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Beirut

          The bomb was in the pastry truck.

          It weighed 120 pounds and was made of the plastic explosive, Semtex. Seven hundred roofing nails were layered inside it; they had been soaked in pesticide before being entombed. There was no timer. The bomb was set for manual detonation. An electrical charge from a car battery nearby would serve as the trigger. 

          The 1998 blue Toyota truck was parked on Fayed Terrace next to the side entrance of the el-Sabri function hall. It was almost half past noon, a Saturday, and the street was crowded with cars and other small trucks. A wedding ceremony was set to begin inside the hall at one o'clock. Guests were already arriving, some in limousines, many in SUVs. They were backing up traffic for blocks around.

          This was no ordinary wedding because the bride's father was no ordinary man. He was Muhammad Ayman Qatad, supreme leader of the Al-Hajiri jihad, one of the largest organizations in the Al Qaeda network. Qatad was a financier of terror. He'd accumulated a fortune by running a string of bank-theft and money-laundering operations from Lebanon to New Jersey. Qatad had supplied funds for suicide operations on the West Bank and Gaza. He'd sent mujahidin to fight in Chechnya. He paid for the boat and motor used in the bombing of the USS Cole. His greatest accomplishment however, at least in his eyes and those of his followers, was helping to bankroll the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.    

            It was now twelve-forty five. More guests were arriving, a  who's who of the local Islamic underworld. Men were entering the wedding hall through the front door. Women were directed to a door in the back. A small crowd had gathered on the street outside. Qatad's hired guards watched over it nervously as their boss arrived in an armored SUV and was hustled into the hall. He would be the last one allowed inside.

          The wedding ceremony would be brief. As the clock struck one, the bride was led in.  She took her place beside the groom. A prayer was recited by the men, then a marriage contract was produced. The groom made his formal marriage proposal and the bride responded three times: "Kobul -- I accept." That was it. The ceremony was complete.

          Qatad, the proud father, embraced the newlyweds, kissing each one three times on both cheeks. There was polite applause and others in the immediate families embraced. Then the bride and groom each ate a piece of fruit offered to them on a date palm. Then they kissed.

          The bomb went off a second later.

                                      *                 *                 *

          When the smoke cleared, the wedding hall was simply gone. An immense crater now filled the space where the five-story building had stood. All but a handful of people inside the wedding hall had been killed.

          An eerie silence descended on the area. A deathly quiet, except for the crackle of flames. Then came the sirens. And suddenly the streets were filled with armed men again. All of Qatad's bodyguards had been killed in the blast -- these soldiers were the local militiamen hired to watch the periphery of the wedding celebration.

           A group of them were immediately drawn to the wreckage of the pastry truck. All that remained was the chassis and the four tire rims. They knew the chances the perpetrators were still in the area were nil. But then a surprise. Shouts from two blocks away. Through the smoke and flames, two of their brethren were gesturing wildly.

          "The bombers are here!" they were both yelling. "We have them cornered!"

          The chase was on.

          The pursuit reached the center of the now-deserted neighborhood, a place known as the Wheel, for its circular marketplace. The bombers were spotted ducking down a narrow alley to the east. The militiamen followed quickly, knowing this particular alley was a dead end.

          But after turning that one last corner, the militiamen abruptly came to a halt. Before them was an incomprehensible sight. Hovering silently above the other end of the alley, not two hundred feet away, was a large black helicopter. It had two ropes lowered from it and the two bombers were being lifted up into it.

          More shocking, the helicopter was not unmarked, as might have been expected in this case, Just the opposite. There was a huge flag attached to its fuselage.

          An American flag.

          The two bombers had been reeled into the helicopter by this time and the aircraft began moving away. The militiamen opened fire. The helicopter took some hits along the fuselage and up near the tail. It began to stagger; a trail of smoke appeared. A cheer went up from those below. Suddenly half the neighborhood was  shooting at it.

          That's when the Harrier jumpjet arrived.   

          It came out of nowhere as jumpjets were known to do. It immediately opened up with its cannon, raking the alleyway from one end to the other. The militiamen went scrambling for their lives. Firing at helicopters with rifles was one thing; battling a jet fighter was quite another. The Harrier climbed, turned and came back down again, cannon blazing once more. Another stream of explosions ran down the alley, tearing up the pavement and covering just about all the fleeing militiamen in concrete and burning rubble. This gave the chopper enough time to safely move away.

