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LARRY BOND'S FIRST TEAM
By LARRY BOND JIM DEFELICE
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK Copyright © 2004 Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice
All right reserved.
Chapter One OVER CHECHNYA
The wind blew without mercy. The man preparing to enter it was a man of great faith, but at twenty thousand feet in the pitch-black night, even faith had its limits.
Samman Bin Saqr took a breath, then uttered a prayer of praise and trust he had learned as a boy. He edged his feet forward, poised at the lip of the apparatus that would help free him from the aircraft's slipstream. The plane held to its course, guided by the hand of an automated pilot, which was also being tested on this flight. The copilot-human-called from the seat a few feet away that they were approaching the target area.
Samman Bin Saqr went by many names in the West. To some, he was Ibn Yaman, the mastermind of the attack on the British embassy in Beijing. To others, he was Umar Umar, who had shown the Australians that Sydney was not immune to suicide attacks. To the Americans, he was either Abu Akil, whose plot to blow up Independence Hall in Philadelphia had been foiled only by a dead car battery the morning of the planned attack, or Kalil Kadir Hassan, whose genius had turned an IRS tax center in Massachusetts into a fireball.
The latest of those attacks, the one that had consumed the devil's tax collectors, had occurred five years before. Because he had not struck since then, Samman Bin Saqr was presumed by many to be dead, or worse, to have lost his nerve. But in fact he had spent the entire time planning and building his next operation.
The idea for it had come to him one evening in Karachi, Pakistan, where he had gone to meet some associates in the Bin Laden group to discuss funding. He happened to pick up a Western magazine and saw a picture of Honolulu. And from that moment, he knew what he would do.
It was a momentous decision. It had stretched his skills beyond belief. It meant locating in a place-Chechnya-he was unfamiliar with. It meant learning a great deal about a wide range of subjects and risking his life in ways the infidels could never imagine.
But more importantly, it meant doing nothing against the enemies of his faith for five long years. Samman Bin Saqr was a man of belief whose whole life had consisted of sacrifice, but even he was not immune to the temptations of glory. It had proven impossible at first to obtain the materials he wanted, and several times he had nearly changed direction to execute a lesser plan.
But he had not. Obstacle after obstacle had been pushed away. Allah had over-seen and blessed all, in the end supplying the most coveted ingredients through the greed of the French and the idiocy of the Russians.
After five years of labor, Samman Bin Saqr was nearly ready. But as the project drew close to fruition, he had begun to consider its consequences on a deeper level. From the start, the plan had called for his demise; it seemed fitting and fair that he should reach paradise as a reward for his struggles. But his death would necessarily bring the end of his organization and the scattering of its abilities.
Was he not being selfish, he wondered, to choose this moment to die?
To reach heaven would truly be wonderful-yet even he realized that his blow would not end the struggle with the West. On the contrary, as Bin Laden himself had taught, it would only provoke them. It would take many such provocations until the final war began; at that point, and at that point only, would Allah assure victory. Did Samman Bin Saqr, whose plan would prove his greatness as an agent of the true Lord, not have a duty to see the battle further?
After much prayer and thought, he had realized that the answer was yes. And after further consideration, work, and prayer, a solution had been found. He had now only to test it.
Assuming that he could overcome his fear. Samman Bin Saqr had jumped from airplanes five times before, but never from this height in the darkness of the night. Nor had he had to pass through such a tricky and potentially deadly slipstream.
His engineers had solved the problem of the howling, wrathful wind by building what amounted to an extendible tube or funnel that could expel him past the fuselage. It had been tested twice, and it worked, but Samman Bin Saqr reserved the final test to himself-it was necessary, he felt, so that he would not be surprised when the time came.
He felt the plane vibrating, then saw his hand shake. To calm himself, he thought of his place in paradise.
Then, still waiting for his copilot to give the signal, he pictured the American paradise covered with radioactive dust, a ghost town filled with the walking corpses, rendered unusable and unlivable for centuries to come. He heard the cries of his enemies, felt their anguish, and was at peace.
"Now," said the copilot.
In the hushed howl as the wind kicked through the apparatus, the word sounded as if it came from God Himself. Samman Bin Saqr pushed the lever and left the plane, plunging through the whirling vortex into the dark night.
Chapter Two KYRGYZSTAN
Bob Ferguson liked to think of himself as a reasonable man, so when the two rather large fellows confronted him in the restroom of the Samovar Cafe, he smiled benignly and asked in Russian what they wanted. When the man on the left called him a dirty, foreigner, Ferguson wholeheartedly agreed-he hadn't, after all, had a chance to shower for nearly forty-eight hours. And when the one on the right asked how much money he had, the American answered truthfully, "not much."
