American Novelist

American Novelist is a pretty heady title, but that's what I am. I write books (5 published so far). I've decided to blog one of my earlier novels. I'll publish a page or two a day. If you like what you see let me know. If you hate it, well there are plenty of other things on the web, but I'd still like to hear from you.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Chapter 9

Washington, D.C.
Saturday, November 15, 1997
8:00 P.M. EST

Harvey Randall peered into the telescopic lens to stare at a lump of rock next to a park bench. Staring at rocks on a Saturday night is not the stuff of recruiting posters. It is the fundamental action of a cop chasing bad guys. This particular rock was a dead letter drop.

A dead letter drop is like a night deposit box at a bank. Only in this case, the bad guys used it to pass secrets from inside the government to a not-so-friendly foreign power. This particular dead letter had been dormant for six months. Tonight someone had used it.

Two hours ago the motion sensor, managed by non-visible laser light, detected someone moving the rock. This caused the PC connected to the laser via serial cable to activate a dialer program. The dialer flipped on the computer modem and dialed a series of special phone numbers. The software then waited for an answer and the triple chirp of the pager PBX to respond to the call. The computer responded with a preset number and disconnected.

A little less than two hours before, Harvey’s pager went off. He read the number off his pager display and realized something big was happening. The robotic sentinels were calling. Someone had just put something under the rock.

Simultaneous with the motion detector alarm, three low-light-sensitive video cameras activated. They were positioned to triangulate on the same spot. The high-speed film recorded a man bending down behind the park bench, lifting the rock up, and depositing a plastic wrapped bundle into the hole beneath the rock. The hole was lined with a PVC pipe four inches across and a foot deep. If needed, one could hide a full size automatic pistol and still have space left over.

Ever since the eruption of Chinese campaign irregularities, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been tasked with surveillance of all Red Chinese intelligence operations. Perhaps the public had forgotten, but bagmen for the Red Chinese government influencing federal elections is a national security threat. The implicit payment for the contribution was to place several people into sensitive positions inside the administration.

The FBI is a member of the intelligence community like the Central Intelligence Agency. The FBI is the primary federal agency tasked with security issues related to domestic terrorism such as Oklahoma City and countering foreign intelligence services like the former Soviet KGB. When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, America’s enemies became a far more diverse lot. The number of hostile foreign services attempting to penetrate and steal secrets from the American Government and industry had multiplied like a terrible cancer.

Larry Wheeler, Harvey’s partner, ran the videotapes again. “Any idea who he is?”

Even with three cameras triangulated to capture the drop from multiple positions, the only tangible evidence was the back of a head and gray raincoat. The face and hands were obscured. For all the modern technology, a cop on the spot would have been a much better witness. Due to budgets being what they were in a cost conscious Washington, and the unpopular nature of chasing Chinese moles, a cop on the spot was a fantasy that Harvey knew would never be realized.

Harvey shrugged and looked away from the telescope. “No, but something must be up. They haven’t used this drop in six months. I thought they knew it was being watched.”

Larry nodded. It bothered him. He suspected the Chinese knew they were under intense surveillance. He speculated that there was someone in the White House passing information over to the Chinese Embassy. They were not very far from 2300 Connecticut Avenue Northwest—the home of the Chinese Embassy. It was just a brisk evening’s walk. The question before them was, who would be servicing the drop? Was it a junior level flunky or someone higher up the food chain? The answer to that question would indicate the quality and urgency attached to the drop.

“I wonder how they make contact,” mused Larry. This was a point that bothered both men. The sophistication of their quarry suggested they were past the days of using chalk marks on sidewalks or changing the position of bricks in a walk. Maybe it was as simple as the position of the drapes on somebody’s windows, but the problem was that most everyone who might be the security leak lived outside the District’s boundaries. The Chinese had been strictly confined to a very narrow and manageable boundary.

Harvey shrugged as he poured some tepid coffee from his thermos. “Do we have authority to grab anyone?”

“Only Goldenrod,” replied Larry. Goldenrod was the suspected chief of station for the Guoanbu, China’s State Security Ministry. Of course Goldenrod was rarely seen doing anything but promoting Chinese culture. The only victory the FBI had been able to manage with the State Department was to restrict Goldenrod’s activities to the Washington—New York corridor.

“I say we start with the White House on this one. I think the leak is there,” explained Harvey.

Larry nodded. He popped the top on a Diet Coke. He never got used to the taste of coffee, especially coffee on a stakeout. “I know what you’re driving at, but I don’t think we’ll get to start there. They’re still upset over congressional testimony on campaign finance irregularities, at least, I think they’re supposed to be upset.”

Harvey flipped the video monitors back to real time. The gray-green shadows of the night-vision scopes reflected the nether world in the park. A shadow flicked in the background across the screen. Harvey took a sip of his coffee. A second and third shadow emerged flanking the first shadow. They moved like bodyguards. Their heads kept moving back and forth searching for any anomaly.

Harvey tapped Larry’s shoulder. “I think we’ve got company.”
Larry looked at the monitor over Harvey’s shoulder. He turned to a manila file folder and flipped it open. Goldenrod’s fish dead eyes stared back at him—a face without a trace of humor.

Certainly not the sort you would pick for a cultural attaché. However, if the Chinese had multiple assets in the American administration, then they would need a pro to manage those types of resources.

Goldenrod was the prize—a man with no known identity. He appeared across the world at several postings: Moscow, Berlin, London, Bonn, Tel Aviv, and now, Washington. The name was inconsequential and the embassy position usually benign. Each time he appeared the face had changed. What had not changed were the eyes. The British had developed a long-range retinal scan. They managed to match Goldenrod to three other legends around the world, and the powerful computer databases at Langley made the other connections. Each time a different legend meticulously developed, and the common thread was always a highly placed mole inside the host government’s elite power structure. Goldenrod was given a free reign because he produced intelligence product unlike anyone else.

He had another trait of usually disappearing like the fog on a bright day just before the scam collapsed. Now, Goldenrod was operating inside the United States. Harvey and Larry knew the pattern. They had read extensively the information shared with them by the British and American intelligence communities. They were dealing with an artist.