          Only then did the Harrier leave the scene.  

                             *                           *                           *

Somalia

          It was called the Olympic Hotel. 

          It was an infamous building, six stories, white-washed top to bottom. A decade before, a horrendous battle had been fought near here between US special forces, and gunmen loyal to local warlord Mohammed Farrah Aideed. Months earlier, Aideed had stolen just about all the food the US had delivered to the desperate city of Mogadishu. In a place were starvation killed nearly a thousand people a day, food was power. And Aideed wanted power.    

          On that early October day, a top level meeting between Aideed and his henchmen was in progress in the building next to the hotel. The US troops, including members of the US's premier special ops unit, Delta Force, as well as many Army Rangers, had descended on the building in a swarm of Blackhawk helicopters. Their orders were to capture Aideed alive, or at the very least, bring in some of his high-level associates. 

          But Aideed's gunmen had been tipped that the Americans were coming. They were waiting when the Blackhawks arrived overhead. Two of the copters went down immediately; many others were driven away. The majority of US troops that had already repelled to the ground found themselves trapped. It took them a day and a half to fight their way out of the hostile city. Eighteen Americans never made it. One was butchered by an armed mob and dragged through the streets.

          These days, the Olympic Hotel was a shrine of sorts. Because of what happened here, the Muslim Somalis got what they wanted: the embarrassing withdrawal of US troops from their country. A mission that had begun as one of mercy, to feed the millions of starving in Somalia, had ended in a humiliating failure. The hotel still served as the not-so-secret headquarters of al-Itihaad al-Islamic, the people responsible for the killing and desecration of American servicemen that day. It was here that top-level Al Qaeda operatives transiting through Africa could also lay low and know they would be safe.

          Until this night.

          It was 10 PM and the electricity in downtown Mogadishu had gone out for the night. Candles and cooking fires were lit in most of the rooms at the Hotel, as well as the building next door. The noise from battery-operated radios blared through the open windows. Drunken laughter too, along with muffled praying and the sounds of sour music.

          Fittingly, it was two Blackhawk helicopters that showed up first. No soldiers would be lowered by fast ropes this time. This was not an insertion operation or a high-level smash and grab. 

          This was payback.

          The pair of Blackhawks dove for the hotel, mini-guns firing, rockets flying off their underbellies. One aircraft stayed in the lead; it was the gunship of the two. The second copter was packed with soldiers. Held in with safety belts, many had their weapons thrust out of openings on the right side of the aircraft. This second Blackhawk slowed almost to a hover, allowing the soldiers to fire their weapons directly into the windows of the hotel's upper stories. There was a trio of explosions and suddenly half the  building was on fire. Many within perished. Others died leaping from the rooftop and windows. Cluttered and rancid, the building next door caught fire too.

          The Blackhawks departed, only to be followed by a jet fighter suddenly streaking low over the neighborhood. Its noisy arrival jolted many thousands from their sleep. The fighter -- a Harrier jumpjet -- did not drop any bombs. Instead, it swooped down on a mob of Muslim gunmen who had gathered nearby and dusted them with a light green powder. This was barium sulfate and pepper acid -- super-itching powder. Once on the skin, it was near impossible to get off. It would plague the victim with incessant itching and bloody rashes for up to a year. The jet made two passes, then it too disappeared over the horizon.  

          Only then did the ancient air raid sirens began to wail across the city, but they were too late on this good night. Rumors that the raiders would soon be back were shouted from the rooftops. Panic washed through the streets. Angry mobs began hunting down the Muslim fighters and hacking them to death -- they'd been the cause of this! No medical personnel ventured out into the madness.  Nor did the police or the army. 

          And no one bothered to put out the fire at the Olympic Hotel either.

          It burned to the ground. 

                             *                           *                           *

Riyardh

          These were troubling days for Prince Ali, if  anyone worth twenty billion dollars could be troubled.

          He was a fabulously wealthy man; a direct bloodline to the House of Saud was all it took. He was 40 years old and while not very handsome, he didn't have to be. He had 22 wives, all of them gorgeous. Two had been Miss America finalists, one had been Miss World. He also owned a fleet of US- and British sports cars, two Gulfstream jets and a yacht the size of a destroyer.  

