The terrorists came dressed as waiters.
They arrived at the rear service entrance
to the Tonkai Tower Hotel at precisely 10AM. There were eight of them. They
unloaded six food carts from their two vehicles. There was no security in
this part of the building and the rear door had been left open for them.
They rolled the carts up onto the kitchen's loading platform and simply walked
It was check-out time and the lobby of the
enormous hotel was packed. Hundreds were waiting in line, hundreds more were
picking up luggage or trying to find cabs. The routine chaos gave the eight
terrorists all the cover they would need. They walked right through the lobby,
heads down, pushing their carts, and made for the service elevators. Once
there, they pushed the button to call the largest of the hotel's sixteen
service lifts. It arrived a few seconds later. Loading the carts and themselves
aboard, they quickly closed the doors and hit the button to go up.
The Tonkai Hotel was one of the tallest structures
in the world. It was shaped like a futuristic pagoda, with a tower that soared
1,200 feet in the air. There were more than 3,000 rooms here, most of them
expensive suites, plus many function areas, shops and trendy restaurants.
The hotel's grand style and downtown location made it a popular place for
foreign businesses, especially American companies, to hold meetings and corporate
events. The Singapore government encouraged such things and frequently picked
up the tab.
The hotel was especially crowded with American
citizens today as it had been declared America Day by the city government,
a fete for the families of US business and foreign service people living
in Singapore. Several gala events were being held at the Tonkai. A huge breakfast
for the American consulate was in progress on the 16th floor. A reception
for US Embassy employees was about to begin on the 44th. Another for Ford
Motor Company was scheduled for 10:30 on the 96th.
But the disguised terrorists in the elevator
passed all these floors. They were heading directly for the top.
They were members of Qeza al-Habu, a terrorist
cell linked directly to Al Qaeda. Their destination was the building's penthouse,
up on the 140th floor. There was an expansive banquet hall here known, simply
enough, as the Top Room. A party for children of US servicemen serving in
Singapore had started in the hall around nine. There were 300 kids on hand,
most under the age of 12, some as young as just a few months. There were
twenty two adults watching over them.
The eight terrorists arrived on the top floor
and unloaded their carts. Two stayed in the hallway and, using tools hidden
in a steaming dish, disabled the hotel's elevator system by short-circuiting
its main and auxiliary power panels, all of which were located up here at
the building's peak. This jammed more than fifty passengers lifts in place,
trapping hundreds and making access to the top floor nearly impossible. It
also knocked out every light in the hotel from the 99th floor down.
The six remaining terrorists proceeded to
the Top Room function hall. They reached its one and only door and wheeled
the food carts in. The large triangular room had a long dining table set
up at center, on it sat four gigantic chocolate cakes. Huge windows of lime
tint made up the three walls of the room, balconies went all around the outside.
The Top Room was so high in the sky, wisps of clouds could be seen passing
by the windows.
The terrorists were met by several adults
who greeted them quizzically. The children's party had already received their
dessert order from the kitchens downstairs. Why were these men here?
The terrorists didn't reply. They simply locked
the door behind them, then uncovered their food carts. There were eight AK-47
assault rifles hidden inside. The terrorists pushed seven of the adults against
the nearest wall and calmly shot each one in the head. Panic erupted. Children
began screaming; some of the other adults tried to hide. The terrorists fanned
out around the room, hunting down five more adults and killing them, including
two shot at point blank range while cowering under the banquet table. This
thoroughly terrorized everyone in the room. The remaining adults froze in
place. Many of the children went numb with fear. A few however did not. Some
began crying. The terrorists walked around the room and shot each one. Soon
enough, the room was deathly quiet.
The terrorists made their captives lie face
down on the floor. Some muffled cries could still be heard as the young hostages
and the adults complied. Those terrorists charged with disabling the elevators
joined their colleagues in the function room. Besides their tools and more
weapons, their food carts were full of plastique, the highly-volatile
plastic explosive, nearly 100 pounds of it in all.
The leader of the terrorist group was a man
known only as Moka. He was tall, skinny, a Syrian Arab. He began shouting
orders. While four terrorists watched over the hostages, three others began
setting up the explosives. The Top Room had three immense pillars, one in
each corner of the triangular hall. They were painted pearl white with much
gold leafing. Exotic vines and flowers grew up their sides, and at night,
under low light, these flowers became translucent. But the three pillars
served a purpose beyond ornamental. Soaring right through the glass ceiling
thirty-five feet above, they held the roof of the immense tower in place.
The terrorists knew this because they had taken a complete set of building
plans for the Tonkai off the Internet. They also knew if the pillars were
severed with enough force, the concussion of the blast and the weight of
the debris would send the entire tower crashing to the ground.
