Firewallby R. J. Pineiro
The final words that Mortimer Fox whispered to ex CIA agent Bruce Tucker. Cryptic words said in a code coveted the world over, a code that could wipe all the world's powers off the map and trigger Armageddon. The words are understood by a few, but are especially desirable to Vlad Jarkko, Tucker's nemesis from his CIA days. And when Jarkko snatches Monica Fox,… See more details below
The final words that Mortimer Fox whispered to ex CIA agent Bruce Tucker. Cryptic words said in a code coveted the world over, a code that could wipe all the world's powers off the map and trigger Armageddon. The words are understood by a few, but are especially desirable to Vlad Jarkko, Tucker's nemesis from his CIA days. And when Jarkko snatches Monica Fox, Mortimer's daughter, Tucker must resume the blood feud and find Monica before she capitulates to her abductor's unspeakable tortures.
“Startingly authentic, Firewall offers an alarming vision of what might come to pass . . . written by an author equally at ease with complex software and superior storytelling.”—Ralph Peters, New York Times bestselling author of Traitor
“Pineiro boosts the action and goes international.”—Publishers Weekly
“Move over Tom Clancy, there is a new kid on the block.”—Library Journal
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Dressed in a dark business suit, Bruce Tucker stepped out of the rear of the armored Lexus sedan, closed the door behind him, and remained in the two-foot gap between the black automobile and the curb, inspecting the crowd of reporters, photographers, and high-tech enthusiasts gathered outside of the Moscone Center, San Francisco's premier meeting and exhibition facility, site of this year's West Coast Computer Symposium.
A moment later the front passenger-side door swung open, and he was followed by one of his agents, a slim-built executive protector retained by Tucker to assist him in today's event.
According to the arrangements Tucker had made with Moscone security the week beforeand had rehearsed to the point of obsession every day sincefour men, also dressed in business suits, approached him, forming a semicircle around him while facing the crowd. Tucker's instructions to Moscone security had been simple: Keep your eyes on the crowd, where a threat might originate, not on the principal; keep your hands free at all times; do not address anyone in the crowd, even if they are insulting you, since that could be nothing more than a diversion created by an assassin; and above all, stay crisp. Remember that an assassin only has to get lucky once, but a protector must get lucky every time.
Tucker frowned. He made his own luck through rigorous planning and by following the rules he had learned from Ozaki Kabuki, the old Japanese-American trainer during his years with the Secret Service following a turbulent career with Central Intelligencethe agency that recruited Tucker from the Navy SEALs.
Kabuki had taught Tucker that unlike the classic bodyguard stereotype, a protection specialist didn't equate with bulky muscles, a booming voice, aggressive manners, and multiple concealed weapons, but with careful planning, proper dress codes, etiquette, the ability to blend in with the surroundings, the physical and mental skills to fight if required, and above all, absolute loyalty to his principal. As a true executive protector, Tucker followed traditions dating back to twelfth-century Japan, when samurai warriors protected the life and estate of their daimyos, the feudal barons under the shogun, or military governor of Japan. To be a samurai meant more than physical skill. It meant following strict codes of honor, of etiquette, of absolute loyalty to your daimyo. Samurais protected the lives of Japan's heads of state, just as members of the United States Secret Service protected the lives of our heads of state.
Just as I protect my principals.
Satisfied that Moscone security was following his instructions, Tucker verified that a dozen local cops were keeping the assembly at bay. Last week, when the time and date for his principal's scheduled speech had been confirmed, Tucker had worked out an arrangement with the San Francisco Police Department to assign officers to this detailfor a hefty fee, of course. But money wasn't an object when it came to protecting the life of one of the most prominent figures in today's high-tech world.
The sun hung high in the northern California skies this cool morning, reflecting off the tinted glass of the armored sedan-though no one but a professional would have been able to recognize that the Lexus had had all of its windows replaced with a polycarbonate glass laminate capable of withstanding anything from a .44 Magnum round to a NATO 7.62mm tungsten tip high-velocity bullet. The Lexus, modified per Tucker's specifications, also included armor plating beneath the surface of the roof and all doors, a fragmentation blanket beneath the floor, ballistic steel covers for the battery and engine compartment, and self-inflating tires.
