ABEAM CHICAGO — Tuesday 13:00
When he heard Greg's news, the Director of the DEA gave his internal affairs chief carte blanche to do whatever necessary to stop Duncan Harris. The thought of a major U.S. city being flooded with a million leaflets calling for a constitutional amendment decriminalizing drugs panicked the man. The idea was, of course, ludicrous; the U.S. Congress would never allow it, but the blatant, public distribution of such a call would contribute to the growing sentiment that the DEA was losing the drug war.
Such an incident couldn't happen at a worse time. Yet another judge—this time in California—publicly endorsed drug legalization. Worse, he and colleagues had drafted a resolution addressed to the President calling for the establishment of a commission to recommend a new federal drug policy. Numbers of people, many of them prominent, had signed the resolution.
The DEA was adamantly opposed to such a commission. All of the ten major drug policy studies commissioned since 1944 had recommended decriminalization if not outright legalization. They believed another would do the same.
It had taken Greg Ballentine two hours to get into the air from the time he received the fax copy:of Duncan's proposed amendment, and every minute since had been spent on the airphone aboard the Gulfstream. He silently cursed the drug runners who had originally owned the airplane for not having installed more than one phone for voice transmissions. At least they had thought to have a second one for the fax machine.
Greg needed a break, and he needed to give incoming calls a chance, though most of the replies would come by fax. He hung up the phone and leaned back in the easy chair. Brian Killough faced him across the spacious master compartment. Greg laid aside his yellow legal pad and stretched, hands clasped behind his neck, and leaned back.
“Beats first class on the airlines, doesn't it?” he asked the rhetorical question of his assistant.
“Yes, sir,” Brian replied automatically, not realizing his boss didn't require an answer. The opulence of the Agency's finest executive aircraft was a new experience.
“Let this be a lesson to you, Brian. If you need information in a hurry, you have to get it yourself. You put requests through channels and it takes days, maybe weeks.” Greg picked up and sipped the martini the steward had placed beside the chair. “Make sure that fax has plenty of paper. We should start getting feedback soon.”
Brian obediently went to the fax. “It's one o'clock in the morning in Bangkok, sir. Will they be able to find out anything in the middle of the night?”
“Forget Bangkok. We won't get anything from them at any time of the day. They've been bought and paid for.” Greg sipped the martini again. “Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, maybe Guam, possibly Manila. One of those, one of those will give us what we're looking for.” Greg paused, thinking. “He might even try Nadi and then up through Honolulu.”
“It's in Fiji,” Greg said, picking up the phone again.
ANCHORAGE — Tuesday 09:50
Clyde Jenks watched the Air Cargo International airplane start its takeoff roll from alongside his car. He had told his supervisor he was coming down with the flu, that he wouldn't be able to finish his shift. Clyde was a happy man. There was money in his pocket. There would be more money at the park, and there was the promise of even more to come.
Li Fat folded his cellular phone as he watched ACI Flight 103 lift off and disappear into a snowy sky. He was immensely proud. Li Sung, his oldest living ancestor, had spoken to him personally, thanking him for his presence in Anchorage and requesting of him one last task before returning to San Francisco. Li Fat was pleased to be of service.
Following the conversation with his grandfather, Li Fat had made two calls to San Francisco, alerting others to the time of the aircraft's departure. The first call had been to his family. The second call had been to a number supplied by Duncan Harris to a man named Alan.
The Chiu-chau assassin put on his skis and again looked at his watch. The time was nine fifty-one. Cautiously he started down the gentle slope to the snow-covered bike trail.
He decided he would like to meet Duncan Harris. The American pilot had planned well, furnishing detailed instructions for what had been an excellent vantage point just outside the airport perimeter fence, and now he had arranged for the assassin's victim to come to the very place where Li Fat had parked his rental car.
As for the fueler, Li Fat decided the man should die slowly. That was only right. The piece-of-shit gwailo had placed Li Fat's oldest living ancestor in jeopardy.
