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"Sure to keep you on the edge of your seat." — Clive Cussler
"A riveting adventure in the classic style. . . . Heart-stopping action." — Joe Weber, New York Times bestselling author of Assured Response
From Part One
Thursday, June 18, 1992,
6:00 PM -- Vancouver, British Columbia
The man standing near the corner was indistinguishable from the commuters waiting for the 6:05 bus. The Vancouver evening rush hour was nearly over, but the streets were still crowded. Those who waited did so patiently, reading the newspaper or staring vacantly at the passing traffic. There was little conversation. The man held a newspaper, head bent over the newsprint, but his eyes continually moved over the street in front of him. He wore light cotton trousers, a short-sleeved polo shirt, and woven leather shoes. His skin was a smooth olive color, and he could easily have been taken for a member of British Columbia's large Indian community, but his features were too angular and his dark, close-cropped hair much too coarse.
"Excuse me there, buddy," said a commuter with a briefcase as he stepped past the man toward the curb and an approaching bus. The man's head snapped up from the paper and his eyes flashed. Then, as if by an act of will, he softened.
"Certainly, sir, by all means."
The bus pulled away with fewer than half of those who waited, and the man resumed his vigil. It had rained earlier in the day and the evening promised to be unseasonably cool, but he didn't seem to notice.
Across the street, another man casually worked his way along the block, pausing occasionally to glance into a shop window. He was tall and wore glasses, and carried a paper folded in his right hand. At the corner across from the bus stop, he abruptly turned and walked back to a small café in the middle of the block. The watcher at the bus stop remained in place until the next bus arrived, then moved away from the crowd with those who got off the bus. He crossed the street and followed the second man into the café.
It was a small establishment with checkered tablecloths, and it smelled of garlic. He entered and stepped away from the door, and paused to allow his eyes to adjust to the interior light. A round woman in a dirty apron approached him carrying a plastic-covered menu, but he waved her away. The man wearing glasses who had entered some minutes ahead of him was seated in the corner with his back to the door and his paper on the edge of the table. Satisfied, he glanced around the room and walked over to the table, taking a seat with his back to the wall.
"It is good to see you again, my friend," he said, looking past his companion to survey the room again.
"And you, Jamil. How are you?" The two men worked at a casual conversation, speaking in English. Their accents differed slightly, as one's native tongue was Farsi and the other's Arabic. They had spoken often by telephone, but had not seen each other for about six weeks. After the waitress served them espresso, the one called Jamil leaned forward.
"Now, Ahmed," he commanded in a low voice, "tell me about the preparations."
"The last member of the team will arrive at the safe house tomorrow, and as you know, the weapons arrived last weekend. Salah inspected them and made an inventory of the ammunition. He test-fired them yesterday, and all are in working order. The special weapons and grenades are of the type and quantity you specified. The radios have been tested, and the circuits on the firing devices thoroughly checked. I will pick up the special communications equipment on Friday evening. The system I have assembled will serve our needs. All items have been personally inspected by me, and are staged and ready to go." Jamil nodded his approval. He had worked too long with Ahmed to question him if he said all was in readiness.
Jamil quickly flashed back to when he first met the tall, serious man seated across from him. They were then students at the University of Beirut, back when the fragile Christian-Moslem coalition still governed, and that city was the Paris of the Middle East. In some ways, Ahmed was still the lanky, idealistic intellectual who had followed him when he left the university to join the PLO in the guerilla training camps. What a waste, Jamil thought. Ahmed possessed the keenest intelligence he'd ever encountered. Were it not for the Jihad, Ahmed would have been a great scientist or engineer.
Ahmed's parents, both physicians in Tehran, had been horrified when their son took up arms with the Palestinians. When they left for Paris after the fall of the Shah, he had disowned them. That was many years ago, and still he followed Jamil. He and Jamil had remained with the Fatah for only a year. Had they stayed longer they would have been killed, or worse, rotting in some Israeli prison.
