Security

Security CoverDeep under the city of Niagara Falls lies the largest tunnel ever constructed. Soon to be completed it will supply a steady supply of water to the Robert Moses Power Plant, a facility that supplies most of the energy for the upper east coast of the United States. Jack and his team arrive to inspect the security of the project before it goes into operation, but Al Qaeda has other plans.

Taking over the facility the terrorist now hold the staff and the entire eastern seaboard hostage. Jack finds himself cut off and trapped. He has two problems. One, he’s 400 feet underground, and two, one of the hostages is his wife.

The terrorist think they have the upper hand, but they don’t know Jack.

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The first two chapters of Security:

 

“Piracy is on the rise in the world’s most crucial shipping lane.”

The Washington Post

 

 

ONE

 

          The Colorado

          That ship just turned around, Cap.”

          Captain James Kelly pulled his gaze from the rising sun and frowned behind his beard before moving to the radar. The Maersk Colorado was several hours into its second day out of port and steaming south on the EAF4 run through the Arabian sea on its way to Mombasa, Kenya. The coast of Somalia was over a hundred miles to his west, but the space gave him little comfort. The area had been ripe with recent pirate activity. The day before they had reported one suspicious boat to the international maritime force patrolling these waters.

          The boat his first mate spoke of was to the west, just within visual range as they had passed it heading in the opposite direction. It had made no move to hide its presence and was lit up from stem to stern, which was common with an ocean-going fishing vessel. They had watched it through their binoculars for some time. The boat had appeared to be just what they thought it was. Its abrupt turn had caught the attention of the first mate.

          The captain watched the blip complete its turn and then pause. It seemed to be stopping dead in the water.

          “Long-liner?”

          “I don’t think so. I didn’t see any rigging to make me think that,” the mate answered.
The captain chewed on this for a minute as he watched the blip on the flat-panel monitor. It was slowly inching toward the edge of the screen. If the ship was indeed a long-liner fishing vessel it could simply be retrieving the end of its line and getting ready to haul in its catch. The waters they were traveling through held both tuna and swordfish in good quantity. He scanned the rest of the screen looking for another return, but the rest of the ocean around them was empty. The ends of the lines were always marked with a radar reflector so the ship could find its line again after letting it drift all night. He didn’t see any return near the ship, or for many miles in any other direction. The pirates were getting smarter—disguising themselves as fishermen was the best way to hide in plain sight. The captain’s inner voice was beginning to speak to him. As if to answer it the large blip of the fishing boat was joined by two smaller ones. They immediately headed out on a course directly for the Colorado.

          “Fishing boat my ass! Increase speed to eighteen knots. Set course to—” he determined the wind direction and glanced outside at the size of the chop they were moving through, “—one-eight-five degrees.”

          The chop didn’t look to be enough to slow the small boats down much, but he had to try. He watched his crew as they scrambled to comply before returning his gaze to the radar screen. The readout on the side assigned the boats chasing them a speed of 21 knots. It was going to be a slow chase.

          Captain Kelly watched as the Colorado slowly responded to his command and sped up. He picked up the radio.

          “Chief, I need you in the engine room. We’ve got some possible pirate activity to our stern and I’m increasing the speed.” As he spoke he watched the RPMs climb, eventually reaching 122. It would place considerable strain on the single diesel engine that powered the boat. The last thing they needed was an engine failure right now. With over 1,000 shipping containers on board they would be hard pressed to get more speed than they had now.

          “I’m on my way, Cap,” his engineer answered.

          Kelly watched the screen a moment longer while the first mate began moving men into position. They had conducted a drill the day before and now everyone was quickly finding their place. Satisfied that the mate had everyone moving he walked across the room to the satellite phone. Hitting the keys for the pre-programmed number he dialed UKMTO, the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations office. A man with a thick British accent answered after the first ring.

          “This is the Maersk Colorado.” He listed the ship’s position, course, speed and number of crew. “We have two small boats approaching our stern at six miles. They were observed leaving a mother ship which is not trailing. Possible pirate attack.”

          “Are you sure they aren’t just a fishin’?”

          Captain Kelly stared at the phone in his hand for a moment in astonishment before letting some anger come out.

          “Not at twenty-one knots they aren’t! They’re coming straight up our wake!”