On board the airplane, Duncan wrote 1550 on the whiteboard. “Richard, you there?” he asked into his mike.
There were two small clicks, Richard quickly keying his mike twice, a signal for yes he could use when too close to the crew to speak.
“I'm going to take a nap. Time now in San Francisco is 11:00. Set your watch. We'll take over the airplane at 13:30 San Francisco time.” Duncan glanced at Mr. Li and the others to make sure they had heard. The old man nodded his head. “I'm giving my headset to Mr. Li's assistant. Yell if there's any problem.” Duncan heard the two clicks in reply, took off the headset, and extended it toward Li's assistant, who rose from his seat and crossed the igloo to take it.
“My name is Li Quan.” The small, slender man smiled as he donned the headset.
Duncan returned the smile. “Glad to meet you, Li Quan. It's a long trip, but we're almost there. Wake me if Richard calls or you hear anything unusual.” Li Quan nodded. Duncan checked all the switches, ensuring that Li Quan would hear Richard, cockpit conversation, and all radio traffic. He unrolled a sleeping bag on the igloo floor and stretched out. How many times had he done this, slept on the floor of an aircraft in flight, he wondered. Would this be his last?
ABEAM ST. LOUIS — Tuesday 13:15
Greg Ballentine had set up a production line. As the sheets came off the fax, Brian highlighted those flights with a U.S. destination or that could connect with a U.S. flight. He handed each sheet to Greg, who prioritized the flights and called the airline.
Greg gave first priority to charters. Money would be no object to the drug lord, and the route of a charter flight could be determined by whoever chartered it. Not having to contend with other passengers would reduce the risk of exposure.
When he reached each airline on the phone, Greg identified himself and talked to the person of highest authority available. Upon reaching them, he asked if San Francisco was either the first U.S. point of entry or the final destination. If the answer was no, he asked if the aircraft would be able to reach San Francisco if it was hijacked.
That last question inevitably caused alarm, a delay, and a person of much higher authority to come on the line. Greg immediately gave them numbers for the DEA, FAA, INS, U.S. Customs, and the FBI, explaining that all agencies had been alerted. The airline could check with any or all of them, but Greg needed the information now.
It took time, but Greg kept at it with dogged determination. He felt good. The Agency would recognize, the whole federal law enforcement bureaucracy would recognize, that Duncan Harris had been stopped only because Greg Ballentine had the foresight to realize what was happening and, just as important, realized that the Government had to move more quickly than normal channels would allow. Greg would become a legend. The story of his airborne dash across country, organizing the operation enroute, would be held up as an example of how a federal officer should operate.
“Three flights today from Japan to Anchorage today for the airline Harris used to work for,” Brian said, scanning the list from Japan. “Doesn't say where they're headed afterwards.”
Greg was between calls. No, he thought, that would be too obvious. That would be outrageous. “Give me that sheet.”
Within five minutes he had the ACI dispatcher responsible for Flight 103 on the line, and he wondered how he could have been so blind as to not have called Air Cargo International at the very first.
ABEAM SEATTLE — Tuesday 14:00
Duncan awoke to Li Quan's nudging. “What is a sell call?” Duncan's brain needed a moment to come online; sell call didn't make sense. Then he made the connection. A SELCAL was coming through. He jerked the headset off Li Quan's head, donning it in time to hear the words “hundred Chinese aboard your aircraft.” He threw the headset aside, opened the igloo, and popped the floor access door to the electrical and electronics compartment. Descending down the ladder, he located the maintenance switches powering all radios. With a sweep of his hand he isolated ACI Flight 103 from the rest of the world.
Captains earned big bucks because they had to make big decisions. Captain Ray Hanson commanded ACI Flight 103, and he feared that today he would earn those big bucks.
San Francisco ARINC had SELCALed them. When the flight engineer answered, he found Sam Devlin on the other end. The owner of Air Cargo International had an incredible message.