          The Prince was also a money man for Al Qaeda. Why? Several reasons: There was the obligation of every Muslim to help promote Islam, of course. There was also the respect he received from those holy fighters led to believe that Ali was spending millions of his own money on them. Then there was the dream of the Caliphate, the uniting of the entire Muslim world under a single entity. And the fact that if men in his position within the Royal Family didn't help the terrorists, the martyrs would soon blowing up their planes, their ships, their houses.  

          But the real reason was simpler: Prince Ali detested Americans. He detested their lifestyles, their attitudes, the colors of their skin. He detested their freedoms, their diversity and the way their women walked. He detested McDonald's, Chevrolet, Kodak and Coke and the way Americans always seemed to have something on their minds, and were never shy about spitting it out. He hated their ruggedness, their TV shows, their blonde hair and their big blue eyes. He hated them.

          This was strange, because he derived more than half his fortune from products purchased by Americans. He was rich because of America.

          The irony did not bother him. But if Prince Ali ever decided to lay down on an analyst's couch, a not-so-surprising deeper truth would come out: That like many of his countrymen, rich or not, he hated Americans simply because he was not one of them. 

                             *                           *                           *

          If homeliness and rust were the perfect disguise, the Ocean Voyager would have been invisible.   

          It looked like a typical container ship. Eight hundred feet long, 105 feet wide, with a 60-foot drop from the top deck to the bottom of the cargo bay. It weighed 30,000 tons. When it was first built by Maersk back in 1981, its top speed was barely 15 knots.

          There had been no need for glamour in the ship's original design and its builders had stuck to the plan. The deck was nightmare of winches and tie-offs and thick rope strung tight everywhere. There were dozens of things to trip over, crack a knee or get crushed by, especially up near the bow. The recessed deckhouse offered a great view  . . . of the smokestacks, the ladders, and the railings and, of course, all those containers on deck. They stretched out in front of an observer like a railroad yard somehow lost at sea.

          Flat and boxy and dirt-dog ugly, the ship looked no different than hundreds of container carriers plying the world's oceans; dozens could be found at any time in the Mediterranean, or the Indian Ocean or the Persian Gulf. 

          But the Ocean Voyager was not a container ship. Not really.

          Officially, it was an Air-Land Assault Ship/Special. 

          A warship. In disguise.

                             *                           *                           *

          The Ocean Voyager entered the Suez Canal and traveled all night.

          It was the ship's third passage in two weeks. They reached the Red Sea by sunrise and sailed all that day. When the sun went down again, Ocean Voyager was off the west coast of Saudi Arabia, near the city of Yambu. Mecca, the holy Islamic capital, was a hundred miles to the south.  

          A new mission began. Martinez was up on the bridge, lording over the launch operation. Below him, the two enormous elevators lifted the pair of Harriers to the deck. The Marine air techs ran one last check of the jumpjets' external systems, then both planes took off.

          The elevators went back down and retrieved the pair of  Blackhawks. Their engines were turning too. The team did not fly ordinary choppers; some people called them, "Super Hawks." They were more streamlined than a typical UH-60, six feet longer and three feet wider. Every sharp angle on the fuselage had been stretched out and every edge smoothed over, like on a Stealth fighter. Their paint job was basic, non-reflective black, the same as a stealth plane too. Any heat sources, especially around the engines, had been dampened off by thick metal cowlings. The specially adapted engines helped keep the choppers' noise down near zero.   

          The helicopters' call names were "Eight Ball" and  "Torch." Eight Ball was the gunship. It carried eight big weapons. A GE mini-gun was sticking out of its nose. Twin,  five-inch rocket tubes were mounted on either side of the cockpit. Twin 50-caliber machine guns were located at both doors in the  open-air bay. Secured to a slot and pivot on the right side of the bay was a Mark-19, 40mm grenade-launcher. Essentially a machine gun for throwing grenades, it could fire 60 explosive rounds a minute, earning it the nickname, Grass Cutter. The helicopter's extra-heavy lift turbo engines helped get all this, plus the crew of five, into the air.

          The Torch copter was dedicated to carrying the spy ship's Delta guys. It could hold up to sixteen troops, fully-equipped, plus its own flight crew, though many of the Delta operatives could fly the aerial troop truck in a pinch. There was a single fifty-caliber machine gun at each door of Torch and, like the Eight Ball, it had rocket launchers set up on rails on either side of the belly. Both aircraft also carried a large American flag, folded under its front seat.

