Nemesis – Catherine Coulter

The airport security line slowly inched forward, nearly sixty passengers stoically weaving back and forth in the ritual strip-dance everyone knew and put up with. At least Sherlock didn’t have her Glock with her, so she wouldn’t have to fill out a gazillion forms. Her meeting with the lead federal prosecutor in an upcoming murder trial had lasted six and a half hours, and probably would have gone on longer if she hadn’t simply gotten up and said she had a plane to catch. She couldn’t wait to get home and throw a football with Sean, if the plane took off at a reasonable time, that is. She looked forward to downing a cup of Dillon’s knock-your-socks-off coffee, and having him sing to her while he scrubbed her back in the shower. Out of habit she studied the faces, the eyes, the clothes, and the body language of those around her, guessing what people were thinking, planning, where they were going. Home? Business? Rendezvous? She knew one thing for sure: they were hoping as she was that flights wouldn’t be delayed or canceled. The woman ahead of her sighed. “All I want to do is get home, jump in the tub, and wash off all traces of Mickey Sturgiss.” Sherlock said, a smile on her face, “A wild day with Mickey?” The woman rolled her eyes. “A deposition for a slime bucket who should be deported to Mars.” Sherlock laughed. “You’re a lawyer?” “Yes, but not this idiot’s lawyer. I was doing his lawyer a favor. Believe me, I’ll make sure he knows he owes me big-time.

” She stuck out her hand. “Melissa Harkness.” Sherlock shook her hand. “Lacey Sherlock. Come to think of it, I could do some washing, too.” “Don’t tell me you’re a lawyer, too?” “I’m FBI, actually.” Melissa Harkness was on the heavy side, in her thirties, and she was carrying a large briefcase in one hand and a black tote the size of one of Jupiter’s moons in the other. She looked like she might be dragging, but her bright eyes were filled with intelligence and interest. Her laugh at Sherlock’s name started them off, and soon they were talking about Sherlock’s dad, a federal judge, and Sherlock’s job as an FBI agent, as the line slowly snaked its way toward the TSA folk ensconced on their high stools, checking each ticket and ID. Sherlock noticed a tall man a couple people ahead of Melissa.

He was standing stock-still, as if frozen in place. The man behind him had to nudge him, unheard of in an airport security line with everyone wanting to move forward quickly. He was dark-haired and on the thin side. What caught her eye was the fact that his lower face was bone white, as if he’d recently shaved off a full beard, perhaps that very morning. He looked calm, but she saw his hands were trembling as he pulled off his black loafers and placed them in a bin. Something was off. She watched him shrug off his coat and start on his belt. Then, without warning, he turned, shoved aside the two passengers behind him, and grabbed Melissa around the neck. He pulled something out of his briefcase—it was a grenade. He waved it around, all the while backing away, pulling Melissa with him.

When people around them realized what was happening, there were screams and shouts, everyone focused on the grenade held high over his head now, a finger through the safety ring. He yelled, his voice shaking as badly as his hands, “That’s right, it’s a grenade!” He screamed at the TSA agents, who were now speaking into their walkie-talkies, several of them moving toward him. “Nobody move! Your X-ray isn’t much use now, is it? It doesn’t matter I’m not lily-white!” He pointed the grenade at a tall black TSA agent who was trying to flank him. “Or black! All of you—stay away or she dies, along with the rest of you.” He stopped moving when he felt a concrete pillar behind his back. A TSA agent called out, only a bit of a wobble in her voice, “Sir, put the grenade down and we can talk about what you want.” He laughed. “Really? I know how you idiots operate. Even without this grenade, you’d probably have taken me to one of your little rooms and ordered me to strip down, treated me like a criminal— that’s because you target men who look Middle Eastern, and that’s profiling and it’s against the law.” His voice was near a scream now.

Sherlock heard a French accent overlying the British clip, with a trace of Farsi or Arabic. “Because I’m dark and wear a beard?” Had he forgotten he’d shaved it off? “Don’t come any closer or we all die right now!” He tightened his hold around Melissa’s neck. Her hands were pulling at his arm, her face turning blue. The TSA agents were slowly flanking him as he talked. Sherlock knew airport security would arrive at any second, all of them trained to deal with such a threat, but it didn’t matter. They weren’t here yet. She was on the spot, a few feet away from him, looking right into his eyes. His arm was still around Melissa’s neck, his finger still hooked around the grenade’s ring. One pull and a whole lot of people would die, herself included. Her heart kettledrummed in her chest; the spit dried in her mouth.

