Nick Ryan sat in the bedroom of his apartment, his eyes transfixed on his answering machine. The light was no longer blinking and his longtime friend and former partner, Frank Delgado was no longer alive.
Ryan was a hardened FBI agent, the best there was, but even he was shaken at what he had just heard. He took another large swallow of whiskey from his half-empty glass and reached for the button to play the message once again. His hand was shaking, as he heard his old friend's familiar voice-
"Hey Nicky, Del here. I'm in Baghdad working under cover for the Bureau and I'm on the move. I've been trackin' money, I mean a lot of money, a whole shitload, but I think they're on to me. I need to get to the safe house quick, before they get me. I tried to call the office to tell somebody but no luck. I wanted you to know what was going on here just in case something happens to me and… wait I'm at the safe house now." He heard Frank knock on a door and a muffled voice in the background ask, "Come in. Who you talkin' to?"
He heard Frank respond, "It's okay, it's Nick Ryan back in the states. He's cool."
"Anybody follow you?" He heard the other voice ask in a nervous tone.
"No, nobody." Then Frank's voice became clearer as he continued dictating his message to the machine and whispered, "Nick I need you to do something for me. I think we have a…"
Suddenly the unmistakable sound of a bullet stopped his words in midsentence, as Nick heard the heavy thump of his best friend's body fall to the ground and his cell phone crash beside him.
There was a muted noise then he heard a voice say something he will never forget, "Be careful Mr. Ryan," and then the phone went dead. He tried calling Delgado's cell phone number but got an out of service message. The seasoned agent immediately called his contacts at the Bureau and the local station chief and to tell them what had happened. No luck.
Ryan sat there on the bed, his eyes frozen on the answering machine. He just lost another friend, murdered. This time he was determined he was going to find out who was responsible… or die trying.
Chapter Two -
THIRTEEN YEARS EARLIER
It was a clear autumn day, the kids were back in school, the leaves were falling, and America was cooling off after a long hot summer.
On September 10th, 2001 Donald Rumsfeld, the United States Secretary of Defense, strode into the first floor Pentagon press briefing room. He was about to give an extraordinary press conference regarding waste and missing funds from the Department of Defense.
Rumsfeld took to the stage, gripped the side of the wooden podium, and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. Let me get right to it," he began in his usual forthright style. "According to official government estimates we cannot track some $2.3 trillion dollars in transactions here in Department of Defense,” he began. “We have an enemy, not terrorists, no our adversaries are closer to home. It is the Pentagon bureaucracy. According to a report by the Inspector General, the Pentagon cannot account for 25 percent of what it spends. I will bring all of the investigative efforts of my office to bear on this problem to find out what has happened to our taxpayer dollars.”
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had declared war. Not on foreign terrorists, but on the Pentagon’s financial accounting systems which were decades old. “We will get to the bottom of this and find out where all of that money went!” he promised the assembled crowd of awed reporters on hand to listen to his unprecedented news conference.
The next day, on September 11th, 2001 at 8:46 a.m., nineteen Saudi Jihadi terrorists began an American nightmare. They hijacked four civilian aircraft and crashed them into buildings and fields, killing thousands of innocent American citizens. War was declared that day. The terrorists had brought terror to America itself. The long struggle had begun.
Americans came together as never before; as a family to heal their wounds, bury their dead, grieve their losses and turn their focus to a common enemy. Their new adversary was the extremists who threatened their country and their way of life. Forgotten was the missing $2.3 trillion dollars the Defense Secretary cited the day before. The missing money was no longer important to a nation in mourning.
The war room emptied quickly as the presidential briefing on the upcoming attack concluded. It was a somber meeting even though everyone agreed it was going to be a tremendous success. Four star general Richard Alexander thanked the president, “Thank you for coming Mr. President. We appreciate your time and I can assure you the assault on Iraq will go off exactly as planned. Saddam Hussein will never know what hit him as we light up the sky and destroy everything he holds dear. We have teams ready to go into Iraq and put out the oil well fires if he carries out his threat to set them afire.”
“Good, very good general. However, always remember one thing - that this is the son-of-a-bitch who years ago in Kuwait tried to assassinate my father with a car bomb and we all know he was also behind the September 11th attack, in one way or another. Now it’s payback time.” Even though it was over ten years since the assassination attempt on his father, he never forgot and like everyone else he knew that vengeance was a dish best served cold.
