Layla rushed out of the storage warehouse, dazed and disoriented by all that she’d just seen and learned. Boxes of timers, some of them opened. Transaction records with Gamal Ghaffar’s signature. The crates of explosives had been shipped from Singapore to Cairo, then recently moved to who knew where. Back outside on el-Shaikh Rihan Street, these new revelations, combined with the heat, the blinding sun, and the midday call to prayer over the crackling loudspeakers, all hit her at once. She leaned against the cinder block wall of the building and tried to steady her breath.
A group of well-heeled office workers strolled by. They were hurrying to lunch, laughing and talking, ignoring the call to prayer. A group of mothers with shopping bags and strollers hurried past. A cluster of tourists paused to snap selfies with the minarets of a mosque in the background. Through it all, a group of men knelt on prayer rugs on the sidewalk, plastic bottles of water beside them, which they’d used for washing their faces, hands, and feet before the prayer began. All of them were completely oblivious to the deadly secrets on the other side of that cinder block wall.
All these people with different beliefs and backgrounds, of various nationalities. How many of them might die if she couldn’t locate those explosives? If she couldn’t stop Gamal Ghaffar? It was no longer a matter of which nation she worked for, which she belonged to. Her allegiance in this matter was clear to her, unlike in her investigation of the Rothkopfs. She was on the side of preventing one more tragic event.
She pressed her fingers to her temples, trying to put the puzzle pieces together. According to the transaction records Omar had shown her, Gamal Ghaffar had signed in and out of the storage unit frequently in recent months, and as recently as yesterday. Gamal Ghaffar—Jehan’s dad and one of the highest-ranking officials in Egyptian intelligence—was the person behind the shell company Global Relics, the link to the Muharib. An advocate of repatriating lost relics, the spouse of a prominent collector, yet a key link in the money trail linking looted relics to terrorist funding—and now to munitions storage and transport. This was insane. The link had been practically under her nose this entire time.
And yet, it made sense. The increased work hours he’d been putting in at his private home in Dreamland. The intensity with which he pursued his theory about American intelligence operating in Egypt. He could not risk discovery. No wonder he chose a third-rate storage unit in Cairo for his nefarious activities. With no security cameras and at least one bribable guard, he could get away with murder.
As soon as the echo of the muezzins died down, Layla sprang into action, running toward downtown and the embassies. She passed a couple of college students wearing T-shirts with Egyptian and American flags, one of the Open Society party shirts people sported at Fareed Monsour rallies. The sight of the American flag shook a realization loose. It was July—July 2, in fact—only two days from the most important date in the American calendar. What more perfect date was there for targeting American interests abroad? A new worry struck her. The American Embassy was known for its lavish Independence Day dinner and festivities. The very building Pierce sat in could be the Muharib’s next target. And Gamal Ghaffar was there. Maybe he had used his government position to bypass security and smuggle explosives into the building. He or someone who worked for him could be putting them into place for the Fourth of July. The countdown on those timers could already be ticking away.
Layla quickened her pace. It made the most sense to contact Pierce first. But Pierce did not have her cell. Layla took her phone from her bag and tried calling Pierce’s direct office line as she ran. Nobody answered. Shit. Pierce’s meeting with Gamal Ghaffar and the US ambassador would be wrapping up soon. Pierce was sitting down right now with a man who’d smuggled explosives across countries, and who could be planning an imminent event inside that very building. Layla had to get to Pierce and tell her Gamal Ghaffar had to be confronted before he left the embassy, while he was still under American jurisdiction.
The American Embassy was now within sight: an austere, sand-colored facade standing twenty stories high in the middle of downtown Cairo. Approaching the concrete wall surrounding the compound, Layla noticed soldiers standing at attention. They wore black uniforms and held assault rifles. She recognized the uniforms: Egypt’s Central Security Forces. These people protected the perimeter of the embassy. But there were more of them outside than usual; she quickly counted twenty. Why? She hoped something serious wasn’t happening already. Maybe she was too late to put a stop to...