There was an instant of dead silence, only the sound of his hard, fast breathing. She called out, her voice calm and easy, “Sir, what do you want?” He locked on Sherlock’s face, tightened his death grip on Melissa, and held the grenade toward her. “Who told you to talk, you stupid woman? Get back with the rest of the mutts and shut up!” “Sir, you obviously knew you couldn’t get a grenade through X-ray, so you planned it this way. Why? What do you want? What if they simply let you leave?” She wanted to see how tight his hold was on the grenade ring, but she forced herself to keep her eyes on his face. He screamed at her, “Shut up or you’ll be the first one dead! You agents, stop moving around, do you hear me? Any more of you take a step toward me, I’ll toss the grenade right in front of you!” The TSA agents stopped in their tracks, their eyes moving from him to Sherlock, and always back to the grenade he held in his shaking hand. The passengers stayed still as stones, as they’d been told, hardly breathing, watching, praying. Sherlock heard a distant cacophony of voices, either running away or swarming closer to see what was happening. Not good. Airport security was beginning to inch toward him. He juked this way and that, trying to keep an eye on the agents.

His eyes narrowed, sweat beaded on his face. What had he planned to do? Sherlock felt rage and fear rolling off him. Yet he hadn’t pulled the pin. Why? Was he having second thoughts, or was he waiting to make some kind of statement? She saw it clearly on his face, he was struggling with himself, trying to rev himself up to kill as many people around him as possible, Melissa included. That was certainly what he’d planned when he’d taken off his shoes and set them in the bin. They didn’t matter then because he knew he was going to die. She looked at Melissa’s face, at her eyes. She was terrified, but she was there, ready to do something if she could. Sherlock said to her, “What’s your name?” He was distracted and automatically loosened his hold. Melissa sucked in air.

“Melissa Harkness.” He was looking at Sherlock now, focused on her. Good. “And what’s your name, sir?” “None of your business!” He raised the grenade higher, ran his tongue over his lips, and tightened his hold on Melissa’s neck again. “Why don’t you let Melissa go? She didn’t do anything to you. Maybe I can call your wife, you can speak to her and to your children.” “What are you talking about? You know nothing about my blessed wife. For you to even speak of her is an abomination.” He kept swinging the grenade around to force airport security guards and TSA agents back. Melissa was beginning to choke again, her fingers pulling against his arm.

Sherlock spoke quickly now. “Does your wife expect you to die today and kill dozens of innocent people along with you? Does your wife even know what you’re doing? Where is she now?” She saw the security team moving even closer and she smelled fear, a raw corrosive in the air, from everyone around her, especially from him. He was as frightened as Melissa. She had to stop this now. “I told you not to speak of her. I’m a British citizen, not some poor sod from Pakistan or Iran you can manipulate.” He laughed, a scary laugh that was filled with derision and something buried deep, something that made him what he was, and something deeper, a kind of desperate bravado. He was trying to convince himself to accept his own death. “I’m from London—that decadent city they call Londonistan. We will fight until we control the whole world, in the name of Allah.

” What idiot taught you that? It sounded like he’d practiced saying it, exactly that way. Why? “Despite what you said, I don’t think you want to die. If you throw the grenade, that is what will happen. You’ll die and you’ll never see your family again. Do you want to be nothing at all in the flash of a second?” S weat bathed his face, and his hands trembled so badly Sherlock wondered how he could keep hold of the grenade ring. He bared his teeth at her. “You shut your mouth.” Sherlock smiled. “You throw the grenade and so many bullets will hit you from airport security, your body won’t be able to hold itself together. Your wife won’t be able to recognize you because your face will be blown off.

Maybe she’ll recognize your sock, the one with the hole in it.” He glanced down automatically at his foot and Sherlock ran at him. “Melissa, drop!” Brave Melissa threw all her weight forward, pulling the terrorist with her. He struggled with her, off balance, and his finger slipped free of the grenade safety ring. Sherlock took two fast steps, reared back on the heel of her foot and kicked his right wrist, heard the bone crack. He screamed and dropped the grenade. Everyone froze, watched the grenade hit the floor with a loud thump and begin to roll. There was mayhem—yelling and people running to get as far away from the grenade as possible, pushing others out of their way, some of them falling to the floor, a stampede, and over it all security shouting, “Everyone get down! Get down!” The terrorist was holding on to his wrist, cursing her, but he didn’t come at her, he lunged for the grenade. Sherlock ran after him, kicked him hard in the kidney. He whooshed out a breath as he fell forward onto his hands and knees, hissing in pain as he crawled toward the grenade, now fetched up against a security counter.