His mood changed and lightened as the meeting was over and the general had been given his marching orders, the president turned and said to the remaining men left behind, “So gentlemen, if there is nothing else we need to go over, I have a football game on television that I would like to watch. I got twenty bucks on Texas,” he quipped, tossing a football to his Chief-of-Staff and longtime aide, former Texas Senator Michael Trost. It was Saturday and the president dismissed everyone. They all left the room, all except for one. A young man named Ashton Jenkins, the newest liaison to the White House, a twenty something staffer, stayed behind.
“Excuse me Mr. President, if I could have just five minutes of your time, sir?” said the young man in the rear of the room, the only one dressed in a suit and tie.
“What is it Jenkins? Don’t tell me it’s that money thing again?”
“I am afraid it is Mr. President, at least that’s part of it, sir.”
“Well come on, follow me. We have exactly four minutes until kickoff and then I’m kicking you out. Got it son? Talk to me while we walk.”
The young man, just three years out of law school, rushed to keep up with the long strides of the tall president. Ashton Jenkins’s official title was White House Deputy Assistant Liaison to the State Department but the President had hired him only as a favor to the young man's mother. The First Lady and Jenkins’s mother played bridge together every Friday afternoon with the White House Bridge Club. The President tolerated Jenkins on most things because he was not afraid to speak up but on this issue he would listen and then dismiss him. He was not about to change his mind about bombing Iraq.
“Mr. President, I urge you to reconsider this bombing strategy on Saddam Hussein.”
“Yesss…,” he answered the young man very slowly. He stopped walking then turned the full wrath of the Presidency on this twenty eight year old, “Son, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. This man is going to pay and pay big. That S.O.B. tried to murder my dad in Kuwait. Do you hear me son? He tried to blow him up with some god damn car bomb. He’s going to pay for that.” The Secret Service agents following them paused at a discreet distance waiting for Potus to continue his journey towards the media room. They remained vigilant, as always.
“Yes sir, Mr. President. I merely wanted to point out that Saddam Hussein is a Shirte… and is a member of the minority in Iraq. Neighboring Iran would like nothing better than to have you push him out of power and let the majority Sartes, like them, take over and create another Islamic state. Mr. President, I don’t think that is in our nation’s best interest, sir.”
“Don’t you think that we have given that the most careful consideration? What do you take us for, Mr. Jenkins? Fools?”
“No, Mr. President, of course not, sir. I only felt it was my duty to pass on some information,… that’s all, sir.”
“Well then, get on with it Jenkins. Didn’t they teach you anything at Harvard?"
“Yale sir. I’m a Yalie, just like you sir.”
“Whatever. What else?”
They turned down a outdoor hallway and entered a large conference room with multiple big screen TVs and huge leather lounge chairs lined up in front of the televisions. The TV was showing the college pregame warm-up.
“The other thing is Mr. President is that we are planning to bomb this third world country to hell. They deserve it and the man at the top needs to go, I understand that but after we're done, all of their government agencies will be gone, overnight. We are planning to bomb, not only their army and air force but also their electrical power grids, their telephones, their water supplies, their banks, their supermarkets, their schools, their military bases, their police stations, their bridges, their…”
“I get the picture, what’s your point?”
Jenkins stood in front of the big man’s chair, blocking his view of the game. “My point is sir, what’s next? Our boys will be there on the ground doing mop up operations. But what about the general population? Who is going to protect them, feed them, house them and provide them food and water? How do they get to work? Who’s going to stop the looters and what about retributions with the police gone? Unfortunately, our military will have to step in, sir and be put in harm's way, sir. But we will also have to hire some of them as police officers otherwise our guys over there in uniform are sitting ducks…, sir.” He paused seeing that he now had the president’s full attention.
The president looked up and said in a tone of resignation, “Go on Jenkins.” He was really beginning to dislike this young staffer.
“Well sir how do we pay them? They have no banks, no currency, no banking system, nothing sir. Their money is now worthless. We will have destroyed all their support systems.”
“Can’t we just give them some damn credit cards?” he asked in amazement and disgust.
“What are they going to do with them sir? They have no credit, no banks. No banking system. No oil revenue to pay for anything. We’ll have to give them cash and not worthless Iraqi dinar, American greenbacks and tons of it. Our government will need to help restart the government and restore their basic services. Help them rebuild. They’ll have nothing, sir.”