“Captain Hanson, Sam Devlin here. Look, I don't know how to say this, but a big shot from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration called and said there's a hundred Chinese aboard your aircraft. He claims they're Chow Chow, or something like that—whatever they call the Chinese Mafia—and they're heavily armed. He says they're going to hijack your airplane when you get close to San Francisco.”
The message echoed in the earsets of all three crewmembers. All they could do was look at each other.
“Hanson, did you hear me?” Devlin asked.
“I heard, but how the hell am I supposed to stop a hundred armed Chinese?”
“I don't know. That's your problem, but I can't afford to lose that airplane. Do whatever you have to, but don't let anything happen to the airplane. My insurance rates'll go out of sight.”
“Screw the damned airplane. What about us?” said the first officer without keying his mike. The Captain nodded in affirmation.
“Mr. Devlin, I think we should get the FBI or somebody on the line to give us some advice,” the Captain said, knowing the ARINC operator would be monitoring the call, standing by for requests. “ARINC, can you do that for us?”
“Roger,” the operator responded, “I'll ... “. The was a loud click in all earsets. The HF radio they were using went dead.
“Damn. Get him back on the number two,” the Captain ordered and pressed his switch console labeled HF 2. The static always present on an HF radio not in use was missing. “What the hell?”
“All radios are dead,” the flight engineer said.
“Circuit breakers, check the circuit breakers,” the Captain said, almost shouting. He turned toward the flight engineer, who already was running his hands over all radio circuit breakers.
“They're all in,” the flight engineer reported.
“But everything else is working. How can that be?” the Captain asked.
It took the flight engineer a moment. “Jesus, the E and E,” he said, using the standard abbreviation for the electrical and electronics compartment.
Ray Hanson's stomach started to knot, and then he remembered the two couriers. He looked aft. Both were seated in the back of the upper deck. Both had their faces buried in magazines. He turned to his two fellow crewmembers.
“Fellas, I don't know about you, but if there's a hundred armed men aboard and they're into the E and E, I think we should just politely ask them where they want to go.” Both the first officer and the flight engineer nodded a quick agreement.
“Wally,” the Captain addressed the flight engineer. “Go find out what's down there.”
Wally Scott didn't want to go, but checking anything outside the cockpit was traditionally the flight engineer's job. “Ah ... Captain ... I don't want to do it alone.”
Ron Hanson thought. “Right, I understand.” He turned and shouted back towards the two couriers, who now stood beside their seats, but still apparently absorbed in their magazines. “Hey, fellas, uh ... we need a little help.”
Richard Lee lowered his magazine, responding to the Captain with an innocent look.
“We may have a problem with your cargo. Could you go down with my flight engineer ... and ... check ...” He trailed off as he saw the folding stairs opening from below. A moment later the familiar face of Duncan Harris showed above the opening. “Hi, Ron ... Dick ... Wally.” He nodded towards each as he spoke their name.
For the second time as many minutes, all the crewmembers could do was look at each other. The Captain recovered first.
“Dunk ... what the hell ... what's going on?” the Captain asked.
Duncan entered the cockpit, scanning the instruments and the flight engineer's panel before sitting sideways on the jumpseat behind the Captain. He looked each of the crewmembers in the eye.
“Believe me, the less you know about what's going on, the better off you'll be. The fewer questions you can answer, the less grilling you'll get from the DEA and the INS. and I suppose the FBI and U.S. Customs will get involved too.”
“Oh, god,” the first officer reacted.
“Dunk, are there a hundred Chinese down there?” the Captain asked.
Duncan chuckled, wondering from where the figure of one hundred had come. “There's over two hundred and fifty.”
“Oh, god,” the first officer again reacted, his voice betraying his fright.
“Who told you there were a hundred?” Duncan asked.
“Sam Devlin. He SELCALed us, but we were cut off?”