She prayed none of the security officers would lose it and shoot, since she was so close to him now. She yelled at him, “Don’t do it!” He twisted back to look at her, fear and desperation glazing his eyes, screamed curses, and dove for the grenade, his good arm outstretched. She kicked him in the head. He fell forward, sprawling away from the grenade, but still Sherlock saw his fingers reach out and pull the ring free of the grenade. Thankfully, the safety lever stayed attached, still in place, but for how long? Everyone remained frozen in place, terrified, all eyes on the grenade. One, two, three agonizingly slow seconds—nothing happened. She didn’t have handcuffs, so Sherlock planted her foot on the middle of his back and pressed down. “Listen to me, get hold of yourself. If you don’t move, the grenade might not explode and you might survive this.” The man was heaving for breath, murmuring over and over something she couldn’t understand.

A prayer? To Allah? His eyes were tightly closed, one hand still pressed to his head where Sherlock had kicked him. He wasn’t moving now. His other hand lay palm up three inches from the grenade. He was weeping. He said in a whisper, “You’ve ruined it all. Now they’ll die because of you.” She leaned close, heard him whisper over and over, “Bella, Bella.” A woman’s name, his wife’s name? “Who’s Bella?” He didn’t even see her, didn’t see anything beyond himself and what had happened. She heard the loud buzz of voices all around her, but she ignored them. She looked up to see a man striding toward her, airport security officers flanking him, guns drawn.

She’d recognize a Big Dog anywhere. He had to be the chief of security here at JFK, ex-military, tall, built, straight as an oak, with white buzz-cut hair. He yelled to all the huddled passengers, “Do not panic. TSA agents will escort you away from here right now. Slowly, that’s right. Clear the area!” As Sherlock lifted her foot and stepped away from the man, a half-dozen security agents covered him, picked him up, and dragged him away. Big Dog shouted, “Okay, Security, back behind that concrete column!” and he led them all briskly away from the grenade, pulling Sherlock with him. A mustachioed man trotted up. “Pritchett, bomb squad—it’s a grenade? Was the ring pulled?” Sherlock said, “Yes, about four minutes ago. The safety lever’s still in place.

” “I see it. What a stroke of luck. It could also be defective, but let’s not take any chances. Chief Alport, move your crew back another dozen feet.” Pritchett said into his portable radio, “Grenade, ring pulled four minutes ago, safety lever still hanging on, could be defective. Let’s not take any chances. No frag bag, bring in the PTCV.” Sherlock said, “PTCV?” “Portable Total Containment Vessel.” Sherlock watched along with everyone else as a few minutes later two members of the bomb squad, looking like green space aliens in their heavy protective suits, walked clumsily to the grenade. One of the men was pushing a large white cylinder on wheels, maybe four feet high, nearly four feet wide, with an opening in the center front.

They studied the grenade, then, after instructions from Pritchett, gently lifted it with long-handled prongs and eased it inside the vessel. They closed the opening, rotated the cylinder. There was a huge collective sigh of relief. Pritchett said to Big Dog, “You took a big chance getting that close, Chief. I’d say an extra Mass is in order.” Sherlock and the chief watched Pritchett follow the two suited men wheeling the containment vessel toward an emergency exit. The security people gave them wide berth. Twenty feet short of the doors, there was a loud muffled bang. The containment vessel box shook, but it held. No one moved for a second.

Then Pritchett yelled, “Guess the safety lever fell off, or the grenade wasn’t defective after all. Talk about a bit of pucker action. You can bet that’s going to make the news.” The chief let out a big sigh and crossed himself. Sherlock saw he was still stiff as a board, the muscles in his arms and back knotted with tension, but now he was smiling at her. Sherlock turned to him. “It’s a pleasure to see a Big Dog in action.” “Big Dog?” She lightly laid her hand on his forearm. “Yeah, I’d recognize you guys anywhere. My husband’s a Big Dog—you’re a rare breed.

But I gotta say that was way too close.” She stuck out her hand. “FBI Special Agent Sherlock.” He shook her hand. “Guy Alport, chief of security in this nerve-fragging zoo. A pleasure to meet you. My people were telling me about this crazy woman who faced him down, got right into his face, and kicked the crap out of him.” Crazy, that was about right, but Sherlock only smiled and turned away when his people crowded around him. She prayed she’d never be tested like that again. She went looking for Melissa Harkness and found her outside the doors, surrounded by security, airport employees, and passengers.

Behind her, she heard an alarm sound, then the loudspeaker: “Everyone will leave the terminal by the nearest exit. The terminal is closed until further notice.” What had she expected? She wondered when she’d get home. Probably in the next millennium. The security people saw her, let her through. She lightly touched Melissa’s shoulder. “You did great, Melissa. You brought him down, saved the day.” Melissa Harkness grabbed Sherlock and hugged her close. “Thank you so much.