But Jamil had elected to be an independent -- a free agent -- working with one organization, then another. For a while they had been aligned with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Then the Hizbollah and the Palestine Liberation Front had bid for his services. His allegiance was to the cause rather than to a specific movement. He quickly learned that he was more effective in this capacity, and far safer. Long ago Jamil had learned there were numerous religious factions, sects, and divisions in the Middle East with continually shifting memberships and alliances. He served the Jihad, not the interests of a special group. Their cause was the return of the Palestinian people to their ancestral land in the occupied territories. Or was it? Over the years, this goal had gradually merged with the destruction of the Jewish state. It had become an obsession with Jamil -- the destruction of Israel and a hatred for the Americans. The Jews would have been pushed into the Mediterranean long ago had it not been for the support of the United States. He trembled with rage when he thought of America, a decadent land of infidels so far from his homeland who had taken it upon themselves to help the Jewish swine rob his people of their birthright.
God will judge them harshly in the next world for this injustice, he thought, and I will exact a measure of retribution in this one. But it had not gone well for the Palestinians. The Gulf War had allowed the Jews to all but crush the Intifada. His people had begun to fight among themselves and seemed unable to organize against the Zionists. Their political capital among the moderate and wealthy Arab nations had been squandered in their disastrous support of that madman Saddam Hussein. What had been seen by many Palestinians as a bold stand against the West was lost in Saddam's brutal conduct in a hopeless conflict. The Palestinians were used, by Syria, Iran, Iraq -- all of them -- as a cover to legitimize the pursuit of their own national interests. For a while, he had thought the Israelis could be worn down, or at least be forced to yield control of the West Bank and Gaza. But America had destroyed Iraq and continued to arm and rearm Israel, while Russian Jews, spurred by the collapse of the Soviet central government, relentlessly poured into settlements on the West Bank. Now, concluded Jamil, time is on the side of the Jews. A third generation of Palestinians without a country is being born, and our people grow weary. Even Ahmed, my loyal comrade, is growing weary. He tries not to show it, but the years of hiding and clandestine living have made him old -- I can see the fatigue in his eyes.
"The vehicle is ready?" Jamil asked.
"Fueled and recently serviced. We should have no problem posing as a couple on holiday. We move the equipment from Michelle's garage to the motor home tomorrow morning. I plan to leave about five-thirty in the afternoon so we will be in the middle of the weekend traffic headed south."
"Excellent," replied Jamil. Ahmed and Michelle would have little problem in driving the coach across the U.S.-Canadian border. How ironic, he thought, we are going to assault the Great Satan in a motor home.
"And the rest of the team, they are ready?"
"Yes. They are anxious and a little nervous, but that is to be expected. This group, Jamil, they are a hard lot, more like mercenaries than patriots. I assume you have chosen them with a purpose." It was a mild question, but Jamil declined to respond. Ahmed paused to take a drink of the thick black coffee, the demitasse looking small and fragile in the grasp of his long fingers. He had the look of an academician, with his thick glasses and agreeable slouch. He continued, carefully framing his words, "I don't know how much to make of this, but I have reason to believe that Carlos has been smoking hashish again, possibly even using this cocaine the Americans seem to have everywhere. I cannot verify this, but his actions since he arrived at the safe house have been . . . well, suspect." Carlos was one of their most experienced fighters. Ahmed did not like bringing this to his leader's attention, but he feared his reaction if it became a problem and he had not mentioned it. A shadow seemed to pass over Jamil's features as he digested this information. Then his face became almost expressionless as he stroked the corner of his mustache with his thumb and index finger.
"Very well. I want you to do or say nothing about this. I will speak to Carlos when I see him on Saturday. Is everything else in order?"
"It is." Both men were quiet for a moment before Ahmed continued. "And now, my leader, may I know why we have come so far from home and made these careful preparations? What is it that we are about to do?"
Jamil lit a cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke between them. His movements were casual, but through the haze Ahmed could see the anger and excitement in his eyes. Jamil again leaned forward.
"The Great Satan thinks we are a beaten people. He orchestrated the Gulf War to prevent a single Arab power from controlling the region's oil. He knew such a power would threaten Israel and ultimately restore our lands. Saddam had his own agenda, but he certainly would have tried to destroy the Jews. And now this fat, rich nation of infidels think they have won -- that with their so-called 'new world order' and this sham of a peace conference they force on us, they can dictate our future. They now think we are impotent, and that they are safe!"