The face on the screen slowly swam into focus as he approached the dead letter drop. The bodyguards fanned out to form a box around the central figure. Two more were visible in the background, and they were doing very little to disguise the weapons in their hands. “You taping this?” Larry asked excitedly.

“Every second,” said Harvey.

He picked up the phone and punched the speed dial. The phone connected to a tactical response team on duty at the Hoover Building.

Larry looked at the green face blurring in and out of focus and back to the photo he had in his hand. “Do you know what we got here?”

“Pay dirt?”

“We got the man!” The face in the photo matched the face on the screen.

Harvey looked over his shoulder at Larry. A big grin was emerging across his features. They had Goldenrod in the act. “This is Harvey Randall,” he spoke into the phone. “I need an intercept on the Chinese Embassy. That’s at 2300 Connecticut Avenue Northwest. We’ve got hostile action by Chinese nationals.” Well, it was not hostile quite yet, but four bodyguards visibly brandishing firearms did not make for a nighttime picnic.

He dropped the phone back into the cradle. The figures on the screen had formed a protective circle around Goldenrod. He was bending over the rock like an uncertain cat—curious yet cautious. One last time he looked up and scanned the surrounding area. He sensed the eyes watching, but could not see them. The hand hovered over the stone as he weighed the risk of discovery against the value inside. Risk lost out.

Several blocks to the southeast a squad of black-clad Marines clambered into a helicopter. Two squad cars from the DC Police Department diverted from their normal patrol routes and headed for the entrance to the Chinese Embassy. A phone call was made to the office of the FBI Director. Any action against the Red Chinese drew the interest of the highest levels of the American government. Sometimes the interest was not devoted to protecting and preserving the Constitution.

Harvey flipped the tape system to full automatic. He grabbed his coat and followed Larry down the hall and out the back door of the house. Both had pulled their badges and guns. Neither wanted a shootout, but sometimes you did what you had to do.

“You got your vest on?” Harvey asked.

Larry shrugged. “I didn’t think I needed it for tonight.” These things always went down when you thought it was over for the day.

They raced around the front of the house and darted across 15th Street Southwest into the park. Harvey held up his badge in one hand and flipped the safety down on the Smith & Wesson 1066. Harvey liked the 10mm round, and did not mind the wrist twisting recoil it delivered.

Larry, like many others in the Bureau, had opted for the tamer recoil of the .40 S&W round.
Both men spread at diagonals once they crossed the street. Harvey waved the badge once before pulling his hand down and yelling, “Stop, FBI!”

Having seen the guns on the night scopes, and recognizing they were attempting to catch a Chinese spymaster in the act, Larry found the nearest shrubbery with a diving roll. Harvey came to a rolling stop next to a tree bringing the hefty Smith & Wesson 1066 to bear. The Novak LoMount sites had been augmented with tritium inserts. A perfect three-dot site picture emerged on the chest of the nearest bodyguard.

Time seemed to slow down as the startled Chinese spun towards the voice and started to raise his gun hand. It was obvious these boys did not intend to come away peacefully.

Before the bodyguard had raised his gun hand half way, Harvey squeezed off the first shot. He felt the kick and barely noticed the solid crack of the gun. His ears were already ringing from the blast. He reacquired his target and fired a second round. He dropped the weapon to his hip and rolled his body around the other side of the tree.

The 10mm slugs punched two convincing smacks on the trauma plate of the Chinese bodyguard’s Kevlar vest. He flipped backwards, coming down hard on his seat, before rolling over on his hands and knees to crawl away from where he had been shot. Harvey reacquired his target and grunted, “Figures—body armor.”

Goldenrod snatched the packet from the drop box and scurried back into the gloom of the trees and playground. The other forward flanking guard sent two rounds of return fire. They thunked into the tree trunk inches from Harvey’s head. Wood splinters punched out from the tree and threw dust into Harvey’s eyes.

Larry, having witnessed the resistance of the first guard, aimed for the kneecap of the second shooter. He was not the marksman that Harvey had become, so he opted for a pray and spray strategy. He pumped out six rounds before scuttling across the ground to end up behind one of those garbage cans chained to a post. He went prone since the thin sheet metal of the garbage can would hardly stop anything above a .177 pellet gun.

The rear two bodyguards had physically grabbed Goldenrod and were actively hustling him through the park towards the Euclid Street Northwest park border. If they got to a car, it would be far more difficult to capture and convict the Chinese of any wrongdoing.

Harvey rolled out from cover and headed in a sprint after the three retreating Chinese. A flash and zing greeted him from the second shooter. Larry’s pray and spray had missed. Harvey bent double into a crouch and held out the Smith with his weaker left hand. He fired two more rounds in the general vicinity of the second shooter.

Boom! Flash! Boom! Flash!

Harvey never saw the first shooter rise out of the bushes and rush him like the Green Bay Packer’s Gilbert Brown. It must have taken whatever was left of the bodyguard to make the hit, but he expertly buried his right shoulder into Harvey’s middle. The collision sent Harvey sideways and down a short hill. His gun spun away into the dark, and he might have gotten up again had it not been for the steel handrail on the steps. He slammed headfirst into railing, and the lights went out.

The second shooter retreated towards the thickening gloom. He squared his shoulders and presented a larger target to Larry. Larry pulled himself up to a picnic table and settled himself into a crouch that extended his arms over the table. He locked both arms and steadied the butt of the gun on the table’s surface. The bouncing target was becoming increasingly difficult to see. Spots danced in Larry’s vision from the first volley of shots.

He figured he had half a magazine left, but at best, he would get off two shots before his target changed direction and disappeared forever. He let out his breath, steadied his body, and started shooting. He continued until the slide locked back on an empty magazine.

He left the picnic table in a loping run, hoping to miss whatever obstacles remained. Night had fallen completely, and the few lights in the park provided little help in tracking down the second shooter. He pressed the magazine release, catching the empty magazine in his hand and depositing it in his side jacket. Hollywood always let their heroes throw magazines away, but at thirty dollars each, Larry would just as soon hold on to his. He slammed a fresh magazine home and thumbed the slide release.

Larry never saw the second shooter laying face down in a blossoming puddle of blood. He was heading for Euclid Street, already knowing he was too late. The slam of car doors and the squeal of tires told him he had missed his chance to catch Goldenrod. He came to a stop in the brighter lights of the street lamps, his gun held at his side, his chest heaving from the run, and a foul taste in his mouth.

