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A
few moments later, Donahue came trotting out, gave Hardcastle a thumbs-up, took
his microphone, and stepped briskly into the audience, which had just been
commanded to start applauding as they rolled the intro. “We’re back with
Admiral Ian Hardcastle, former commander of the drug-interdiction unit called
the Hammerheads,” Donahue said when he got his cue.

 
          
Some
videotape started rolling on the monitors as Donahue did a voice-over—it showed
a large orange tilt-rotor aircraft with the words
u.s.
border
security force
and
follow me
in
large letters on the side, firing missiles from fuselage pods and dropping off
heavily armed assault officers onto a beach.

 
          
“You
all remember the Hammerheads, with their high- tech aircraft and robot
helicopters fluttering over the beaches chasing smugglers—and I’m sure you
remember the 1992 incident that sparked the controversy over the need for a
unit like the Hammerheads.” Donahue all but smiled.

 
          
Videotape
was rolling on the monitors.

 

 
          
A shot from a low-flying helicopter circling
overhead, showing a woman lying on the beach, surrounded by two small children
and by armed men in orange flight suits. One of the large V-22 tilt-rotor
aircraft was landed nearby, stirring up great clouds of sand as the huge double
rotors on the plane’s wingtips turned at idle speed.

 

 
          
“This
pregnant Mexican woman was killed during her arrest, in full view of horrified
spectators and TV viewers. In their short history, the Hammerheads are gone,
disbanded, certainly discredited. Admiral Hardcastle says the danger is still
with us—but not just from smugglers, but from terrorists. What do you
think?"

 
          
Donahue's
staff had already picked out a prescreened audience member who was liberal,
highly opinionated, well- spoken, not afraid to speak her mind, rather
pretty—she would be perfect to use coming out of commercial. “You’ll stand,
please," he said as he plucked her out of her seat and handed over the
microphone to her.

 
          
“Mr.
Hardcastle, it looked to me like you were out there fighting a war,” the woman
from the audience said. “You got fighters all over the sky, guys with radar and
guns and all—”

 
          
“What’s
your question, ma’am?” Donahue briskly interrupted.

 
          
“My
question is, I don't see much security here—just a lot of killin', like a bunch
of neo-Nazis in ugly orange suits ready to bomb innocent people if they don’t
play by your rules.”

 
          
“Ma’am,
the Cuban drug smugglers under Colonel Agusto Salazar used civilian planes faking
distress to distract us, then
bombed
us with Cuban military aircraft,” Hardcastle responded. “We didn’t start this
fight
—they
did.”

 
          
“But
you were supposed to be on guard for this type of attack, weren’t you,
Admiral?” Donahue needled. “With all due respect to your troops, it seems like
the attackers got you pretty easily.”

 
          
“We’re
sworn to play by the rules, Phil.” Hardcastle shrugged. “Our rules of
engagement at the time said we could fire only if fired upon. We knew there was
a threat of attack—retaliation for being so effective—but Congress and the
courts left us virtually defenseless.

 
          
“But
let me point out something here,” Hardcastle said. “At the height of the
Hammerheads’ manning deployment levels, we were able to conduct radar
surveillance of the entire southeast
United States
and seal off all of
Florida
with rapid-response aircraft. Drug use
dropped significantly because availability of drugs like cocaine and marijuana
plummeted—”

 
          
“But
gang violence and violent crime increased because the pushers and users were
fighting for whatever product was on the street,” Donahue added.

 
          
“Phil,
my mission was to get drugs off the street by cutting off the supply lines into
America
,” Hardcastle insisted. “We
did
that. We were successful. No one can
doubt that.” “I think we’re here because we
all
doubt, Admiral,” Donahue said, rolling his eyes.

 
          
“What
we have now are borders that are wide open to invasion of all kinds,”
Hardcastle warned. “No Border Security Force. A downsized Border Patrol, Custom
Service, and Coast Guard. Back then, I could call on four Air National Guard
fighter units for help—now there is just
one.
A hurricane took care of one unit—Congress killed the other two. Ladies and
gentlemen, we have only twenty air defense units in all of
North America
—yes,
twenty.
That’s about forty planes ready right now to stop an intruder.” “What intruders
are you talking about, Admiral?” Donahue asked. “The Russians? The Chinese? The
North Koreans? Who wants to take on the
United States
these days? Aren’t you being just a bit...
paranoid?”