Jamil lowered his voice still more and lapsed into Arabic. His eyes glowed and his nostrils flared as the hatred poured out of him. "What we are about to do to this Satan is take from him what he values most -- his most prized possession -- and hold it up before him while the world watches! If we do this -- when we do this -- the Zionists will see the Americans can be beaten, and our people will take heart. They will rise up as a nation and we will purge our land of the Jewish swine forever!"
Jamil's eyes quickly swept the room, suddenly aware that he had allowed his emotions to surface. He crushed his cigarette and continued in English, speaking in a controlled, measured voice. He described the operation, quickly and methodically, while Ahmed listened to the bold and dangerous plan with increasing apprehension and admiration.
My God, thought Ahmed. If we are successful in this, the whole Arab world will again rally to our cause.
Thursday 6:40 PM -- Seattle, Washington
Ross Peck stood close behind the helmsman. Ross was a large man, and his heavy forearms were folded across his chest. His face was dead calm, but his eyes flashed from the officer at the helm to the throttle control to the oncoming dock ahead of them and back to the helmsman. Janey McClure, the Spokane's first mate, stood near Peck off to one side. Her gaze flickered between Peck and the dock, and she slowly shifted her weight as if trying to impart body English to the ferry as it crabbed toward the dock. She and Peck made an odd couple on the bridge of the Spokane, for she was much shorter than he and plump as a partridge.
"Power?" said the helmsman.
"Not yet." Peck wondered about Brad Johnson, now at the helm. He never seemed to quite grasp the relationship of the boat's momentum and the distance to the docking slip. After a while, most officers acquired a feel for the boat and when to apply power to the forward propeller to bring the vessel to a halt. Some never did, and either plowed into the slip's wing walls to make the landing or halted the ferry short of the dock and had to jockey the engines to guide the boat into place. Johnson hadn't yet learned a sense of the boat, so he guessed at when to apply power and was usually wrong. It was the same with the airlines. Some pilots made it hard to know just when you touched down, while others bounced the aircraft along the runway when they landed. Peck had always felt it a matter of pride to bring the ferry to a stop just as the bow on either side of the car ramp touched the dock walls.
"Now," said Peck firmly. He had let Johnson go just a little farther than he should have. Johnson pulled the control lever back, and the free-wheeling forward propeller reversed direction. The fifteen-foot prop bit into the water, causing the whole craft to shudder as green and white water was pushed ahead of the moving ferry. He increased power until the full 8,500-horsepower shaft struggled to bring the vessel to a halt, prompting the bow of the ferry to buck under the strain. The Spokane softly kissed one wing wall, then the other as the huge wooden pilings that backed the walls absorbed the spent momentum of the ferry. Johnson then cut the power to the forward propeller and ordered "ahead one-third" to the after screw to hold the ferry into the slip. Not a totally unacceptable landing, thought Peck, but he bounced it in.
"Well, how'd I do?" Johnson was the second mate, and part of his training was to dock the ferry under instruction. Considering there was no wind and that Seattle's Coleman Dock was one of the easier landings, his performance had not been that great. Johnson was a tall, fragile-looking man in his late twenties with crooked teeth and a Beatles-vintage haircut. He was bright, eager, and openly sought Peck's approval.
"You're getting better," said Peck honestly, "but you have to try and feel the movement of the boat, like when you're in your car coasting up to a stop sign." He probably doesn't do that very well either.
"Can I do another one this shift?"
"Sure, but first I want you to watch Janey make an approach, and to try to get a better feel for the momentum of the boat. Now you'd better get below and give them a hand on the car deck." Johnson disappeared down the stairway as Peck added a little more rudder to hold them more securely against the side wall and keep the Spokane from pivoting in the slip while they unloaded.
"I'll stay here if you want to go below, Cap'n."
"Thanks, Janey. How much time till the next run?"
"About twenty minutes. You want me to check on that generator?"
"Thanks, but I think I'll take a walk down there. Can I get you some coffee?"
"You know I don't drink coffee." She smiled. "Why do you always ask?"