The terrorists attached explosive charges
to each of the three pillars. Plastique was very pliable and the individuals
packets stuck to the pillars like glue. Plastique was also easy to detonate.
Two wires from a 20-volt motorbike battery would provide the spark, a simple
kitchen timer would throw the switch. The terrorists worked quickly, as they
had been trained to do. This operation had been planned for six months. The
participants had practiced for it every day for the past eight weeks.
Once the explosives were in place, the terrorists
took out their third arsenal of weapons: cell phones. Each man had three,
except the leader, Moka, who had five. Each cell had a set of phone numbers
pre-programmed inside it, each number connected to a large news organization
somewhere around the world. The terrorists began activating these numbers.
In seconds, phones were ringing at the news desks of CNN, Fox, the US TV
networks, the BBC, the Associated Press, Reuters and more. The message transmitted
by the terrorists was short and grim: They had taken over the world-famous
Tonkai Tower and were planning to destroy it, with thousands trapped inside,
in fifteen minutes.
Moka's last call was to a local Singapore
TV news station, Sing-One TV. It was the largest of the four news stations
in the city-state. Moka was soon talking to Sing-One's executive manager.
The man believed Moka right away, as reports that something was wrong at
the Tonkai Tower had already reached his desk.
Moka made himself very clear to the TV executive.
This was not a situation for negotiations or ransoms or diplomacy. This was
an unfolding act of war. He and his men were dedicated to publicizing the
plight of Muslim peoples everywhere. To this end, they were going to crash
the Tonkai and kill every one in it. Why was Moka personally calling Sing-One
TV? Because he wanted the entire incident broadcast, live around the world.
Sing-One's manager called Moka a bastard and
a religious devil, but then quickly complied to his wishes. Moka would allow
only one news chopper to come close to the building. A camera on board would
be able to record everything happening inside the function hall. When the
station manager pointed out there were other TV copters in the city, and
that a number of police and military helicopters would soon be heading for
the Tower as well, Moka assured him that only the Sing-One chopper would
be allowed to approach.
The rest would have to stay at least 1000
feet away, or Moka's men would start killing hostages.
In the next ten minutes, the situation around
the Tower changed dramatically.
The city police cordoned off the entire downtown
area, meaning twenty blocks in every direction. Military police were flooding
onto the scene The government's Rapid Response Team arrived in six armed
helicopters, landing just three blocks from the besieged tower. These special
operations soldiers dispersed to buildings closest to the hotel, setting
up weapons' positions and listening posts. The US Embassy had also been alerted.
Despite Moka's warning, an emergency diplomatic team was on its way.
Meanwhile thousands of citizens were streaming
out of the area. They included the hundred or so guests who'd managed to
get out of the Tower simply by not being to be on an elevator when the terrorists
first struck. Many more frightened guests were flowing down the stairwells
of the hotel, many had a long, slow trip ahead of them, especially in the
darkened stairwells. And hundreds were still trapped inside the building's
fifty stalled elevators.
The sky above downtown Singapore had changed
too. As predicted, a small fleet of military aircraft, police copters, and
TV new choppers had arrived. Thirteen in total, they were all orbiting the
tower, except one: the bright yellow Bell Textron belonging to Sing-One TV.
So far the other helicopters had grudgingly
obeyed Moka's orders, staying out at least 1000 feet. The yellow Sing-One
copter however was allowed to hover just 15 feet away from the Top Room's
grand balcony, located on the east side of the building. This was a huge
parapet, enclosed in glass except for a plant-filled open-air terrace. By
floating just off its railing, the people inside the Sing-One chopper were
indeed able to capture just about everything going on inside the function
room, thanks to their computer-stabilized Stedi-Cam. Inside two minutes of
the copter's arrival, the horrifying images at the Tonkai Tower were being
broadcast around the world.
And it was all very clear for billions around
the world to see: the hostages, the explosives, the terrorists and the dead.
It was early evening in the United States; the attack had been planned precisely
for this hour so that it would be watched by a prime-time audience back in
the states. A few minutes into the drama, Moka and three terrorists came
out onto the terrace. Normally this would have been a very windy place, but
glass valances installed around the balcony blocked most of the wind. Moka's
men held up a banner. Scrawled in both Arabic and crude English letters,
it declared the cell's intentions for all the world to see. At the same time,
a phone connection was made between the Sing-One news copter and Moka. The
conversation was conducted in Arabic, a common language between the head
terrorist and at least one person inside the copter.
Moka reiterated his group's plans, and to
prove his point, he signaled that four bodies be brought out to the terrace.
Two children and two adults. They were unceremoniously thrown over the side
of the balcony, twisting, turning, the smallest caught by the wind, all to
plunge nearly a quarter of a mile to the ground below. It was a horrifying
sight to see on camera, and in person.
