This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The Scorpion’s Gate
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
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Electronic edition: November, 2005
ALSO BY RICHARD A. CLARKE
Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror
Defeating the Jihadists: A Blueprint for Action
the victims of terrorism,
to all who have fought against it,
and to their loved ones
This book would not have been possible without the efforts of three close associates and friends: Neil Nyren, editor par excellence; Len Sherman, agent extraordinaire; and Beverly Roundtree-Jones, most loyal executive assistant. To them, my great thanks.
Some may think, as they read this volume, that they see themselves or others portrayed. They do not. This is a work of fiction, in which all the characters are fictional. The work is not meant to be predictive. We can and should hope for a better future. The issues the characters face, however, we will all face in the years ahead: the oil needs of competing powers, the requirements for accurate intelligence, the threat of weapons of mass destruction, the challenge of terrorist groups, the possibility of governments’ being dishonest with their people, the responsibility and loyalty of those in government.
My hope is that this book will cause readers to think about those issues and will give them an insight into the real world in which such issues are addressed by real people, for we need a national and international dialogue—an informed dialogue—about exactly these matters.
The Diplomat Hotel
he waiter flew through the lobby café.
Behind him came a blizzard of glass shards, embedding ragged-edge daggers of shattered windows in arms, eyeballs, legs, brains. The concussion wave bounced off the marble walls with a mule-kick punch he felt in his stomach. Then there was the deafening sound of the explosion, so loud it surrounded him with a physical force, shaking every bone and organ in his body.
Brian Douglas dove for the floor, behind a tipped table. His response was automatic, as if muscle memory had told him what to do, innate reflexes from those terrible years in Baghdad when this had happened so many times. As he flattened his body on the plush carpet, he felt the floor of the Diplomat Hotel shake. He feared the fourteen-story building would collapse on top of him. He thought of New York.
Now there were long seconds of silence before the screams began, cries to Allah and God’s other names, in Arabic and English. Once again there were the shrieking voices of women, painfully high-pitched and piercingly loud. Once again there were men moaning in pain and crying out as glass continued to shatter onto the floor around them. An alarm rang needlessly above it all. Just a few feet away from Brian, an old man wailed as the blood streamed down from his forehead and spilled across the front of his white robes, “Help, please! Help me, please! Oh God, please, over here, help . . .”
Although Brian had been through bombings, it chilled his bones, knotted his stomach, made his head throb, blurred his vision, and caused him to choke, gasping for air. His eardrums were ringing and he had a sense that he was somehow disconnected from the reality around him. As he tried to focus, he sensed something was moving inches to the left of his head. With a chill shudder, he realized it was the twitching fingers of a hand severed from a body. Rivulets of blood ran down the upended tabletop to his right, as though someone had thrown a bottle of red wine against it.
Sofas, chairs, carpets, the palm plants in giant ceramic pots were burning in the rubble of what had been elegant, the soaring lobby of a five-star hotel. Then Brian focused on the overpowering scent, a smell that made him gag again as he struggled to roll over. He coughed and spit as he inhaled the vile, heavy stench of ammonia, nitrate, and blood. It was a retching smell he hated but knew all too well. It was the stench of senseless death that brought back painful days of friends lost in Iraq.
Through the shattered glass that opened onto the driveway in front of the hotel came another sound he recognized as automatic gunfire.
“Brrrrt, brrrrt . . .”
Seconds later a cacophony of sirens blared, the European-made ones going up and down in singsong, the American-made sirens wailing their imitation of space aliens landing.
Suddenly, Alec, one of Brian Douglas’s bodyguards, was over him. He wondered how long he had been down. Had he been out? “Does it hurt anywhere, sir?” Alec asked.
Brian now noticed that blood was dripping down from his scalp, matting his sandy hair. “No, Alec, somehow my luck has held once again,” he said, getting up on one knee, grabbing the overturned table for support. Brian’s head spun like a carnival ride. He tried to wipe away some of the blood and dust and rubble from his face. “Where’s Ian?” For the three years that Brian Douglas had been Bahrain station chief of SIS, British intelligence, the staff at the station had insisted that he take two bodyguards with him wherever he went, driving to and from his house on Manama’s northern beach, going on trips elsewhere in the little country, or visiting the subordinate posts in the other Gulf states. For the last year it had almost always been Alec and Ian, two former Scots Guards sergeants. They had watched over him with a mix of professional polish and personal attention, as if he were a favorite nephew.
“Ian was standing watch by the door, sir,” the big man replied, helping Brian as he managed finally to stand up. “Ian is no longer with us.” Alec said it with a slow sadness, in his soft Aberdeen lilt, accepting what he could not change, that their friend had been murdered. “There’ll be time for that later, sir, but right now we have to get you the hell out of here.”
“But there are people here who need help,” Brian stammered as Alec grabbed him firmly by the arm and moved him expertly through the mounds of wreckage and out the door to the pool deck.
“Aye, and there are experts coming to help them, sir, and besides, you’re in no shape to be helpin’ anyone.” Alec had found the service stairwell next to the pool and was steering Brian toward it. “Hear all of that shootin’ out front? This is not yet over.”
The two men moved through the smoldering debris, trying not to step into the pools of blood or onto the pieces of pink and white and gray that had so recently been living flesh and bone and brain. Glass crunched under their weight as they moved to the stair and down to the exit door. An emergency lighting box provided a pale beam as the men headed down the darkened stairs. At the bottom, Alec tried the door.
“She would be locked tight, of course,” said Alec as he motioned Brian to stand back. Pulling his Browning Hi-Power .40-caliber gun out of the holster beneath his left arm, Alec blasted three shots at the doorknob and lock. The roar of the shooting in the concrete stairwell brought the throbbing in Brian’s head to a peak of pain. Kicking the door open, Alec smiled as he turned back to Brian. “Don’t worry,” he said as he reholstered the pistol, “there are nine more in that clip.”
Brian followed Alec through a long service tunnel. At its end, he saw two other station men, standing by a door to the alley behind the hotel. “The station has had this route on the list for four years, since that foreign ministers’ conference here,” he heard Alec say through the ringing. The two big men by the door, folding Belgian machine guns slung under their windbreakers, rushed Brian to an unmarked white Bedford van blocking the alley. In seconds, the van was moving quickly down the streets of Manama, away from the burning tower of devastation that had been the Diplomat Hotel, from the fires, from the dead, and from those who wished through their pain that they were dead.