"I don't know," Peck replied. "How am I going to make a sailor out of you if you don't drink coffee?"
"You sound like my dad. Like I told him, I don't want to be a sailor -- I want to be a seaman." Peck shrugged and headed for the wing of the pilothouse. He wasn't so sure he wanted to be compared to her father. His reference to a sailor, as she well knew, meant a Navy enlisted man, which in Peck's opinion was not all that bad.
"See you on the other end."
"Aye, aye, sir." Janey gave him a mock salute as he headed down the stairs.
You're already a seaman, thought Peck. Janey's father was a tugboat skipper on Puget Sound, and she'd spent a lot of time on the water. She was also the best first mate he'd had in a while. She handled the boat well and would never have made the sloppy landing Brad Johnson just made. More than that, she knew the boat. Not just the required learning from the manuals to pass the exams, but she understood the engineering plant, the electrical systems, and the heating and cooling systems. Many of the non-engineering officers on the ferryboats learned only what they had to know to drive the boat. Janey had taken the time to study the workings of the vessels on which she one day hoped to be a master. The last of the passengers were making their way to the boarding ramp as Peck walked through the galley to the large coffee urns.
"What do I owe you for the coffee, Gracie?"
"You know the coffee's free for you, Captain."
"I guess I do. Just don't want to cheat the taxpayer of his cut from the food concession. How's that youngster of yours getting along?"
"Real fine, and she'd do even better if Willard wouldn't keep spoiling her. How're your boys?" Gracie asked.
"They keep growing -- must take after their mother."
"You better watch your mouth. I'm gonna tell Sarah what you said next time I see her."
He grinned, placing his index finger to his lips as he left the galley. Peck was a big man, rawboned, with large hands. He was well over six feet and 220 pounds, while his wife was slender and stood under five and a half feet. Their twin sons would be juniors in high school next year, and were as tall and nearly as heavy as their father. He was immensely proud of them.
Peck looked the part of a sea captain in a Spencer Tracy film. He had just turned forty-three, but his hair had been steel gray for several years and now curled from under the confines of his combination cap. He always wore a fresh white shirt, with military creases and four gold stripes neatly sewn to the epaulet tabs that buttoned across the top of his shoulders. The gray hair and the white shirt provided contrast to his tanned, handsome features. He had a broad, even smile and watery blue eyes surrounded by laugh lines when he squinted, which was most of the time. Peck was pigeon-toed, and his powerful shoulders were slightly stooped. Janey kidded him, saying he looked like a cartoon bear when he walked. Nonetheless, there was a certain grace and economy in his movement.
He stepped down two levels to the car deck and opened the heavy metal door marked "Engineering Spaces -- Authorized Personnel Only." Another flight of steps and a short walk up the main passageway brought him to the propulsion control panel, the nerve center of the engineering plant. There were two men at the panel, one with a clipboard, making entries, and a younger one sitting on a tall stool, staring into space.
"Afternoon, gentlemen -- keeping a tight watch down here?"
"Hi, Ross. What brings you belowdecks on a nice day like this?" Andy Gosnell was the chief engineer on the Spokane and like Peck, an ex-Navy man. This was something of a coincidence, since most of the ferry officers came from the merchant marine. Gosnell had retired as a chief machinist's mate with twenty-five years of service, while Peck mustered out as a first-class petty officer after six years in uniform. The two had often worked together since Gosnell had joined the ferry fleet four years earlier.
In contrast to Peck's nautical and softly weathered appearance, Gosnell had the chalky complexion and anemic look typical of belowdecks sailors, or "snipes," as they were called. Peck and his engineer were of the same vintage. When they weren't talking about the boat, the decline of the United States maritime industry, or the "old Navy," they could speak with some authority on the sport or the animal that was in season.
Steve Burns, the Spokane's young oiler, was from a different era. His hair was just a shade off his collar and almost long enough to conceal the miniature earphones connected to the small tape player clipped to his belt.
"Just thought I'd make a social call between trips," replied Peck. "How's that number-two auxiliary generator running?"
"A lot better, but not perfect. Georgie changed out the fuel filters and that helped some, but I don't think it'll be right till the injectors are replaced."
