Prologue In April of 2014, under heavy public and political pressure, the New York City Police Department announced the dismantling of a specialized investigative unit created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The main function of this detail, innocuously dubbed the Demographics Unit and later the Zone Assessment Unit, was to spy on Muslims in the New York metropolitan region. Detectives and informants working this operation went undercover into mosques, schools, businesses, cafes, restaurants and other meeting places frequented by people of the Islamic faith; to listen, watch and report on a search for possible anti-American activity and terrorist threats. The unit was in large part built by veteran CIA agent Lawrence “Larry” Sanchez, a master spy who shaped his resume in the Middle East, South Asia and the remains of the former Soviet Union. He’d been sent to New York by none other than the Director of CIA at the time, George Tenet, to ferret out any potential jihadis in a target area that stretched from Long Island to western New Jersey. Sanchez, who holds a geophysics degree and various boxing and powerlifting titles, was the principal architect of a project that built a massive database of the Muslims living in the northeast. Through the scramble for intelligence and strategy against an invisible enemy, national and local agencies charged with the protection of perennial target Manhattan arrived at hasty accords and ad hoc committees. The hazy ultimate arrangement in New York allowed for the CIA to “advise” the NYPD on information gathering methodologies and be permitted to provide "specialized equipment, technical knowledge or assistance of expert personnel" to local law enforcement agencies but only when the CIA's general counsel approve[d] in each case. In a classic government intelligence maneuver, the gentleman never signed off on the deal and no one was officially or technically accountable or knowledgeable of an operation that did not exist. Whereas the NYPD was specifically authorized to this massive endeavor by writ, decree and unchallenged assumption, Newark and the other Jersey police departments were made aware of the operation only after the fact and were instructed to assist if asked, comply when ordered and to otherwise keep your mouth shut. That was until the Associated Press broke the story in August of 2011, just in time for the tenth anniversary of the attacks. Muslim communities and civil rights activists were outraged and regional politicians took their cues to loudly register their distaste at this domestic spying program. By 2013 the NYPD and the CIA had prepared their confessions and apologies, including the slightly confusing official closing statement that despite having prevented dozens of terrorist attacks the operation as a whole had failed to obtain hard evidence of terrorist plots. In the public eye, the two agencies broke camp, shook hands and agreed to meet up for a cold beer sometime. But back on the streets, there remained agents and operatives of all kinds, still in place and awaiting instructions.
The Book Of The Living
“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude.” - Aldous Huxley, ‘The Doors of Perception’ Chatto & Windus, publishers, 1954
“Night comes in, like some cool river How can there be, be another day? Take my hand, oh real companion And we'll dance, dance till we fade away
Oh, this night is like no other And this room is ringing in my ears And these friends will never leave me And these tears are like no other tears” ‘Night Comes In’ by Richard and Linda Thompson Track 13, The Best Of… - 2000
On Tuesday, October 28th, 2003, the sun emitted a giant flare the size of which birthed a massive electromagnetic storm that washed over planet Earth with waves of volatile radiation. Silent and invisible, this ‘coronal mass ejection’, the third largest ever recorded, went largely unnoticed by the general populace except for brief, unexplained airport delays, electrical outages, computer crashes and sporadic auroras in the night sky. In the time it takes for a fast car to drive from Florida to New York, the CME hurled from the sun had slammed into terrestrial atmosphere to disrupt power grids and satellite communication systems everywhere.
Wednesday, October 29th, 1:18am South Clinton Street, East Orange, New Jersey
“Did you hear that?” whispered the first watcher. “Hear what?” asked the second, quietly but not whispering.
“You telling me you didn’t hear that?” “I guess that’s what I’m telling you, yeah.”
In the dark apartment the first watcher, a gruff, wiry Navy man, gave a disdainful look to his long, thin colleague. “It was like… like a fuzzy pulse followed by a little blip…” he tried to explain. “Uh huh…” The slender younger man had come to police work right out of college. He suspected the long surveillance hours were taking their toll on his partner of two months. “Are you sure?” he asked. The other man bit his lower lip in frustration and moved to rewind the digital audio on when they both noticed the lights come on in the apartment across the street, the unit they had under observation. Because it was highly unusual for all of the bedroom lights to be turned on at the same time this deep in the night, the two watchers quickly checked all their signals to make sure they had the best optics and sound reception.