          “All right, Colorado. I hear you. Just getting a lot of calls from some nervous captains. I’m relaying your position to the coalition. Afraid they’re some distance from you though. I recommend you get the crew ready, lock up the boat and all. Get out the fire hoses.”

          “Already done.”

          “Well, good show. Keep us informed. Good luck, Colorado.”

          “Will do.”

          The captain shook his head as he hung up the phone. He next called the home office for Maersk. It rang twelve times before a machine picked up. Kelly impatiently waited for the message to be done. He reported essentially the same information to the machine, but it rudely cut him off before he was done. He slammed the phone down in frustration before taking a deep breath. He had to keep his cool in front of the crew. Looking around he saw the first mate staring at the radar.

          “CPA?”

          “They’re dead astern, Cap.”

          “They’re using our wake to stay out of the chop. What’s the depth?”

          “We’re close to the shelf. Water’s getting shallow quick.”

          The mate saw what the captain was thinking. Shallow water meant more chop. If the waves were bad enough the boats chasing them would have to slow down to deal with them. Maybe enough for them to escape. The Colorado didn’t have the speed to outrun the smaller boats. At a length of just over 500 feet and with 17,000 tons of cargo onboard, the ship’s top speed was 18 knots. Captain Kelly scanned the horizon out past the two forty-foot cranes on the deck in the hope of seeing an American warship, but that wish died a rapid death. They were on their own.

          “Start zig-zagging us. Just enough to force them to use the angles.”

          “Got it.”

          It was a desperate measure but one worth trying. If they turned, the pirates would attempt to cut the corner to gain on them, but doing so would force them into the rougher water and slow them down. Maybe they would decide that the water was too rough and try another day? The captain didn’t think so, but the alternative merely delayed the inevitable. He had to try.

          “Everybody in place?”

          “Yes sir.”

          “Okay.”

          He walked to the rear window to get a better look at the boats through his binoculars. Both the boats looked the same: narrow white skiffs about 30 feet long, and each sported a large outboard engine. Five men were distributed evenly in each. The men clung to the sides as they crashed through the chop. One of them let go long enough to pick up a rifle and move it to a more secure position. That got Kelly’s attention.

          “Call that British idiot at UKMTO back and tell him we’re definitely under attack. I can see their guns.”

          The first mate scrambled to comply and Kelly heard him answering a multitude of questions. How many boats? How many men and guns in them? What color are the boats? How many engines? What color is the inside of the boats? Any RPGs? Is the mother ship still on your radar? Eventually they hung up.

          “Any words of encouragement?”

          “Not really. Just call back when they get to be a mile or so out and leave the radio on.”

          “Well, that certainly helps.”

          “Two miles, Captain.”

          “Keep zig-zagging us into the chop.”

          Kelly watched one boat and then the other as they slowly gained on the Colorado. One of them was quite a bit closer than the other and he determined that was due to a more experienced helmsman. He watched the slower boat bounce off the swells sending spray over the men inside. It seemed to be keeping up, but no longer gained on them. The other boat was making slow but steady progress and approaching on their port quarter. Kelly examined that boat more closely through the binoculars.

          “Whoa!” A shout rang out from the other crew members.

          He saw them pointing and returned his gaze to the slow boat. It was swamped and some men were clinging to the semi-submerged hull. He counted three of the original five.

          “What happened?”

          The mate answered, “They took a wave too fast and the bow dove under the next one. They’re done.”

          Kelly located the other boat to see if they had noticed. If they had they didn’t seem to care. They were still coming up on them as fast as they could. The observation spoke volumes; the pirates were committed. It was either take control of the ship they were after, or die out there in the ocean. The mother ship was not going to come for them. They probably had fuel for one try only. The men from the first boat were as good as dead; the men in the second would be alongside in a matter of minutes.

          “Joe, get the flare gun out. When they get within a mile start firing at them. Wait, first call the engine room. I want them locked in and ready to take over from the aft steering room. Everyone else, if they aren’t manning a hose, needs to be in the safe room.”

          The first mate’s face fell from its jovial expression. As long as he had known the captain he had never called him by his first name in front of the other crew. The other men fell silent as well.

          Joe recovered quickly.