"Where is George, anyway?" asked Peck. He was referring to George Zanner, the first assistant engineer.
"He's back taking manifold temperature readings." Gosnell set the clipboard aside and took out a pack of cigarettes, offering one to Peck.
"Thanks, but I promised Sarah I'd quit. Gawd, I'd like one, though. How's everything else -- any problems?"
"Nothin' to speak of," Gosnell replied, lighting up. He had thin arms, with a dragon tattooed on one forearm and a Chinese junk on the other. "I got my suspicions about the lube-oil pump, but the four big Detroits are purrin' like kittens. The rest of the plant is fine, right, Steve?"
"Uh, whatever you say, engineer," the young man replied with a smile, dropping the earphones down about his neck. "You mind if I run upstairs and get a Coke before we leave?"
"How many times I got to tell you it's 'topside,' not 'upstairs,' and we don't 'leave,' we 'sail.' Yeah, go ahead, but take off them damn earphones -- people'll think this is a disco instead of an engine room." Burns grinned and disappeared while the two older men looked at each other in resignation.
"Y'know," continued Gosnell, "when I was his age I was standing top watch on a twelve-hundred-pound steam plant and overhauling pumps when I wasn't on watch. Kids we get these days don't know shit."
"Different times, my friend. If the kids knew it all, they wouldn't need old farts like us."
"You joined up right out of high school, didn't you?"
"Actually, I was still in school," replied Peck, rubbing his chin. "I had a little trouble with the authorities, and the judge said it was the service or the slammer. Good thing there was a war going on, or the Navy probably wouldn't have taken me."
"No shit," said Gosnell, looking at Peck anew. "You never struck me as the delinquent type."
"Believe me, I was. The Navy was the best thing that could have happened to me. You should've seen me when I reported in at the Great Lakes Recruit Depot." Peck smiled, recalling the day he was inducted into the Navy -- tight blue jeans, white T-shirt, a well-oiled ducktail haircut. He made it through boot camp, but not without being singled out as a recruit with an attitude problem.
"Think you're pretty tough, do you, Peck?" the drill instructor had said at the end of boot camp.
"I can take care of myself, sir."
"Well, we have a few openings in this man's Navy for tough guys, Peck. I'm going to see that you get one of them."
Six months later, Seaman Peck was attached to River Patrol Division Five in Vietnam and assigned as a crewman on a PBR patrol boat. Most nights he found himself in the forward gun tub behind a twin .50 mount while they cruised the canals and estuaries of the Mekong Delta waiting to be ambushed. Peck learned two lessons very quickly -- that survival meant he had to be a team player, and that a bullet didn't care how big or how tough a man was. By the end of his tour, he was a second-class petty officer and a patrol captain with his own PBR. He had become a leader rather than an intimidator, and the tough guy was gone. He might have been a lifer, but after Vietnam he was assigned to the Naval Torpedo Station on Puget Sound. He married Sarah and they bought a home. When his transfer to Norfolk came through, he put in his papers.
"Peck, you're a good petty officer and you have combat experience," the commander had told him. "The Navy needs men like you."
"Thank you, sir, but I'm all through fighting."
Peck shook his head -- that was a long time ago. "Speaking of joining up, Andy," he continued, "don't we have a new man assigned to your gang?"
"Yeah, we do. Name's Gonzales, and he seems to know his way around an engine room. I kind of wonder why he's working here as a wiper since he's got his third mate's ticket." Gonzales was up the passageway crouched on the deck plates near one of the main engines. He wore a soiled pair of overalls and orange Mickey Mouse-type ear protectors. As if sensing they were talking about him, he looked up and smiled.
"Beats shipping out for weeks at a time on a merchantman, and the work's not all that steady. Lots of people take a pay cut or a step down to stay here in the Northwest. I was a craft master and had my own boat over at the Torpedo Station. I quit your Navy and became a deckhand on a ferry so I could stay here."
"My Navy, huh! Hell, Ross," Gosnell said with a twinkle in his eye, "if you'd stayed for twenty, you might even have made chief."