Then Moka read a statement, saying again that
he had no demands, that he intended to crash the tower at exactly 10:30 AM
and that the timers to do this had already been set. This was going to happen,
he said, and the world could only sit and watch. If anyone tried to interfere,
his men would start shooting hostages, children first.
A tiny clock popped up in the lower right
hand corner of Sing-One's broadcast screen.
Catastrophe was five minutes away.
More than a thousand people were still trapped
inside the Tower. To make matters worse, all of the lights had gone out in
the building by this time, even inside the Top Room. Somehow a small fire
had started on the 31st floor, filling the stairwells with acrid smoke. As
they power continued to fail, many of the sinks and toilets began to overflow
The people in the Sing-One news chopper asked
Moka if he had any last statement to make. Moka responded that he'd already
spoken his last word, as had his men. The copter asked Moka if he wanted
them to get final shots of the faces of his martyrs on TV, before the blast
went off. To this, Moka agreed.
He called all but three of his men to the
balcony. Each man took out photos of loved ones they'd carried with them
on the mission; they held them up to the copter's steady-cam. By the time
the four terrorists got into camera position, the deadline for the explosives
to go off was just 60 seconds away. Each man shouted a short prayer, then
raised his right arm above his head, with two fingers extended. Oddly, a
Moka then signaled the copter that the explosives
were about to go off. Sing-One TV had to back away. But the copter remained
where it was, just fifteen feet off the balcony. Moka signaled gain. But
the copter came in even closer. Moka was furious. He began shouting into
the phone that the aircraft had to get away; it was important to him that
the copter crew live to tell their tale. But with the explosives just seconds
from going off, the helo kept coming in.
Now Moka was confused. He squinted his eyes,
trying to see into the copter's open bay. The man who had been holding the
stedi-cam just moments ago was now holding a rather large gun. Men on either
side of him were holding guns too. Moka saw the muzzle flashes, but never
heard the shots that killed him. Six rounds, in rapid succession, went right
through his head.
The same barrage killed the other four terrorists
on the balcony, this while the copter's TV camera, now relocated to its cockpit,
kept rolling for all the world to see. Then incredibly, and still on live
TV, the helicopter touched down on the balcony's railing, an incredible feat
of piloting. Six men burst from the copter's open bay. They were not TV reporters
or camera men. They were wearing combat suits -- American combat suits.
All black with much armor plating, ammo belts, side arms and helmets that
looked like props from a '50s sci-fi movie. All with Stars and Stripes patches
on their shoulders.
At the same moment, two of the Top Room's
great plate glass windows came crashing in. Men swinging on ropes flew through the openings. The sudden change in air pressure
created a mini-tornado inside the room. Some of the adult hostages screamed,
kids began crying, but it was the remaining terrorists who panicked. They
were stationed next to the explosive-packed pillars but now the noise was
tremendous, the wind like the devil. And suddenly a small army of armed men
was coming at them.
Each terrorist backed up to guard his assigned
pillar, but for what? The explosives were set to go off in thirty seconds.
One terrorist boldly stood in front of his plastique charges, intent on protecting
it with his body. He was shot five times in the head and there is where he
died. His killers vaulted over the hostages and disconnected the explosive
packs on the first pillar. But two remained, and only twenty seconds were
The terrorist in the northeast corner took
cover behind his pillar and started firing at the soldiers in black. Everyone,
hostages and soldiers alike, hit the floor. The men who had crashed through
the window returned fire; a vicious gunfight erupted. The terrorist returned
fire in three short bursts, but turned too late to see the six men who'd
just landed on the balcony. He was caught in their combined fusillade, taking
more than forty rounds to the stomach alone. He fell over in slow motion,
his insides hitting the floor before the rest of him.
Now just one terrorist remained, with one
pack of explosives -- and ten seconds before detonation.
Suddenly alone, this terrorist grabbed two
small children and pulled them back against the pillar with him. The kids
began screaming. Shrieks of horror went through the hall. Don't shoot! some
of the adults started screaming.
The terrorist fired in the direction of his
attackers. He was sure the soldiers would not shoot him, not as long as he
was holding the two terrified children.
The soldiers kept advancing, moving quickly,
but in a crouch. Their weapons were raised, but they were not firing.
The terrorist fired again, hitting the soldier
closest to him, but still about twenty five feet away. He watched in astonishment
as his bullets staggered the man, but then bounced off his armor plating.
You cannot all be supermen! the terrorist
Most of the adult hostages were crying now;
they knew the explosives were about to go off. One pack, 30 pounds, was more
than enough to kill everyone in the room.
The soldiers continued advancing toward the
last terrorist. But would they sacrifice two children in order to save many?
As it turned out, they wouldn't have to .