He pulled the portable Motorola radio from his inner coat pocket. “Harvey—you there, buddy?” He clicked the receive switch and listened—nothing but the radio hiss. “Harvey!” he repeated anxiously.

Larry turned back to the park and cursed. He started running back towards where he had last seen his partner. They were out of the fight for now. It was up to the District Police and the Marines. Larry doubted Goldenrod would head for the Embassy tonight. They probably had a safe house somewhere in the city. There would be no protest from the Chinese because this never happened. It was one of those silent battles sometimes fought in exotic places, but more often in the mundane and everyday locales of picnic tables and playgrounds.

Larry never saw the first shooter slither through the shadows to the body of the second shooter. He was intent on finding Harvey alive and in one piece. The last two Chinese agents disappeared into the night as well. The explosion of gunfire in the nation’s capitol did not even elicit a 911 call. Drug dealers and gang lords had long since made this a common occurrence.

Harvey blinked his eyes open, then closed them again. His forehead felt like it had been used for batting practice in the World Series. His radio squawked. He found he was lying on a slope with his head pointing down. It was awkward to reach his radio, but he managed it on the second try.

“Yeah, Larry,” he said.

“Hey, buddy—you’re still alive!” He laughed with relief and happiness that comes from finding out everyone was still breathing after a firefight. “Eh, Harvey, where are you?”

Harvey looked around and swung his feet down. “At the bottom of some steps,” he answered.

“Larry, did we get them?”

A longer pause—a less exuberant reply. “No, they got away.”

Harvey nodded to himself in the dark and spat some blood from a cut cheek. “Okay, we start on the White House in the morning. This guy had some important stuff. Otherwise Goldenrod wouldn’t have come out tonight.”

Larry came puffing over the slope and spotted Harvey on the ground. He dropped the radio back into his pocket and said, “I know, but let’s go get a beer first. It’s been a long night.” He helped Harvey to his feet and found his gun. They limped towards the house where the surveillance system was still running.

“I wonder what was in that packet,” muttered Harvey.

Larry chuckled. “When we find out who, then we’ll know what. You got his picture, all it’ll take is some time.”

Harvey nodded. Their investigation had entered a new phase. It came down to knocking on doors and showing photographs. Usually this was an easy thing to accomplish for the FBI. The intimidation factor alone caused most people to tell all. Not so when the address was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Chapter 8

Bartlett, Illinois
Saturday, November 15, 1997
7:00 P.M. CST

Lynn Harper walked down the basement steps. From her vantage point, where the half wall of the staircase ended, she could see the back of her husband. He was sitting at his workbench. The gun safe was open in the corner, a canvas bag sat at the foot of his stool, and the computer screen flickered on the far corner of the bench. The Culpeper Minuteman Flag hung from the ceiling above him. Its motto read Liberty or Death / Don’t Tread On Me. That (and a few karate tournament trophies) was all that he kept as a reminder of a secret life and a secret past.

Metal ammunition cans were open and he was working bullets into several magazines. His stereo was playing Fernando Ortega’s Meditations. The haunting piano melodies lilted throughout the basement. She knew it was one his favorites. It was the same album that he had played over and over during those dark days when his father lay dying in a nursing home.

Cancer is such a devastating disease for it not only wastes the body, as in the case of Jim’s Father, it kills the spirit too. Taped to the monitor edges was a picture of Jim when he was ten. He stood in the garage with his father and a black Labrador retriever named Josh. Another photo was propped on the keyboard. It was very recent, with his father, mother, and their children clustered next to the fireplace during Christmas—photographs and memories without pain and suffering.

Behind him on the concrete floor rested a massive black Labrador retriever named Indiana Jones. The sad eyes looked across the basement to where Lynn was standing. Both wife and dog knew something was up. Jim had cleaned some of his guns. The pungent odor of Shooters Choice and Hoppes Number 9 permeated the basement air. Spent patches and lint free swabs were tossed in his garbage can. Jim always kept his guns cleaned and oiled, so any additional work meant he was preparing himself for action.

Action was one of those words Lynn could live without. Throughout the early years of their marriage, he had disappeared—sometime for months at a time, sometimes for a few brief days. It was a part of his life about which she never quite knew the specific details. There were the times he had returned beaten and bruised. The broken arm, dislocated shoulder, and bullet holes were not unusual injuries. Nor was it unusual for him to spend long hours brooding about what had happened.

There were the holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries he missed. The nightmares accompanied him home. He trained harder, with a quiet intensity. He gave his entire being to becoming the best shot and smartest fighter. His trainers never questioned his bravery or his ability to hit hard and fast. They chided him about taking a hit to give one. His attention to detail and near photographic memory gave him an ability to work through complex problems.

His passions ran deep, and his commitment to his family ran deeper. She never questioned his commitment or his love. He was truly her best friend, and now this very dear man was preparing for action again. She did not need much imagination to understand that her husband would probably face danger and possible death, nor did she have any illusions that he would dispense the same. It had been years since someone had brought the past back. She thought this part of his life was over, but maybe it would never truly end.

Lynn had exploded angrily at him when he explained he was going back to Iraq. He had tried to explain about honor and duty. He had mentioned he was the best man for the job—something about unfinished business—and he had broken a promise about going back to the field. He had stood before the sweeping fury of her tirade, and made no effort to defend himself against her pointing fingers and angry scowls. He could only nod and agree with her.

She regretted her anger now. She also knew the name of the man calling her husband away from her and the girls again—Louis Edwards! She knew the lever used to pry Jim from his decision never to go back—Jerry. Jerry had been the best man at their wedding. Jerry and Jim had been on so many missions together. A Batman and Robin duo who, according to the rumor and gossip, could accomplish anything, go anywhere, and do anything a Langley mole or Beltway bandit concocted.

Then the unthinkable happened. Jerry did not come back from a mission. Jim came back a sunburned and dehydrated wreck. He spent two weeks in a NATO military hospital in Germany. When he arrived home, he was silent. He established a fund for Jerry’s family, but not much got contributed. Today, they needed him again, and Jim extracted a steep penalty from Louis. A million dollar trust fund had been established this afternoon. The final cost might be very high, for Jim was leaving tonight.

