Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 4
Back in the galley, one of the flight attendants tilted her head, listening.
"What's that funny noise coming from the cockpit?" she asked.
Gary Rubin, the chief steward, stepped into the aisle and faced toward the bow of the plane. He could hear what sounded like a continuous, muffled roar, almost like rushing water in the distance.
Ten seconds after the imposter's exodus, the timer on the actuator set the hydraulic arm in motion, closing the hatch in the hell hole and cutting off the strange sound.
"It stopped," he said. "I don't hear it any more."
"What do you suppose it was?"
"Can't say. I've never heard anything quite like it. For a moment I thought we might have suffered a pressure leak."
A passenger call light came on and the flight attendant brushed back her blond hair and stepped into the main cabin. "Maybe you better check it out with the captain," she said over her shoulder.
Rubin hesitated, remembering Lemke's order not to bother the flight crew except for a matter of importance. Better safe than sorry. The welfare of the passengers came first. He lifted the intercom phone to his ear and pressed the cockpit call button.
"Captain, Chief Steward here. We've just experienced a weird noise forward of the main cabin. Is there a problem?" He received no reply.
He tried three times, but the receiver remained dead. He stood there at a loss for several moments, wondering why the flight cabin did not respond. In twelve years of flying, this was a new experience for him.
He was still trying to fathom the mystery when the flight attendant rushed up and said something. At first he ignored her, but the urgency inher voice got through to him.
"What...what did you say?"
"We're over land!"
"Directly beneath us," she said, eyes blank with confusion. "A passenger pointed it out to me."
Rubin shook his head doubtfully. "Impossible. We have to be over the middle of the ocean. He probably saw lights from fishing boats. The captain said we might spot them during our descent for the meteorology study."
"See for yourself," she pleaded. "The ground is coming up fast. I think we're landing."
He stepped over to the galley window and looked down. Instead of the dark waters of the Atlantic there was a glimmer of white. A vast sheet of ice was slipping under the aircraft no more than 240 meters below. It was near enough for the ice crystals to reflect the strobe flashes from the navigation lights. He froze, uncomprehending, trying to make some sense out of what his eyes told him was true.
If this was an emergency landing, why hadn't the captain alerted the main cabin crew? The "Fasten Seat Belts" and "No Smoking" signs had not been turned on.
Almost all of the U.N. passengers were awake, reading or engaged in conversation. Only Hala Kamil was sound asleep. Several representatives from Mexico, returning from an economic mission to the World Bank headquarters, were huddled around a table in the tail section. Director of Foreign Financing Miguel Salazar talked in grim undertones. The atmosphere around the table was dampened by defeat. Mexico had suffered a disastrous economic collapse and was going through technical bankruptcy with no monetary aid in sight.
Dread flared within Rubin, and the words rushed from his mouth: "What in hell is going on?"
The flight attendant mirrored his dread. Her face paled and her eyes widened. "Shouldn't we begin emergency procedures?"
"Don't alarm the passengers. Not yet anyway. Let me check with the captain first."
"Is there time?"
"I don't know."
Controlling his fear, Rubin walked quickly, almost at a jog, toward the cockpit, faking a bored yawn to divert any passenger's curiosity at his rapid step. He whipped the curtain closed that shielded the boarding entryway from the main cabin. Then he tried the door. It was locked.
He frantically rapped his knuckles against the door. No one answered from inside. He stared dumbly at the thin barrier that blocked the cockpit, his mind an incredulous blank; and then, in a flash of desperation, he lashed out his foot and kicked in the door.
The flimsy panel was built to open outward, but the blow smashed it against the inner bulkhead. Rubin stepped over the threshold and stared into the cramped space of the cockpit.
Disbelief, bewilderment, fear, horror: they swirled through his mind like a flood hurtling through a shattered dam.
One swift glance took in Hartley slumped at his panel, Oswald stretched on the floor, face up, eyes staring sightlessly at the cabin roof. Lemke had seemingly vanished.
Rubin stumbled over Oswald's body, leaned across the empty pilot's seat, and stared terror-struck through the windshield.
The massive summit of the Hofsjokull glacier loomed beyond the bow of the aircraft less than ten miles away. The flickering northern lights silhouetted the rising ice, staining the uneven surface with ghostly shades of gray and green. Driven by desperation and panic, the steward threw himself into the pilot's seat and grimly clutched the control column. He pulled the wheel toward his chest.