 
          
“Phil,
we proved in Operation Desert Storm and the fall of the
Soviet Union
that no nation can beat the
United States
in a conventional military conflict,”
Hardcastle said. “But we have no defense whatsoever against w/iconven- tional
conflicts. Terrorists are better armed, more mobile, and more sophisticated
than ever. How do we respond to the threat? We cut funding for defense,
security, and counterterrorist programs.”

 
          
“Admiral,
I’ve got some
real
threats to
America
’s security to tell you about,” Donahue
blasted back. “We’ve got forty million Americans with
no
health insurance and over a million homeless Americans—men,
women, and children. We’ve got an average of three hundred Americans gunning
each other down per
day,
and we’ve
got fifty thousand Americans rotting in overcrowded prisons, getting no help
for their drug addictions and violent, dysfunctional upbringing. In an era when
we can’t take care of the people living on the street outside this building,
here you are, collecting a generous pension from the Coast Guard as well as a
very generous stipend from the conservative Project 2000 Task Force, asking for
funding for programs to stop these shadowy bogeymen that no one has heard of
and that don’t directly affect anyone’s lives.”

 
          
“Tell
that to the fifteen thousand people working in the
World
Trade
Center
back in 1993, or to the one hundred
thousand people affected by the 1994 terrorist mortar attacks on
Heathrow
Airport
,” Hardcastle snapped. “Ladies and gentlemen,
America
is becoming a target for terrorism because
we’re allowing ourselves to become a target. And I’m no longer just referring
to a hijacker or kidnapper or letter-bomber or gang warfare—I’m talking about a
campaign
of terror against
America
, on the scale that nations in
Europe
and the
Middle East
have experienced for decades. We need a
military—and more importantly, an administration in the White House—ready to
deal with the dangers before they impact the lives of millions of Americans.”

 
          
“You’re
talking about isolated incidents of fanatics, or of terrorist attacks overseas
between factions that have been fighting for years,” Donahue said dismissively.
“I don’t see the connection.”

 
          
“Ladies
and gentlemen, what if I told you that there are over three thousand
known
terrorist groups operating in the
United States
right now?” Hardcastle interjected. “What
if I told you that over three hundred pounds of enriched plutonium, enough for
thirty nuclear weapons, is reported as missing
every
year? The
United States
had three long-range radar systems
patrolling the skies four years ago. Now we have one, and that one operates
only forty hours a week. We sent a hundred Patriot air defense units to
Saudi Arabia
last year—any guesses as to how many
Patriots we have operating in the
United States
? That’s right,
zero.
The sky is filled with unidentified aircraft.”

 
          
“Your
point is .. . ?”

 
          
“What
I’m saying is that we as Americans shouldn’t allow our defenses to slide like
this,” Hardcastle said. “Everyone thinks, ‘There’s no threat, why spend the
money to prevent something that may never happen?’ I’m telling you, based on
all my years in the field of border security and national defense, that the
threat
exists.
I’m not talking about
Saddam Hussein invading
Washington
—I’m talking about drug smugglers owning American banks, arms merchants
shipping black-market weapons on our highways and through our airspace, and
government buildings open to direct assault from relatively low-tech, easily
conceal- able terrorists. We don’t have to put up with it.”

 
          
“Yeah,”
a young college-age caller said. “I heard you got fired because of alcoholism
and because of getting stressed- out from your time in
Vietnam
and family problems and all. Frankly, old
man, I don’t think you got what it takes to go around tellin’ the President how
to run the military.”

 
          
There
was a smattering of applause from the audience.

 
          
“Making
assumptions without all the facts is like trying to shoot a gun without
bullets, son,” Hardcastle said. “First of all, it’s true: I suffered from a
stress disorder brought on by my years in
Vietnam
and by alcohol. I’ve never shied away from
admitting my faults. But I’ve also got almost thirty years of military service,
most of it dealing with the difficulties this country faces when we fail to
enforce our sovereignty and protect our borders. More importantly, I’m an
American, and I’ve got something to say about how our country’s being defended.
I’ve got the facts and I’ve got the experience, so I know what I’m talking
about. Question is, who’s willing to listen?”

 
          
There
was another round of applause, this time a little louder than before.

 
          
“Not
me, man,” the caller said. “I think you’re crazy,” and he hung up.

 
          
“And
we’ll be right back,” Donahue said. The music rose, and they cut away for
another commercial.

