Steven Lowery sat at his make-shift desk with the interview transcripts from earlier that day. The three soldiers were interviewed—interrogated—separately in order to make sure that their stories didn’t conflict. There were the obvious lapses of course: one said blue, the other saw green, one noticed a mustache on one of the bombers, the other didn’t remember any facial hair. It was a foregone conclusion that eye witness accounts were about as trustworthy as a house of cards in a hurricane. People were even known to invent things or free-associate events to fit what they believed they witnessed. In fact, he remembered reading a report about a memory manipulation experiment conducted on volunteers where they gathered a bunch of people in a room and showed them a cartoon. The cartoon didn’t have Bugs Bunny in it, but there was a cardboard cutout of him in the room. Later the subjects almost all reported remembering seeing the rabbit in the cartoon. Well, after years of being in the FBI and seeing just how many bad guys got sent to jail on the flimsiest eye witness accounts—some of whom were later released, exonerated by DNA evidence—he was about as ready to take the word of a witness as he was the word of a fortune teller. No, the reason why he’d conducted the interviews was really quite simple. He wanted to make sure that the soliders weren’t complicit in the bombing. It’s easier to catch someone in a lie than it is to get them to remember an event accurately. The interviews were conducted under the guise of friendly information gathering. The better to reconstruct events they’d told them. Although after they’d answered the same question four times, at least one of them became suspicious that he was being interrogated and not simply questioned. After all, that was one way to catch someone in a lie. Ask them a bunch of questions and every so often throw in a question they’d already answered but word it a little differently. When someone is lying they have to keep track of all of their lies. If you deny them the opportunity to think and force them to respond, they’ll more often than not slip up.
He put the transcripts down and rubbed his eyes. At least he’d had a chance to finally shower. A lot had gone on that day and all in all things were going as they should. Not too long after they’d completed the interviews, the GlobemasterIII had touched down with their mobile lab. With its arrival, the forensics team was able to begin analysing the evidence they’d gathered. He was also glad to see that the armed forces were cooperating. All too often, operations like these turned into turf wars. He was happy that Banion was able to step aside and let the FBI handle the investigation. He didn’t seem like the type to waste his time with unnecessary squables. He’d been very helpful in helping the Feds set up shop on what was actually his turf, jurisdictional laws notwithstanding.
“Uh sir,” it was Saunders from Forensics. He was standing in the doorway with a folder in his hand looking like he didn’t want to be bothering his superior, but at the same time he had the eager look on his face like he had something important to report.
“Yeah Saunders, what you have?” Lowery asked while waving him in.
“Well, sir, we managed to find the VIN number from the axle. It was blown clear and thrown about a block up the street. The van, it was a van, was originally from Damascus,” Saunders said.
“How did it get here? Dealer? Or was it driven in just for the bombing?” Lowery had been investigating crimes for years and his supervisory role in this case couldn’t take the detective out of him.
“Yes sir, we’re on it. We’re having a little trouble with the records sir since Syria isn’t a friendly country and Iraq’s infrastructure is still rebuilding. They’d gotten so used to the—relative—efficiency of the US records system that they’d allowed themselves to forget that retrieving the same information from paper records was a lot longer and definitely a lot more tedious.
“What about NSA? Don’t they routinely archive information like that?” Lowery was pulling out all the stops. After all, this was a bombing on their countries ambassador, and so why shouldn’t the resources of the entire country be brought to bear on this task? “Get on the phone to Fort Meade and tell them we need an assist on this one. You can have them contact me if there’s any trouble.”
“Yes sir,” Saunders said and quickly left the room leaving the report on Lowery’s desk.
That’s what the bad guys always failed to realize and what was a strength of the Bureau: everything left a paper trail in one form or another. It was just a matter of knowing where to look. Once you had enough of the pieces of paper uncovered, you started putting them all together and before long you had a trail that lead you right to the bad guy. In this case for instance, finding out that the van came from Syria was a pretty big break. That meant that either the Syrian government was involved, or some radical group operating out of Syria was responsible. Either way, the next step would be to track down where the van came from and see if there were any clues as to who the last person to purchase and use the thing was. Another mistake that terrorists and bad guys in general made was that they put too much confidence in the destructive power of explosives. Sure, stuff blew up, but it didn’t completely disintegrate. After all, there was only so much explosive energy to go around and explosions, like fire and water are lazy. They follow the path of least resistance. So when faced for example with passing through a relatily thin auto-part or a thick axle, the explosion more often than not just ignored the axle. The cumulative knowledge base of the Bureau was staggering. What they were able to do with the smallest piece of evidence even baffled Lowery, and he was part of the team!