One armed man, undetected in the distractions
around him, came up behind the terrorist and put a pistol to his head. He
pulled the trigger and the terrorist's head was blown apart. He never knew
what hit him, dead before he hit the ground.
Two seconds . . .
The man with the pistol hastily reached down
and began pulling wires out of the block of plastique goo.
Zero . . .
There was one loud pop! as the last
electrical wire was yanked from the explosive pack. The noise scared the
hell out of everyone . . . but nothing happened except one long fizzle.
The bomb did not go off. The hostages were
Just like that, the crisis was over.
The Situation Room was overflowing with brass.
Four-star generals, full admirals, a few colonels
-- this was the top of the Pentagon's food chain. The bunker-like room, buried
deep inside the venerable buidling, was used only in emergencies. A long
conference table dominated its center. A huge wide-screen TV hung on one
wall. The lighting was subdued. The room was built to hold about thirty people
at the most. Twice that number were crowded inside now.
All eyes were transfixed by the images on
the big screen TV. Like the rest of the world, the Pentagon officers were
watching the astonishing events in Singapore unfold, stunned by what they
were seeing. After the terrorists' sudden demise, all of the TV news copters
circling the Tonkai Tower had moved in closer. The drama was now being shot
from four different angles.
The soldiers in the black uniforms came back
out onto the hotel balcony where the bright yellow copter was still balancing
itself on the edge of the narrow railing. Seconds before, the rescue team
had been seen ushering the children and the surviving adults away from the
broken windows in the Top Room and into the hallway, were they would be safer.
Then the soldiers collected all the terrorists' unused explosive packs and
loaded them onto their helicopter. They took all of the terrorists' weapons
As this booty was being lifted on to the copter,
one of the soldiers took down the terrorists' banner and ripped it in two;
both pieces were taken away by the high wind. The soldier then took out a
banner of his own. It was red, white and blue. A rather crude, but unmistakable
American flag. He hung it where the terrorists' pennant had once been, leaving
no doubt what country the rescuers hailed from. Then with no further ceremony,
the rest of the rescue force climbed into the yellow chopper and flew away.
A hush came over the Situation Room. Someone
turned down the volume on the TV set. The room full of military officers
remained still, amazed and speechless.
Finally, one spoke up. "Who the hell were
The admirals and the generals and the colonels
all looked at each other, but had nothing but shrugs and blank faces in reply.
Standing at the back of the room, apart from
the rest, were four officers. All captains, one each from the US's four military
services, they were intelligence officers. All eyes in the room now turned
The officer who had first spoken up now elaborated
his own question. "Those troopers," he said, nodding back towards the TV. "They
were obviously Americans. And obviously very highly trained. But who are
they? What special ops group do they belong to?"
The intelligence officers had a quick, hushed
conversation. They'd been asking that same question since the drama began.
Finally, one stepped forward. He was Army
"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "But we have no
idea . . ."
* * *
The stars always seemed extra bright
above the secret air base known as XH-2.
On clear nights, with no moon, it
was like you could reach up and touch them, the sky out here was so crystal
The base was located on the southern
tip of the small island of Oki Jima, which itself was just three miles off
the coast of the island of Guam. XH-2 was old. Originally built by the Japanese
Army as a radio listening post in the mid-1930s, it served as an intelligence
base during the World War II, and was one of the first places to fall after
the battle for Guam. The US Air Force built two runways here during the Vietnam
War from which to launch U-2 spy planes. The base had remained open, at various
levels of readiness, ever since.
There were three hangars here. They looked
like very, very expensive warehouses. They were painted with a coating
of charcoal black paint, that turned two shades of green during the day.
This chameleon act was in place to baffle any photo-satellites going over
the highly classified place, unfriendly or not.
It was almost 10pm, the hangars were charcoal
now, and the stars above were dazzling, making the buildings look bejeweled.
There was a distinct if muffled sound coming from each building. These were
very elaborate air conditioning units working overtime. It was a pleasant
tropical Pacific night, low 70s, and low humidity. But what lay within each
structure worked best at temperatures of 55 degrees or below. For them, being
chilled meant being invisible.
They were B-2Fs, a top-secret variation of
the famous B-2 bat-winged stealth bomber. They were bigger, more stealthy
and more expensive than their $1-billion cousins. The stock-version B-2 had
a large bomb bay where a mix of bombs weighing up to x tons could be carried,
dispensed by a rotary launcher. The B-2Fs were equipped with these bomb launchers
too, but they were portable and could be quickly changed out, opening up
a large area of the spy bomber to carry . . . well, just about anything.
Photo recon packages. Jumbo jamming pods.
Radiation detectors. Even black-ops eavesdropping gear. These exotic cargoes
were called NLPs -- for non-lethal payloads. Things that either the military
or the intelligence services needed to be put over a target low and fast,
without anyone knowing about it.
