CHITOSE — Tuesday 18:30
Japan's New Chitose Airport on the island of Hokkaido was a joint use airfield. The Japanese Self Defense Force interceptors on the military side guarded Japan's northern borders. The civilian side served as the terminal for Sapporo, Japan's summer and winter playground, several kilometers away. The airport sat next to the small town of Chitose.
The flight from Hong Kong had been smooth, the time enroute exactly matching the flight plan. Once the crew had left the airplane, the igloos opened up for one hour, the family members staying away from the one opening, the left forward entry door. Two silent middle-aged Japanese in business suits stood in the doorway, clearly visible to everyone working on the ground crew. A third Japanese, older, stayed with Mr. Li in his igloo.
Towards the end of the hour, a fourth Japanese, younger, mounted the >airstairs and spoke with one of the middle-aged men, who in turn spoke to the older Japanese with Mr. Li. A few quiet commands were given and the family entered the igloos in silence. Duncan watched the Japanese leave through the forward entry door and then reentered the igloo and plugged in his headset. A few minutes later he heard the new crew enter the cockpit.
Japanese efficiency shaved one tenth of an hour off the planned two-hour stop. ACI 103 lifted off Chitose six twenty-eight p.m. Duncan did a few quick calculations and changed the Novato ETA to
BANGKOK — Tuesday 18:00
But for scattered tables and chairs, the warehouse was empty. John Hsieh wasn't surprised. The DEA Special Agent had arrived in Bangkok Sunday morning to a solid wall of official Thai indifference to the DEA's efforts to monitor Li Sung and his family.
Then, late Tuesday afternoon, Thai officialdom suddenly couldn't help enough. They had, in fact, located a warehouse where a Chiu-chau family was rumored to be gathering their belongings preparatory to leaving Thailand. The location would be raided at sunset. Would the DEA like to accompany the Bangkok police?
John had to admit it had been quite a show, over a hundred police backed up by a like number of the army. They had even brought up two tanks, American supplied Abrams A1As, one of which rumbled down the street at high speed and smashed through the warehouse wall. A Thai Colonel explained that the Chiu-chau were so heavily armed that it would be best to punch a new opening in the building. The occupants would surely have all their weaponry trained on the building's doors.
There had been a great deal of shouting. Tear gas canisters were lobbed into the building as the tank backed out. When no one came out in response to the gas and repeated orders from numerous uniformed, bullhorn-carrying Thais, the building underwent a full assault. It was a great training exercise.
John looked at the hole left by the now departed tank, wondering at the incredible luck of the tank driver. He had punched through precisely between building supports. Remarkable since there was nothing about the outside structure of the building to indicate the location of the supports.
The Thais observed that, since the warehouse was now empty, Li Sung and his family had obviously already left Thailand, and nothing more could be done. It had taken them all of five minutes to leave the building to the three DEA agents.
“Do you think they were ever here?” John asked the DEA's Bangkok station chief alongside him.
“Oh, they were here. That'll be easy to verify. There'd be no point in faking something so easily checked.”
“Do you think they've left Thailand?”
“Yup. I know they've left. The Thais wanted him out. If they publicly say he's gone, he is. They wouldn't risk losing face on that.”
“I don't know. Those homes on the canal still looked occupied,” John persisted.
“Oh, they are. You can't leave a house in Bangkok unattended. My guess is the people in the homes are caretakers for new Thai owners.”
“Is there anyway we can check that?Property transfers are recorded here aren't they?”
“Probably not those transfers. Not for awhile anyway. Look, just because they kicked him out doesn't mean they aren't going to keep doing business with him. Hell, he might have just handed the homes to the right people to grease future deals, and if we get found out surveilling a place that now belongs to a cabinet minister, there'll be hell to pay. Just tell Washington he's gone. Tell them I'm sure of it.”
John sat in one of the chairs, bent forward and put his head in his hands. Washington had thought it would be weeks, maybe months, before Mr. Li left, and he didn't look forward to telling them they were wrong.
“There's dope on the floor.” The voice was that of the station chief's assistant. “Not much, just little sprinklings here and there. They didn't take time to clean up.”
John rose and walked over to where the assistant looked down. “What is it?” he asked.
The assistant used the beam from his flashlight to point to the floor; countering the growing darkness in the building. “The white stuff'll be heroin. Looks like an occasional shred of pot. I didn't think the Chiu-chau ever dealt in pot. Not enough profit in it. It grows everywhere here.”
