Your chance to write a spy novel

"Body of Lies" author David Ignatius and other Post readers teamed up this summer to write a spy novel. Ignatius wrote the first chapter and challenged espionage fans to continue the story. Over eight weeks, readers sent in their versions of what befalls CIA agents Alex Kassem and Sarah Mancini and voted for their favorite entries. Ignatius (who doubles as a Post columnist) chose the winning entry for each round. The result: a six-chapter Web serial and a fast-paced trip through a secret world. Details.


Chapter 1: 59 minutes


The CIA safe house in Quetta, Pakistan, was a lot like the one in Abbottabad that had kept watch on Osama bin Laden, except for one thing: There were still two officers living there, tracking the next big al-Qaeda target, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. And the CIA's watchers were about to get an astonishing and potentially deadly surprise.

About the Author
David Ignatius

David Ignatius' twice-weekly column for The Washington Post on global politics, economics and international affairs is widely syndicated all over the world. His column has won many awards and David is a frequent guest on talk shows on global issues. He has been executive editor of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune and co-moderator of PostGlobal, a continuous online discussion of important world affairs. Ignatius has published seven novels, beginning with "Agents of Innocence," published in 1987. Bloodmoney, a May, 2011 publication, is his latest. A film version of his novel,"Body of Lies," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe and directed by Ridley Scott, was released in 2008. The film rights to "The Increment" have been acquired by Jerry Bruckheimer.

David is also teaching an online Master Class on espionage, "Spy Fact and Spy Fiction."

Alex Kassem and Sarah Mancini, the two deep-cover officers, had set up their "collection cell" in a house on the outskirts of Quetta that was owned by the head of a Pakistani trucking company. The Pakistani had made a small fortune shipping supplies to the Americans in southern Afghanistan, and he was willing to rent a floor of his house, no questions asked, to the "Arab couple," who called themselves "Hassan and Farida al-Karim."

This CIA observation post in the heartland of the Taliban had seemed like a good idea back at Langley. But the plans that had been laid so carefully at the Counterterrorism Center were about to blow apart. The detonator was something every intelligence officer hopes for — but not under these circumstances: Alex and Sarah were about to encounter a "walk-in," someone who wanted to provide the intelligence they had dreamed of acquiring, but on his own terms.

The doorbell rang at the house on Ghalib Street where Alex and Sarah had been staying the past two months. The Pakistani landlord was away, as usual, and they wouldn't have answered if the bell ringer hadn't been persistent — and called out their cover name, shouting for "Mr. al-Karim."

The CIA officers were traveling in Pakistan on Jordanian passports; they both were dark-skinned and spoke fluent Arabic — and although they blended easily in the polyglot crossroads of Quetta, they were a long way from home: Kassem was an Arab American who grew up in Detroit. Mancini's family was originally from Italy, but she'd grown up in the Boston suburbs. They made a handsome couple, except that they were both dating other people back home. That was okay: Their cover didn't extend to "under the covers."

Alex answered the door. Sarah stood in the shadows with a Heckler and Koch Mk23 automatic pistol in her hand, just in case.

The man at the door was tall for a Pakistani, well built, with a neat military moustache. He was wearing the Pakistani robe known as a "shalwar khameez," but his bearing looked like that of someone who normally wore a uniform.

"Who are you?" Alex asked in Arabic and then, when that didn't register with the visitor, in English.

"Let me in, sir," said the Pakistani. "I can take you to Ayman Zawahiri."

Alex looked over the man's shoulder to see whether he was being followed.

"I am alone," said the Pakistani. "Let me in, now."

Alex pulled the man inside. Sarah lowered her pistol under her shawl.

"Sit down," Alex said, motioning to the couch. "What are you talking about?"

"I know where Zawahiri is," said the man. "I will show you the place where he is hiding. It is three miles south of here, near the University of Baluchistan. But I have two demands."

"Go on," said Alex. "What are they?"

"I want the reward money. The $25 million that you were going to pay for bin Laden, I want all of it."

"What else?"

"I want your promise to relocate me and my family to America."

Alex shrugged and took out his passport.

"Why are you asking us? We're Jordanians."

"That is a lie," said the Pakistani. "You are American intelligence officers. The Inter-Services Intelligence has been watching you for weeks."

"You work for the ISI?" asked Sarah.

The Pakistani nodded.

"Yes, madam, indeed I do, and you are running out of time. My offer expires in one hour. After that, I cannot promise that Zawahiri will still be there. You have to decide, now. Will you pay me the reward and relocate my family?"

"But it's the middle of the night in Washington," said Sarah. "We can't get authorization that quickly."

"Then you will lose your chance to get the most dangerous man in the world." He looked at his watch. "Do not delay. Yes or no. We have only 59 minutes."

Congratulations to Colin Flaherty of Wilmington, Delaware! He is the winning author of Chapter 2. His version of what happens to deep cover CIA officers Alex Kassem and Sarah Mancini earned the most reader recommendations and David Ignatius's praise. David called Flaherty's entry his "strong favorite." In his judging notes, he wrote that it "manages to advance the story, and twist it in a new and interesting direction, very deftly." Read Flaherty's chapter here.

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