Lynn knew his heart sometimes led his head, and she knew his sense of honor. Duty, honor, and fidelity summed up the man she had married twenty years ago. Over time she had learned to trust Jim’s heart. He had an instinct to know the right thing to do without always being able to explain why it was right.

She closed her eyes again. She had spent the past half hour alone in their bedroom praying. Of the two of them, Lynn was the prayer warrior. Jim had learned to fight with his hands and mind. She learned to fight from her knees, conversing with the Lord of creation. She prayed for her children and her husband every day. There were tearstains on her Bible. Lynn Harper knew the meaning of sacrifice, and, once again, she was being asked to sit tight, put on a stiff upper lip, and wave good-bye.

She took the final steps down the staircase into the basement. She knew very little about the guns he kept. She never liked them, and asked why he wanted another one. As far as she was concerned, they all did the same basic thing—pull the trigger and they go bang. Jim would talk about his guns like they were old friends, and she patiently listened to his descriptions. Eventually, he figured out she was humoring his exuberance.

She recognized the dull, black Glock and the Mossberg shotgun laid out on the bench before him. The third weapon was a Browning Hi Power. It was field stripped for cleaning and oiling. Lynn recognized the Browning from the distinctive hardwood grips and the stainless steel barrel. It was the gun he had brought back from Iraq. It was Jerry’s gun. He had kept it after Jerry had died.

It occurred to Lynn that Jerry had died in Iraq. There was one reason for Jim to go back. He intended to right a wrong or fix a misdeed. He had come to some decision deep in his heart, and perhaps, even he did not know what that decision was.

Indiana Jones lifted his massive head and slowly his tail thumped hard on the floor. He revealed two other things Lynn had missed from the staircase: a combat dagger—favored by the British Special Air Service—and a combat knife favored by the United States Marine Corps. They had also been recently sharpened and oiled. No wonder the dog was worried; her husband was preparing for war.

She rested her hand on his shoulder and squeezed him assuredly. He looked up and patted her fingers. His touch lingered for a several moments. She leaned forward and whispered, “I’m sorry.”

He nodded. “So am I.”

“You have to go, don’t you?’ she continued. There was no use fighting. She needed to send him to whatever fate he faced knowing she loved him—even if she did not completely understand.


She pointed to the disassembled Browning. “It has something to do with Jerry?”

His bottom lip quivered. “Something.”

“And its something only you can do?” She needed to hear him say it was so. She needed to understand that he believed he was the only one capable. Even it were untrue, she needed to hear his conviction.

“Yes. Only me—I know how to get in and out,” he replied, knowing she had forgiven him again. How many times he had failed her he could not count. Yet she continued to forgive him. “I’m simply going to diddle a computer system or two.”

“You need guns to do this?”

“Well, the client might not agree with my approach to data management.” He paused, and said aloud what he had kept to himself when talking to Louis Edwards. “I don’t intend to leave it in one piece this time. I’m going to destroy it all—completely.”

“That’s what I don’t understand,” she said, shaking her head. “You have your guns, and your karate, and your shooting and sparring buddies. Why do you have to go and try to get yourself killed?” The terror she had calmed threatened to rise up and overwhelm her again.

“It’s a point of honor. I never finished the task, because someone thought it better to leave the Iraqis with certain capabilities in place.” He paused, grinding his teeth. “That decision cost Jerry his life.” He shook his head and muttered, “For what?” Had anyone watched Jim’s face, they would have seen the warrior’s mask descend on his features.

“Honor,” she said hollowly. “What about the honor of a husband and father? What about the needs I have as a wife or those of your daughters? Where is the honor in getting killed? Jim, there are other people who can do this. There have to be,” she said desperately.

He turned from the workbench and held her hands. He saw the tears held back and nodded. “Lynn, listen to me. I’ve been there. I went in and I went out. I know the technology better than any commando team they can drop in there. I know how to fight and I know how to survive. This is the last time. I promise you it’s the last time.” Even as he said those words, he wondered if it was truly the last time.

Lynn felt the conviction and the icy fear of her husband’s intentions.

“When do you leave?”

“Tonight—they’ll be here in less than an hour.”

She looked at the shotgun shells. They were a mixture of rifled shotgun slugs and various sizes of buckshot loads. Next to shotgun shells were the 115 grain full metal jacketed 9mm shells, and a collection of .45 ACP Gold Dot hollow points. They all weighed in at 230 grains. He had pulled them out of the ammo cans. Jim loaded them on the Dillon 650 XL reloader bolted into the bench’s other corner.

He decided to take the Glock 21 because he trusted the gun to perform in the harshest conditions with virtually all types of ammo. Regardless of bullet configuration, sand, water, grit, and congealing grease, the Glock had always performed. He had ten magazines for the 21, and decided to take a complete reload for each magazine.

The Mossberg was an obvious choice for close quarter combat. The last time they had penetrated the Data Center, the M16 A2 had proven to be a liability. There were too many angles and corners for the light 5.56mm round to deflect. The shotgun provided compact devastation without the fear of ricochet. Besides, the sound of a 12 gauge chambering a round has an incredible intimidation factor. People tend to run for cover.

The Browning was for luck. Jerry had carried the gun through several missions. The gun was considerably thinner than the Glock, and he had ten magazines loaded with hardball. He intended to use it as his backup gun stuck in a holster located on the small of his back. Since he was headed back to the place where Jerry had been killed, perhaps there would be a chance for payback.

“Why are you bringing your stuff?” she asked, “Can’t they supply what you need?”

He closed his eyes and breathed out. He dare not panic his beloved. “I know what I need; I have what I need.” He was the doctor again. He waved his hand at the weapons. “These are my tools. I know how they act; I know what they do. I shoot them all at least once or twice a month. I trust them, and I am betting my survival on things I trust. Should I take a weapon that I know nothing about? Somebody else’s gun?” He shook his head. “Trust me, Lynn, I know what I’m doing.”

He did not voice the other concern—his distrust of Louis Edwards and those who were sending him. He lived in a land ruled by people who had no honor, no integrity, and no allegiance to duty. He did not know yet what shape it would take, but a Judas would be along. Someone to ensure he did not get out of hand.