The column refused to give, yet, strangely, the altimeter showed a slow but steady increase in altitude. He yanked at the wheel again, but harder this time. It gave slightly. He was stunned by the unyielding pressure.
There was no time to think straight. He was too inexperienced to realize he was trying to override the automatic pilot with brute strength when only twenty-five pounds of pressure was required to overpower it.
The sharp, cold air made the glacier appear near enough to reach out and touch. He pushed the throttles forward and hauled back on the control column again. It gave sluggishly, like the wheel of a speeding car that lost its power steering, and inched back.
With agonizing slowness the Boeing lifted its nose and swept past the icy peak with less than a hundred feet to spare.
Down on the glacier, the man who had murdered the bona fide Flight 106 pilot, Dale Lemke, in London and taken his place, peered into the distance through a pair of night glasses. The northern lights had faded to a dim glow, but the uneven rim of the Hofsjokull still showed against the sky.
The air was hushed with expectancy. The only sounds came from the two-man crew who were loading the lights and transmitter beacon into the hull of a helicopter.
Suleiman Aziz Ammar's eyes became accustomed to the darkness, and he could make out the broken ridges scarring the wall of the ice floe.
Ammar stood like a statue, counting the seconds, waiting for the small speck of flame that would mark the crash of Flight 106.
But the distant fireball did not materialize.
Finally Ammar lowered the glasses and sighed. The stillness of the glacier spread around him, cold and remote. He pulled off the gray-haired wig and threw it into the darkness. Next he removed a pair of specially handcrafted boots and took out the four-inch risers in the heels. He became aware of his servant and friend, Ibn Telmuk, standing beside him.
"Good makeup job, Suleiman, I wouldn't recognize you," said Ibn, a swarthy type with a curly mass of ebony hair.
"The equipment loaded?" Ammar asked.
"All secured. Was the mission a success?"
"A minor miscalculation. The plane somehow cleared the crest. Allah has given Miss Kamil a few more minutes of life."
"Akhmad Yazid will not be pleased."
"Kamil will die as planned," Ammar said confidently. "Nothing was left to chance."
"The plane still flies."
"Even Allah can't keep it in the air indefinitely."
"You have failed," said a new voice.
Ammar swung and stared into the frozen scowl of Muhammad Ismail. The Egyptian's round face was a curious blend of malevolence and childish innocence. The beady black eyes gazed with evil intensity over a heavy moustache, but they lacked the power of penetration. Bravado without substance, a facade of toughness, pulling a trigger was his only skill.
Ammar had had little choice in working with Ismail. The obscure village mullah had been forced on him by Akhmad Yazid. The Islamic idol hoarded his trust like a miser, rationing it out only to those he believed possessed a fighting spirit and a traditionalist's devotion to the original laws of Islam. Firm religious traits meant more to Yazid than competency and professionalism.
Ammar professed to being a true believer of the faith, but Yazid was wary of him. The assassin's habit of talking to Moslem leaders as though they were mortal equals did not sit well with Yazid. He insisted that Ammar carry out his death missions under the guarded eye of Ismail.
Ammar had accepted his watchdog without protest. He was a master at the game of deceit. He quickly reversed Ismail's role into that of a dupe for his own intelligence purposes. But the stupidity of Arabs was a constant irritation to Ammar. Cold, analytical reasoning was beyond them. He shook his head wearily and then patiently explained the situation to Ismail.
"Events can happen beyond our control. An updraft, a malfunction in the automatic pilot or altimeters, a sudden change in the wind. A hundred different variables could have caused the plane to miss the peak. But all probabilities were considered. The automatic pilot is locked on a course toward the pole. No more than ninety minutes of air time is left."
"And if someone discovers the bodies in the cockpit and one of the passengers knows how to fly?" Ismail persisted.
"The dossiers of all on the plane were carefully examined. None indicated any pilot experience. Besides, I smashed the radio and navigation instruments. Anyone attempting to take control will be lost. No compass, no landmarks to give them a direction. Hala Kamil and her U.N. bedfellows will vanish in the cold waters of the Arctic sea."
"There is no hope for survival?" asked Ismail.
"None," said Ammar firmly. "Absolutely none."
Copyright © 1988 by Clive Cussler Enterprises, Inc.