John clicked his own flashlight on and went down on his haunches. He picked up a small shred of vegetable matter from the filthy floor, put it to his nose, and smelled the unmistakable aroma of cannabis. A few inches away he noticed a dusting of white powder. He touched his right index finger to his tongue and used the moistened surface to pick up the largest powdery flake. With his left hand he took out his handkerchief and used it to wipe the dirt away from the index finger, leaving only the white flake, which he then touched to his tongue.
“This is cocaine.”
“Nah, this is opium country. You see white powder here, it's heroin. Guaranteed.”
“Look, I know cocaine when I taste it. This is cocaine, high grade cocaine.”
“Hey, alright, if you say it's cocaine, it's cocaine. I'm not going to taste anything off that floor.” The assistant walked away, joining his chief looking at the hole made by the tank.
John, still on his haunches, shined the flashlight beam around the floor. He started to rise, but stopped. The shaft of light had picked up something stuck to the bottom of a chair leg. He squatted again, squinted, then stood and walked to the chair. When he lifted it, a wad of paper fell from one of the legs. He set the chair down, stooped, and picked up the paper. Holding the flashlight under his left arm, he unfolded the paper in the light. On it he saw a printed drawing of a bird in flight, a rope tied to its tail and the trailing end tied to an uprooted pillar. Idly, he flipped the paper over. He read the text once ... and then again ... and again.
WASHINGTON, D. C. — Tuesday 10:00
Greg Ballentine hung up the phone in a sour mood. The British GCHQ representative had refused Greg's request for help in breaking the encrypted messages transmitted over Duncan Harris's phone. The man had pointed out that official British policy regarded drug addiction as a medical concern rather than a criminal problem. In light of those facts, GCHQ believed involvement in U.S. domestic drug intelligence operations, however indirect, was not in their agency's best political interest.
“Brian Killough is here with an urgent fax from John Hsieh in Bangkok,” Greg's secretary's voice came over the intercom.
“Send him in.”
Brian entered, walked to his boss's desk, and carefully laid the fax in front of Greg. Brian looked pale.
The fax was five sheets long. Greg read the first three, which detailed John Hsieh's activities since arriving in Bangkok. The third sheet ended with a description of the warehouse raid, the conclusion that Li Sung and his family had left Bangkok, and an explanation that the final two sheets were copies of the two sides of a single piece of paper that had been found at the warehouse.
Greg looked at the fourth sheet. “Drawings?” he asked. Brian swallowed but didn't reply. Greg turned to the fifth page and read the printed text.
Greg's voice trembled as he buzzed his secretary. “Arrange for the fastest airplane we've got to get me to San Francisco. Get a helicopter on the way here to pick me up. Get every agent we've got in California headed for San Francisco. Call Marie and tell her I must see the Director immediately. If he's in a meeting, pull him out of it. We have an emergency.”
ANCHORAGE — Tuesday 07:45
Li Fat stared through the falling snow at the row of five parking positions he had been instructed to watch. A Korean Air freighter waited at one. The others were empty, but five vehicles with engines running waited at one of them, the condensation from their exhausts contributing to the fog. Once again he checked the map that had been transmitted to him in an encrypted computer graphics file. The vehicles waited at parking position R11. The Korean freighter rested in R9.
Li Fat had been in Anchorage for four days, each day patiently watching that part of the airport ramp used for 747 freighters stopping to refuel and change crews. He sat in the snow on the top of a small rise on the west side of runway one-four. In front of him stretched the airport perimeter fence, behind him and down the hill the paved bike trail that ringed the three-quarters of the airport not circled by a road. Now covered with snow, the trail served as a favorite Nordic ski route.
Directions and instructions, supplied by the American pilot, had guided him to this location on the first day. At first he had hated the gwailo for requiring that he purchase and use cross-country skis, but Li Fat believed in following orders, and he had to admit that, should anyone happen by, there would be no questioning just another skier resting where there was a good view of the airport. By the third day he was getting used to the skis, and this day he had fallen only twice reaching the rise and had done it in ten minutes, much better than the thirty it had taken him the first time. Dressed in white camouflage purchased at a local sporting goods along with the skis, he was invisible once he reached his vantage point and stopped.
By now he knew what looked normal for an arriving ACI flight, and the activity around ramp R11 was normal, two large tank trucks to start the refueling, a passenger van to take the crew to the Customs building, a step‑van with mechanics, and a pickup with the ACI supervisor. He knew two de-icing trucks would arrive later; they always did when it was snowing.
