sound as though he was coming up with a completely fresh idea that nobody else had ever thought of.
But there was one suggestion the president had casually thrown out that had given Vic an idea—that of a backchannel to Avi Shiloah.
End of Sample.
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