“Are you trying to spoil my ball game, young man?”
“No sir Mr. President. But I feel it is my job to mention these things to you, that’s all, sir." There he thought, I've said my peace and it's time to leave. "Good day Mr. President.” He started to leave to let the president and his Chief of Staff discuss the growing problem.
“Hold on Jenkins, not so fast. You started this and now you're going stay and help us figure a way out of this mess. Grab a beer and have a seat. How much money are we talking about anyway?”
“Billions sir. It's a big country to run and pay to keep running even for such a short time.”
“Hell, I can’t go to Congress and ask them if they got a spare two billion dollars lying around that they aren’t using, now can I?”
“Twelve what? Twelve billion? Twelve billion dollars? Are you nuts?”
Jenkins nodded his head in agreement. "Twelve billion dollars, sir."
“Christ sakes. Well we’ll just have to use Saddam’s piggy bank and his oil revenue to pay for this mess, now won’t we?” he chuckled with a large grin.
“It won’t be enough, Mr. President,” interjected his Chief of Staff. “His rigs won’t be operational and pumping oil for at least a year. He’ll blow all the wells. Satellite surveillance shows he's already rigged all of the major wells with explosives, over eight hundred in all sir.”
“Damn. When will our Dinar program be operational Mike?” he asked, referring to the plan to print trillions of Iraqi Dinars and flood the country with them. “Mr. President, we are printing them as we speak but we’ll need a fleet of ships to supplement the nearly thirty 747 jumbo jets we are going to use. But it will take a while sir. Each Dinar is only worth about a penny in U.S. currency, sir.”
“Damn! Well Jenkins what’s next?” he asked turning back to the young upstart who was ruining his day. “Where do you propose we get twelve billion in cash? Huh?” he raised a beer bottle in salute as the game started.
All three men were lost in thought when a few minutes later the young Yale law graduate stood and said, “That’s it Mr. President, we get it from Hussein’s own piggybank! We use his own money. Years ago when the sanctions against Iraq were tightened, we set up an oil for food program. He put all of his oil revenue into this escrow account and we advanced his country and his government money to buy food and medical supplies. At last count it has a balance of over twenty billion dollars in it at.”
His top aide chimed in, “And Mr. President when we froze all of his assets in U.S. banks there must be at least another 2-4 billion dollars sitting in our vaults! We’ll just send them back their own money and it takes us off the hook.”
Trost took another sip of his beer now ignoring the game on TV as he continued the planning process, “We set up a provisional authority over there to oversee the cash and the reconstruction, then ship the money from here to Iraq and distribute it out to the new ministries and whatever banks we can find. We ship them a bunch of old tens and twenties, you know, walking around money. We fund their government and their operations with their own cash. Beautiful I love it.”
The president slapped his leg in delight, picking up where his top aide had left off, “That’s it. When the dust settles and the bombing is over we petition the U.N. and Congress to release that money for humanitarian purposes and we use that to pay for all of this stuff. Whala! Problem solved. Perfect.”
“Well sir that will work for the everyday Iraqi on the street,” Jenkins whispered, “but when we have to rebuild hospitals, electrical systems and everything else that’s been destroyed it would take forever to count out millions of dollars in tens and twenties.” He stopped for a second before continuing. “Or we can use hundred dollar bills.” The young Assistant beamed at helping find part of the solution.
“Right Jenkins. Get on it first thing tomorrow. You run with it. You're the point man. Set up some provisional authority in Iraq when the dust settles and find an Iraqi liaison in Bagdad at the Finance Ministry and you’re in business. If you need any help call Mike here, okay? And if there is nothing else I would like to watch my ballgame. Good night son, good work.”
The president was pleased that he had solved two problems, one, how to pay for the war and whatever reconstruction there would be and two, how to graciously get young Ashton Jenkins out of his hair. He smiled at himself watching his young Yalie assistant leave the room. That will teach him to open his mouth.
Jenkins strolled out of his meeting with the president walking on air until the realization of the huge task ahead of him fully sunk in. Now he only had to arrange to have the Federal Reserve give him billions of dollars in cash over the coming years to distribute to millions of people, in the middle of the Iraqi war zone. Piece of cake he thought. Time to go home and get drunk. Next time, I’ll just send a memo.
COMING NOVEMBER 13, 2014
AVAILABLE NOW FOR PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON.COM