These three B-2Fs had been in existence since
the late 1990s. They'd flown missions all over the world, but had been home-
based here on Oki Jima since the latest war in Iraq. Their mission was to
help US assets in and out of the Pacific Rim get whatever they needed whenever
they needed it. And they could fly to the northern tip of North Korea all
the way to the last hill in Syria in order to get it.
Major John Atels, code-name "Atlas," had been
flying B-2Fs for two years. He was early forties, divorced, no kids. He was
known as one of the best B-2 frame pilots around, which was actually a back
handed compliment as the B-2 was the only plane in the US inventory where
the pilot was the crew member and the mission commander was the captain of
the plane. Still it took great skill to jockey the big black bomber around,
especially into and out of the nutty places higher authority wanted the "B-Fs" to
The plane could fly anywhere in the world
on auto-pilot; its almost-robotic like flight system was called "Hal" by
many of its crews. It was that sophisticated. But once the B-2F had to go
in on its target -- or, in its non-lethal mode, its "target sweep" -- human
hands were needed on the controls.
For those few, sometimes scary moments, Atlas
was indeed one of the best.
He'd been told to report to the flight line
at 2200 hours, not an unusual time as the B-2Fs always flew their missions
at night. He was to meet his flight partner here. He too was an Air Force
major, Ted Ballgaite. To just about everyone who knew him though, he was "Teddy
The B-2F needed someone other than the pilot
to be in charge because there was a huge defensive systems suite on board
the ship; sometimes running it was more labor intensive than flying the damn
airplane. The Stealth bomber was not invisible just because of its shape,
low-temperature and paint alone. It was filled with electronic counter-measures,
jammers, and other secret gadgets that had to work together if the plane
wanted to stay a ghost. All this hardware needed to have a good eye and
a quick hand to keep running smoothly. Teddy was a good guy, in the air and
to have a few drinks with. He also had a mind like a Cray super-computer.
Teddy was speaking with two men when Atlas
arrived. He did not recognize either one. Guam was out in the middle of nowhere;
Oki Jima was even further off the map. It was a very small base and everyone
knew each other. So these two had to be visitors. And because this was such
a secret place, they had to be top-heavy, security wise.
They were dressed in what Atlas liked to call "casual
spook." Jeans, denims shirts, expensive sneakers and sunglasses, even at
night. These guys were from one of the US's intelligence agencies. Atlas
could spot them a mile away.
He'd been dealing with spooks for years. These
days many were from the NRO, the National Reconnaissance Office, a strange
collection of individuals with the non-threatening name. Reconnaissance to
most people meant taking pictures at high altitudes either by fast flying
aircraft, or satellites. But that was just a small bit of it. The NRO guys
reconned everything and had the stuff to do it with. When a story
came out years before that the US had a satellite that, from 180 miles up,
could zoom in so close to an individual on the ground it could read the label
of the cigarette pack in his pocket, the NRO guys were pissed. That was
their satellite -- but they weren't upset by the security leak. They were
mad that their eye in the sky, code name Dressing Mirror, wasn't given its
props. Reading the name of a person's cigarette pack had been achieved approximately
around the same time as Saturday Night Fever. These days, the NRO could count
the number of threads holding on the top button of the smoker's shirt. And
if that button popped off, they would be able to listen in on his cell phone
conversation telling his wife that she had some mending to do tonight. Then
they could track the wife as she went to the sewing shop to buy thread to
do the repair, and hear just about every conversation she had along the way.
And then they could find out what TV shows the love-birds watched that night,
what radio stations they listened to. What time they went to bed. Even what
they did when the lights went out . . .
Cigarette label? It was an insult . . .
But these guys talking to Teddy were not NRO,
Atlas surmised. The NROs tended to be a younger, more wide-eyed than other
US spy types. These two seemed old at thirty; both were smoking, supposedly
verboten on a flight line. Both were also carrying side arms, a sure mark
of the CIA.
They were gone by the time Atlas walked up
to the plane. He didn't see them leave; they just weren't there when he arrived.
He and Teddy had their traditional handshake, even though they'd seen each
other just a few minutes before. The ground crew was working feverishly on
their aircraft's hollowed-out bomb bay. Although the vast majority of maintenance
on the spy bomber had to be done inside its million-dollar hangar, last minute
stuff could be done out in the open. It just couldn't take very long.
Atlas looked back and saw the ground guys
loading not a "weather package" or a exhaust detector system into the open
bay, but many long cylindrical white tubes. There had to be a few dozen at
least, either already up inside the spy bomber or on the ground waiting to
be put on. A closer look at the tubes revealed they were made of strengthened
cardboard with shrink wrap sealing either end. They looked like nothing more
unusual than lengths of PVC pipe. But at a million-dollars a flight, the
B-2Fs were not in the pipe delivery business.