“I cut you off. What did Sam have to say?”
“That there were a hundred armed Chinese and that I was going to be hijacked. The son-of-a-bitch's more worried about the damned airplane than about us.”
“Figures. Anyway, the igloo in number one position has been fixed up for the three of you. It's a little Spartan, but you'll be okay. There're sleeping bags on the floor, water, and plastic bottles to piss in. If you have to take a shit, knock and a guard will escort you to the can.”
“So you're really hijacking us?” the Captain said incredulously.
“It's a matter of one's point of view. I prefer the word commandeering. From your standpoint ... yeah, hijacking is the word,” Duncan said, looking Ray straight in the eye. “Leave your flight bags. I'll have them put by your luggage downstairs. After we stop, your igloos will be opened, and you can do what you like. We'll be evacuating.” Duncan stood up and moved back between the two jumpseats to give the crew room to leave the cockpit.
The first officer and flight engineer looked at the Captain, waiting for his decision to comply or refuse.
“There's no disgrace in giving in to a superior force,” Duncan said. “If it'll make you feel better, I can get a half dozen guys up here with Uzis and AK-47s?”
“No ... no, I'll take your word for it.” The Captain left his seat, moved toward the stairs to the main deck, and then turned back toward Duncan. “Maybe I should at least see some guys with guns. I mean, so I can say I actually saw them, not just that you said they were there.”
Duncan smiled, patted him on the shoulder, and preceded him to the stairs.
“Li Quan,” Duncan shouted down to the main deck. “The crew is coming down. Before you put them in the igloo, make sure they see a dozen armed men.” He stepped aside, turning back toward the Captain. “Will that cover it?”
Captain Ray Hanson nodded and descended the stairs, followed by his first officer and flight engineer. Duncan Harris slid into the left front seat and motioned Richard Lee into the first officer's seat.
“I'll restore communications in a minute, but we'll act like we've had a failure of all voice communications,” Duncan said, reaching up and dialing 7600 on the unpowered transponder. “That's the air traffic control code for communications failure. It'll show on the FAA radars when we're within range.” After setting the code, he methodically ran his hand over the panel above, running his normal captain's preflight actions to give him knowledge of the airplane's status. “After I come up from downstairs, I'll tape the flight engineer switches I'll want you to throw.”
Duncan rose from the seat to go down to the E & E compartment. “Keep your eyes peeled,” he said to Richard. “Somehow the DEA has figured things out. We can expect interceptors up to check us when we hit U.S. airspace, maybe before.”
“And shoot us down?” Richard asked.
“No way. The Air Force'd never go for that, but they might run an intercept and order us to follow them to a military base.”
“But they can't talk to us. I mean, we won't acknowledge them, right?”
“There are standard visual procedures for that. They'll fly alongside, position themselves in front and waggle their wings. If it happens we'll ignore them.” Duncan reached the stairs and descended.
HOUSTON — Tuesday 14:15
“Mr. Ballentine of the DEA is calling again, and George said the Lear will be ready by the time you get to the hangar,” Sam Devlin's secretary said over the intercom. Sam grunted and picked up the phone, punching the flashing button.
“Mr. Ballentine, my apologies for not getting back to you. We're having trouble maintaining contact with the airplane. They're over the Gulf of Alaska, out of VHF range. We're having to use HF, high frequency, and that's always a problem. Water, ah, the ocean surface, tends to absorb HF energy, and then there's sunspots, but I did get ahold of the crew. There's no problem, at least not yet. I told them to go down and check their cargo. They'll get back to me, but it may be a while what with the HF radio problems. They may wait until they're within range of the U.S. coast. They'll be able to talk to us on VHF then. But you know, I've been thinking about this, and, really, I can't imagine Duncan Harris doing such a thing. Are you sure they're on that airplane?”