The most important weapon Jim would take with him was between his ears. But, it helped to know that when you squeeze the trigger and the firing pin punched forward, something went bang.

He squirted oil on the rails and behind the hammer down where the sear lived. He slid the barrel into the Browning slide, then attached the spring to the underside of the barrel. He slid the slide and barrel on the receiver’s rails and punched in the retaining pin before working the slide back and forth a couple of times. Finally, he slid an empty magazine into the well of the Browning and pulled the trigger. The hammer snapped forward on the empty chamber. He removed the empty magazine, and slid a loaded magazine into the gun. He racked the slide again, and pushed up the manual safety. It was now cocked and locked.

He holstered the Browning. Carefully he placed the shotgun shells, magazines, and reloads for the Glock into the canvas bag. He slid the Glock into a black nylon holster. He would secure that on his belt and around his upper leg. The Mossberg was a modified from the factory original. Tac Star pistol and Forend grips had replaced the normal stock grips, and it had a combat sling to carry it over his shoulder. He pushed six buckshot rounds into the sidesaddle carrier on the left side of the receiver.

The combat dagger was attached to his right leg above the boot. It never hurt to have things ready before Louis showed up. The combat knife was placed in the canvas bag. He felt the weight and was satisfied. It would be heavy, but not unmanageable. Finally, he loaded seven rifled slugs into the Mossberg’s magazine.

“Come on, let’s go talk to the kids before I leave.”

Lynn stood with folded arms, watching the man she loved change into a weapon. “You will be careful?” The cold ran its fingers down her spine.

He smiled and held her gaze. “I’m always careful.”

“I have something for you. I know you’ll be busy, but you’ll need this somewhere along the way.” She handed him her small pocket Bible, the one she carried in her purse. The gold leaf name at the bottom right corner said Lynn Harper.

“This is the one I gave you?”

She nodded. “It’s small, and I know you don’t have much room, but I would feel so much better if you took it with you.”

He took it from her and placed it in the canvas bag next to the shells and magazines. “Thank you. I’ll be sure to bring it back in good shape.”

She closed her eyes and grabbed him as a sob racked her frame. “Just bring yourself back.”

He patted her back and replied softly, “Always, love—always.”

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Chapter 7

USS Springfield, Persian Gulf
Saturday, November 15, 1997
8:30 P.M. (GMT + 3.00)

The USS Springfield slid through the dark waters beneath the Persian Gulf—a black hull on a black night in black water. She was a phantom cruising the sea on patrol. A constant vigil against enemies emanating from Iranian ports or interlopers emerging from lands further away. The United States had made it abundantly clear; they would tolerate no interference to keep oil flowing from the Arab spigots. This was a policy of national survival overriding the leadership vagaries residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Designated 761, she was one of the improved Los Angeles Class fast attack boats. This meant there were more options available in terms of armament coupled with a stealthier sound signature. The Springfield was a hole in the ocean constantly searching, listening, tracking—and if called upon—killing. She was a long way from Groton, Connecticut, the homeport of Submarine Group Two, Submarine Squadron Two. Her sister ships escorted carrier surface action groups like unseen terriers, watching and waiting. The Pittsburgh and the Toledo were improved 688 fast attack boats as herself—the rest were first generation boats.

She wore her colors proudly. Her crew of one hundred forty ventured out on six-month patrols, and sometimes longer. This time they were attached to the USS George Washington task force.

The George Washington was one of the newest Nimitz Class aircraft carriers. The aircraft carrier was a symbol of American power. Two carriers working in tandem provided air power totaling one hundred sixty aircraft. They were the forward presence of American authority and might.

The Springfield’s task was to ensure troublesome underwater predators did not come close enough to endanger the 80,800 ton behemoth. She was one of the silent killers that roamed the seas beneath 6000 man boats. If the National Command Authority gave the order, the small one hundred forty man crews in deadly boats would ensure the George Washington could deliver the 4,600,000 pounds of ammunition she carried. While some may question America’s leadership resolve, no one should ever doubt the ability of the American Navy to deliver.

Considering the Springfield’s mission, the FLASH message traffic she received tonight disturbed Executive Officer Rob Bremmer. He carried the message folder to the Captain’s quarters. Somehow, a Chinese Han Class boat had penetrated the protective barriers surrounding the carriers. Certainly, the Chinese Boat must have come close to the Nimitz or the George Washington. He knocked on the Captain’s cabin door.

“Come,” summoned Captain Jeff Andrews.

Rob entered and closed the door behind him.

Andrews looked up. “Robbie, what’ve you got?”

Rob set the folder on the Captain’s table and took a chair across from him. “FLASH message traffic from COMSUBGRP2. It seems we have a visitor.”

Andrews examined the photograph taken by the U-2. He looked at the map plot and let out a long, low whistle. “What’s a Han doing here?”

“It doesn’t look they were enforcing the UN embargo,” suggested Rob.

He pulled the photo from the papers and stared at it. “Any idea what they were giving the Iraqis?”

Robbie shook his head.

“Okay. It’s too small to be a missile, and no one in their right mind would try a nuclear transfer in the middle of the night on a choppy sea.” He reached behind him and pulled an Intel folder from its rack. “According to this, we’ve found most of the nuclear sites. What does that leave?” He stared at his XO.

Robbie followed his boss’s thinking. “Chemical or biological.”

Andrews nodded.

“It says here they think this boat might be hurt.”

“Yeah, I saw that too, but I don’t know what they’re talking about. All this photo shows is the sub and the surface ship.” He paused, “You have any idea what this is?” He pointed at the black square barely visible at the top of the Han’s hull.

“Looks like a hole to me.”


“Isn’t this where their missile hatches should be?”

Robbie traced the square shape backward along the spine of the boat. There were no missile hatches. “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t see anything like what should be there.”

Andrews picked up the photo again. He tilted his reading glasses forward to get a better look. “If I wasn’t looking at a sub, I’d say this was a cargo hold.”

“Maybe they know something we don’t.”

One thing submarine drivers despised were cute little intelligence boys sitting in their nice Virginia office buildings deciding what could and could not be shared with ships at sea. Andrews had a nasty feeling about this one. “Maybe they do.”

