Scott Britz-CunninghamScott- BritzCunningham
Code White




12:31 p.m.


Outside the largely deserted ambulance entrance at the rear of the medical center, Harry, Judy Wolper, Lee and Scopes and Avery stood waiting for the arrival of Rahman Al-Sharawi. Judy said little and was uncharacteristically tense. At Harry's request, she had armed herself with a Glock 17, a big gun for such a small woman, but one that was dependable and easy to use even if you didn't stay in practice.


Across the alleyway, a man in a hospital gown with an IV pole at his side sat smoking on a concrete bench. From time to time he would tap the ashes of his cigarette between his outspread knees. Harry himself felt the lack of a cigarette acutely. He had quit smoking when he came to Fletcher Memorial, but standing around with his hands in his pockets brought old cravings back.


"What I'd like to know is how you found this guy so fast," he said to the two FBI agents.


"His sister led us right to him," said Scopes. "Not intentionally, of course. It was her phone records. She had called him at least three times this past year from her home phone. So we just traced the number — you'd be surprised how quickly we can get cooperation in a high-profile terrorism case — and there he was."


"Then I guess she lied to us. She said she hadn't had any contact with him."


"Big surprise, huh?" said Scopes.


Harry pursed his lips, as though inhaling from a phantom cigarette. "I knew she was holding something back, but I didn't think that was it."


"They caught him sitting in an apartment in Albany Park, watching CNN and eating a bowl of lentils."


"What's the game plan?"


"We'll see," said Lee.


"You'd be surprised how helpful a guy can be once he knows he's gonna be blown up by his own bomb."


Before the motorcade itself was visible, Harry saw the flashing blue and red lights reflected from the white stone of the Children's Hospital across the alley. Then they pulled up, three squad cars running without sirens. Two uniformed officers got out of the front seats of each of the cars. Rahman was in the back seat of the middle car. Harry strained to get a look at him as the cops pulled him out. Harry had seen scumbags of all persuasions in the past, but he had never yet looked into the eyes of someone so low that he thought he could prove his manhood by blowing up a few 60-year-old ladies on ventilators. He was struck by how ordinary this guy looked — not at all like one of those wild, bearded Talibans with the long skirts over their trousers. He was of middle height, lean, clean-shaven, with short black hair that was starting to thin on top. He wore jeans and a red and black soccer jersey. Some terror mastermind! Harry walked past a hundred guys like him every day of his life.


In handcuffs and leg irons, surrounded by blue uniforms, Rahman was slowly conducted to the entrance. His sly, sideways glance gravitated toward the bear-like, uniformed figure of Avery. He seemed surprised when the little Asian man in the dark suit spoke first.


"Mr. Al-Sharawi, I am Special Agent Raymond Lee, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You are being transferred to my custody, to be held as a material witness in the investigation of a bomb threat against this hospital. If you are subsequently charged with a criminal offense, any statements you make can and will be held against you in a court of law."


Rahman said nothing, but looked up at the sky.


"Do you understand English, Mr. Al-Sharawi? Do you require a translator?"
Again there was no answer.


"Okay, bring him in. Mr. Lewton, see if the hospital has an Arabic translator available."


"I already have one standing by." Harry was a little rankled by Lee's peremptory tone.


"One needs no translator to speak to the Devil," he said. His voice was soft and whispery, with a trace of a British accent.


"Oh, we're not the Devil," said Lee, with a thin-lipped smile.


Scopes couldn't resist a chuckle. "But we can fix you up with an appointment in hell."


At a nod from Lee, the entourage marched through the door. Harry led them through a corridor to the automatic double doors of the Department of Emergency Medicine. From there, they passed through the Intake and Triage Unit, where patients were first examined as they came off the ambulances. Triage opened onto the Resuscitation Unit, a big room with a square nurses' station in the middle, and an outer perimeter divided by curtains into a dozen treatment bays for the most critically ill patients — heart attacks, gunshot wounds, car wrecks, burns. At this time of day it was pretty quiet, with a few interns in scrubs and short white coats chatting up the nurses. But by seven p.m., it would be boiling over with activity — shouts and screams, staff running in and out of the bays, the floor littered with bloody sponges, plastic tubes and shredded clothing — the battlefield debris of a hand-to-hand struggle between life and death.


Beyond Resuscitation lay the "Majors" — the Major Medical Unit, as big as a bus station. Here patients with serious but not so urgent problems — shortness of breath, stomach pains, dizziness, fevers, jaundice or bloody bowel movements — were observed and worked up with tests before admission to the hospital.


