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There is never a moment of the day or night when the United Nations’ buildings between New York’s East River and First Avenue are completely unoccupied, but just after dawn, when the missile hit, the green-glassed, skyscraper Secretariat Tower, is one of the emptiest periods, which was fortunate. What was later to be described as a miracle was not immediately recognized.
Five people—three night-duty clerks and two cleaners—died instantly when the missile smashed into that level of the tower at which China has its secretariat.
By the diplomatic treaty under which the United Nations complex came into being in 1947, the land upon which its three buildings are constructed is international, not American. And does not, therefore, come under American jurisdiction or legal authority. Initially the Chinese refused any New York emergency service access to what was technically Chinese territory, not even to confirm the deaths or remove the bodies. The impasse was broken when the incumbent secretary-general, an Egyptian, pointed out to China’s UN ambassador in an outside corridor confrontation that the deaths and damage so far had apparently been caused only by the impact of the device, not by the detonation of its warhead, which could presumably occur at any moment. The ambassador still insisted that two totally unprotected members of his staff accompany an armor-suited NYPD bomb disposal team into the wrecked area.
It is standard operating procedure for such teams to work with live television and audio equipment, for their every action and movement to be permanently recorded for analysis in the event of a devastating mistake, which was how the image of the missile came to be instantly relayed beyond the shattered offices even before the unit assembled itself and its other paraphernalia. The main television monitor was in the control truck far below in the flag-bedecked forecourt fronting First Avenue. The intermediary link in the outside corridor, being watched by both the secretary-general and the ambassador, was operated by a nervous police technician named Ivan Bykov, who could read and speak the Russian language of his immigrant grandparents and whose potential catastrophe-limiting contribution was never recognized.
The virtually intact missile had come to rest against the wall of the fourth office in from the East River with the lettering on it toward the approaching camera. Bykov’s lips moved as he read the Cyrillic script, which he did twice before experiencing the first panicked awareness that he could already be dying. The words wouldn’t come at his first effort but then he managed: “Stop!” although too weak for it to register through the headsets of the disposal team. Then the panic took hold and the warning came out as a scream. “Stop! For fuck’s sake stop! Get back out of there!”
The camera—and the squad—stopped. The unit commander said, “What?”
Bykov said, “The third word in, on the top line. It says poison, in Russian. The next word is agent. It’s a biological or chemical warhead. If it’s fractured, it’s leaking already.”
The unit commander said, “Fuck. We’re dead,” and when the recording was replayed later, he couldn’t believe he’d sounded as calm as he did. He couldn’t remember, either, leaving the camera focused on the broken-necked missile, although he later publicly claimed it had been a positive decision.
The secretary-general realized at once that if microbiological agents were already leaking from the warhead, his life couldn’t be saved and reacted with a selfless bravery that was later to be internationally acknowledged. He issued instant although probably futile orders for the Secretariat Tower to be totally evacuated for the first time in its history, remaining himself on the possibly infected floor because it was quicker to use the telephones there than go to his own suite. From an office that had functioned as the Chinese delegation mailroom, he spoke, in carefully considered order of priority, to New York’s mayor, for Manhattan first to be closed to early-morning commuter traffic; then its residents and already arrived workers had to be cleared off the island. Having done that, he spoke directly to the American secretary of state and the president. The Russian ambassador to the UN was the second representative of the five permanent UN members nations to whom he spoke: China’s earlier obstructive envoy was by then urging his driver to go faster to the already backed-up Hudson River tunnel to reach New Jersey.
On the direct instructions of the FBI director, the helicopter carrying the microbiological scientists from Fort Detrick, Maryland, detoured to Andrews Air Force Base to pick up William Cowley, head of the bureau’s Russian Desk. As Cowley hurried aboard, head bent, James Schnecker, the leader of the scientific unit, said, “You think it’s happening all over again?”
“At the moment I don’t know what to think,” said Cowley. For once there wouldn’t have been any guilt in taking a drink. He wished he had one.
Patrick Hollis gazed in numbed disbelief at the scenes being relayed on the breakfast nook television, his stomach in turmoil. It should have been only a game—was a game—the sort he played on the war sites most nights. Not this. Not real. The General had tricked him. Told him that’s what a quartermaster’s function was, to guarantee supplies, and persuaded him to disclose how a campaign could be financed. Not a problem, Hollis decided, in relieved self-assurance. That’s what his pseudonym was, anonymously to roam and hack wherever he chose, unknown and unsuspected by anyone else. The Quartermaster. A soldier. Not Patrick Hollis, manager of loans and securities. He could never be caught. Found out.
“It couldn’t reach us here at Rensselaer, could it?”
Hollis physically jumped at his mother’s voice, from the stove.
“No,” he said. “We’re safe.” Where had the General gotten it? How? People didn’t actually die in war games. Not a game, not anymore.
“There’s more waffles.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You’ve got to keep your strength up; you’re not strong.”
“No more, thank you.”
“You sure we’ve safe?”
“I really wouldn’t know what to do without you, Patrick.”
“You’re never going to need to find out, are you?”
THE WATCHMEN. Copyright © 2002 by Brian Freemantle. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Posted March 2, 2002
The rocket is fired from the nearby East River striking the UN Building in the China sector, killing a few workers by its impact though the explosion did not occurr. However, the bomb detonation experts realize that the warhead contains biological poisons and is leaking so that any person who has already come in contact will be dead shortly. Though the lettering on the warhead is Russian, the Kremlin denies that this warhead was part of its inventory. <P>Still the two countries cooperate as FBI Moscow expert William Crowley and the Russian Organized Crime Bureau Chief Dimitri Danilov begin a joint investigation. Other attacks follow with credit for the assaults claimed by a previously unknown group, THE WATCHMEN. William and Dimitri wonder how to stop the watchmen who apparently consist of American finance and computer gurus with Russian criminals? <P> THE WATCHMEN is an exciting espionage thriller that never slows down on the cat and mouse chase that spans two continents. The lead duo is engaging but morose, a pair who have seen too much in their respective lives; their gloomy personalities actually add dark tension to the dynamic story line. Brian Freemantle never quite slows down to provide the demands of THE WATCHMEN so that the audience is left with an exhilarating thrill ride that will please the action adventure reader, but also leave fans with a ¿huh¿ that asks why they committed the deeds? <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.