Today's Reading

When I couldn't write in the very instant or hadn't been able to turn on my recording device, I reconstructed the events and conversations in my diary before the end of each day. The transcripts of these notes are rendered word for word in the dialogues throughout this book. Not a word was altered and no conversation was summarized when I was able to deliver it exactly as it had taken place, but I did edit the dialogues to eliminate empty fillers such as "umm," "get it?," "I mean," "you know," and "so" at the beginning of sentences, as well as "like"—yaani in Arabic.

I recognize that my own memory can be biased and noisy, and at times I was surprised when, much later, I read my own notes, diaries, and recording transcripts because I had remembered some incidences and exchanges differently. Whenever I could, I tried to reconfirm my recollections with those who had been present. At times, their memories and impressions diverged from mine. In the interest of accuracy and objectivity, I have included these discrepancies in footnotes throughout the book. I have also pointed out in footnotes those instances in which I had to rely on others for information and was unable to verify it independently.

As mentioned, some people helped me greatly and supplied me with crucial bits of information at the peril of being discovered and facing draconian, even fatal, consequences. Most of these individuals and their families are still in harm's way, and I have used pseudonyms and altered certain traits or changed minor details of a few venues in order to prevent the possibility of reverse-engineering their identity or location.

Lastly, I had to protect myself by concealing the identities of particular individuals. I did not, however, anonymize a single perpetrator, and I did not alter or embellish the physical appearance of any person. Those descriptions are factual and unvarnished. The following names, listed in alphabetical order, are pseudonyms: Alex, Aliya, Bassel, Clyde, Fuad, Huby, Jamil, Loubna, Paul, Reem, Saif, Samar, Sami, the Sheikh, and Tatyana. All other individuals are called by their real names, including each person in the postscript.


CHAPTER ONE

Huby was already seated at our table when I arrived at Marius et Janette, the Parisian restaurant he had chosen for our meeting. It happened to be the same restaurant where I had taken my wife out for dinner the first time she had visited me in Paris shortly after we met in the mid-1990s, and it was also the restaurant my friend Jacques would insist on whenever we were in Paris together.

As soon as I entered, the headwaiter came up to me, took my coat, and informed me that Maître Mazerius was expecting me. The restaurant was unusually empty for a Tuesday evening, just a few scattered guests. There was that familiar mustiness in the air, enriched by the scent of butter and garlic, which seemed to emanate in equal parts from the kitchen, the wood-paneled walls, and the stuffy waiters.

"Have a seat, Daniel," Huby said with a smile. "It's nice to see you. How long has it been? A year?"

"Yes, that sounds about right," I said. "The last time we met was with Jacques, here in Paris, over dinner in this very restaurant."

"Ah, our friend Jacques, how's he doing?"

Jacques was one of my favorite people and as close to a mentor as I had ever had, a fiercely loyal man of exhilarating intelligence and uncompromising principles.

"Excellent, en pleine forme, as he would say. Anyway, in your message you indicated that there is something important you would like to discuss with me. So here I am."

I had received an email from Huby a few days earlier, asking me to meet him in Paris on a life and death matter. Huby had never exhibited any melodramatic tendencies in the past, so I was both worried and intrigued.

"Indeed," Huby said with a solemn look, "more than just important. A man's life hangs in the balance. But first, let's enjoy a delicious dinner. This place has the best fish in town, and I've ordered us both the loup de mer. I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all, thanks," I replied, surprised that this life and death matter could wait until we had finished our meal and also a little annoyed at having someone else decide what I should eat. I got over my annoyance once I realized that Huby had also taken the liberty of preordering a Macallan, neat, which the waiter placed before me with a knowing smile.
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