Hamza, or Hassan as he was going by on this trip, didn’t like the people that he sometimes had to deal with. Presently he sat across men he considered to be nothing more than thugs. At least he was fighting for a cause, while these people just terrorized for their own personal gain. But, he told himself, sometimes you had to get dirty if you wanted to get the job done. So here he was, consorting with undesirables in order to procure the materials that he needed. After all, one wasn’t as stupid as to try and import bomb-making material into a country. It was a lot easier to just find the right people who already had it. Unlike that fool who got arrested at the US Canada border trying to smuggle explosives into the United States in the trunk of his car.
“You got the money?” The leader of the group asked while sipping his beer.
“Yes, ten thousand, cash. Just like you asked,” Hamza threw an envolope across the table. Security didn’t seem to be an issue in this establishment. It was most likely that his “supplier” owned the bar and was feared sufficiently not to have to worry about anyone eavesdropping on his conversations in his own bar. His lieutenant picked up the envelope and looked inside. Satisfied, he nodded at his boss signaling that the money was all there.
“Alright, the stuff’s in the duffel bag under the table. You can have a look if you want,” the leader said.
Hamza knew better than to openly challenge the trustworthiness of his supplier. “No, that will be just fine. I’m sure everything is there.”
And with that, he had all the materials he needed to implement his plan.
Fifteen minutes after Hamza left the bar, another individual exited the establishment. He was innocuous in his appearance—relatively speaking. He just looked like any of the countles men who frequented bars during the morning hours of the day. His clothing looked like it needed to be washed, and his grooming was wanting, but his appearance served his purpose just fine. He sat in his car and drove off. Half an hour later, he parked in the parking lot of another watering hole and exited his vehicle. He walked right into the bar and headed to the back where he sat alone at one of the many vacant stools. Two minutes later a rather gruff gentleman sat next to him and ordered a beer. In fact, he was a Canadian Security Intelligence Service officer, his handler. The music was loud enough that no one more than three feet away could make out what was being said.
“How’s it goin’ Ron?” The officer said without turning. It was their regular meet. Which normally would be dangerous, however Ron was a known drinker who frequented many bars and his handler had begun building his own cover by visiting at least two different bars daily. The better to give any observer the illusion that he himself was just another guy looking to drink his troubles away.
“Pretty good Pete. I’ve got somethin’ for you,” Ron said with not a little excitement in his voice. After all they paid him for the quality of the informaiton that he passed on. Besides, this spy stuff was kinda fun. “You know how you’ve been wanting me to keep tabs on Michel?” Michel was the head of the local chapter of the Hells Angels. The RCMP had long been suspicious of him as a possible arms dealer to others of his ilk. “Well, I saw a deal go down. But it wasn’t with bikers. Some ethnic lookin’ guy in a suit,” he said with a smile. Reporting on deals was always a good way to get paid. That stuff was as good as gold.
“Really,” Pete said deadpan. He’d been in the game too long to jump at juicy information too quickly. He’d been lied to before, and he knew that he’d be lied to again. When you offered money for information, you got all manner of fairy tales offered to you masquerading as real intel. This bit of information didn’t sound to him like it was made up. Snitches weren’t all that creative and would normally feed him a line about some local biker buying guns or some variation of that story. But an ethnic in a suit? That piqued his interest. You didn’t really make that stuff up. What did an “ethnic” doing business with the Hell’s mean? Could this be another gang? Or worse, a terror cell? “What else can you tell me about this ethnic?”
“That’s about it man. I mean, he paid in cash, but that’s normal right?” It was, of course. Criminals didn’t accept Visa. Although, some these days did. But that was besides the point. All deals of this sort were conducted in cash.
“Alright Ron, thanks for the info. You think you could point this ethnic out of a catalogue of pictures?” He said hopefully.
“Yeah, sure, why not. Does it get me more green?” Ron said without even a hint of shame at grabbing for cash.
“Yeah, yeah, you’ll get paid for it. We’ll go to my place. I’ve got binders you can go through and see if you can ID the guy.” Of course by my place he meant a safe house, but Ron didn’t need to know the difference. He still thought that Pete was a local detective. So much the better to protect his identity. And besides, CSIS shared its take with the RCMP and the local cops if it felt that it would be useful to them. What most people weren’t aware of was that CSIS was behind a lot of the public busts the RCMP made. They even helped the Wolverines a few times.
“Alright,” Ron said and slid off the bar stool. They couldn’t be seen leaving together, so Pete gave Ron instructions on where to go and stayed behind while Ron walked out of the bar. Twenty minutes later, the CSIS officer left also. He figured it made sense to send Ron out first since he’d have to take his time finding the place and he didn’t feel like waiting at the safe house for him. So instead, he nursed his beer and mulled over the implications of this ethnic. He didn’t like what he kept coming up with. If terrorists were dealing with bikers, law enforcement would have a whole new set of complications to deal with. Well, maybe Ron will be able to ID the guy, he thought to himself. What he didn’t know was that no one in Canada had ever taken a picture of Hamza.
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