          Once the helicopters were properly heated up, a line of Delta troopers appeared from a nearby hatch. They hurried across the pancake, in single file and climbing aboard the Torch ship with practiced haste. Once Delta was in place, the Marine techs loaded aboard the strange cargo the chopper would also be carrying this night: four metal cages, each holding a twenty-pound pig. 

          Another radar sweep confirmed no other ships had wandered into Ocean Voyager's security zone. Up on the forward bridge, Martinez asked for a GPS check. The ship's nav guys came back with a good read. They were where they were supposed to be.

          The helicopters took off.

                             *                           *                           *

          US Army Sergeant Dave Hunn was riding in the jump seat of the Torch ship. There were two squads in the Delta package, eight operators each. Hunn was the squad leader of the first team. He was 6-3, 225, a large individual, with less than two-percent body fat. He looked more Marine than Army. A jughead, with a chiseled chin, beady eyes, and a low brow. He was sporting a goatee and great tan.

          He was wearing the standard Delta ops uniform: a Nomex flight suit, a black Fritz helmet with headphones and a Sat-Cell phone attached, a pair of shatter-proof goggles, armored shorts to protect his groin, Gore-Tex boots and a Kevlar vest.

          He was carrying an M16A2-CAR-15 specialized assault rifle, the black ops version of the standard M-16. It had a collapsible stock, a shorter barrel, held a 30-round magazine and was equipped with a silencer. The rifle could also carry a M203 40-mm grenade launcher under its barrel, and any number of special ops gadgets on the top, from low-light and thermal imaging systems to laser pointers.

          Everyone in the squad was equipped with one. Hunn's team also worked with bayonets attached to their weapons. Few things could demoralize an enemy faster than to see nine inches of razor-steel coming at them.

          Hunn was from Queens, one of eight kids. He'd been a member of Delta for four years. He'd started out as a "door kicker," typical of someone good at hand to hand combat. He'd gradually advanced to Squad God. Seven guys took orders from him. He was the team's demolition expert, its back-up medic and its interrogator. He also spoke fluent Arabic. 

          His youngest sister had been in the Twin Towers on 9/11. The last time anyone saw her, she was getting on the express elevator to the top floor of the North Tower, going up to see the view. She was just 18 years old.

          She was among of the youngest victims that day. Hunn lost it when he found out. The Army put him into a precautionary five-day psychological awareness group the day after the attacks, this instead of allowing him to go home. Hunn told the shrinks all the right things though. It was a huge blow, he said, but life must go on. Are you sure? the shrinks asked. Positive, he told them. Truth was, he wanted nothing less than blood to avenge his sister's death. Whose blood? Anyone from the Middle East would do. He didn't tell this to the shrinks, of course. Somehow he felt they knew. They let him out two days early.

          Time went on, and it was tough. But then he was given the opportunity to volunteer for this unorthodox program. It promised few regs, lots of action, extra pay and no PC bullcrap. The two civilians in bad suits who came down to see him that warm night at Fort Bragg couldn't have been more blunt. Want to kill some sand monkeys? they'd asked him. 

          Hunn jumped at the chance.

                             *                           *                           *

United Arab Emirates 

          Burjuman market place was a crossroads of the world. 

          It was a huge open-air bazaar, four blocks around, located on the edge of a city known as Ajman. Among the crowd of shoppers, Bassar Jazeer saw the man named Abdul Zoobu walking in his direction. Zoobu had been slowly making his way across the crowded marketplace for the past half hour, looking over his shoulder, scowling at anyone who came close. Finally, it was time to do business.  

          Jazeer owned an electronics shop right in the middle of the square. He knew Zoobu from previous transactions. Zoobu was hard to forget. Tall, perpetually dirty, with one eye frozen deep in its socket, Zoobu was also known to be unstable. He was also thick with Al Qaeda. He was a top mule, someone who delivered VIP messages, orders or information to the lower cells. Ordinary people avoided him. On a whim, he could make a person disappear.

          At least that's how it used to be. The word around the marketplace lately was that Zoobu had become a marked man. Someone was gunning for him, and his imminent elimination was said to be taking a toll on him. He was even more unstable than before.   

          Zoobu finally stepped into Jazeer's shop. He lingered near  some Singapore-made boom boxes while Jazeer took care of a customer. Once the customer had gone, Zoobu approached. Jazeer knew he was here to buy cell phones.

