The man in the black suit laughed. “No, but it’ll show you the word of God.”
“Ah,” he said, pretending only just now to understand. “To die for a religion is easier than to live it absolutely.” That was Borges.
It suddenly dawned on the Jehovah’s Witness missionary that he was being toyed with. “Huh?”
“I’m going to make things easier on you. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
He walked away, feeling the eyes of the Jehovah’s Witness on his back for a few seconds. Then the man turned away, passing out more of his pamphlets. His stack contained roughly forty pamphlets, and the traveler estimated quickly that it would take him another fifteen minutes to pass out those pamphlets.
The train exploded ten minutes later. The traveler had just gotten into a taxicab and was driving away when the sound of the explosion roared out of the entrance to Union Station.
It was not a big explosion, and did not cause extensive damage. A truly large explosion would have brought attention that the traveler did not want, so this one was made to look like an explosion of diesel fuel, which was combustible at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It was not, as the traveler had already reminded himself, big enough to cause extensive damage. But it was big enough to stop the train service at Union Station which, at that particular time of day, would cause a ripple affect, disrupting the service of Los Angeles’s Metro transit system, as well as train service in Santa Barbara and San Diego, and, to a lesser extent, delaying train service as far away as Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Chicago, Illinois. The family with the Coach luggage would not be injured but, in some small way, their lives would be changed forever by the ripple effect of his actions. He smiled happily.
“Where you headed?” the taxi driver asked.
“Staples Center,” he said.
“Got it. I don’t wanna lose a fare, but you know you coulda taken the Metro right from Union Station. Drops you off right at Staples.”
The traveler glanced back. Wisps of smoke drifted up out of the Union Station building, barely visible in the streetlights, and he could already hear sirens. “I think they’re having trouble with the trains.”
The drive was a short one, directly across the downtown area of Los Angeles, the only place in the suburban sprawl that simulated the “downtown” feel of New York or Chicago, with concrete canyons formed by skyscrapers looming over streets. Oddly enough, these streets were cast almost completely in shadow during the day. At night they were bright with light pouring out from the buildings. A quick run down one of these canyons and the taxi emerged on the south side of downtown, where the Los Angeles Convention Center and Staples Center together covered whole acres of land.
The taxi pulled to a stop in front of the Staples Center and the traveler got out, paid, and walked toward the north side of the building. There were small crowds moving in and around the center for some event or concert that was of no consequence to the traveler.
He spotted Francis Aguillar before Aguillar saw him. This was to be expected, because the traveler changed his appearance quite often. Aguillar, too, had changed his appearance, but the traveler looked past the new van dyke and the longer hair. Aguillar’s posture was the same, his habit of standing with the weight on his left leg was still obvious, and the tilt of his chin was the same.
“Francis,” he said.
“Oh!” Aguillar said. “You shaved your head. Bald suits you. Are you wearing contacts?”
Zapata nodded. “I have always envied the green eyes of others. And in public, I am Charles Ossipon. Remember that technology has made the dreams of the ancients come true.”
Aguillar nodded, though Zapata could see from his face that he did not understand. To Zapata, the comment was quite clear. Ancient shamans and wizards believed that names held power: to know the name of a thing gave one power over the thing itself. Modern technology turned the shaman’s fantasy into the police officer’s reality. A single name, entered into the right database, laid a man naked before the powers that be.
“Everything you asked for is ready,” Aguillar said.
“Good. We have a little time. Let’s get something to eat.”
But instead of walking, he stopped as he had done in the train station, and looked around. In his mind’s eye he saw this spot, then suddenly his vision pulled back from it, expanding to encompass this whole city, and then the state, and then the United States. Every point within the scope of his vision was connected like the stops on a train station map. All interconnected, all interdependent. Choose the right spot, identify the nexus at just the right place, well, then one bomb, even a small bomb, could affect the lives of millions. By this time tomorrow, he would have done just that.
He smiled happily.
4. THE FOLLOWING TAKES PLACE BETWEEN THE HOURS OF 11 P.M. AND 12 A.M. PACIFIC STANDARD TIME
The building was large, constructed right on the main thoroughfare of Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles, and because it was so obvious it was completely and utterly anonymous. A person might drive by that building five days a week for ten years and never notice it. Most of the building was owned by Barrington Suites, an executive rental company that specialized in leasing office space to small businesses, who could use a common receptionist, common conference rooms, copy rooms, and the like. According to the data Jamey Farrell and her people had gathered, there were more than thirty small businesses renting executive suites from Barrington in that building.
One of those small businesses was called Mataram Imports, owned by a Riduan Bashir, a naturalized citizen of Indonesian origin.
Tony Almeida reached Bashir’s office door a minute after eleven. He didn’t see the urgency in this investigation, but Chapelle had insisted. He had the license plates for two cars registered in Bashir’s name and one was in the parking lot, so he expected to find the man at work. The door itself was not welcoming — a solid wood door, locked, with a small sign reading MATARAM IMPORTS on the wall beside it, hung over a doorbell. Tony pushed the bell. He heard nothing, but a moment later the door clicked and buzzed.
Almeida pushed the door open. The office inside was humble — a small reception area that opened onto an equally small office strewn with papers. Through the opening, Tony saw a wall map and a large dry erase board with a hand-drawn calendar grid, covered in notations.
Riduan Bashir was getting up from his desk and walking toward Tony, his face open and unsuspecting, his manner unguarded.
“Yes, may I help you?” the man asked. His English was musical, though as he spoke further Tony found his speech gently clipped with the uninspirated “K,” “T,” and “P” of the Malay accent.
“Tony Almeida,” he said, handing over a card similar to the one Chris Henderson had used at UCLA. “I just have a few questions for you.”
The official seal on the business card put Bashir immediately on edge. Tony noted this, but reached no conclusions. He was the government, and the government always put people on edge.
“You work late, Mr. Bashir. I tried your home and they said you were here.”
“I am at the mercy of Indonesian time, sometimes. Am I in some sort of trouble?” Bashir asked. Like most Indonesians, he was dark-skinned, and Tony could not tell if he had blushed or lost color. But he was definitely nervous.
“No, sir,” Tony said, falling easily into a spiel meant to put the subject at ease. “This is fairly routine. I’m sure you know that we’re always following up on information we get from all kinds of sources. Most of the leads go nowhere, and most of the people we question are just innocent bystanders like you. But we have to be thorough because that’s what we’re paid for.”