“No, I'm not sure. That's why I'm talking to you. If I knew for sure I'd already have the Air Force in the air. Every minute that goes by makes containing the situation harder. We need to know if they're on that airplane. If they are, we need to keep it from reaching San Francisco, damn it.”
“Well, seems like the best thing to do would be just to let it come, meet the airplane and check it out yourself. I mean, hell, how could you stop it even if you knew the chinks were on board?”
“I've alerted the Air Force. They've got interceptors standing by,” Greg said. He had a tone of finality in his voice, and Sam Devlin heard it.
“Wait a minute, Ballentine. All interceptors can do is shoot the airplane down.”
“They can order the airplane to follow them to a military base.”
“And if Duncan ignores the order ... not that I really think he's on that airplane?”
“We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“Listen to me, Ballentine. If anything you or the U.S. Government does causes that airplane to be damaged, I'll sue you personally and the Government. Jesus Christ, all we're talking about is some god damn refugees. Just wait 'til they land, arrest them, and ship them back where they came from. Why is the DEA so all fired worried about this anyway, I thought that was the INS's bailiwick?”
“We believe they have drugs with them.”
“So seize the fucking drugs, but you leave that airplane alone. I'll call you when I know something.”
“No, I'll call you between my other calls.”
Sam needed time and would do whatever needed to get it. The fact that he had lied to a federal officer bothered him not one whit. He punched his intercom line.
“Get me Senator ... ah, what's-his-face, the one I gave that last big campaign donation to, and check with ARINC to make sure they're still trying to reach the airplane, and check on how the doubling of the insurance is coming.” Sam released the intercom button, and leaned back in his leather chair still talking. “God damn you, Duncan. You've got my airplane, and that son-of-a-bitch Ballentine wants to shoot it down. Jesus, what does he think this is, Russia?”
BANGKOK — Wednesday 03:30
At Greg Ballentine's insistence, John Hsieh had brought far more American dollars than the Chinese-American agent had thought he could possibly use to pay informants. Now he had almost run out, but he had succeeded in getting needed information.
He waited nervously in the DEA offices at the U.S. Embassy. Greg Ballentine's secretary had said the single line to the airplane Greg was aboard was busy. Agent Hsieh would be connected to the Director of the DEA. John Hsieh had never spoken to the Director and had seen him only once, when he spoke to John's graduating class at the DEA Academy.
“Agent Hsieh, what do you have for us?” the Director came on the line, all business.
“Sir, the government still won't give us anything, but I talked to the printer that printed some of the leaflets. The man was willing to talk for a price. I think that confirms that Li Sung has left. If he were still in Bangkok, I doubt the printer would have said anything no matter how much I was willing to pay.”
“That doesn't give us anything. We've already assumed he's gone.”
“Yes, sir. There's more, sir. The printer said Li Sung's representative asked where he could buy very small plastic bags, said they needed four million of them. The printer gave him some places to try. I ran down the names and got them out of bed. They all told the same story, but one had more information. He said Li Sung's agent needed to know how tough the bags were, so he made up samples for the him to test.”
“Yes, sir. The agent asked for some salt. He put about a gram in each of two of the smallest size bags, the size we see methamphetamine in a lot, about three-quarters of an inch square. Then the agent took a cigarette apart and put some of the tobacco in the next larger size bag. After that he folded a piece of paper—probably the size of the leaflets—and put it and the three bags in the largest size bag. Then he started throwing it against the wall, said he wanted to make sure they wouldn't burst if they were handled roughly.”
“Salt and tobacco. That doesn't make sense.”
“Sir, I found cocaine and marijuana on the floor of the warehouse, and this is a heroin production center. I believe the salt may have been a substitute for cocaine and heroin, the tobacco for marijuana. I think samples of those drugs will be distributed with the leaflets.”
Agent John Hsieh waited for a reply.
“Sir, are you there?” he finally asked.
“Ah ... yes ... good work ... good work, Agent Hsieh.” The line went dead.