          Jazeer quickly threw 12 phones into a used Macy's bag. He would have given them to Zoobu for free at that point. He just wanted the man to leave. But he was a merchant and he couldn't help himself. He suddenly asked the terrorist: "And how will you be paying for them today?"

          Zoobu growled lowly, but then reached into his robes, further down from where he kept his switchblade, to his credit card collection. He pulled it out, thirty cards in all held together by a rubber band. He selected an American Express Platinum card and handed it to Jazeer.

          Jazeer started the electronic transaction, but then happened to look over Zoobu's shoulder to see a rather amazing sight: a helicopter was landing in the middle of the marketplace.

          The helicopter was black and there were soldiers in black uniforms hanging all over it. The helicopter was not making any noise. This was very odd. And there was another one hovering just above it. It wasn't making any noise either. One of the soldiers hanging off the side of the helicopter jumped out and Jazeer clearly saw the patch on his left shoulder. It was an American flag. 

          That's when it hit . . .

          "Praise Allah!" Jazeer cried. "No!"

          The Crazy Americans were here . . .

          The people in the square scattered, hundreds of them, all with great haste and in every direction. The square was virtually empty just seconds after the helicopter finally set down. The soldiers bounded out of it and began running right for Jazeer's store.

          Zoobu saw the chopper, he saw the huge soldiers with the patch containing the Stars and Stripes and the outline of the Twin Towers. That's when he knew beyond all doubt that these people were after him. He fled to the back of the store.

          The American soldiers arrived a second later. Jazeer fell backwards against the display holding his phone cards and lottery tickets. The soldiers seemed unreal to him. They were enormous. Their weapons, their helmets, their body armor. They looked right out of Star Wars. Oddly, two were carrying hatchets. 

          Six of them ran in. Two went into a defensive crouch,  weapons up, right in front of his counter. The other four went down the main aisle, moving very quickly, splitting up, looking to surround the hapless Zoobu. They finally cornered him in the videotape department. Jazeer heard some shouting and then the sound of metal viciously cutting flesh. Once, twice, five times. Ten. Twenty. Fifty . . . It went on for the longest time. Jazeer could hear Zoobu's body flopping about the loose boards at the rear of the store. The man's screams, terrifying. Meanwhile the second helicopter flashed overhead again, this time much lower. It looked like a battle tank in the air. Above it two fighter jets that seemed to have the ability to hang in the air were doing  just that, hovering ever higher above the scene.

          Finally all was quiet at the back of the store. The American soldiers started exiting. The helicopter outside was kicking up a cloud of dust now. It was hard to see inside the store. The first two soldiers departed, then two more ran by Jazeer. They were carrying Zoobu's butchered body in an unzipped body bag.

          Another soldier rushed by, but then stopped right in front of Jazeer. There was a very disturbed look in his eyes.

          He studied Jazeer for a moment and then looked at the copter waiting outside. The rest of his colleagues were already loaded on to the aircraft.

          "You speak English?" the American soldier yelled at Jazeer, trying to be heard above the commotion.

          Foolishly, Jazeer nodded yes.

          "You knew this guy, Zoobu?" the soldier yelled at him.

          "He was a customer!" Jazeer yelled back.

          Suddenly the soldier's muzzle was pointed at Jazeer's throat. There was a bayonet on the end of it.

          "You know who he was buying those phones for?"

          Jazeer had his hands up; they were flailing. He shook his head no -- a lie. 

          "No?" the soldier screamed at him.

          "No! No!" Jazeer was yelling back, even though tears were now running down his cheeks. Zoobu was not as crazy as this American.

          "You knew, didn't you?" the soldier again bellowed at Jazeer. 

          Finally Jazeer had to scream. This man was going to kill him anyway. He could not die telling a lie.      

          "Yes!" he cried. "I knew . . ."

          He could see the man's finger begin to squeeze the trigger.  Jazeer was expecting a bullet to his brain at any moment, his last breath nigh. But then the soldier screamed at him again. "Hands out front!"

          Jazeer immediately laid his hands on the counter. He opened his eyes just in time to see the ax coming down. It severed his hand just below the wrist. He saw blood, he saw pieces of bone.

Before he could leap away in pain, the soldier grabbed his Jazeer's left hand,  forced it down and preceded to chop it off too. Blood gushing again, the pieces of bone actually made a noise hitting the wall behind him..

