Home > The Broker(8)

The Broker(8)
Author: John Grisham


"Yes. Ever hear of the Aviano Air Base?"


"Didn't think so. It's been around in US. hands since we ran the Germans off in 1945. It's in the northeast part of Italy, near the Alps."

"Sounds lovely."

"It's okay, but it's a base."

"How long will I be there?"

"That's not my decision. My job is to get you from this airplane to the base hospital. There, someone else takes over. Take a look at this bio for Major Herzog, just in case."

Joel spent a few minutes reading the fictional history of Major Herzog and memorizing the details on the fake passport.

"Remember, you're very ill and sedated," Gantner said. "Just pretend you're in a coma."

"I've been in one for six years."

"Would you like some coffee?"

"What time is it where we're going?"

Gantner looked at his watch and did a quick calculation. "We should land around one a.m."

"I'd love some coffee."

Gantner gave him a paper cup and a thermos, and disappeared.

After two cups, Joel felt the engines reduce power. He returned to his bunk and tried to close his eyes.

As the C-130 rolled to a stop, an air force ambulance backed itself close to the rear hatch. The troops ambled off, most still half asleep. A stretcher carrying Major Herzog rolled down the gateway and was carefully lifted into the ambulance. The nearest Italian official was sitting inside a US. military jeep, watching things halfheartedly and trying to stay warm. The ambulance pulled away, in no particular hurry, and five minutes later Major Herzog was rolled into the small base hospital and tucked away in a tiny room on the second floor where two military policemen guarded his door. Fortunately for Backman, though he had no way of knowing and no reason to care, at the eleventh hour President Morgan also pardoned an aging billionaire who'd escaped prison by fleeing the country. The billionaire, an immigrant from some Slavic state who'd had the option of redoing his name upon his arrival decades earlier, had chosen in his youth the title of Duke Mongo. The Duke had given trainloads of money to Morgan's presidential campaign. When it was revealed that he'd spent his career evading taxes it was also revealed he'd spent several nights in the Lincoln Bedroom, where, over a friendly nightcap, he and the President discussed pending indictments. According to the third person present for the nightcap, a young tart who was currently serving as the Duke's fifth wife, the President promised to throw his weight around over at the IRS and call off the dogs. Didn't happen. The indictment was thirty-eight pages long, and before it rolled off the printer the billionaire, minus wife number five, took up residence in Uruguay where he thumbed his nose north while living in a palace with soon-to-be wife number six.

Now he wanted to come home so he could die with dignity, die as a real patriot, and be buried on his Thoroughbred farm just outside Lexington, Kentucky. Critz cut the deal, and minutes after signing the pardon for Joel Backman, President Morgan granted complete clemency to Duke Mongo.

It took a day for the news to leak-the pardons, for good reason, were not publicized by the White House-and the press went insane. Here was a man who cheated the federal government out of $600 million over a twenty-year period, a crook who deserved to be locked away forever, and he was about to fly home in his mammoth jet and spend his final days in obscene luxury. The Backman story, sensational as it was, now had serious competition from not only the kidnapped Danish tourists but also the country's largest tax cheater.

But it was still a hot item. Most of the major morning papers along the East Coast ran a picture of "The Broker" somewhere on the front page. Most ran long stories about his scandal, his guilty plea, and now his pardon.

Carl Pratt read them all online, in a huge messy office he kept above his garage in northwest Washington. He used the place to hide, to stay away from the wars that raged within his firm, to avoid the partners he couldn't stand. He could drink there and no one would care. He could throw things, and curse at the walls, and do whatever he damn well pleased because it was his sanctuary.

The Backman file was in a large cardboard storage box, one he kept hidden in a closet. Now it was on a worktable, and Pratt was going through it for the first time in many years. He'd saved everything - news articles, photos, interoffice memos, sensitive notes he'd taken, copies of the indictments, Jacy Hubbard's autopsy report.

What a miserable history.

In January of 1996, three young Pakistani computer scientists made an astounding discovery. Working in a hot, cramped flat on the top floor of an apartment building on the outskirts of Karachi, the three linked together a series of Hewlett-Packard computers they'd purchased online with a government grant. Their new "supercomputer" was then wired to a sophisticated military satellite telephone, one also provided by the government. The entire operation was secret and funded off the books by the military. Their objective was simple: to locate, and then try to access, a new Indian spy satellite hovering three hundred miles above Pakistan. If they successfully tapped into the satellite, then they hoped to monitor its surveillance. A secondary dream was to try to manipulate it.

The stolen intelligence was at first exciting, then proved to be virtually useless. The new Indian "eyes" were doing much the same thing the old ones had been doing for ten years-taking thousands of photographs of the same military installations. Pakistani satellites had been sending back photos of Indian army bases and troop movements for the same ten years. The two countries could swap pictures and learn nothing.

But another satellite was accidentally discovered, then another and another. They were neither Pakistani nor Indian, and they were not supposed to be where they were found-each about three hundred miles above the earth, moving north-northeast at a constant speed of 120 miles per hour, and each maintaining a distance of four hundred miles from the other. Over ten days, the terribly excited hackers monitored the movements of at least six different satellites, all apparently part of the same system, as they slowly approached from the Arabian Peninsula, swept through the skies over Afghanistan and Pakistan, then headed off for western China.

They told no one, but instead managed to procure a more powerful satellite telephone from the military, claiming it was needed to follow up some unfinished work with the Indian surveillance. After a month of methodical, twenty-four-hour monitoring, they had pieced together a global web of nine identical satellites, all linked to each other, and all carefully designed to be invisible to everyone except the men who launched them.

They code-named their discovery Neptune.

The three young wizards had been educated in the United States. The leader was Safi Mirza, a former Stanford graduate assistant who'd worked briefly at Breedin Corp, a renegade US. defense contractor that specialized in satellite systems. Fazal Sharif had an advanced degree in computer science from Georgia Tech.

The third and youngest member of the Neptune gang was Farooq Khan, and it was Farooq who finally wrote the software that penetrated the first Neptune satellite. Once inside its computer system, Farooq began downloading intelligence so sensitive that he and Fazal and Safi knew they were entering no-man's-land. There were clear color pictures of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, and government limousines in Beijing. Neptune could listen as Chinese pilots bantered back and forth at twenty thousand feet, and it could watch a suspicious fishing boat as it docked in Yemen. Neptune followed an armored truck, presumably Castro's, through the streets of Havana. And in a live video feed that shocked the three, Arafat himself was clearly seen stepping into an alley in his compound in Gaza, lighting a cigarette, then urinating.

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