          “I’m on it, Cap. Everybody get a radio and switch to channel eight. Tell the bosun to bring the men in and get the fire pumps going. Somebody hit the lights. Let’s move it, people.” The men scrambled out the door while Joe dug out the flare gun and a dozen flares. He nodded once to his captain before moving out onto the starboard bridge wing. As soon as he was gone Kelly pressed the SSA, the secret security alarm. It would send a message to the rescue center that the pirates had taken over the ship.

          He may not have a chance to push it in the next few minutes. He then picked up the phone and speed-dialed UKMTO again.

          “You there?” he asked.

          “Right here, mate. What’s the situation?”

          “They’re less than a mile out. Down to one boat with five men. I’m leaving the line open.”

          “Okay. Luck to you, Colorado.”

          Kelly dropped the phone onto the top of the table. The flash of a flare reflected off the angled windows and he reflexively turned away. He turned to the sailor his first mate had placed at the helm, a young boy from the Midwest on his first assignment.

          “Keep hold of the wheel but sit down on the floor. Just steer where I tell you to, okay? It’s about to get interesting.”

          The boy swallowed once before replying. “O–okay.”

          Kelly gave him a nod of reassurance he wished he felt before turning back to the windows. Another flare fired off in the direction of the approaching skiff and this time it was answered with automatic rifle fire. The bullets slammed into the boat with loud slaps and ricocheted off the containers. Joe came tumbling into the bridge soon after and they landed next to each other on the floor.

          “Sons of bitches are serious.”

          Kelly poked his head up in time to see more muzzle flashes and quickly thought better of the idea when more bullets peppered the windows and spider-webbed the thick glass.

          “Shots fired!” he called toward the phone. “They’re shooting at the bridge!”

          “What now, Cap?”

          “Kill the lights in here, too.”

          Joe did so and Kelly changed position before popping his head up again. The boat was just off the port side with two men standing in the front. One had an AK-47 aimed at the bridge while the other had a length of knotted rope in his hands with what looked like a homemade grappling hook on the end. He was swinging the rope around like a cowboy and he launched it over the side of the Colorado at amidships, the lowest point above the water. It was an expert throw. The hook on the end caught on the rail with a loud clang

          “Damn it! Right full rudder!”

          The boy spun the wheel over his head as fast as he could. The ship turned to the right quickly and made it harder for the pilot of the small boat to stay up against the Colorado’s hull. It also made the pirate’s twenty-foot climb shorter as the ship heeled over into its turn. Kelly reached out the door and fired a flare in the direction of the boat. It was answered with more automatic fire and bullets bounced off the stack above them. Kelly ducked down before looking again. A head popped up over the rail. The pirate took one quick look around before he vaulted over the rail and hid behind the nearest shipping container. A smaller rope trailed behind him and he hauled a burlap sack up and over the rail.

          “One pirate aboard!” Joe yelled toward the phone.

          A second pirate climbed up the knotted rope and rolled over the rail. He hid behind the shipping container and began pulling the rope that trailed behind him. An AK-47 rose to the top and got stuck on the railing. The first pirate reappeared with a handgun in his fist and fired at the bridge while he untangled the rifle with his other hand. As soon as it was free the two men charged across the deck, firing as they went. Bullets impacted the wind dodger and chips of paint popped off to rain down on the captain and the two crewmen. More shots rang out from below without hitting the bridge.

          “They’re shooting the locks off,” Joe said.

          Kelly nodded. The pirates had a seven-story climb to get from the waterline to the bridge, but there was nothing he could do to stop them now. He picked up the phone.

          “Two pirates on board.”

          “I hear ya, mate. God speed.”

          Kelly dropped it and the handset hit the floor only to bounce up and dangle on its cord. He looked at the boy who held the wheel still at full right rudder with white-knuckled fists. He looked at Joe who tossed the flare gun aside with a shrug and a lopsided grin. Kelly opened his mouth to apologize to his men when two shots fired outside the bridge door. The sound echoed around in the enclosed place, muffling the sound of glass hitting the floor. His ears rang.

          Kelly looked up to see the first pirate staring at him over the barrel of a rusty AK-47 pointed through the shattered glass.

          He was smiling.