          Jazeer collapsed in shock. The soldier stood over him and in perfect Arabic, hissed: "If you have no hands, you will be of no further use to Al Qaeda!"

          Then the soldier threw a handful of playing cards on top of Jazeer and left. 

          One card fell next to where Jazeer's head had hit the floor. It was a photo of the New York Twin Towers, with the message: We Will Never Forget printed beneath it. 

                   *                           *                           *

          The Eight Ball Blackhawk was cruising 12,000 feet above the darkened Persian Gulf. 

          Eight Ball was no longer a gunship. All of its weaponry had been removed to reduce weight and make it more fuel efficient. Its interior had been cored out too. No more extra seats, no more redundant communications sets. The aircraft was now just a fuselage with a rotor on top and some huge shoulder tanks, filled with the last of their fuel, hanging off the sides. It even had Delta guys at the controls, saving the weight of dragging two Air Force pilots along. 

          Sergeant Dave Hunn was crouched in the back of the copter, next to the three Saudi youths. They were still bound by the hands, but were no longer blind-folded. Jamaal was the oldest. The other two were about 17 and 15. Hunn knew he didn't have much time; the Spooks back on Ocean Voyager expected the terrorists to make their move as early as daybreak the next morning. That meant they had less than ten hours to stop the Next Big Thing. 

          Hunn turned to the first teenager. He was the youngest. He didn't bother to ask if the boy spoke English. He knew they all did.

          He got right in the kid's face.

          "We know what you guys are up to," Hunn screamed in his ear. "You, Jamaal and your other brother."

          The kid shook his head no. He was absolutely terrified. 

          "Tell me the codes!" Hunn screamed at the kid. "If not . . ." He drew an imaginary knife across his throat.   

          The boy grew more frightened, but became defiant as well. He tried to spit at Hunn, but the wind in the cabin was so strong, the spittle blew back into his face. Still, Hunn became enraged.  He picked the boy up by his shoulders and threw him out the open door.

          Then he grabbed the second teenager and repeated his demands. What are the codes? This kid was trembling too, but he just kept shaking his head. Either he was being antagonistic or he didn't know anything. It didn't matter. A mighty kick from Hunn's boot and he followed his brother out the door.

          Then Hunn turned to Jamaal. He'd already wet himself.

          "OK, my friend," Hunn said. ""It's  time for you to talk . . ."

          But Jamaal decided to take matters into his own hands. He broke free of Hunn's grasp and scrambled for the open doorway himself. Hunn lunged after him; two other Delta troopers did as well. But he was already halfway out the opening. Hunn managed to grab hold of his pant leg. It started to rip. Hunn tried to hold on tight, a very hard thing to do. Other troopers jumped in now, trying to keep Jamaal from going out the door, but it was just too much. Jamaal's pants' leg finally ripped in two. Hunn made one last grab, clutching at the boy's sneaker. It came off -- but Jamaal kept going. He fell, screaming, to the Persian Gulf two miles below.

                   *                           *                           *

          The lobby of the Royal Dubai was in chaos. 

          Most of the building's lights had gone out. All of its electronic equipment, its computers, elevators, fire alarms and telephones had gone dead too.

          In the midst of this, the Dubai state police had arrived on the scene, alerted by nearby residents who first reported a helicopter had crashed on to the roof of the hotel. Fire apparatus had also surrounded the building. 

          Inside, the confusion turned to panic as guests came streaming down the staircases, many still in their nightclothes, wailing that the building had been taken over by the terrorists and that they were shooting all the maids.

          Two miles away, the military district commander of Dubai City received a call from the police. He ordered his one and only aircraft into the air to report on the unfolding situation. It was a sparkling new PAH-1 Tiger Eurocopter delivered to the emirate not a week before. The French-built copter was on par with the dangerous US Army Apache gunship. It carried a slew of high-tech weapons, many of which the two-man crew actually knew how to use by now.  It was this helicopter that the Delta troops on the hotel roof saw approaching just about the same time Hunn was hanging up from his last conversation with Martinez.

          This was big trouble. There were only ten Delta troops on the entire mission to the hotel, including the two amateur pilots. Six of those troopers, Hunn & Company, were down below. Two more troopers were watching the hallway that led from the roof to the door of the suite. That left just two on top of the roof itself, guarding the battered, stripped-down, unarmed Blackhawk helicopter.

