The phrase “innocent bystanders like you” acted like a tonic, washing tension from Bashir’s body. “Well, of course. Would you like to sit down?” He indicated his office.
“Why not here?” Tony pointed to the small couch and visitor’s chair in the reception area. Bashir would feel less secure if he wasn’t sitting behind his desk.
They sat, and as soon as Bashir was settled, Tony said easily, “Are you familiar with Jemaah Islamiya?”
Bang. The question was like a cannon shot. It was a hurry-up version of a classic interrogation technique: make the suspect feel like he is not the suspect, then surprise him with a hard question.
This one certainly threw Bashir off-balance. “Jemaah.? Yes, well, of course. From the news.”
“Then you know Jemaah Islamiyah is a terrorist group operating in Indonesia, and that they were responsible for that bombing in Bali that killed 202 people and injured hundreds more? They also claimed responsibility for the truck bomb that blew up a Marriott.”
Bashir shook his head sadly. “I remember the newspaper. Not just the Times here. I get several papers shipped over from Indonesia. It was terrible.”
Tony sifted through the papers he had brought with him. He only had one pertinent question, but he wanted Bashir to think he had reams of information. “Do you recall making a trip to Jakarta in May of 2002?”
Bashir leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, clearly anxious, but clearly trying to look helpful. “I travel home once a year, and sometimes twice. I don’t remember the dates exactly, but May sounds correct.”
“Business or pleasure?”
“Both, of course.”
“Sure. While you were there, you met with Khalid Ismahuddin, a member of Jemaah Islamiyah.”
Bashir uncrossed and recrossed his legs. “Is that a
“Well, yes, I met with Ismahuddin. But not because of Jemaah Islamiyah. He runs a shipping business out of Jakarta and I was looking for lower prices for my own merchandise.”
“Hmm,” Tony said as though dissatisfied, but he was only fishing. Bashir’s statement jibed with the information he already had. Ismahuddin was on watch lists at CTU and the CIA, but he wasn’t considered a major player. He really did run a legitimate shipping business, and was only on CTU’s radar because he donated some of his profit to radical Islamists in the Indonesian archipelago.
Bashir shifted again, literally and figuratively. “Look, Mr. Almeida, I don’t know if I’m a suspect in any of this, but I assure you I have nothing to do with those people. I think everyone should consider Islam, even you, but I have no interest in blowing people up. I do not know how to make a bomb and I certainly would not drive an exploding van into a hotel. Ismahuddin offered me competitive prices for my business so I met with him. I would do business with him tomorrow if it gave me a chance to expand.” He waved his arm around the tiny office. “As you can see, I can use all the help I can get.”
Tony nodded, closed his folder, and stood up. “I understand, Mr. Bashir. We’re aware that Ismahuddin’s business is legitimate, even if his intentions aren’t always good. Like I said, we just have to be thorough.”
He offered his hand, which Bashir accepted with relief and genuine warmth.
“I appreciate your efforts to keep people safe,” Bashir said, opening the door and ushering him out.
As the door shut behind him, Tony’s smile fell away.
“Jamey, it’s Tony. Can you do a quick search for me?”
“What I’m here for. What do you need?”
“Look at that Marriott bombing in Jakarta from a
while back. The local police report and the Indonesian government’s published investigation. Also whatever briefs the CIA put out to us and anyone at other intelligence agencies.”
Jamey was already at her computer, her fingers bouncing over the keyboard. “Okay, but what am I looking for?”
“If I remember it right, the Indonesians put a plant in that story?”
Jamey buzzed through several reports in her data
base before coming back on the line. “Yes,” she said finally. “It wasn’t much, though, because so much of it was public. But the official report said that the bomb was delivered by a truck that exploded in the parking lot.”
“Did the news media pick that up?”
“Hold on.” Again, there was a pause. “I’d have to take more time to give you a comprehensive answer, but most of the outlets reported the story as is.”
“When the vehicle was really a—” “A van,” she finished for him.
His real name, if he had been willing to admit it to anyone, was Jorge Rafael Marquez, and he was a genius. This wasn’t a boast. He had known it from an early age as surely as one knew one’s gender. The same way a little boy knows he is different from a little girl, Jorge knew he was different from all the children around him, different even from the adults. In the little school in the Chiapas province of Mexico where he grew up, when the teacher was trying to teach addition to the others, he was already mapping out multiplication tables, and without knowing its name, he used algebra and calculus to help his father map out his soybean farm to produce its maximum yield.
He read, and anything he wished to commit to memory, he remembered forever. When his uncle showed him a guitar, he had memorized the chords in a single day, and though he himself denied that he had mastered the art of music, the science and organization of music he understood with ease.
Because the real gift of Jorge Rafael Marquez was in patterns. He recognized them easily, and could project them forward to their logical ends based on any changes he was presented. He still remembered the day he was handed a Rubik’s Cube, battered, some of the cubes chipped. It was a gift from an older cousin who had made the long migration to El Norte and come back after several years. In America, he had said, there were lots of geniuses, and all of them could solve this puzzle.
Rafael, twelve years old, had stared at the cube for a moment without touching it. His cousin laughed, thinking he was intimidated. His father patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, Rafael,” he had said with a laugh. “If your gift helps me farm, it’s enough for me!”
But Rafael hadn’t been intimidated. He had been spinning the cube in his mind. In the few seconds of his cousin’s laugher he had identified three different methods of solving the puzzle. Finally he picked it up, his hands spinning the cube faster than his cousin’s eyes could follow. He put it down, each side a solid color, thirty-seven seconds later.
The next day he had started out for America.
These days he left the name of Marquez far behind, and his associates knew him as Zapata. He had come to the United States on this trip under the name of Ossipon, guessing correctly that no one who heard the name would know or recall the name of the anarchist in one of Joseph Conrad’s books.
Zapata and Aguillar walked freely into the Staples Center — the concert, whatever it was, was nearly over. No one would bother entering the event now. Zapata had only a small bag with him. He took a camera out of the bag and handed it to Aguillar. “Put this around your neck.”
They walked around the wide promenade that ringed the actual center, passing rows of concession stands, upscale bars, and kiosks that sold food and souvenirs to a few people, all of whom seemed eager to get back into the concert. Zapata ignored them all. At one of the kiosks, Zapata stopped near a large pot that held a small tree. He glanced around to make sure no one was looking, then dug into the plant, placed a small package there, and covered it with soil.