"Might have," replied Peck with a smile, "but would the Navy put an enlisted man in charge of a thirty-three-hundred-ton vessel? Nope, I got the best of it, Andy -- I go to work every day, and I go to sea on my own boat. When I'm through working, I park the boat and go home to the family. You can't always do that in the Navy."
"No . . . no you can't," admitted Gosnell. "But then, you never get a chance to pull a Hong Kong liberty after a two-week transit, either." The twinkle had become a sparkle.
The old snipe must have been a real terror on the beach in foreign ports, thought Peck. He glanced at his watch and hurried back up the stairs.
Peck found Janey waiting for him on the port wing of the bridge of the outbound pilothouse, or "number-two end." The Spokane had a pilothouse and identical ship-control stations on each end of the ferry. The pilothouses were perched on either end of the promenade deck. Each boxlike structure was thirty feet across on the beam and fourteen feet deep. The doors on both sides of the pilothouse were accommodated by a half-flight of stairs from the promenade deck, and the landings at the top of the stairs served as bridge wings on either side. Second Mate Johnson was now back on the number-one end to monitor the loading of cars and foot passengers.
Peck and Janey watched with a professional eye as the M/V Issaquah from Bremerton closed the dock and made her approach on the adjacent slip. She was a smaller boat, about two-thirds the size of the Spokane. Peck recognized her captain, Herb Allison, who was at the controls. Coleman Dock also housed the headquarters of the Washington State ferry system, and some captains did not want their younger officers bouncing their craft into the home dock. Allison reversed his engines at the precise time, and the Issaquah made a perfect landing.
"Pilothouse two, this is pilot one," came Johnson's voice over the intercom. "Captain, the passenger brow is away, and the life rail is in place." Peck walked back into the pilothouse and pressed the lever on the speaker box.
"Roger, Brad, standing by." A few moments later, Johnson's voice again crackled from the box.
"Car ramp is up and all lines are aboard."
"Okay, Brad, I have control of the boat." Peck moved the lever that shifted control of the Spokane to the number-two outbound pilothouse. He brought the number-two rudder amidships and secured power to the number-two propeller, which had been holding them in the slip. Peck scanned the water in front of him. There was a container ship being helped to the loading docks on Shelter Island and several small crafts that scurried about the harbor on business. He noted all this as he mentally projected a course for his vessel. Ferries had the right-of-way, but the commercial traffic didn't always honor them as privileged vessels. He then grabbed the wooden handle above his head and allowed the weight of his arm to pull it down. The children and a few of the adults on the forward walkways jumped as the Spokane issued a long, throaty bellow. Peck released the handle and ordered ahead one-third to ease the big ferry out of the slip.
The Spokane glided out across Elliott Bay, slowly working up to her cruising speed of eighteen knots en route to Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island. The Olympic Mountains still carried snow at the higher elevations and formed a jagged, purple-blue and white cut against the western sky. Below this, the haze-shrouded foothills of the Olympic Peninsula and a deep-green band of Douglas fir on Bainbridge Island segregated the mountains from the royal blue of Puget Sound. This splendor always impressed Peck. He was not a particularly religious man, but he felt God had surely blessed him to look at this spectacle from the bridge of his own vessel.
"Janey, she's all yours." He stepped to one side of the pilothouse, allowing her to take the helm. The ferry's control station had not been designed with female pilots in mind, so she had to kick a six-inch wooden platform into place to see out the pilothouse windows and down onto the bow of the ferry. Janey was perhaps in her mid-thirties, but she looked much younger. She had a kind, round face and a smattering of freckles across her rounded nose. Her straight brown hair was pulled back to a ponytail that sprouted defiantly through the hole in the back of her baseball cap just above the adjustable plastic band. She didn't look too nautical perched on top of that box, but she could handle the big ferry.
"Now watch Janey when she maneuvers into the harbor and makes her approach," Peck said to Johnson, who had arrived moments before from the number-one pilothouse. "I want you to try to feel what the boat is doing. It's like waltzing with an old fat lady -- you can't change directions too fast, so you have to gently guide her where you want her to go." Copyright ©1992 by Dick Couch
Posted March 26, 2012
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