He could see all this without binoculars, but he put field glasses to his eyes to check the perimeters of the ramp and the sides of the terminal buildings. All seemed well; there were no unusual concentrations of vehicles or waiting men, and no exhaust fog wafted up from behind the buildings. Nothing. All was clear.
Li Fat had two radio devices with him, a cellular phone, and a handheld aircraft transceiver. The first was for receiving a call from a like unit in Mr. Li's igloo. The transceiver was a backup, allowing him to monitor radio traffic between aircraft and the airport tower and, in an emergency, talk to Duncan through ACI 103's radios, but such a transmission would be heard by the aircraft's crew and the tower.
He looked at his watch. They should have phoned by now. It was fifteen minutes past the time the Japanese had given him. Had he misunderstood? The Japanese's English had been hard to understand, but Li Fat had repeated it back twice, and each time the man had said yes, yes.
He had not wanted this duty, had not wanted to come to Anchorage to just watch. Novato, that was where he should be, to welcome his grandfather, to once again lay eyes on his oldest living ancestor. He wanted to be of service, to help spirit the old man to the safety of Chinatown. He saw little glory in sitting in the snow of Anchorage. At least the sons of Li Fat would be there to welcome their great-grandfather.
He checked the transceiver at his side, making sure it was still on. It was, though it had been silent since the last arrival twenty minutes ago. He checked to make sure he still had it tuned to the tower frequency. The display read 118. 3. It was correct.
He wouldn't hear ACI 103 on it until they called the tower, and that would be only minutes before touchdown. He looked toward the end of the runway, knowing the first he would see of the aircraft would be two dim points of light barely piercing the snow, and that would be only seconds before touchdown. There was only the subdued white of early morning snow there now.
“Anchorage tower, Air Cargo 103, through eight thousand five hundred for two thousand,” the transceiver's speaker crackled weakly. Li Fat wasn't sure he had heard correctly.
“Roger, 103, cleared for the ILS runway six right approach. Report the marker inbound,” came the tower's reply loud and clear.
Li Fat picked up his cellular phone. It was safe to land. There was no problem, but they should have called. They need to know.
ACI 103 had left Chitose Tuesday evening. Having crossed the International Date Line, they were arriving in Anchorage Tuesday morning. The leg had taken two tenths of an hour longer than planned. The usual tailwind had been lighter than normal.
The aircraft was minutes from touchdown. Mr. Li's assistant continued dialing the same number on his cellular phone, punching in the numbers each time, not trusting the redial button. The tension inside the igloo was palpable. They should have been able to contact Li Fat by now.
“Keep trying,” Duncan said. “The snow may have reduced the phone's range.” He knew from monitoring the crew's radio communications that visibility in Anchorage was down to one mile in snow and fog.
Duncan silently ran the contingency plan in his mind once again. Anchorage had been the weak point all along. There was no place to go, not enough fuel remaining to fly any place but another Alaskan airport, and there were only three civilian airports that they could make it to that would handle a 747: Cold Bay, King Salmon, and Fairbanks. Any one of the three would still leave them in the middle of nowhere without support, with no place to hide, and no way out. Those facts dictated a plan that, though it would mean defeat, would at least leave everyone alive, perhaps to try again another day.
If Li Fat communicated that the DEA or the INS waited for them, Duncan would take immediate control of the aircraft and abort the landing. They would fly to King Salmon, dumping the drugs on the way. After landing at King Salmon, Duncan would shut down the airplane at the end of the runway, and he and Richard would disappear, leaving the family to meekly surrender and, hopefully, be sent to Thailand or Hong Kong.
Duncan heard the crew check in with Anchorage tower. He checked the switch on his communications console, making sure that only Richard would hear him. Duncan knew his associate was sitting in the jumpseat behind the Captain.
“We can't reach Li Fat. If ...” Duncan was interrupted by the assistant's raised hand. “Standby.”
Mr. Li listened to his assistant's hurried speech and then turned to Duncan and smiled. “Li Fat says all is well. He welcomes us to the United States.”
“They got him. Everything's okay,” Duncan reported and then sat back, realizing he had been sitting on the edge of his seat. He consciously let his shoulders sag and relaxed a tensed body. A minute later he heard the engines go to idle, sensed the slight final pitch up, and two second later felt the body gear and then the main wing gear slide onto the snow sheeted surface. Snow-covered runways made for great touchdowns.