He flipped to the orders page. “Did you take care of this already?”

Rob nodded. “Yes. I’ve plotted a course to the southern gulf about fifty to seventy-five klicks inside the strait.” There was only one strait as far as the Persian Gulf was concerned. The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow choke point where an inordinate amount of the world’s supply of oil flowed in huge supertankers. It was another duty of the US Navy to ensure no one took it into their fancy to block the Strait. The only way for the Chinese boat to exit the Gulf was through the Strait, and it simply was not possible to do that without being noticed.

“It says here we’re supposed to be goal keepers,” Andrews scowled. “I wonder what they think that means. Deny sea passage to a Chinese sub? Does that give me authority to sink him?” He shook his head. An Admiral had not written this order. This order was issued by some flunky in Washington—or worse yet—Langley. Why would Langley write orders to submarines on carrier protection patrol concerning specific tactics in regard to a Chinese sub? He flicked his finger at the photo.

“I wonder how they got into the Gulf.”

“The Russians used to have a trick with the SOSUS line where they would try and get their boomers through by riding the wake of one of their surface freighters. A really dangerous game in case someone stopped too soon.” Andrews laughed. “It never worked really. The boys with the big ears at the NSA always heard them. We always knew when they were going to sortie a boomer and simply waited until they left their freighter before picking them up. I’d guess the Chinese followed a tanker through the Strait and we plain missed it.”

He shook his head and snapped a finger at the map. “Fifty klicks south of Al Faw.” He shook his head gravely. “That means they snuck up as close as possible to the coast without showing themselves.” His mind started to churn with the possibilities—the same possibilities that had surfaced half a world away earlier that same day. The inescapable conclusion surfaced for Andrews. China was working with Iraq. Nothing good could come from such an alliance. He remembered the rumors from back home about campaign contributions, the Chinese manipulation of the elections, and Iraq’s continued intransigence over UN weapons inspectors. Now, he had to find a Chinese sub. It all began to smell.

Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness, rather than permission. Andrews could ask for clarification from COMSUBGRP2, or he could use his latitude regarding the orders. He sighed.

“Robbie, make sure we have fish in tubes one, two, three, and four. Tubes flooded, doors closed.” He looked back to the photograph. “If we find this guy, he doesn’t get to open water. If he twitches, we send him to the bottom.”

Robbie looked across the table. Those were war fighting orders. “You think that’s wise?”

“According to this message there is a suspicion that the Han might be damaged.”

Robbie nodded slowly. “Damage can cut two ways. He may be slow or noisy or both.”

“Yeah. Put yourself in his shoes. Say you’ve got a damaged boat and some casualties. First thing you’ve got to assess is whether you can fix the problems at sea.” Andrews shrugged. “Maybe—maybe not. It would take some time to figure those things out and come up with a plan. I would rig for ultra quiet and go slow hoping to avoid detection.”

“So you think a sub driver with a damaged boat is more dangerous?”

Andrews shook his head. “More desperate. And desperate men tend to gamble closer to the edge of their performance envelope. Until we know otherwise, we treat this one like a hostile.”

Monday, October 17, 2005

Chapter 6 / the rest

The sites were disguised from the air; there were no surface installations besides the simple blockhouses with security teams within a fifteen to twenty kilometer radius. Of course, there were teams inside the installations, but due to the need for stealth and secrecy those teams were limited in size. Iraq had maintained extensive communications during the Gulf War using fiber optic cables buried in the sand. While the arrogant Americans were searching for conventional copper communication cables, Saddam was calmly prosecuting his war from his German made bombproof bunkers. Unless the air assault obliterated a position, Saddam rarely lost contact with his commanders.

The same fiber optic network remained in place after the war. No one knew for sure whether the Americans could trace the fiber network, but it continued to send data throughout the dispersed weapon centers. The Americans knew there were secret labs, and the Iraqis knew the Americans knew. Saddam relied on the current administration’s lack of political will, and his belief in America’s naiveté to keep his regime intact.

In 1992, a two-man team penetrated the Iraqi Data Center. Duri had been a captain then. He watched the piecemeal commitment of fire teams to the emergency. In the main computer room, there had been a firefight between one of the internal teams and the intruders. The closed circuit cameras caught most of the action. A great deal of damage resulted from the intrusion. The intruders were obviously from a Western power; they wore body armor and fired American made weapons. One man raged with an M-16 A2; the other blasted with a short-barreled shotgun.

The firefight caused the intruders to abort their mission early as self-preservation overrode duty. They fled, leaving supplies and weapons behind. A trail of blood marked their passage until they encountered the second internal team. The cameras showed incapacitation within seconds. The cameras also captured the best photographic evidence of the intruders. The faces were now part of a computerized database designed to match a face to existing graphics. Every Israeli, British, and American Special Forces intelligence officer known to the Iraqi SSS had been entered. It also included rogues like the two who penetrated the Data Center.

By the time sufficient security teams converged, the intruders had escaped into the desert. Iraq’s computer systems were crippled for nine months. It had cost the General responsible for Data Center security his life. Second chances were not available in the Iraqi security services.
Duri survived the purges and came to Saddam’s attention during the spring of 1996. He helped uncover a large-scale embezzlement ring inside the Sixth and Fourteenth Republican Guard divisions. Military weapons and material were being sold off to civilians in exchange for gold, hard currency, and sometimes food. Over one hundred fifty administrative officers were arrested. They took up new residence at Abu Gharib prison.

Abu Gharib had become a holding center for human guinea pigs. As with so many other things, the arrest and punishment of the Republican Guard officers became an object lesson. This lesson was directed both to those who might consider similar actions against Saddam’s regime as well as to those who were the regime’s defenders. Duri was charged with the transportation of the entire group from Abu Gharib—where they might have simply starved to death or received a merciful bullet—to Al Salman.

Al Salman had become a place cloaked in mystery. It was one of the secret special warfare sites people entered and never came out. It had started out as an agricultural facility. There were even studies published regarding strains of wheat and corn. Most of this information was culled from the Internet and regurgitated for international consumption. Al Salman’s true purpose was to test chemical and biological agents, first on animals, then on human subjects. The stench of urine, feces, and vomit lingered throughout the facility. It was protected by Special Republican Guard troops wearing biohazard uniforms and respirators. Visitors were not issued respirators or earplugs in order that the sites, smells, and sounds from Al Salman would have a lasting impression. Failure could cost much more than death. The lesson was not lost on Duri.

