Read an Excerpt
Gates of Hades
By Gregg Loomis
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 594, LLC
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePrincess Juliana International Airport Philipsburg, St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles December 20
Williford Watkins liked Americans. Were it not for Americans, he would have to live solely on what he got for working in the tower at the island's airport, a salary that never would have paid for the used twenty-eight-foot sport fisherman in which he took American tourists diving, snorkeling, and fishing for as much as a thousand dollars a day. His job, the one in the tower, consisted of eight tedious hours five days a week, doing little more than making sure the runway was clear of aircraft and telling the Air France or Lufthansa pilots, "Cleared to land."
The boring nature of his job was why he let his curiosity take hold when that particular Gulfstream IV landed. According to the routing slip Williford picked up from the rack, the plane was Swiss, but the numbers painted on the tail were unlike any Swiss registration he had ever seen.
Since his shift was over, or near enough by island standards, he walked downstairs and over to the customs and immigration section of the terminal. He had a charter at the dock at Marigot, over on the French side of the island, but the fish weren't going anywhere and the anglers couldwait. This was, after all, the Caribbean, where time was approximate at best.
The two pilots from the Gulfstream were filing their general declarations, the papers every country of entry required that listed passengers, cargo, and point of departure. His curiosity stirred once again when he noted there was only one passenger, a swarthy man with angry eyes. The dark man glared at Williford's dreadlocks and Bob Marley T-shirt. Williford smiled at him, just the way the tourism bureau said to do to all white folks. The dark man turned away.
That was unusual, too. Most mon come to St. Maarten, they be happy, not angry. The charter could wait a little longer.
Williford went outside into the brilliant sunshine of another day in paradise. His sunglasses, cooled by the aggressive air-conditioning inside, fogged over in the humid heat. The parking lot where he had left the Samurai he had bought with the money from his American charter customers was to his right. He turned left toward the flight operations building.
After exchanging some good-natured insults with the men in the single room, he found a copy of World Aircraft Registrations, thumbed through the country-by-country directory, and turned to Switzerland. He had been right: the Gulfstream's registration was not listed. Putting the heavy volume on a table, he tried the directory by registration letters. Fortunately, the United States was the only nation that had so many aircraft it used numbers instead of letters.
It took him only a few minutes to find out that the Gulfstream, or at least its numbers, were Syrian.
Williford checked his watch. His charter customers weren't going to be happy, but he couldn't quit now. Crossing the room, he picked up a telephone connected to the small air-traffic control center located in the base of the tower he had just left.
"Freddy," he said when a familiar voice came on the line, "th' Gulfstream you mons worked a few minutes ago; where it come from?"
What he heard made his curiosity sit up and take notice. The plane had been handed off from San Juan Center, the air-traffic control facility for high-altitude traffic in this part of the Caribbean, but it had not been handed off in sequence from London to Greenland to New York to Miami centers, the normal sequence for flights from Europe. Instead, it had commenced the transatlantic part of its journey with Tenerife Center in the Canary Islands. Williford wasn't sure what part of the Caribbean those islands occupied, but he did know something was crazy as a marlin with its bill stuck in a boat hull.
There was something he had read in the men's room while he was taking a break a few weeks ago, something about the Americans wanting to know about suspicious flights. He supposed they wanted to further their endless (and, in Williford's opinion, hopeless) effort against the drugs that journeyed northbound in volumes unequaled by tropical fruit. Maybe if he called the Americans, they could somehow send him charter business six months from now, in the summer, when things got slack.
He dialed the number of Miami Center.
The next morning, Williford figured the Americans had sent at least one charter, lack of summer notwithstanding. Except the four men who knocked on his door at sunup were already sweating in suits and ties.
"Can't go now, mon," Williford said. "Can't go till afta work."
One of the men gave him a smile with no humor in it. "We'll only be a minute, Mr. Watkins. You'll be on your way in no time. We need your help."
From the looks of them, four large men whose wilting suits did little to conceal muscle, they didn't need help from anyone. They also didn't look like the kind who would go away just to make sure a man got to work on time.
Williford really hadn't intended for them to come into his two-room cottage, not till his wife, Caroline, could get the place cleaned up a little, but they pushed right past him into the half of the house that served as a living room.
One of the men was carrying a book of photos. He sat in Williford's easy chair, the only upholstered one in the house, and opened the book. "We'd like you to take a look...."
Caroline emerged from behind the sheet that divided off the bedroom and gave Williford a look that could have burned a hole in the linen before she left without a word on her way to her job at Mullet Bay, one of the resorts along the beach. She didn't like to have company in the house before she was dressed.
The four men in suits seemed not to notice as the one with the book continued. "See if any of these men are the passenger on that Gulfstream."
And he was. An unmistakable likeness was on the second page. Williford pointed, and all four of his visitors nodded as though sharing a secret.
"Who he be?" Williford naturally wanted to know.
"A man we got business with," the man with the book said, and gave another smile, one that reminded Williford of a shark approaching a wounded fish.