But when the second man took a knife from his pocket and slashed the air in front of him, Ferguson sighed and started to reach into his pocket. As he did so, however, the first lurched toward him, and Ferguson found it expedient to duck forward, at the same time swinging his hand into the man's windpipe so sharply that he cracked the man's Adam's apple with the flat part of his palm. The momentum added speed to his right leg as it swept up and landed in the other man's groin.
"How much money do you want?" Ferguson asked, as the men rolled on the floor.
The man he'd kicked in the groin blubbered something in what was probably Kirghiz, the native language.
"Sorry, didn't catch that," said Ferguson. He bent and propped the man up against the wall-probably a little too quickly, as the man's skull smacked against the wall, knocking him unconscious. Ferguson decided whatever he'd been saying wasn't particularly important and let him slump to the floor next to his dozing partner.
"I admire people who can fall asleep anywhere," said Ferguson. He stepped over to the sink, washing his hands, then running them through his hair, which had a tendency to get mussed up when he did a snap kick. Satisfied that he was looking his best, Ferguson stepped over the local toughs and left the restroom, walking up the steps and through the long narrow hallway to the cafe's dining room.
Punctuality was not highly prized in Kyrgyzstan, but as he'd been waiting for nearly two hours, Ferguson decided that the man he'd come to meet probably wasn't going to show at all. And so, rather than returning to his table, he merely waved at the proprietor and slid a few bills out on the counter to pay his tab. Besides a few son for his tea, Ferguson left fifty dollars euro to cover the mess in the restroom.
A dark, inky haze hung over the street, spread by the incinerator smokestacks that clustered around the city like trees the developers had forgotten to clear away. Tall and thin, built of bricks that were once bright yellow but were now black almost to the bottom, the brick forest vented the smoke from the region's only moneymaking industry-waste disposal. The furnaces beneath the stacks handled refuse from all over Europe; encouraged by the former Soviet Republic's lax environmental standards and even laxer bureaucracy, the waste industry had made this corner of the landlocked country a cosmopolitan capital of refuse. The countryside around it was a repository for everything from onion skins and spoiled lettuce to spent nuclear waste. Located twenty miles south of Talas near a new railroad spur, the city had been a ramshackle collection of one-story hovels and played-out mine shafts ten years before. Now it boasted wide, macadam streets and new town houses, three movie theaters and a Western-style grocery that outshone anything in Bishkek, the capital far to the north-east.
For many of the inhabitants the fine layer of soot that covered everything was a small price to pay for relief from grinding poverty; others had never known the city without it. Anything that could be burned was burned here, and many things that couldn't be burned often found their way to the furnaces as well. The waste dumps were located on the other side of the railroad spur beyond the incinerator forest. The largest dumps were for ash and chemical refuse, but there were smaller, deeper facilities for more toxic materials as well. On a good day, the wind slashed through the sweet, terrible odor, leaving the city with a merely nauseous smell; on bad days, it formed an impenetrable barrier to the outside world.
Today was a good day. Ferguson jabbed his hands into his pockets, practically bouncing as he walked briskly past the local police station, head tilted slightly as if to increase his forward momentum. Though dressed in clothes almost identical to what the two thugs he'd met in the restroom were wearing-dirty black jeans, a plain brown shirt over two thick T's, a black leather jacket-there was no question that he was a foreigner, and most of the natives who saw him would undoubtedly think he was some sort of spy-CIA, probably, because that's what every foreigner was considered in Kyrgyzstan. Russians from Moscow, French nuclear waste engineers, the Spanish interior commissioner who had concluded a deal just yesterday to bury waste near here-all were perceived to be spies in the employ of the American Central Intelligence Agency. Most visitors welcomed this perception, if for no other reason that spying was a considerably more glamorous profession than garbage, though at their heart their concerns were exactly the same.
It happened that Ferguson-or Ferg as he was more often called-was in fact in the employ of the CIA, though in the Agency's parlance he was an operations "officer" as opposed to an agent, "agent" generally meaning someone of foreign extraction persuaded to supply information. Ferguson had a cover-he was in the country as the American representative of a small firm that manufactured gas nozzles used in waste combustion apparatus. The CIA officer was so thoroughly "covered" that he actually was authorized to make a sale on behalf of the firm, though if it came to that he would not be entitled to the sizable commission-60 percent-independent sales representatives for the company normally took.