This night found Colonel Duri rushing towards the waters between Al Faw and Jazirat Bubiyan. He had risen through the ranks to become a responsible and trusted member of the security forces. Responsibility and success now raised the twin specters of failure and disappointment. Duri had no desire to join those he had sent to the chemical and biological warfare labs as test subjects. Even a man who had cut himself off from the pleasures of family and devoted his energies to survival could not erase the sights and sounds he witnessed at Al Salman.

His particular charge was a delivery from the Red Chinese, and his specific problem was the two idiots riding chained together behind him. While those two would find their deaths this night, Duri intended to see the sun rise many more times. To do that he had to recover what he could of the shipment. Saddam’s precious target list and his goal for revenge would probably cost more lives before it was over.

The lorry came to a halt on the shoreline of the Gulf. The sound of the surf rolling against the rocks and sand replaced the engine noise. Only a faint light from stars was visible over the sand. Duri got out of the cab and walked around the end of the truck. He pounded on the side of the vehicle. The flap covering the interior flipped open.

“Bring them,” he commanded and walked towards the surf casually unsnapping his holster.

His driver remained seated inside the truck. He, too, had learned the object lessons of Al Salman.

The two sailors were prodded forward at bayonet point. Chains jingled with their shuffling steps. The divers hung back by the truck, waiting for instructions.

Once the shuffling stopped, Duri turned from the surf to the prisoners. He looked at both of them. Even in the cool autumn night, these two were sweating. He shrugged. “I will ask these questions one time.”

Both nodded quickly.

Fear induced such compliance in people. Certainly, these fools knew what was coming. Their cooperation simply bought them the mercy of a quick death versus a prolonged torture at Al Salman. Duri enjoyed the fear he induced. He understood the nature of accelerated heart rates and adrenaline pumping like a raging river into their blood streams. It would change nothing.

“Where did you come ashore?”

Both sets of eyes leaped from his face to the shoreline. A manacled hand rose and pointed down the shoreline. “I think I see the raft we landed in.”

Duri followed the raised hands to where they were pointing. A crumpled yellow shape lay some two hundred meters down the beach. Duri started walking towards the spot. The others followed him in the jingling shuffle through the sand. No one spoke over the shuffle, jingle, and surf. Their fear spilled forth like a spreading oil slick on a calm sea. Both were praying to whatever gods they might know that it was the survival raft.

The divers and truck followed at a distance. Eventually, they arrived at a punctured raft pulled up on the beach. Two life preservers lay in the bottom of the raft. “This is it?”

“Yes.” They nearly fell over answering him.

Duri turned to the pair. He considered shooting one of them. His hand fingered the leathered flap on his holster. Perhaps these two could still be useful. After all, no one would want to handle the casks any more than required. Dead men should have no qualms about cleaning up the mess that they had created. The guards tensed, expecting the Makarov to emerge in Duri’s hand.

The moment passed.

Duri motioned the divers forward. They were special troops from his SSS command.

“Where’s the ship?”

“Out about one hundred meters,” explained the first officer. “It’s about twenty meters below the surface.”

Duri pursed his lips. He waved the truck and divers forward. He looked back to the two sailors. “Sit.” They dropped to the beach like pair of highly trained dogs.

Now the wait began. Duri lit a cigarette and paced down the beach towards the surf. He took several deep drags before flipping it into the sea. An entire crew poisoned by the Chinese gift. If the story was to be believed, the entire crew succumbed to the chemical agent—men clawing at their respirator masks while their eyes dissolved at the same time. A toxin so deadly, the Captain made the decision to scuttle his ship rather than risk moving through the Shatt Al Arab waterway.

Instead of a few sailors lying dead at the bottom of the Gulf, an epidemic could have spread on both sides. The Captain could have killed both Iraqi and Iranian citizens. Duri doubted the Mullahs would understand such a mistake. The Captain pulled his ship away from the densely populated banks of the Tigris River towards the waters between Iraq and Kuwait. He managed to scuttle the boat before they all died, and more importantly, before dawn.

Duri wondered about the American satellites and the spy planes. Did they know what had happened? Did they have pictures popping out of their computers and analysts examining the evidence? No one doubted their ability to search for things, but Iraq had developed an even greater ability to hide things.

A buoy broke the surface. Its tiny red lamp flickered advertising its position. Duri leaned forward. Perhaps he would survive this setback. His own heart rate accelerated as he began to believe his life would continue after tonight.

A second buoy sprang up two meters closer. Both casks had been found. Duri turned back to his prisoners.

“You have a chance to redeem yourselves. I want you to get those casks into the truck and make sure they are secure.” He lit another cigarette. “Release them.”

Incredulous, they lifted their hands to the guards. A key appeared and the manacles dropped to the sand. They galloped towards the surf.

Duri walked back to the truck and pulled out a map from his tunic. He opened the map for the driver and pointed to a red X. “Do you know how to get here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. We leave immediately after the casks are secured in the rear. I don’t care how fast you drive, but no accidents; that would be the least of our problems.” He turned back to the surf. His prisoners were gleefully pulling the casks back towards the shore. If they dropped dead from anything other than bullet holes Duri had another problem. They were his canaries in the coalmine. The miners knew enough to leave when the canaries died.

He walked back to the guards. “I intend to leave you here to clean up the mess. When they have finished with the casks, shoot them. I’ll send another vehicle for you in the morning.”

Duri turned back to the truck. He climbed into the cab and lit another cigarette. He closed his eyes wondering how much longer he could continue in this present life. Sometime soon, it would be time to get out. He dare not ascend to the rank of General Officer. The truck engine turned over. A noisy putter overpowered the surf outside. The gentle rumble worked its way through the frame and a drowsy Duri barely heard the stutter of two automatic rifles. Another failure was buried in the sand.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chapter 6 / Page 3

During the Gulf War, Duri stood behind hunkered down troops waiting for the Americans. Incredibly, men under his watch began surrendering en masse to the United States Army and Marine battalions as they punched through the berms without slowing. The Iraqi regulars broke under the pressure to fight. They emerged from the holes in the sand throwing away rifles and raising their arms. These men had survived the relentless air war. Day and night without end, the air forces of Desert Storm pounded their positions. Incendiary and anti-personnel bombs rained from the sky. They never knew a moment’s rest.