"What the hell are those things?" he asked
A very practiced shrug was Teddy's reply. "Stinger
missiles. We're flying them in somewhere."
Atlas thought he was joking. "Flying them
in?" he asked. "As in delivering them somewhere?"
Teddy nodded. "'Dat's the plan."
Atlas just laughed. He'd flown some freaky
missions since joining the Fs, but never had they delivered something
to anyone before. A bigger surprise was yet to come. These missiles were
obviously going to someone who would not normally have access to them. A
normal shipment of Stingers, to a US ally or customer, would be done by a
big, squat, slow, inexpensive cargo plane; not a billion-dollar spy bomber.
So Atlas had just assumed they were moving these missiles from one secret
US location to another, possibly for later shipment to a third-party somewhere.
But he was wrong. According to his flight
partner, they'd be delivering them to their new owners directly.
"Jessuzz . . .where?" Atlas asked him.
Teddy was no fool. He would never actually
speak the name -- there was no way of knowing who might be listening in.
Instead he simply held up the cloth map just given to him by the spooks.
There were only numbers on this map, no names, no cities marked. But Atlas
looked at the coordinates, and knew immediately knew where they were going.
"Really . . .?"
Teddy just shrugged and rolled his eyes.
Their orders were to fly the missiles to Hanoi.
A delivery to the communist government of Vietnam.
* * *
was a grove of overgrown elastic trees just twenty feet off the beach.
the flying boat straight for it. The
hanging branches parted
ways and allowed them to hide the Kai beneath. Ryder and Gallant quickly
shut down everything; they even killed all power from the generators. Then
came the silence. They all just sat there, for more than a minute, catching
their breaths, collecting their thoughts. Becoming one with their stomachs
again. Then Fox bellowed. “Time to rock! We’ve only got a few
hours to do what we have to do—so let’s get to it . . .” He
gathered the team around him in the hold of the plane for one last briefing
before they set out. Standing on an ammunition box, he looked like a college
football coach addressing his players minutes before the big game. The Pentagon
had precious few clues as to where the secret bomber may have gone down,
he told them. No one was even sure it went down in the Bangtang Channel.
However he did have an image from an NSA Keyhole satellite, a orbital package
that was designed to look for nuclear explosions, as in nuclear testing,
or nuclear missile launchings. The satellite’s imagers were light sensitive.
One of them picked up a speck of light in this area just about the time the
B-2 went missing. That speck of light occurred just a mile east of here.
Maybe it was the B-2, maybe it wasn’t, Fox said. But if so, the telemetry
indicated something might be sitting right about the center of Fuggu’s
middle knuckle. Even though subsequent satellite images had shown nothing,
this was where they would look first. Fox asked if there were any questions.
Barney, the chief SEAL, raised his hand.
Any chance this bomber was carrying a nuclear weapon?” he asked.
The usually unflappable Fox hesitated a moment. Do spy bombers carry nukes?
It was a good question, but it was never addressed before Fox’s hasty
departure for the Pacific. The DSA officer really didn’t know and said
as much to those assembled. From that moment on though, most of the team members
were convinced they were out here looking for a nuke.
They climbed out of the flying boat and onto the tiny beach. It was past dusk
and the last light was fading fast. They contemplated the jungle before them.
It was heavily overgrown and looked antediluvian, prehistoric even. The trees
seemed much taller than what would be expected in a tropical jungle, much thicker
and darker too. Running throughout them, were vines upon vines, covered in
green moss, a massive spider web that looked like thousands of years in the
Christmas,” Fox said, startled by the forbidding jungle up close. “Haven’t
I seen this in a movie before?” The sun had disappeared for good by now,
just as they were standing there. Not two seconds after the last ray faded
into darkness, a symphony strange and disturbing noises erupted from the thick
Asian forest. Hoots, cries, caws. Roars. Screams . . . Not all of them were
coming from birds.
Yeah, I saw that movie too,” Ryder finally replied. “This place
looks like Kong Island. All we need now is the big monkey.” Two of the
DSA guys would stay with the Kai; they were equipped with a 50-caliber machine
gun and a cell phone. This was such a remote location, it seemed impossible
for another human to be anywhere close by. But no one on the team was naive
enough to believe that.
“I think I might even smell him,” Gallant said to Ryder as they checked
their weapons. He was talking not about King Kong, but Abu Kazeel, the man
they’d been enticed out here to capture—and kill. According to
Fox, the terrorist mastermind was in the Philippines and might have even been
spotted in this area just a couple days ago. Though the thickly jungled island
seemed a long way from the sands of the Middle East, Ryder replied: “If
he’s out here, will find him.”