3:33am Off Quaker Road, outside Princeton, New Jersey
The priest was shocked awake by a nightmare, his personal version of an alarm clock. While still half in the dream state he slipped his raincoat over his night robe, grabbed his hat and stepped out barefoot onto the frigid terrazzo. Setting his sights on a path through the cold drizzle he sprinted across the courtyard of the estate house toward the library, remembering dazedly how he’d done this many times before. Once inside he shook off the water and immediately threw on the automatic starter for the refitted massive stone fireplace. Once his hands were completely dry he walked slowly toward the nearest set of bookcases. Except for the area near the hearth the books entirely filled the walls of the expansive room. He closed his eyes and ran the fingers of his left hand along the shelf close to his abdomen, feeling the aged leather. He knew his host was far from ostentatious and that some of these walls held mix-and-match collections of old and new, rare tomes and cheap paperbacks, ranked and filed happily along the peculiar strictures of a long-lived and eclectic steel magnate, one of the priest’s earliest benefactors, parishioners and friends. But he also knew that this particular section contained complete antique sets of the world’s literature classics, volumes which had been in this house for generations. He paused, shifted forward a little, and then brought his hand to the books just above his head. There. He quickly pulled at one as if it were about to escape. Opening his eyes but without looking at the cover of the book he took it over to one of four small tables. He set it on its spine under the stained glass reading lamp and pulled the little brass chain. He closed his eyes again and asked a question in silence, to the silence. Then he let the book fall open to a random page, thrusting his index finger to the center of the right page. It was a book about early railroads in New Jersey. The passage he’d randomly touched upon was actually a picture of the Lackawanna Station in Newark, the terminus for the Morris and Essex Line. He set the book to the side. Moving to the wall opposite of where he’d just been he extended his right hand and again closed his eyes as he got close to the books. He stooped suddenly and grabbed at one of them. He returned to the desk and threw the book open and this time stabbed at the left hand page with his index finger. ‘What thing eats and is never sated, but when it drinks it dies?’ [Fire] From a 2001 study of riddles and riddling by al-Taburs in a book about Arabic folklore. Out of curiosity he looked at the next one. ‘What thing lengthens and shortens [at the same time]? [A lifetime – the longer you live, the less of your life remains] For the third and last book he moved back toward the hearth but to its side, where a corridor began. He moved as a blind man not even knowing what he was looking for. He spread his arms in the narrow hallway and let his hands brush along the shelves until he felt that tiny, unmistakable little electric tug. He drew out a thin and ragged trade paperback not wanting to look at it but afraid it would fall apart in his hand. If the old man still kept this thing around it was definitely important to him so the priest took a little extra care in holding it. When he opened it to a middle page and touched a passage he had to dust off his nearly dead Latin. It was one of those ancient philosophers expounding on the nature of war. The priest sat in one of those ever loyal armchairs in this sanctuary and considered what his three selections had told him. When it made some sense to him he rose to get dressed for work.
5:23am Waterloo Valley Road, Mount Olive, New Jersey
New Jersey Transit commuter train number 1070 set out from the near-silent rural station under a rumbling violence of storm clouds that seemed to shift back and forth in search of victims for its wrath. It was three minutes behind schedule thanks to a straggler at the departure station in Hackettstown, one of those financial guys, who’d come running down the incline of the parking lot hollering for them to wait for him. The conductor, a tall, potbellied man named Greg, mid-fifties, took it as a bad sign. It’s alright if you get slowed down along the route, but to start out late right away is never good, especially on a rainy day. Greg sighed and gave one last look down the platform and got the waving flashlight ‘all clear’ from one of his crew members as she stepped into the vestibule one car down. He followed suit and boarded with a last look around. Inside, he turned his key in the control panel, the electronic chiming sounded, and the train’s doors closed. Leaning his handlebar moustache close to the intercom, he summoned his cheery voice and made the boarding announcement: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, this is the five twenty Midtown Direct express train to New York Penn Station making stops at Morristown, Summit, Millburn, South Orange, Brick Church, Newark Broad Street, Secaucus and New York Penn Station. For all other stops you must transfer to the local train at the next station. Passengers