Tucker surveyed the first of this detail's choke points: the narrow passageway formed by the police barricades and the officers holding back agitated fans and the press, which his principal will have to move through before reaching the doors leading to the upper lobby of the center's South Hall.
Satisfied that SFPD and Moscone security were conforming to prearranged rules, Tucker spoke into his lapel microphone. "One, two, and three, hit the street."
Three agents emerged from the chase car, a second armored Lexus, but light cream in color, parked behind the first. The color schemes, devised by Tucker, avoided attracting the unnecessary attention of two identical dark luxury sedans driving in tandem. The agents were also all of medium stature and built, wearing dark suits and flesh-colored earpieces, which kept them in constant communications with Tucker, the shift leader of this detail.
Moscone security moved out in a radial pattern toward the cordoned crowd, letting Tucker's team approach the rear of the limousine. While keeping their eyes on the potential threat around them, the agents created a diamond formation around Mortimer Fox as he emerged a moment later dressed in an Italian double-breasted suit. None of the agents present here todayTucker includedwore double-breasted suits, not only because real security specialists always dressed down a notch from their principals to avoid upstaging them, but also because such suits were meant to be buttoned, impairing the ability of an agent to reach for a concealed handgun.
The crowd welcomed Fox with loud cheers. The cameras from two networks began to roll. Tucker and his detail were showered with photographic flashes, which lowered their ability to monitor the crowd. But in spite of the annoyance the press created for celebrities like Fox, Tucker welcomed them, and even worked with them, often positioning them up front, where they could take the best pictures and live footagein the process creating a buffer zone between his principal and the crowd. News people were not the enemy. They were here doing their jobs.
Tucker heard someone protesting and his eyes cut immediately to the source: a trio of skinheads holding up a poster depicting a red, white, and blue American eagle slaughtering a fox. Beneath it, a banner complained against FoxComm's predatory business practices, which had driven many competitors out of business, empowering Fox to create one of the largest monopolies in the history of this nation. Tucker was used to people protesting against FoxComm, whose founder and CEO had contracted him six months ago for executive protection after the corporation's Chief Technical Officer, Vinod Malani, was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by what the media had described as a group of fanatics.
Fanatics my ass.
The whole incident smelled like a professional terrorist job, not only successfully abducting Malani, but getting away cleanly, leaving no clues for the police. Malani's driver and his bodyguard were found shot dead in the CTO's limousine outside the Fairmont Hotel, which the executive visited quite often with young female companions. Some members of the hotel staff recalled Malani arriving the afternoon of his disappearance in the company of an Asian woman, but details beyond that were sketchy at best. Malani's body was found by a jogger in San Francisco's Candlestick Park the following week, missing his genitals, both eyes, all fingernails, and his tongue. In addition, his skin had hundreds of tiny slits, inflicted with a razor to cause maximum pain while keeping the subject alive. The wounds were encrusted with salt to enhance the level of pain. And again, the police found zero clues to launch a real investigation. Fanatics, who typically plan such strikes with little consideration for an escape after committing the crime, would certainly have left a trail for the authorities, as was the case with the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Also, fanatics would have limited their exposure to a hit-and-run strike. They would had avoided an elaborate kidnapping scheme, which included securing a safe house to conduct the torture, and then another round of potential exposure when dumping the body. And of course, there was no manifesto released to the press, no message to the world explaining the reason for the violent crime. Malani had just vanished that evening at the hotel and had returned slain, without an explanation, without evidence, without a motive.
Tucker had speculated that Malani had been kidnapped for information or perhaps passwordsor something else that would lead the terrorists to money. But nothing was missing from any of FoxComm's accounts, and their passwordsas well as any other passwords known to Malanihad been changed the morning after his disappearance. Malani's personal accounts were also intact.
A hideous crime without an apparent motive, but shocking enough for Mortimer Fox to dismiss the bodyguard service contracted to protect him, and retain Tucker to protect his own life.