          As soon as they heard the Tiger gunship coming, the roof men called down to the two soldiers guarding the hallway and told them to get up top immediately. They had no way to contact Hunn and no time to do it.  Whatever was going to happen with the powerful Dubai military chopper, it seemed it would be these four men who would face it.

          The Tiger was brimming with machine guns and cannons. A thirty-second barrage could produce enough firepower to shave an entire floor off the top of the Royal Dubai building. The same kind of fusillade would reduce the old Eight Ball chopper to a pile of metallic dust, taking the four troopers along with it, and effectively stranding the rest of the squad in very hostile territory one floor below.

          It was in the midst of this precarious scene that Corporal Zangrelli arrived on the roof. He'd been sent up by Hunn to retrieve binding tape from the Eight Ball, and not finding the two Delta  guards in the hallway, double-timed it to the top. He came on the scene  just as the Tiger was turning towards  the hotel. It was still about 2000 feet out, but moving in a very aggressive manner. 

          Zangrelli took stock of the situation and what he and the others had on hand to defend themselves. It was not very much. They didn't have any of the heavy weaponry the old chopper use to carry -- again the weight factor had taken precedence. No shoulder fired SAMs, no rocket propelled grenades. Each man had just his M-16 rifle, and nothing more. They didn't even have the big fifty-caliber gun Zangrelli had used in clearing the penthouse. He'd left it below with the Pumpers,

          So it would be five men on top of a roof, with rifles, against an attack helicopter that ranked up there with the Apache and the Hind. Very bad odds.

          "What should we do, Corporal?" one of his men asked him.

          Zangrelli thought a moment and then replied: "Get the flag from under the back seat . . ."

          The pilots of the Tiger gunship had been on the radio with their base from the moment they'd taken off.

          Their commander had no idea what was happening at the Royal Dubai -- and neither did the pilots. The military station was getting reports second- and third-hand from the managers of the hotel, from the state police, even from the fire department. 

          The only thing that everyone agreed on was that whatever was happening, the perpetrators had arrived by helicopter and that aircraft was still sitting on the hotel's roof. 

          The Tiger gunship pilots reported that, indeed, a helicopter was visible on the northeast corner, partially hidden in the glare of the building's summit lights. For this reason, the Tiger  pilots couldn't get a solid ID on its type, but that really didn't matter. Their commander wanted to justify his base getting such a powerhouse of a gunship. This would be the perfect opportunity to do so.

          So he ordered his men to go in shooting.  

          The pilots began punching commands into their weapons computer, deciding to use the nose cannon, at least on the first pass. The Royal Dubai hotel was a valuable piece of real estate and they weren't in the business of doing any property damage. However, the aiming system on the cannon was so precise, they were confident they could take out the stationary helicopter without turning the 10-story luxury resort  into a nine-story one. 

          With their weapons set, they re-confirmed the fire order with their commander. Once again, he told them to proceed. The pilots were both anxious and excited; this would be the first time their  new, multi-million dollar aircraft would fire its weapons in anger. They didn't want anything to go wrong.

          They were about a half mile south of the building when they rolled in for their attack. Their weapons computer had locked onto the helicopter on the roof and would open up automatically at 400 feet. The pilots could see people on the roof, hastily moving around, but they were of no consequence now. They had their orders to fire and fire they would.

          But at about 700 feet out, the pilots saw something else -- and suddenly they weren't so keen on firing anymore. It was a frightening and incomprehensible sight. It also answered just who had landed on top of the hotel and why they were causing such a ruckus. 

          What the Tiger pilots found themselves looking at were five soldiers, standing right on the edge of the hotel roof, weapons raised and pointing at their incoming chopper. They were lined up in a forward combat position, straight and true, almost like a firing squad. Behind them, draped on the mysterious black helicopter,  was a huge American flag.

          The five soldiers did not waver as the Tiger gunship bore down on them. Certainly they didn't really intend to shoot down the Dubai helicopter. This was little chance of that, as rifle bullets would most likely just bounce off the heavily armored gunship. No, this was an act of defiance. The five soldiers standing firm, the stars and stripes flapping in the wind behind them. Suddenly the Tiger pilots knew what this was all about . . .

          These were the Crazy Americans -- or five of them anyway. And in effect they were saying: Do you really want to frig around with us?    

          The Tiger pilots didn't.

          No one in the Persian Gulf did.

 

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