Even my exhusband thanks you.” As she hugged Sherlock close again, fiercely, she whispered in her ear, “The jerk might even send you flowers. I’m his golden goose, after all.” Then she grinned. “I don’t think I’m going to go on that low-carb diet yet. My weight came in handy today.” “Don’t you change a thing, you’re perfect.” Sherlock drew in a deep breath. “We all survived.” She turned when a black-suited agent called out to her.

She said to Melissa, “Sorry, no bath for either of us for a while. Now the fun starts.” F BI agents from the New York Field Office took the terrorist from the TSA guards and airport security while Homeland Security agents and NYPD officers weeded out gawkers from witnesses and herded them to several conference rooms. It was an alphabet soup of agencies, all wanting to take charge. Sherlock knew that the FBI—namely, the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force—would take the lead, because the resident FBI agent at JFK would have called them right away. She also realized the adrenaline rush was bottoming out, also knew this was long from over. She and Big Dog were separated, each taken to a room to be interviewed. The last she saw of Melissa, she was in the middle of a knot of agents. Sherlock was escorted to a small security room filled with TV monitors and computers and seated at a battered rectangular table. She was handed a cup of coffee and introduced to two FBI agents.

They turned on recording equipment and started right in, going over and over what had happened, why she was in New York, what exactly the terrorist had said to her, his affect, his accent, his tone of voice, what she believed his intentions had been, and on and on it went. Sean would earn his college degree before she was finished answering questions. She heard agents talking about the airport reopening again soon, after security was certain there were no threats in the offing. Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise? She no longer wanted to flop her head onto the table and take a snooze. It was a remote possibility she’d even get home before midnight, if only someone would pull the plug on all the questions. The door opened and she was instantly aware of the eerie quiet in the terminal. There were no passengers hurrying to their gates, nothing at all. A woman came in and marched directly over to Sherlock. “I hear you’re FBI.” “Yes, Special Agent Sherlock.

” She held out her creds. The woman studied her creds, handed them back, and stood over her, arms crossed over her chest. She was about Sherlock’s age, with straight dark hair to her shoulders, a milk-white face, a body honed to muscle and bone, and no humor at all in her dark eyes. She looked severe and tough as nails in a black suit, white shirt, and low black pumps, but when she spoke, her voice was quite lovely, lilting, with a hint of Italian music. “That name, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Sherlock had to laugh. “My dad’s a federal judge; it suits him even better. Criminals and defense lawyers do a double take.” “I’m Supervisory Special Agent Kelly Giusti, New York FBI. Why didn’t you keep out of the way and let the agents do their job? They’re all very well trained for exactly this sort of thing.

” Sherlock gave her a sunny smile. “I was right there when he grabbed Melissa. No choice.” “What you did was stupid.” “You’re sure right about that. Put a big question mark in my day, that’s for sure. Tell me, Agent Giusti, what would you have done in my place?” Giusti stared at her. Was that a crack in that severe mouth, a meager smile trying to burst through? “I guess I’d have been as stupid as you.” They shook hands. “I heard most of your interview on my way over.

Do you think he was going to try to get through security with the grenade? To blow a plane out of the sky?” Sherlock said, “It seems like a pretty stupid thing to attempt. I know, I know, knives and guns still could get through, but it’d be unusual.” “Maybe you’re underestimating your fellow humans’ capacity for stupidity. You forget that numbskull Brit who tried to get the bomb in his shoe to go off?” Sherlock laughed. “And thanks to him everyone walks barefoot through security now. The thing is, our guy didn’t even try to go through X-ray, even though it looked like he was going to. I mean, he’d taken his shoes off and put them in the bin. No, he pushed two passengers out of the way, grabbed Melissa, pulled out the grenade, and started yelling. I’m thinking that was his plan all along. He said to me that I’d ruined it all, and that means to me that something else may be going on here, somewhere else.

” “All right, let’s say this drama was a smoke screen for something else. Chief Alport immediately began checking throughout the terminals. As of three minutes ago, nothing hinky was reported anywhere else at JFK, which is why they’re going to reopen soon. “It’s possible there’s nothing complex at all here. It’s possible he’s a lone wolf who came here to blow up at the security station, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it before you disarmed him.” “He also said a woman’s name—Bella. His wife?” “You mean a final good-bye?” “Maybe.” Giusti opened her mini-tablet. “The passport he had with his boarding pass identified him as Nasim Arak Conklin, thirty-six, address in Notting Hill, London, not one of the popular Muslim neighborhoods, like Newham, for example. I wonder why he was living there.