The end of the march was the Acute Psychiatric Subunit, located just to the right of the Majors. It was laid out like Resuscitation with bays and a central work station, but on a smaller scale. This was where Triage sent schizophrenics, attempted suicides, and manic-depressives high-flying off their meds — night people with dark, fearful visages, fleeing from invisible furies, or cowering before choruses of disembodied voices. For the very worst — those wracked by inhuman rages against themselves or others, unquenchable by reason or by drugs — there existed the Isolation Room. This was the closest thing in the hospital to a maximum-security prison cell. It had a steel door, unbreachable walls and continuous closed-circuit monitoring. One had to be very, very sick to earn admission there.
Isolation itself was fronted by a small guard-room, containing a desk with a computer terminal, a small wooden table, and a half-dozen chairs of different makes. As the entourage filed in, Raymond Lee had Rahman sit down at the table and then pulled up a chair opposite him.


"Can we get you anything to make you comfortable, Mr. Al-Sharawi? A glass of water, perhaps?"




Against the ascetic proportions of his angular chin, narrow-bridged aquiline nose, thin lips and flaring nostrils, Rahman's eyes seemed sensuous and fluid. They were deep-set, watchful, and outlined by a thin script of black mascara-like pigment that, to Harry's thinking, made him look not so much effeminate as serpentine. Harry found the incongruity unsettling — half voluptuary, half holy man.


Lee placed his digital voice recorder on the table."So, let's get started. Could you state your name, please?"




"Do you not know your name?"


"I am who I am."


"Do you need help answering that question?"


"He who made me knows by what name He will call me on the Day of Judgment."


"Very well. Let me rephrase that. Are you Rahman Abdul-Shakoor Al-Sharawi, born in Cairo, Egypt?"




"Progress!" Lee slapped the table in mock relief. "And is Aliyah Sabra Al-Sharawi your sister?"






"She is nothing."


Lee sat forward and tapped his fingers on his lips. "Was she born to Dr. Bashir Al-Sharawi, who is your father?"


"As a bitch may be born to a dog, yes."


Standing behind Lee, Scopes stifled a laugh. Lee himself was unruffled. "Are you aware that she works in this hospital?"


"What she does is of no concern to me."


"Mr. Al-Sharawi, I am not interested in your family affairs. I ask you only to confirm certain facts that may potentially have a bearing upon our investigation. If you cooperate, the law will not be unmindful of that."




"Very well, let's take a different tack. I believe you know of the existence of an organization called the Al-Quds Martyrs' Brigade."




"Are you a member of that organization?"




"Are you authorized to speak for it?"




"Let me be candid, Mr. Al-Sharawi." said Lee. "We have received a threat against this hospital, demanding the release of two men, Mohammed Meteb and Hassan Abo Mossalam, from custody in New York. The government has decided to comply with the demands of the ransom note we have received. However, we need to discuss with someone the specific arrangements for the release, to make certain that all goes smoothly, and that there are no misunderstandings. We are ready to take action on this demand. But we don't know who to talk to. Are you the person we should approach?"


"Say what you will."


Lee raised his hands impotently. "I'm not going to discuss anything unless I know that you are authorized to negotiate on behalf of Al-Quds."


"I have . . . some influence."


"Not good enough. It must be someone whose word can be trusted. Someone with the authority to make a binding agreement."


"What I promise will be adhered to."


"Then you have such authority?"




"Very good. Then you can confirm that a bomb is in fact present somewhere in this facility?"


"There is a bomb, yes."


"Where did the explosive come from?"




"What is its destructive power?"




"Enough for what?"


"To destroy everything."


"Did you yourself construct the bomb?"


Rahman looked away from Lee. For one unsettling moment, his gaze landed on Harry. "These questions have no concern in the matter of the release of the honored mujahideen Meteb and Abo Mossalam. You will confine yourself to that issue."


"It's customary in these situations for each side to offer something as a token of good faith. That's reasonable, is it not?"


Rahman turned back toward Lee and raised his eyebrows expectantly.


Lee shifted forward, fixing Rahman's gaze. "What I offer you is a signed order from the FBI District Office in New York City, directing the immediate release of Meteb and Mossalam from Rikers Island Prison and their deportation to Yemen. In addition, in the presence of these witnesses, I will sign a second order myself, giving you safe conduct out of the country following the successful disarming of the bomb."


"Do it."