Clyde Jenks drove a fuel truck for a living. He was a thief on the side. As soon as the 747's engines shut down, he positioned the truck between the two engines on the right wing, backing the tanker until its rear was just under the leading edge. Leaving the cab, he climbed on top of the truck and walked the length of the tank to the fueling port concealed in the underside of the aircraft wing's leading edge. After opening the panel covering the port, he reached down over the end of the tank, grabbed the heavy refueling hose, and hoisted it to the fueling port. Jamming the end into the port, he held it there with his left arm, using his right hand to twist and secure the connection. On his way back to the cab, he engaged the pump and pressurized the line to 50 psi.
A second fuel truck had been pulled to a like position under the left wing. But after pressurizing the line, it's driver returned to the left fueling port. A common manifold interconnected the two fueling ports, but, unlike the right port, the left port had controls for sending fuel to the aircraft's seven tanks. While the driver on the right side could spend the refueling time in the warmth of his truck, the left side driver had to remain at the control panel, distributing the fuel appropriately.
Clyde, however, didn't enter the cab; he remained standing outside, peering underneath the aircraft's fuselage, waiting for the passenger van to depart to Customs with the crew and any jumpseaters and watching the mechanics.
Conditions were not perfect; it was light, but Clyde knew the snow would help mask his movements, especially since he had purposely dressed in white coveralls with a white sweatshirt underneath his parka, and he wouldn't make the attempt unless no one was looking.
The supervisor would depart as soon as the crew left. The mechanics were the unknown. What they did depended on the aircraft's condition. They were in the cockpit now, he knew, talking with the Captain. If the aircraft had problems, the presence of the mechanics would thwart his plan. But if the aircraft was clean, the mechanics would do a quick external check and then enter the warmth of the back of their stepvan to do the paperwork and wait for the departure.
Clyde heard the truck's engine sound change pitch. The transfer of fuel had started. He looked down at his watch, knowing he had a safe thirty minutes from this point before the truck's fuel load would be exhausted.
At the five-minute point, Clyde watched the crew and two jumpseaters descend the airstairs and drive off in the van. A minute later the supervisor and the two mechanics exited the aircraft. The supervisor drove off and the mechanics started an external check.
When the mechanics entered their step-van, seventeen of the thirty minutes remained. Clyde doffed his parka, walked to the nose gear, and climbed up the backside of one of the tires. He reached up, pulled down the recessed handle of the electrical and electronics access panel, rotated it, and pushed. The panel opened inward, and he hoisted himself through the opening. It was a tight fit, but if he had used the airstairs, he would have been within sight of the other fueler.
When Li Fat saw the fueler mount one of the nose wheels, he picked up his cellular phone and dialed. He had seen this happen twice before during his four days of watching. A white clad figure had disappeared into the belly of the aircraft and a few minutes later reappeared. The first time the man had had nothing with him at his reappearance. The second time three small packages had been dropped to the ground before he exited.
Clyde climbed the rungs built into the wall in the electrical and electronics compartment. An access port above him opened in the same manner as the first one he had come through, except this one was not hinged. When it came free he pushed it aside, sending it skittering alongside the main deck floor.
He hoisted himself through the opening and looked around. Igloos ... that was good. They often held small packages, packages that would fit through the access ports he had to use for entry and exit. He stood, lifted the latch on the door to the igloo beside him, and pulled. Nothing happened. Something inside prevented the door from opening. That had happened before. Occasionally packages were wedged inside such that they caught and held the lip of a door. Clyde carried a large slot‑head screwdriver for just such an eventuality.
He inserted the screwdriver in the gap between door and frame and pried gently. Still nothing happened. The door was really jammed. He started to put some muscle into his effort, but then thought better of it. This igloo's door was visible to anyone entering the aircraft, best not to damage it.
Clyde looked at his watch. Fifteen minutes to go. He walked aft beyond the first row of two pallets. Strange, he thought, the igloos weren't jammed together. That was unusual. He turned sideways and slipped into the narrow aisle between two igloos, out of sight of the aircraft's entry door, and attempted to lift a door latch. The latch wouldn't open. Again he gently tried with the screwdriver. When nothing happened, he leaned into the screwdriver with all his muscle. Something inside made a snapping sound, door flew open, and Clyde found himself facing two unsmiling Chinese men, each with a large automatic weapon. One weapon was trained on his midsection, the other on his head.
“Uh!” he reacted automatically, bouncing back against the adjacent igloo. Sliding left to flee, he found the aisle blocked at its end by a huge Chinese too large to fit into the narrow space, but the large automatic weapon in his hand did fit, and it was pointed at Clyde.
He recoiled to the right, snapping his head around as he half stumbled, and found that end blocked by a Caucasian with a small automatic. The man slid sideways toward him.