“We don’t know anything more yet. I’m betting the passport isn’t forged. There’d be no need for it, not if he or his handlers set him up to do exactly what he almost did—blow himself up along with as many passengers as he could take with him. We’ll know soon enough; his fingerprints are being run through the system now. He hasn’t said a word yet. Evidently he did all his talking to you.” She rose. “The name Bella—I wonder if it might start him talking again. But it’s no concern of yours. The upside of what you did is that no one got hurt, and we nabbed ourselves a suicide bomber.

” “And the downside?” Sherlock asked. “Once the terminal opens again and you leave the protection of this room, the media is going to eat you alive. When Chief Alport was outside the terminal, the media swarmed all over him. He was going down for the third time when he threw you under the bus.” Sherlock closed her eyes for a moment. “It isn’t going to be fun, is it?” “How fast can you run?” Sherlock laughed. “I should call my husband before he hears about this and strokes out.” Giusti’s cell buzzed. “Giusti here.” A short pause, then, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” And she was off and running.

M ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL NEW YORK CITY Wednesday afternoon addix Foley, vice president of the United States, took a quick look at his watch, then resumed his vigil, his eyes on the white rose–covered casket on its gurney in front of the beautiful altar three rows in front of him. Inside that lovely ornamental box lay the remains of New York’s senior senator, Cardison Greiman, a longtime party force who’d ruled the Senate with a personality like a nail-studded hammer until his face had hit his desktop in his own Senate chamber five days earlier, right after he’d lost the vote for a bill the president particularly wanted passed, and he was dead from a heart attack. A pity about the bill, but then again, it was likely Card’s successor would pick up his hammer and doubtless use it handily. Foley had liked the old buzzard, who’d claimed in drunker moments that he could show the lead in the TV series House of Cards a thing or two. Foley thought that could be true. There was organ music—Bach, Foley realized—overlaying the low conversation of nearly eight hundred mourners here to pay their final respects, punctuated by an occasional sob from Mrs. Greiman, who’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two weeks before, which had shaken Card Greiman to his core. In Foley’s opinion, it was the realization of losing his wife after more than fiftyplus years that had brought on Card’s heart attack. Now it was Eleanor Greiman who was left to grieve him instead.

Foley wondered if it wouldn’t have been more merciful if she’d been further gone so she wouldn’t now have to know the soul-wrenching grief. Foley sighed, looked again at his watch. It was after five o’clock and the funeral mass should have begun five minutes ago. Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan would be leading in the priests and altar boys and deacons, ritual incense filling the air from their swinging thuribles, and Card’s final sendoff would begin. Foley saw one of his Secret Service agents speak into the unit on his wrist. He must have spotted Cardinal Dolan, which meant they were about ready to get Cardison Grieman’s last big show on the road. He turned in his seat and looked down the long nave toward the narthex. In the narthex, altar boy Romeo Rodriguez was swallowing hard, praying he wouldn’t throw up, not with His Eminence Cardinal Dolan six feet away from him, looking resplendent in his vivid red cassock. The Cathedral’s rector, Monsignor Ritchie, was at his side, Father Joseph Reilly behind him. Romeo realized Father Joseph was looking at him, and he looked worried.

Romeo had the horrible feeling he looked as bad as he felt and he was going to hurl after all. He swallowed again and tried to distract himself, saying a Hail Mary, concentrating with all his might. He’d been a fullfledged altar boy for only seven months now, and it was Father Joseph who had recommended that he be a part of the service today. It was a great honor, his father had told him over and over, and his mother had kissed him and told him how proud she was that he would be carrying out his duties at this great man’s funeral. But now his stomach twisted and cramped and he knew he couldn’t hold it any longer. He was going to throw up. Now. Romeo ran to a small closet few people ever opened, next to the closed gift shop annex. He barely made it inside before he fell to his knees and heaved beside boxes of gift shop supplies. He felt a hand on his shoulder, steadying him.

It was Father Joseph, and his deep, soothing voice told him it would be all right, he didn’t have to go in with them, all he had to do was breathe lightly and relax. Romeo dry-retched, sat back, and held himself perfectly still. He felt like his stomach was hollowed out. Then he saw a large backpack stuffed into a corner of the closet. “Why is that here, Father?” “What? Oh, the backpack. Some parishioner must have put it here, probably forgot it. Romeo, I have to leave you soon, the service is beginning—” Romeo pulled the backpack toward him and opened it. Both the boy and the priest stared down at it in horror.



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