          Kelly raised his hands. The man opened the door and stalked onto the bridge. The other man stayed behind and kept his rifle aimed at them. The smile had left the first pirate’s face and now Kelly saw only his dead eyes taking in the bridge and the men on it. The man examined the controls, the boy on the floor, the first mate, before taking a good look at Jim Kelly’s face.

          “Who is the captain?”

          “I–I am.”

          The pirate brought the rifle up and slammed Kelly in the stomach. As he doubled over a knee connected with his nose, breaking it and sending blood shooting across the floor. Another blow from the rifle butt slammed Kelly to the floor and kicks rained down on his head. He rolled in an attempt to avoid them but they followed until he was pinned to the wall. His glasses shattered and cut him as they were thrown aside and he bit his tongue and blood filled his mouth. The blows continued until he lost consciousness.

          The Somali stood over him, breathing hard for a moment before turning to the first mate. Joe had slid down to the floor and now held his arms high, staring at Kelly as he lay bleeding on the steel floor. He unwittingly covered his head and braced himself for the coming beating. The boy on the floor next to him whimpered and Joe smelled the strong stench of urine.

          “Who is the captain?” the Somali asked.

          “I–I don’t?”

          “Who is the captain!”

          “You. You are.”

          The Somali glared at them both before finally signaling to the man at the door. He yelled and kicked the two men to their feet, herding them out of the bridge. The leader ignored Kelly and examined the controls again.

          The smile returned.

 

“New U.K. task force to tackle radical Muslim clerics.”

The Associated Press

 

—TWO

 

          The Delaware shore

          Jack woke slowly. The first thing he was aware of was that he was hot on one half of his body. His chest had a dull ache and his right arm was void of any sensation. His eyes focused on the ceiling fan and he watched it turn, counting the revolutions until he was fully awake. The light streaming in through the shades he had forgotten to draw had robbed him of his extra weekend hours. But then again he had a good reason for forgetting them.

          He brushed her hair from his face and she stirred enough from the movement for him to shrug his shoulder in an attempt to gently move her head to another part of his chest. He succeeded but it came with a price. With blood flow his right arm became a bed of pins and needles. He fought the urge to move it and instead flexed his hand repeatedly. The arm slowly woke, but her head snuggled back into him with a weight of a bowling ball. Despite the air conditioning and the fan he was sweating. Debra, all 110 pounds of her, was forever cold while he, at 210 pounds, was exactly the opposite. Sleeping comfortably was often a challenge with her usually wrapped in a pair of pajamas and under the thick comforter while he wore boxers only with the comforter kicked off soon after the light went out. Last night she had fallen asleep without pajamas so had naturally sought out the nearest heat source—him.

          He looked down on her now, her hair a mess of blond curls, and making a slight whistle with every exhale. She never believed him when he found an opportunity to tease her about it.

          It was still early for a weekend and he didn’t have the heart to wake her yet. For him it was too late. Once his brain was awake there was little chance of going back to sleep. He stretched his free arm to find the remote control for the fan. Thumbing it up a notch he was rewarded with a stronger breeze. He set the remote down and felt for his cellphone. He probed carefully, trying not to knock it off the table, and was successful on the third try.

          He was into the third email from the office when Debra took the phone away, gently dropping it on the carpet before returning her hand under the sheet. Her hand explored until she had Jack’s undivided attention.

          “Good morning.”

          “Good morning.”

          Debra raised her head and gave him a mischievous grin.

          “I see we’re awake?”

          “We are now.”

          She glanced at the clock before frowning at the open blinds. “Forgot the blinds again.”

          “Well, we were both distracted.”

          Her eyes followed the trail of clothes on the floor. They trailed out into the living room and to the front door. She vaguely remembered something small and lacy tearing on a high heel shoe.

          She climbed on top of him and let the sheet fall away. Arching her back and grinding her hips she smiled down at him.

          “Distract me some more?”

          The fan remote landed on the floor next to the phone.

 

❉❉❉

 

          Nice to be home?”

          Breakfast on the deck with an ocean sunrise was something they didn’t get to enjoy often. Gulls cried.

          Jack reached for the orange juice. They both were wearing robes and sunglasses and nothing else. A neighbor and his dog strolled by, giving a friendly wave.