"Yes, immediately," said Lee. "I will have the papers faxed from New York. But I must know what you are willing to put forward on your side. Specifically, I need to have some evidence that the bomb does, in fact, exist."


"I have told you so."


"Physical evidence is what I'm talking about. I need to see the bomb."


"You know we have the C-4."


"So you say. Even if that's true, how do I know that you have the expertise to construct a bomb?"


"Believe it, infidel."


"I'm sorry. I need to see it with my own eyes."


Rahman arched his right eyebrow. His voice rose to an oracular pitch. "You will see it with your eyes. And you will hear it with your ears. Do you think I am a simpleton, to be led about like a goat on a chain? I have a Master's Degree in Chemical Engineering from Cornell. These papers you speak of are nothing. I will wipe my shit with them. You have no authority to write such papers. I will tell you nothing until I hear Meteb or Abo Mosallam speak to me personally from the airport at Sana'a, confirming that they are safe and out of the hands of the idolaters. As for myself, I do not care. All-merciful God will be with me no matter what happens."


"We have already paid your ransom money, and are preparing to free your comrades. Everything is proceeding reasonably. Why can't you help us out here?"


"When they are free in Sana'a. Not before."


"I implore you in the name of God. Help us."


"I will answer no further questions. I demand an attorney."


The word sent a collective shudder through the room. An irritated Lee looked to the uniformed officers. "Has anyone Mirandized him?"


"No," said one of them.


Lee turned back to Rahman. "Mr. Al-Sharawi, you do not necessarily have the right to an attorney. You are a non-citizen illegally present in the United States, and we have the option to detain you as an enemy combatant. Military rules are different from civilian rules."




"Understand, Mr. Al-Sharawi, that I will hold you here in this hospital until this matter is resolved. If the bomb you have planted is as effective as you claim, you yourself will die if it goes off."


"Do you think I fear death? The death of a martyr is the most beautiful thing imaginable."


Scopes was standing behind Rahman. "Is that what you think? You love death?" he said, bending forward, almost to Rahman's ear. "We'll see how much you like it when you're looking down the door of the gas chamber."


"I am ready for it now. You have a gun. Shoot me. I will not raise a finger."


Scopes stepped into Rahman's view and pulled open his jacket to display his shoulder holster. Although Scopes was way out of line, Lee did not intervene. Harry couldn't tell if it was because Lee wanted to study Rahman's reaction, or if he was simply too preoccupied with figuring out his next line of attack.


In any case, Rahman was unimpressed. "I will say nothing more until I have an attorney."


"I'll make you talk!" said Scopes. In the blink of an eye, he grabbed Rahman by the back of the neck and slammed his face against the table.


"Stop it! Let it go, Terry!" He put his hand out and pushed Scopes away from the table.


Rahman began shouting excitedly in Arabic.


"Mr. Al-Sharawi, let me ask you one more time — . . ."


Rahman ignored him and went on shouting over him. His voice was high-pitched and guttural, with a pronounced sing-song lilt. It reminded Harry of a swarm of angry hornets circling their nest.


"Mr. Al-Sharawi! Please!"


More Arabic. Now Scopes began shouting, too, quoting from the Federal Criminal Code,


"A person who, without lawful authority, uses, threatens, or attempts or conspires to use, a weapon of mass destruction — . . ."


Through the din, Lee's thin voice was almost inaudible. However, after Scopes kicked a chair for emphasis, Lee became a veritable Demosthenes of body language —eloquently ordering him out of the room.


Still, Rahman went on with his Arabic.


"He's gone," shouted Lee, pointing to the door. "Okay, Mr. Al-Sharawi. He's gone. Now turn it off."


More Arabic.


"Okay, I think we all need to cool down a little." Turning to the uniforms, he pointed toward the door of Isolation. "Gentlemen, would you please secure him in the holding cell? My colleagues and I need to go upstairs for a conference."


Harry showed one of the officers the combination to the door look, and watched carefully as Rahman, still shouting his recitation, was hustled into the ten-by-twelve-foot room and handcuffed to the bed.


"Make sure one of you stays in there with him at all times," said Lee. "Leave your gun outside. If he does decide to talk, call me immediately."


Harry followed Lee out into the corridor. The Isolation Room was supposed to be sound-proof, but he could still hear Rahman's sing-song reverberating in his ears.


There wasn't time for games like this. The hospital didn't have time. His mother on the 18th floor didn't have time. Harry had to fight hard to suppress an expression of disgust.


Christ, what a privilege to see the pros at work!


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