“Drop the screwdriver,” Duncan ordered the fueler. When the fueler let the tool fall, Duncan reached forward with his left hand to the ramp identification card hanging from a cord around the man's neck. Turning it, he read the name and compared the photograph with the visage before him. Still holding the card, he used the barrel of the automatic to lift the front of the man's cap from his head, allowing a full view of the frightened face. The fueler flinched.
“Well, Clyde Patrick Jenks, it's obvious what you were doing.” Duncan lowered the automatic, letting the cap fall back into place. “Unfortunately, it's also obvious what we're doing, so I'm going to make you a deal.” Duncan paused, waiting for the man's rapid breathing to slow. “Calm down. Today's your lucky day. You've stumbled on a secret that we're willing to pay to have kept.” Duncan paused again. “You must have a time limit set on yourself. How much time is left?”
The fueler looked at his watch. “Ah, ah, it's ... thirteen minutes ... I've got thirteen minutes ... ah, before the truck ... ah. .”
“Before the truck's fuel is exhausted?” Duncan said, looking at his watch and completing the sentence for the distraught fueler.
“Ah ... ah ... yeah ... yes ... ah ....”
“Calm down. We're not going to hurt you. Now listen to me. We will pay you ten thousand dollars to leave this airplane by the way you came and not say anything to anyone about what you have seen. Do you understand?”
The fueler started to relax. “Ten thousand?”
“Yes, ten thousand ... five thousand now and five thousand after the airplane has left. We have an associate here in Anchorage who will pay you the second five thousand. Do we have a deal?”
“Yeah ... sure.” Clyde's eyes darted about.
“Get five thousand,” Duncan said to Li's assistant, who had come from behind the bodyguard. Then he again spoke to the fueler, “There's a small city park off the end of runway six right. The road dead-ends into it. It's where the bike path that goes all the way around the airport starts. Do you know it?” Duncan again addressed Clyde.
“Yeah, yeah, I've been there.”
“Okay. Cross-country skiers use the bike trail this time of year, but nobody goes down the bank toward Cook Inlet.” Duncan stepped closer to Clyde, causing him to tense. “After this airplane is in the air—it won't be before then—our man will be in the park, just over the bank, every hour on the hour until ten after the hour. He's Chinese, but he speaks English. Tell him you're looking for five bucks you lost there. He'll hand you five thousand.”
Li's assistant appeared with the money. Duncan extended his hand and took the loose bills. There had been no wrapped packet of that small an amount.
“Put out your hand,” Duncan ordered the fueler. Clyde extended his right hand, hesitatingly. Duncan waited, making him put it all the way out, the palm turned up.
Duncan riffled the bills in his hand. “Five thousand in one hundred dollar bills. That'll be fifty of them. One, two, three ...” he counted the bills into the outstretched palm. Clyde started to smile. When Duncan got to thirty, the growing stack started to slide off. Clyde quickly, involuntarily, brought his other hand up, staring at the growing pile in his cupped hands, his smile widening. When the count reached fifty, he tidied them, folded them, and stuffed them in a front coverall pocket.
“We're going to be running more flights like this,” Duncan lied. “Our associate here doesn't have ramp access. We could use someone who does, and we pay well. Think about it. If you're interested give our man your telephone number when you pick up the other five.”
“Hey, I'm your man.”
“Don't jump in too quick. There are risks. Now, get going. You've got eight minutes.”
“Hey, thanks, thanks a lot.” Clyde started to turn, then turned back to Duncan with outstretched hand. Duncan took the offered hand, shook it, placed his left hand over the two clasped hands and looked the grateful fueler straight in the eye with a smile. When they broke the handshake, the fueler disappeared down the access hole.
“You should have been a confidence man,” Li's assistant said to Duncan. It was the first time the man had spoken directly to him.
“We need to get rid of that guy. Can Li Fat handle that?” Duncan asked. The assistant laughed, and Duncan heard a chuckle from the bodyguard behind him.
“Li Fat is our family's foremost assassin,” the assistant said.
Duncan paused. “Oh? Really? Well ... that's good, because when the authorities start questioning everybody who had anything to do with this airplane, he'll spill his guts within five minutes.”
“It will be taken care of,” the assistant said and turned toward Mr. Li's igloo.
“Ah ...” Duncan's word stopped him. “Li Fat ... wasn't he the one up on the hill behind my house when ... ah, Nancy and I ...”
“Yes, it was he,” the assistant said with a smile.