seated in the first and last cars, numbers 7591 and 1425, are reminded that these are designated ‘quiet-commute’ cars and we ask that you use headphones for all listening devices and that conversations be kept to a whisper for the comfort of your fellow passengers. As always, thank you for riding New Jersey Transit and have a pleasant day. All tickets out, please. All tickets out.” He took a moment to grab a deep swig of his hot coffee to rid himself of the damp chill that hung about these western Jersey hill-and-lake towns this time of year. Pressing the touch pad to slide open the compartment door, he strolled in to greet the usual faces. Except that today there was a very strange man seated among the dozen or so regulars on the first train of the day on this line. A full, trimmed red beard, some kind of green-grey eyes and long hair neatly tucked under a black leather hunter’s cap. He’d been watching the conductor the whole time down the aisle. Then Greg noticed the guy’s boots, military grade under an expensive dark grey suit. The conductor, ex-Army, felt the hairs at the back of his neck stand up. The man with the eerie grey eyes noticed Greg’s unease and calmly offered a ticket with one hand while discreetly flashing some kind of State Seal ID and circular metal badge with the other. The conductor exhaled. “Good morning…” offered the shaggy man in the expensive suit. “Right. New York, last stop. Have a good day.” Greg’s legs found him and he kept it moving. But the red-haired man waited only about a minute before pocketing the seat check and getting up to follow the conductor toward the back of the train. Greg was in a conversation with one of the regulars when he noticed various pairs of eyes turning toward the large man coming his way. “Need to bug you for the restroom, boss. Please,” half-smiled the bearded man. “Back ‘a the train…” “Thank you.” Greg gave his daily customer the pursed lips, shrug and eyebrows of ‘I don’t know’, smiled and resumed their conversation. It was when he reached the end of the car as he collected tickets that he saw the other unusual man. Dark blue Yankees cap, dark blue windbreaker, black slacks, black running shoes, clean shaven, crew cut, a wrestler’s build. And he, too, had never been on Greg’s train before, that he could remember. The man only offered a New York ticket, didn’t say a word. “Good morning,” tried Greg. Was this the other guy’s partner or someone he was looking for? This one wasn’t talking. Greg only had the first two cars to work so he returned to the front of the train. It would probably be a good idea to mention these two guys to the engineer just in case. As the conductor left, the guy in the baseball cap got up and headed to the rear of the train. The hairy man in the suit hadn’t come out of the restroom yet. Ballcap crouched down and waited for him in the vestibule between the last two cars. When the suit stepped into the connecting passage he sensed the other man a split second too late. The guy in the windbreaker was pointing a silenced pistol at him and motioning for him to be quiet. The red-haired man thought to himself, This guy must be a cop of some kind or I’d be dead already. “Who the fuck are you?” murmured the one with the gun. The bearded man raised his hands palm out and then pointed to his heart, asking with his eyes for permission to pull his wallet. A nod from the baseball cap. “Toss it. Slow.” The windbreaker guy matched the hoary face to a state-issue ID, tossed back the wallet. “Fugitives, uh? The guy you’re following, that the one you’ve come for?” “No. I’ve been waiting weeks for this guy to take me to him, off a tip. I’m feeling lucky today.” “Oh, yeah? Why’s that?” “He’s not going to work today.” “How do you know?” “He normally uses a weekly pass and gets off in Millburn. Not this time. Gave the conductor a ticket for Penn Station. And who the fuck are you, by the way?” The guy with the gun considered what the bounty hunter had just told him. If this wasn’t chance, that meant there was a meet or exchange of some sort under way. His dark eyes became black voids. “I’m official. That’s all you need to know. If your guy is on the move then we have the same problem.” “It ain’t a problem for me…” “The guy I’m tailing knows your guy. And he changed his routine today, too. Either they really haven’t seen each other by coincidence or they’re purposely avoiding each other…” “Oh. That kinda problem. Whatta you wanna do?” “Play your position, stick your man. Just stay out of my way.” The well-dressed, feral-looking man snarled in reply, “You, too, G-man…” The smaller man moved to enter the forward car when he turned back and asked the other, “What does your guy look like?” “Medium complexion Palestinian, chubby little guy, about five-eight, hundred an’ 160 pounds, glasses, beige rain coat, cheap suit, shiny shoes, beat-up leather briefcase. Yours?” He hesitated only a second. “Tall, thin, bald, Lebanese but passes for Hispanic, brown leather jacket, grey hooded sweatshirt, white sneakers, backpack.” Another hesitation. “What’s your cell number?” Their phones would have to substitute for radios. Apparently the g-man was working alone, too.