          “Yes, very.”

          Debra grinned at his answer. They were going to make it. Their relationship had had a rough time over the last few years and at one point she had found herself questioning whether to stay or not. Jack had upended their stable life when he left his father’s company and joined the FBI. The chaos that had since ensued had cost her a job and had repeatedly put them on the front pages of the papers, and not in a way she approved of. But she couldn’t deny that he was happier with the Bureau. Happier than he had ever been at the office. She understood now what he was doing and why he took it so seriously. Even though it had cost her a few of her socialite friends, she had traded them for new ones. Ones that knew what was important. Now, instead of drinks at the club with other business types, who only talked about money and what they spent it on, she went to State dinners and had cocktails with senators and congressmen. It had even led to a new job with an environmental lobbying organization on K Street. It was a job she attacked with a passion, working late and often arriving home after her husband.

          She asked, “Where are you off to next?”

          “Florida for a day and night, then I’m back here to brief the committee, and then Buffalo a few days after that.”

          She clutched her chest and batted her eyelashes. “So I’ll actually get to see you? I feel so . . . honored.”

          “What about you?” He took a bite of bagel. “You’re traveling as much as I am now.”

          “The trip to Arizona got pushed to next month. There’s the wind farm in west Texas that I’m ready to go see. Have you met Mr. Pickens? He’s nothing like what I expected. An oil-rich billionaire environmentalist just doesn’t compute to most people. I think he got dealt a losing hand when the economy tanked. After that I have a trip to California to tour a solar power station. Do you know we’re getting beat by Spain and Portugal at that? That’s how bad we are at renewable energy in this country. John thinks it’s disgraceful. And don’t get me started on the whole Keystone Pipeline thing.”

          Jack smiled at his wife’s new passion. She’d been less so with her other charity efforts, still effective and good at what she did, but not as fired up as she was now. Jack was proud of her.

          “I like you and this job together.”

          “Me, too. So what’s in Buffalo?”

          “The Robert Moses Power Plant at Niagara Falls. They finished the first tunnel and are close to finishing the second. The higher-ups thought we’d get some measures in place before it went on line.”

          “That’s on my list too, but not until after they have it finished.”

          “Well, if you’re not going to Arizona why don’t you join me?”

          “Well . . . I don’t know. Don’t you have to ask your girlfriend first?”

          “Very funny. Actually, I’m taking Sydney. Eric and Greg as well. Plus my little private army if they can get there in time.”

          “Larry’s sitting this one out? What about Lenny, is he still over in the UK?”

          “I’ve got Larry working on other stuff. He gets to take a different trip with me this week. Lenny is busy as hell, but we’re working on something together.”

          Jack took another swig of orange juice and Debra took the hint. There were some things Jack couldn’t talk about. Even to her.

          “I’ll fly up and meet you if you’re sure Sydney won’t be uncomfortable.”

          “I can’t help that, but I don’t see it as you two do.”

          “Jack, you know I’m not worried about her any more, but you have to admit, not too many wives would be thrilled to have their husbands working with their old girlfriends. Especially when they look like Sydney.”

          “Well maybe if you two would just talk a little? It’d make my life a little easier.”

          “I’m curious as to why she doesn’t have a new man. She’s young, intelligent and almost as pretty as I am. You’d think one would have caught her eye by now.”

          Jack smiled at the veiled comment before answering. “There was some Secret Service guy in the picture for awhile but I think he got promoted to the First Lady’s detail and disappeared. Then there’s the whole married to her job thing. Did I tell you she’s teaching part-time at the Academy?”

          “No, good for her. Maybe there’s an instructor there that’ll catch her eye. Or wait, the students are all legal age as well!”

          “You’re funny.”

          “I try. Seriously though, that girl needs a man.”

          “Not my job, honey. Maybe you can find her a nice tree-hugger, maybe one who takes baths?”

          “I’ll see what I can do. You sure she’s not seeing someone?”

          “If she is, she’s keeping him a secret.”

          London, England

          Lenny’s attempt to open the door to the London courtroom was stopped halfway by the crowd of reporters gathered against the back wall. He applied firm pressure until a man moved. The reporter scowled in Lenny’s direction but Lenny’s size and facial expression quickly changed his mind. A bailiff approached and Lenny showed his credentials. Seeing this, the reporters changed their attitudes and made room for the newcomer. One of them produced a camera to take Lenny’s picture but a stern look from the bailiff changed his mind and the camera was quickly stowed.