Chapter TwoWashington, D.C. The White House, Oval Office at the same time
In the opinion of Sam Hoffman, senior senator from Georgia, the president's plan was irrational, ill-considered, and utter rubbish. Worse, it would be seen for what it was: an effort to appease the opposition. Still worse, it could cost the party support from its most generous constituency.
It wasn't all the president's fault his poll numbers were now pushing Nixon's. The people screaming the loudest about gasoline prices were largely the same ones who had stridently opposed the building of new refineries, expanded drilling in Alaska, or nuclear power. Those demanding "affordable housing" howled when he permitted limited cutting in national forests to increase the supply of wood, the backbone of the home-building industry.
The list was nearly endless.
Actually, the president was well intentioned. A Vietnam veteran who had never even been mentioned in the same breath as any scandal, he had served his state and his country for over thirty years in every capacity, from state school superintendent to governor, from Congress to the White House. Married for over forty years, church elder. The all-American Mr. Clean who was just now learning that, even as president, he really couldn't please everybody, a fact that disappointed him no end.
But the president's plan was far too transparent to jack a feather off the floor, let alone the president's abysmal polls.
Senator Sam, as he liked to be called by his constituents, was always awed by the White House. Scant places in America contained more history-history that few in Washington understood, much less read. In this town, history was what had been said last night by the talking heads on CNN. The president was a prime example. Seated behind the desk on which Lincoln had supposedly signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the man could give you the current poll numbers to two decimal points, but his knowledge of the past was a blank slate. Appeasing opposite interests didn't work.
Never had, never would.
Like all politicians, he was much more interested in the future.
Specifically, his future.
"I need your help on this, Sam," the president said. "As chairman of the Environmental Study Committee, your endorsement of the plan is essential if we're going to get bipartisan support."
Sam chose to ignore the we, which was either the royal plural or included him in a plan he viewed as both deceptive and useless. Neither was a pleasant possibility.
"What you propose doesn't need congressional approval, Mr. President," Sam said noncommittally.
The president smiled that million-vote grin. "I know, Sam, but your approval would generate support. After all, you're a very influential man."
Sam ignored the flattery. God, but would this, his last term, ever end? Another year and he could retire to his farm in the Appalachian foothills, where a man was as good as his last promise and bullshit was fertilizer, not an art form.
The president took his silence as acquiescence and plowed ahead. "Having various environmental groups here in Washington next year to discuss a single plan to mitigate global warming, create pure air and water, conserve of the earth's resources and all that should please the Sierra Clubbers and all the bunny huggers. Ten and a half million votes, I understand. Sam, we'll even offer to grant amnesty to those radicals who've committed crimes in the name of the environment, agree to a halt to drilling in the ANWR in exchange for no more bombing of oil platforms in the Gulf, no more destruction of property. We'll steal the opposition's whole Green vote."
Appease the advocates of the Key Largo cotton mouse and southern snail darter? Stop development and a slow but steady increase in the job market on behalf of the Virginia wild plum vine? Make peace with fruitcakes who had blown up mining equipment, sabotaged power grids, even killed people in the process?
"You sure you want to pardon criminals, Mr. President? Most conservationists may be liberals, but they're law-abiding citizens. I'm not sure the radicals compose that big a bloc of votes."
And certainly an even smaller group of contributors.
The president's face became serious, that almost-frown he used to stare into the TV cameras when urging his fellow Americans to accept something. "That's why I need you aboard, Sam. If you endorse the plan, the more conservative members of your committee will go for it. Tell you what." He looked around the room as though to make sure the two were alone before lowering his voice to a conspiratorial level. "You come out for my conference, you help me, and I think I can get the Defense Department to double that sub base on the Georgia coast. Over a thousand new jobs, Sam; think about it."
Sam did think about it, and it made his head hurt. The president wanted the same thing every first-term president wanted: a second term.
The trouble with appeasement of radicals was that it was like pissing down your leg to keep it warm: it worked only as long as you kept it up.
Sam glanced around the room, half expecting to see a picture of Neville Chamberlain beside those of Eisenhower and Reagan. Nixon was conspicuously absent. But then, this president had probably never heard of "peace in our time."
On the other hand, even if the conference generated only empty promises, the international publicity of hosting those who believed in global warming-that something could be done about it and the world could agree what that was-would generate hours of airtime, which translated into votes in next year's election, votes from people who, like the president, had no concept of history.
By the time the conference was fading newsprint and the election safely in the win column, the rich would return to seek wealth wherever it could be found, and the poor would continue to complain about it rather than helping themselves. That was what maintained class status quo.
Ah, well, Sam would be plain Citizen Sam by then, far from the poisonous political vapors of the Potomac.
"I'll give it some thought, Mr. President."
The president vaulted to his feet. Sam almost expected him to jump over the desk to shake hands, like the champion tennis player he had been in college. "I knew I could count on you, Sam."
Sam left the room with the pleasant thought that his imminent retirement enabled him to be a statesman thinking of the next generation instead of a politician thinking of the next election.
And being a statesman didn't include showcase conferences and amnesty solely for the purpose of vote pandering, not with misguided if intellectually honest conservationists, nor with their criminal fellow travelers.
Excerpted from Gates of Hades by Gregg Loomis Copyright © 2007 by 594, LLC. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.