Like the Delta guys, Ryder and Gallant were carrying M-16/A-15s, the special
ops version of the famous M-16 combat rifle. This model had a shortened stock,
an over sized bullet clip, and extra gear which allowed its user to fire grenades,
flares and even shot gun shells. Most rifles had laser-aiming devices on their
muzzles, a thin line of red light would tell the bullets where to go. The Delta
guys were all wearing Nightvision goggles as well. The SEALs were carrying
their standard assortment of weapons, water proof M-16s mostly, with a couple
shotguns as back ups. The DSA guys were all sporting Uzis, including Fox. Only
Martinez was unarmed.
Fox also had an unusual communications device connected to his Fritz helmet.
About the size of a Nokia cell-phone, with tiny headphones and a microphone
built-in right above his chin strap, it was called a UPX, for a universal personal
communicator. The UPX was a highly classified piece of equipment. It could
contact anyone, anytime, anywhere on the planet either by phone, high-band
radio, e-mail, or even instant messaging. It could send and receive digital
photo images. It could send and receive voice mail. It also served as a GPS
device. It was obvious to the team that Fox was the type of guy who had to
be plugged in at all times. His UPX would see plenty of action in the hours
to come. Ryder and Gallant found a narrow pathway leading into the jungle.
Putting down their NightVision goggles, they plunged right in. This was very
thick undergrowth around them: bean leaf plants, azore vines, and kantaki,
a small thorn covered bush that grew just about everywhere in the Philippines.
Martinez and Fox went in right behind them. The Delta operators came next.
Behind them the DSA guards, still a little too well-dressed for the terrain,
but plowing forward, jaws tight, shades in place, even at night. Bringing up
the rear were the half-dozen SEALs. Soon enough they found themselves having
trouble keeping up. The team moved swiftly, Ryder and Gallant setting the pace.
The prospect of finding Kazeel and getting home was too much for them to go
anything but full-out. The island was about six miles long, but just three
miles wide. It was about two miles to the center, their first and hopefully
only destination. The jungle was exactly the green hell it appeared to be from
the beach though. The terrain was a nightmare, nothing was flat or straight.
The path, centuries old perhaps, turned into an obstacle course of fallen trees,
sinkholes, and narrow but rapidly rushing rivers. The jungle canopy overhead
was as thick as anything they put on top of Ocean Voyager; it was a true horror
as viewed through the Nightscopes. Every once and while they would see birds
the size of pterodactyls glide over their heads. Screeches that seemed to be
coming from other Jurassic-type creatures also shook the night. It took them
all of an hour, but finally they’d reached a small clearing just about
in the center of the island. The team finally stopped and caught its collective
breath, all except Fox, who was still talking into his UPX device. He’d
been using it continually throughout the dash to this place, keeping those
on the other end apprised of the team’s progress, though always doing
so out of earshot of the others. Even now, Fox moved a good distance away from
the others to have his hushed conversation. Ryder and Gallant finally stepped
into the clearing, Martinez, a few paces behind. They began sniffing the air.
They got a nose full of jungle stink in return, but detected something else
too. Burnt rubber, seared metal, the unmistakable odor of aviation fuel.
It told them one thing: an airplane had crashed nearby. A thick ring of rubber
trees lay beyond the clearing. Behind them was a ridge line, which in turn
led to the base of a thickly- covered mountain. Mist was spouting from its
peak; it almost looked like a volcano.
Ryder and Gallant followed their noses, Martinez and now Fox were close behind.
They made their way across the clearing, through the rubber trees, down into
a shallow gully, and then up the side of the ridge. It was maybe 50 feet high.
Ryder and Gallant were the first to reach the top. They crawled up to its peak
and looked over the other side.
The first thing they saw was a large black metal wing, horribly twisted and
sticking nearly straight up in the air. There was a long thin stream of black
smoke rising above it. Directly below the wing were the guts of a cockpit,
turned inside out, and smashed almost beyond recognition. Beyond it, was another
twisted, misshapen wing. More smoke was rising above it. “We’re
not this lucky, are we?” Gallant asked. “Why not?” Ryder
replied. The site seemed to match exactly the telemetry followed from the location
of the bright flash on Fox’s satellite photo. But as soon as Ryder said
those words, he knew he was wrong. Adjusting his NightVision goggles, he saw
large pieces of external-style jet engines, two, good-sized cargo doors and
the remains of a very large tail section. Much of this was covered in charred
Damn . . . Ryder whispered.
This was not the B-2.
* * *
The rain stopped.
Manila’s nightlife began heating up. Downtown certainly,
but most especially in the War Zone. The neighborhood of iniquity was crowded
early, strange for
a week night. But there was a buzz all over the city, like something big was
about to happen. Those he knew how to recognize such things could smell it
in the air.