          Lenny ignored them and returned the gazes of the people already seated. They had turned at the commotion created by the latecomer and were now just curious as to who he was. That group included the defendant and his lawyer seated at the table in front. Lenny watched the man’s face when his lawyer leaned close and whispered a few words. His expression changed from one of curiosity to a scowl of hatred. Lenny answered it with his poker face.

          The man attempting to intimidate him was a sixty-eight-year-old Muslim mullah of Jordanian decent. His name was Fazlullah and he was a well-known preacher of radicalism. Tapes of his sermons had been found in the apartments of the 9/11 hijackers and he had suspected ties to al-Qaeda as well as to terror cells in Yemen and Somalia. After being driven out of Iraq during the war he had been captured and imprisoned in Jordan for a year. He had somehow secured his release and left the country, arriving in London with the use of a fake passport. Despite his illegal entry he had claimed to be a victim of torture by the Jordanians and sought asylum, which had reluctantly been granted. Once under the protection of English law he had resumed his radical preaching. Efforts to deport him back to Jordan had been met with arguments from Amnesty International. Despite being jailed three times in the past eight years the mullah had always gone free.

          As he would again today.

          The result of today’s hearing had been decided years ago and would be no surprise to those in the intelligence arms of MI6 and Interpol. The mullah would stay in London. It was exactly where they wanted him to be.

          Keep your enemies close, was how the saying went, and that was exactly what they had done for eight years. With the mullah in London they could watch his every move. They could hear what he preached and watch those who listened. They could monitor his calls and intercept his mail. They tracked the flow of money in and out of his multiple bank accounts. They monitored his internet traffic. They knew everything about him, right down to what foods he ate and which of his wives was his favorite. If he were ever deported they would lose the ability to track him, and that was too valuable to let go.

          But the public had to be appeased. Allowing a man they viewed as a terrorist, especially one they considered hiding behind their own laws, to live and preach his hatred in their own capital city was too much for many of them. When the editorials grew in frequency and the death threats rose to a certain number, it became necessary to put on a show. Today was the final act and Lenny owed it to someone to be present.

          That someone soon entered the courtroom and the mullah moved his threatening gaze to the newcomer. The courtroom artists scribbled furiously to capture the moment, each of them hoping it was their sketch that would grace the front pages tomorrow. The man ignored them and the mullah as he had done for many years. He was beyond such games. He did scan the courtroom audience briefly, but if he saw Lenny he made no visible reaction. Dropping his briefcase on the table, he was soon in a whispered conversation with his assistant.

          Lenny smiled at the man’s cool demeanor. Being a federal prosecutor was never without its challenges. Today would be doubly so. His friend would have to put on a show today knowing he was going to lose. Lenny did not envy him.

          The judge soon entered the room and all conversation stopped. Lenny kept his face impassive as the events unfolded. The lawyers argued back and forth with the judge intervening at times to keep things moving. Lenny watched it play out over the course of thirty minutes and everything progressed as they had predicted. Eventually the judge announced his ruling: the mullah would go free pending another hearing several months from now. The prosecutor feigned outrage and the judge allowed him to vent for several minutes before finally silencing him with a harsh tone. Lenny thought the whole act was very professional, and it was clear that the defense team, as well as the press, had bought it.
The mullah smiled, dead-eyed, at the prosecutor and the man stewed for a moment for the benefit of the sketch artists before rising to pack his briefcase. Lenny stayed in place as the reporters quickly filed out and he was soon the only man against the back wall. Eventually the prosecutor looked up. He acknowledged Lenny’s presence by scratching his head with a raised middle finger. Lenny couldn’t blame him.

          Tomorrow the prosecutor would be crucified in the papers, and rivals would be calling for his dismissal. It would last for a few days until the press got bored and moved on to something else, but it was still a bitter pill to swallow.

          Lenny left the courtroom. He would be stopping by the liquor store on his way to his hotel tonight. An expensive bottle of scotch would soon be on its way to his friend.

          It was the least he could do.

 

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