Corporal Leonard C. Anderson, retired, was on his way to Kearny to babysit his grandson, as he did every weekday. He and the four-year old would be visiting the new Children’s Museum at Liberty State Park in Jersey City and he was going over the itinerary in his head. He had to catch a connecting bus to be at his daughter’s apartment by eight so that she could get to her job by nine. The child’s worthless father was nowhere to be found this year, again. But with his wife gone three years now Lenny was glad to have the child to spend time with.
Amy Hoagland was the chief assistant to an executive vice-president at a midtown insurance brokerage. She normally rode a later train than this one but today was a special day. After five years of working for the same affable but hard-charging man she was scheduled this morning to become his corporation equal. Well, almost. She was being appointed VP of Marketing whereas he had the all-important senior prefix to his title for having been around since people wore bellbottoms. She was thrilled. Today was the one day this year that she absolutely could not afford any delay. She used the earliness to finish her makeup and to make up her mind about the brilliant professional remarks she would make at the little informal ceremony with the big wigs.
Roy Garwood was a large, heavyset mechanical engineer who kept the machines running at a manufacturing plant in the Bronx. He was also someone who was rather hungover today after the New York-Dallas game had gone into overtime in a muddy slugfest. His Giants had ultimately been beaten by those Texas bums and Roy had lost a painful amount of money on office and neighborhood bets. There were way too many Cowboys fans at work for it to be a decent thing and he would have to listen to their taunts and insults for the rest of the week. On top of that, his old lady had started in on him right away in the predawn dark of their bedroom, giving him grief about last night’s beers before he’d even fully opened his eyes. He would have to be extra attentive to her tonight, probably pick up some flowers and something nice for her this afternoon.
The only other person in their car in the middle of the train was a guy in some kind of dark green jumpsuit, seemingly asleep slumped crosswise along his seat next to the door, with a rectangular duffel bag at his feet.
The train was running seven cars but only operating six of them this morning. The very last car is reserved for NJ Transit employees until such time as the rest are completely filled up. There were four conductors on board this morning but one was just catching a ride, and a nap, all the way in the darkened back. The bounty hunter’s quarry was seated in the second car, and the presumably official agent ‘s subject was in the fourth. Redbeard was able to sit at the rear of the second as his man was up front but because the train had reached the next stop and was taking on new passengers, the g-man was forced to find a new seat in the fifth car from where he could keep an eye on his subject. After Morristown, the ride was subdued and uneventful. Summit is a small city of millionaires, and many executives and business owners there take the early train into Manhattan to avoid the crowds of the rush hour, the same way they leave their offices in the early afternoon. At this station, a lot of briefcases and pink newspapers are opened. The next express stop was South Orange, similarly wealthy but more as an old university town full of blue bloods and moneyed academics. It was as the train pulled away from the artsy downtown station that the agent’s phone vibrated with a text message.
My guy’s moving back toward you.
The agent replied, Got it
What do I call you? (In case) asked the bounty hunter.
Bennett unzipped his jacket to reveal an office functionary’s light blue button down, then removed the baseball cap and smoothed his hair. Pulling a copy of The Wall Street Journal from his backpack, he used it as a prop to casually, and slowly, go through the motions of preparing to exit the train.
Within two minutes, the man that Lucas had described was opening the door at the front and nervously making his way in. It was only a flash of a half-second but the agent had caught it: the two men under surveillance made eye contact, and each had made almost imperceptible nods. Then the man in the tan raincoat simply continued down the aisle and picked an empty spot next to an older man in a three-seater. Bennett had to continue the charade of leaving and moved into the next car forward, where he sat in the handicapped space and summoned Lucas.
5:48am, Brick Church Station, East Orange
Named so for the half-dozen red brick Christian temples scattered about in proximity, this station, which was once a resort town for wealthy New Yorkers, now straddled the shifting border between the suburbs and the inner city. Service workers and middle-management commuters from West Orange and Livingston parked in the fairly safe lot for a short trip into the city. About ten people were waiting to board as the train pulled in. “Ah, shit, the priest’s here,” Lucas muttered under his breath. “Which one, that guy in black? Is he one of them?” asked Bennett. “No, he’s on our side,” the big man heaved a sigh. “But if he’s here that means it’s about to go down.” “What is? What do you know?”