The Impatient Parrot was busy early too. The bar out front was three deep
at the real. The poon-tang rooms upstairs had a three-hour wait. The mudfights
out back were already playing to overflowing crowds.
The brothel’s owner, the man named Marcos, had woken at his usual time:
4PM. He’d finished dinner by five and was walking the floor by six. He
spoke quietly with a handful of underworld associates, discussing various deals
that would be going down in and around his establishment this night. Business
done, he was about to enjoy his first drink of the night when he was informed
that he had a very long distance phone call, which he took in his private office.
It was from Palm Tree.
The conversation was stern and one-sided. Marcos did all the
listening. The Stingers were being assembled, packed and moved tonight, Palm
Tree told him.
But a crucial component was suddenly missing: Kazeel’s shuka hadn’t
been seen since that morning. Moving the missiles was one thing, activating
the Key was another. That could not be done without the dim-witted Uni. Like
Ramosa, Marcos was being paid by Palm Tree’s government, he was reminded.
If this mission was not completed, then not only would the whole affair be
such an expensive, embarrassing failure, anyone connected with it would have
to be silenced, Marcos and Ramosa included. If things did not change for the
better quickly, they would both find themselves on a hit list to be carried
out by the well-known and ruthless intelligence service of Palm Tree’s
Marcos was highly troubled by this news, he knew Palm Tree did not issue threats
lightly. But as they were conversing, Marcos was scanning his crowded establishment
on a bank of video monitoring screens next to his desk. And like a gift from
God, he saw someone sitting deep in the shadows of the mudfight room. Bald,
with many cuts and abrasions on his face and neck, trying to stay in the background,
but watching the mudfight with a certain amount of glee, it was Uni, the shuka.
And he appeared to be very drunk.
The change came for Uni after he woke up in the ditch.
Bleeding, battered, chilled again to the bone, he’d looked
up the hill, back towards Ghost Town. The last rays of the sunset were creating
of shadows and light in the graveyards, especially streaming through the crucifixes.
The shadow of a huge cross fell upon him as he raised himself from the stream.
It would have been too poetic for this to be a conversion, but the vision,
plus his nap, definitely gave him a different perspective on things.
He no longer wanted anything to do with the Stingers, or Ramosa,
or yachts or mini-bars. He wanted to remove himself from history, from any
in the Day of Falling Sparrows, in the ways of Allah. He wanted himself rid
of Kazeel’s ghost. He was interested in doing just one thing: resuming
his search for the Impatient Parrot.
And this time he found it, just after the evening’s shower drenched
him again, washing his clothes in the process. Clear headed or clear conscience,
he found the War Zone, turned this corner then that corner and boom! there
it was, that psychedelic neon sign which to Uni meant "the place where
girls fought in the mud." Why here? Because it was here that he’d
last felt safe, before the Crazy Americans broke in and started all this new
Getting into the brothel wet was no problem. Everyone was wet
in Manila tonight. He’d made his way through the crowd, using money stolen from the Buddha
man to buy not a glass of champagne, but of whiskey -- the taste he’d
acquired the night before. He found a seat in the rear of the back room, and
settled down to forget everything else.
He watched many mud fights, staring over the smaller people in front, laughing
as they leered, drinking whiskey like it was milk. He could live here, he
decided after his third drink. Just drink whiskey, sit in the back and watch
girls wrestle in the mud. That was his Paradise. He would have to eat though
eventually -- that might be a problem. Did this place serve food? Did they
have mini-bars here?
It was as if the Devil himself heard him, for at that moment he saw two more
girls making their way across the back room, one of them was holding a huge
frying pan with something smoking and sizzling inside.
They stepped over and around the businessmen who were close
to the mud pit, eyeing Uni while trying to keep the huge pan level. He was
hungry -- back when
things were normal he used to eat as much as six times a day. The girls indicated
that they were indeed heading his way -- they were moving in a dreamlike fashion,
almost as if they were in slow-motion. Maybe as a newcomer he was entitled
to a free meal here? Uni did didn’t know, but the combination of the
whiskey sours and his long ordeal in the past 24 hours, had his stomach aching
The two girls reached him. They were even prettier than the
two rolling around in the mud -- and that was a milestone for Uni, brought
on, he was sure by
the alcohol, because he’d never graded women before in his life, simply
because they’d never interested him. But these two girls were raven hair
beauties, wearing short white dresses, and smiles a mile wide, almost like
angels. The frying pan was not only hot, it was absolutely sizzling. He sat
up straight, hoping this might be lamb curry and cabbage his favorite dish.
The two girls never stopped smiling.
Uni drunkenly pointed to himself with both thumbs , as if to
Both girls nodded. "It sure is," one replied. "Big
With that, she lifted the large sizzling skillet, and with a form rivaling
a MLB player, gave it a mighty swing and hit Uni square in the face.