Duri attempted to stop the mass desertion. He took his pistol and fired at men until he ran out of bullets. Stupidly, he yelled himself hoarse, his uniform torn and smoke blinded his eyes, an empty Makarov in one hand. Nothing more than a fool overrun by the Americans. They crisscrossed the sky in their Apache Gunships, and churned the sand with their Abram M1 Tanks. When dawn finally came during that hopeless night, he found himself a prisoner of war.
American and British medics were tending his wounds and plastic restraints held his wrists tight. He still limped from the 5.56mm round he took that day in his leg.

Iraq’s utter humiliation before the world was complete. For some unknown reason, the Americans stopped after one hundred hours. There was hardly anything left. The road leading from Kuwait to Al-Basra was nothing more than a smoking wreckage of armor and men. Nothing survived the horrendous pounding delivered by the A-10 Thunderbolts. Death on land and in the air was complete. Baghdad lay defenseless before the American armies. Oh, there had been token brigades from other countries, but no one doubted the aggressor. The Americans decided to stop before obliterating Baghdad and the Iraqi government. They left them in place as a gesture, perhaps to serve notice to others as to what they were capable of accomplishing.

Slowly, Iraq emerged from the rubble. Bridges were rebuilt; some equipment restored. The precious secret weapons were dispersed around to special sites. Duri had been repatriated after the war. He was attached to the Data Center security team—another fiasco. Iraq’s strategy for hiding banned weapons became a refined shell game. With oceans of trackless sand deserts and sixty-nine Presidential palaces, Saddam had plenty of places to hide things. His chemical weapons labs, two hundred anthrax bombs, and eighty SCUD and modified SCUD al-Hussein missiles were dispersed. The existing infrastructure facilities, such as the central Data Center and the nuclear separation labs, remained hidden beneath tons of rock and sand in buried bunkers.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Chapter 6 / Page 2

During the Gulf War, carrier based aircraft used the same inlet leading to Umm Qasr to navigate towards targets in Kuwait and southern Iraq. The shoreline’s angle points like a dagger towards Al Basra, and the Tigris leads straight to the heart of Baghdad. Even when navigation computers failed in the shot up A-6 Intruders, pilots still found their way home following the inlet back to the waiting carriers. Had an amphibious landing taken place, as many speculated, part of it would have been against Jazirat Bubiyan—the island forming the eastern Kuwait border.

Tonight Al Faw took on a greater significance. A single lorry drove away from the populous riverbanks and into the desert night. A curious mixture of men rode into the darkness this night. Two sailors huddled in the rear of the lorry. Each was bound with heavy police-restraint handcuffs and leg irons. One was the hapless crane operator, who had killed several Chinese sailors the night before. His inattention with the crane and the ensuing panic left several men to the mercy of the sea. The other sailor was the first officer who had made the mistake of reporting the disaster.

Four members of the Special Republic Guard watched them. None of the soldiers spoke. They knew the price men paid for failure under Saddam’s regime. These men had failed on a particularly important mission. They had no need to know the specifics of the mission, and if the truth were known, they had no desire to learn further secrets of their masters. Knowledge could get a person killed. It certainly doomed these sailors. No one doubted the outcome of tonight’s activities.

The last two in the rear of the lorry were dressed in neoprene diving suits. In the dim light, they meticulously checked over their SCUBA gear, and the additional gear required for the salvage operation. An inflatable rubber raft, grappling hooks, lines, and underwater lamps lay in the far corner of the lorry. Each checked their weight belts, survival knife, regulator, and tanks. They would be operating underwater at night—something akin to near total blackness. Should the lamps fail, they might never find their way back to the surface from inside the ship’s hold.

Colonel Taha Duri sat in the passenger side of the lorry. He had no friends. Colonels of the Al Amn al-Khas—Iraq’s Special Security Service—were supposed to be feared, not liked. He understood better than most the shifting tides within Iraq’s security structures. It was like riding a wild horse through the night. He had learned to expect the unexpected. Betrayal and treason were always just beyond the horizon. A sharp knife between the ribs or a bullet in the back of the head often became a remedy for troublesome issues.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Chapter 6 / Page 1

Fao Peninsula, Iraq
Saturday, November 15, 1997
8:30 P.M. (GMT + 3.00)

The Al Faw oil depot sits on triangle shaped strip of land called the Fao Peninsula. It is the southernmost Iraqi outpost and serves as the final surface oil depot for the underground pipeline running from the massive Rumaila and Zubair oilfields. The pipeline runs parallel to the Tigris River as it races towards the Persian Gulf. Once out of land, the pipeline continues submerged to the twin oil terminals, Kohr al Amaya and Mina al Bakr.

It is amazing the sand is still gray and not blood red. Across the Fao Peninsula, the Iraq/Iran war extracted a two-year vengeance from the hapless people living there. The Iranians gained the peninsula, and the Iraqis were determined to regain the same piece of land. The cost was horrendous. At one point, the Iraqi army stored tens of thousands of corpses in huge refrigerators. To prevent an uprising against the regime during the Iraq/Iran War, the dead bodies were parceled out as carefully as any other rationed commodity. Saddam believed that if people learned the truth regarding the toll in human life, a revolution might have brought the regime down.

River traffic navigates north on the Tigris moving shallow draft boats from the Persian Gulf to as far north as Al Basra. Traditionally, Al Basra is Iraq’s port city, serving as the gateway to the Gulf. The Gulf War, and the resulting southern uprising, changed everything. The Republic Guard crushed the rebellion with murderous rage, leaving Iraq’s port city barely functioning. The port lies unused, and the city’s sewer system has never been repaired.

On the Tigris’ eastern bank lies Iran—sometimes ally and sometimes enemy. To the west is the waterway leading to Umm Qasr. It is a natural inlet between Kuwait and Iraq. The Raudhatain oil fields lay along the once contested border. Between Al Faw and Umm Qasr, there is nothing but rugged terrain, burnt out hulls, and craters left from the Gulf War.


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