The executive protector regarded the cheering fans while taking his position to the immediate right of his principal, keeping his left hand near Fox's back, but without touching him. If the need ever arose, Tucker could shove Fox away while stepping in to shield him with his own bodyall the while keeping his shooting hand free to reach for the Colt .45-caliber pistol, one of the preferred concealed handguns of the U.S. Secret Service.
That was another difference between a plain-vanilla bodyguard, like those with Malani that afternoon, and an executive protector. Tucker would take a bullet for his principal, just as a samurai would sacrifice himself to save his daimyoas Kabuki had drilled into him back in the Secret Service.
Total and unquestionable loyalty.
Although his training viewed a firearm as a last resort, Tucker carried one in a holster that fit inside his pants, secured in place behind the belt loop on his left side. Some agentsnone on Tucker's detailpreferred shoulder holsters, but those were not practical for close operations with a principal, mostly because the weapon couldn't be easily and quickly withdrawn.
Another lesson from Kabuki was that of hardening the target, making his protecteehis daimyoa harder target for an assassin. He accomplished this by using Kabuki's principle of concentric security circlesthe origin of which dated back to twelfth-century Japan, when a shogun would surround himself with various concentric layers of protection. At the center of the circle was the daimyo himself, whom Tucker had spent many hours with, increasing his level of awareness. The next circle was Tucker, standing right next to Fox, ready to take a bullet for him if it ever became necessary. The agents covering each of the four points of the compass in their diamond formation constituted the third protective circle. The fourth was formed by the Moscone staff, which created a protective layer beyond the diamond. The police cordoning the crowd defined the fifth and last defensive circle between the principal and the uncontrolled crowd.
The detail began to move. As it did, the drivers in the principal's sedan and the chase car locked their doors but kept the engines running in case an unforeseen event required the immediate evacuation of Mortimer Fox. Tucker had made previous arrangements with the local police force and the hotel to let him keep the two vehicles parked in front of the lobby's entrance on Howard Street.
"Mr. Fox! Mr. Fox! Please!" shouted several fans who looked like college kids, thrusting open hands past the police barrier as the detail approached the bottleneck at the choke point. The kids had managed to squirm their way to the front, by the reporters and SFPD officers.
Against Tucker's better judgment, Fox stopped and turned toward the young fans. Although he had many enemies, Mortimer Fox nevertheless stood for the ideal American entrepreneur, creating an empire with his bare hands, a true rags-to-riches story, a pursuer and an achiever of the American dream, and an inspiration to people like the kids wearing Stanford T-shirts standing in the front row wishing to shake the hand of this Silicon Valley legend. Tucker knew Fox had a soft spot in his heart for Stanford University, his alma mater, to which he contributed heavily every year to bolster its advanced technology R & D department.
As Fox turned left, the agent on that side became the new north of the diamond formation while the other agents rotated with the principal, maintaining a tight 360-degree coverage.
Fox shook hands with a fan, and a second, and a third. He was about to continue toward the doors but the last kid, built like a football player, didn't let go, gripping the tycoon's hand so tightly that the elderly Fox winced in pain. As part of his research, Tucker had reviewed Fox's medical file, learning that the elderly executive, in addition to having a weak heart, suffered from osteoporosis. He didn't need a gorilla stressing the weakened bones of his hand.
To the untrained observer, Tucker did nothing more than smile at the fan and say, "Excuse me," before ushering Fox toward the revolving doors. But in those few seconds, the protection specialist, keeping his left hand behind Fox, placed his right one over the fan's hand, gripping the kid's thumb, forcing it up and away from Fox's hand. When sensing further resistance to his aikido technique, commonly known as a "thumb-peel," Tucker stomped the heel of his right shoe against the bridge of the kid's nearest foot.
"Excuse me," Tucker said, smiling as the fan cringed in pain and backed off.
Tucker used his left hand to nudge his principal, reaching the glass doors before the surprised fan got a chance to react, and went inside.
Copyright © 2002 by R. J. Pineiro
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