Ferguson turned the corner to Yeliseev Street, making his way to the office of the man he had come to the city, to meet, Alex Sheremetev. His appearance there would undoubtedly throw the eminently corruptible official into something approaching a panic. But in Ferg's view panic was a healthy thing; he quickened his pace as he turned the corner and crossed the dusty street, ducking between ten-year-old Ladas and even more ancient Hondas, which here were considered symbols of wealth.
Sheremetev-though Russian, he was no relation to the family that gave Moscow its famous garden-worked on the second floor of the Municipal Order Building #2. In a cramped room overlooking a dusty alley, Sheremetev processed permits for a number of waste projects. One in particular interested Ferguson-a French-Russian project to contain and dispose of experimental nuclear reactors built in Russia during the 1980s. Spent fuel, reactor rods, and assorted machinery from the devices were processed at a site south of Buzuluk on the Samara River. From there, special casks of the material were shipped by train in special cars south to Kazakhstan and then into Kyrgyzstan, where they were buried in a deep-earth facility. The material was transported under heavy guard and carefully accounted for. But two months before, the CIA had detected a discrepancy between the radiation count taken by an American monitoring station near the Kazakhstan border and the one officially recorded at the waste facility.
Ferguson had been sent to Kyrgyzstan to account for the discrepancy by the Joint Services Special Demands Project Office-a CIA-Special Forces unit that answered directly and only to the deputy director of operations at the CIA. Generally referred to either as the "First Team" or simply "the Team," Ferguson worked with a Joint Special Operations Forces (SOF) unit headed by Colonel Charles Van Buren, who not only had a battalion of Army Special Forces soldiers under his command but controlled a range of resources to support them as well. The Team had been created to address unconventional threats in an unconventional way, without interference from the bureaucracy of either the intelligence or military establishments. The arrangement made Ferguson and the SF troopers who worked with him essentially free agents, and Ferg was a free agent par excellence.
Ferguson had never been in the municipal building before, but he had studied its floor plan earlier, thus knew to go in through the side entrance, avoiding the security officer in the lobby. A quick turn to the left, a jog up the steps, and the caffeine rush from all the tea he'd drunk earlier was almost entirely dissipated.
Sheremetev's secretary momentarily revived it, her short skirt riding up on her hips as she hunched over a filing cabinet behind the desk. She wore a tight sweater despite the fact that it was spring and comparatively warm outside; Ferguson smiled at the fit, then asked in Kirghiz for her boss.
The secretary frowned and replied in Russian that he wasn't there. Ferguson apologized for his accent, then asked where she thought he might be. She said in Kirghiz that she had no idea, and repeated the information in Russian.
Under other circumstances, Ferguson might have lingered a bit to refine his accent and admire the scenery but he knew that the two SF soldiers who comprised his trail team were probably getting antsy. So he left a business card and brochure on the desk and trudged back down the steps, carrying the slight glow a pair of smooth legs always left him with. Out on the street, a black Lada whipped toward him. Ferg kept one eve on it as it barreled past, noting that there were three men crammed into the backseat. He resisted the impulse to throw himself to the ground; when the back of his head wasn't ripped by bullets, he congratulated himself on his good judgment and told himself that he was being much too paranoid. Continuing down the block, Ferg smiled at an old lady pulling a two-wheeled folding shopping cart, then cut through the gas station-a special deal on A92 petrol today and every day-turning down a street lined with apartment houses that looked as if they'd been built by Stalin in the fifties, though in fact they were only a year old. Beyond the apartments were industrial warehouses waiting to be demolished for more housing. Sheremetev's apartment was on the other side of the buildings in a row of town houses that marked the outskirts of the affluent neighborhood.
Three boys were playing soccer in a field near the end of the block. The ball bounded away and rolled toward him; Ferguson ran to it, dribbling back and forth, then passing off to one of the kids on the left. The boy fumbled badly, sliding as he went to kick it; his friends started to goad him. Always one for the underdog, Ferguson swept back and dribbled the loose ball toward the goal, marked by upside-down water buckets. The others gave chase belatedly. He bounded back and took them on, ducking left and right, then launching a bullet that smacked one of the buckets so hard it left a dent. Laughing, he caught the ball on the rebound and headed it skyward.
The kids started jabbering in Kirghiz that he should play. Ferguson laughed and told them thanks, eying the black Lada moving slowly along the nearby road. It looked exactly like the car he'd seen earlier-but then that might be said of any black Lada, which came in dozens of varieties and had been made for decades.
Excerpted from LARRY BOND'S FIRST TEAM by LARRY BOND JIM DEFELICE Copyright © 2004 by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice. Excerpted by permission.
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