 
 
          
 
   
  

 
        
PART 1

 
  
        
 

  
 
          
 

 
 
          
Chico Municipal Airport, California 2108
hours, PT, August 1995

 

 

 
          
“Get
your butts in gear,” Henri Cazaux ordered, swinging the AK-47 assault rifle on
its sling from behind his back, holding it high so everyone in the hangar could
clearly see it. He noisily jacked the cocking lever back, allowing a cartridge
to spin through the air. The spinning brass glinting against the overhead
lights made heads jerk all around the hangar. The sound of the cartridge
hitting the polished concrete floor seemed as loud as if he had pulled the
trigger.
“Move,
or I’ll end your
miserable lives right
now.

 
          
Cazaux
was perfectly capable of threatening any one of the burly workers before him
even without the antiquated Soviet-made assault rifle. Born in the Netherlands
of French and English parents who were residing in
Belgium
, Cazaux was a former commando in the elite
First Para, the “Red Berets,” of the Belgian Army. During his youth he was in
and out of trouble. At age fifteen he was caught smuggling drugs into the U.S.
Army barracks near
Antwerp
,
Belgium
; he was incarcerated and abused by U.S. Army
soldiers for two days before his identity was established and he was turned
over to Belgian authorities. At that time he was offered a choice between a
sentence of ten years in the Belgian Army or ten years in prison. He enlisted.
He had some expeditionary assignments in
Africa
and
Asia
, but got in trouble with the authorities,
again, and spent two years in a Belgian stockade until he was given a
dishonorable discharge in 1987. He entered the drug trade in
Germany
, graduating to black market weapon sales,
mercenary activities, and terrorism.

 
          
His
shaved head, tanned to a deep leathery brown by years in innumerable jungles,
desert training camps, and killing grounds, revealed scores of scratches,
dents, and blemishes that he hadn’t obviously been bom with. The face was
ruggedly handsome, with bright, quick green eyes, a masculine, oft-broken nose,
prominent cheekbones, and a thin mouth that clamped down hard on the stub of a
cheroot. His baggy flight suit could not hide a well-muscled body. Thick
forearms and deeply callused hands gripped the AK-47 as if it weighed only a
few ounces. He could have been a model for a cologne or cigarette ad, except
for the scars and punctures, most never properly sutured or dressed, that
spoiled an otherwise photo-perfect physique. The ex-Belgian Special Forces
warrior kept his body tense and his eyes darting to any face that might dare to
turn on him, but inwardly Cazaux relaxed.

 
          
Cazaux
had been an infantry soldier for almost all of his adult life. That was his
profession, but his first love was flying. Basic fixed- and rotary-wing pilot
training was standard for most Belgian Special Forces cadre, and Cazaux found
he had a real aptitude for it. Once out of the Special Forces and into the dark
world of the professional soldier,
le
mercenaire,
he became a pilot who could handle a gun and who knew
explosives, assault tactics, and the other arcane arts of killing—a very
valuable commodity. Cazaux held an American Federal Aviation Administration
commercial pilot’s license, kept current as part of his “above-ground” life,
but he had thousands of hours in hundreds of different aircraft, with landings
all over the world that would never see the inside of any pilot’s logbook or FA
A computer database.

 
          
The
plane was almost loaded; they would be airborne in less than a half-hour. The
workers were just about finished loading three narrow wooden pallets aboard the
rear cargo ramp of a Czechoslovakian-made LET L-600 twin-turboprop transport.
The L-600 was one of the thousands of old aircraft bought on the open market
after the collapse of the
Soviet Union
,
when anyone could get an old Soviet military transport, spare engines and
parts, and even experienced pilots for a song. This thirty-year-old bird had
been purchased from a Greek broker for only five hundred thousand dollars,
including a spare Motorlet engine, some other miscellaneous spare parts, and
even a ferry pilot. The LET was in good condition—unlike the ferry pilot, who
was an old alcoholic ex-Romanian Air Force colonel who flew this beast from
Prague
to the
United States
. The Romanian was overheard discussing his
boss, Cazaux, with some bar bimbo one night—a fatal error in judgment. Henri
Cazaux used the old fart and his new American girlfriend as a moving target
when he was zeroing in a new sniper rifle several weeks ago, then buried them
both under five thousand tons of gravel at a quarry near Oakland. Cazaux was in
the weapons business, and the first standing order for all of his employees was
strict secrecy.

 
          
Henri
Cazaux was the LET L-600’s one and only pilot, as well as its loadmaster,
engineer, crew chief, and security officer. Cazaux entrusted the duties of
copilot to a young Cuban-trained Ethiopian pilot named Taddele Korhonen, whom
Cazaux called “the Stork,” because of his very tall, thin body and his ability
to sit still for an incredible length of time. Cazaux had even seen Korhonen
standing on one leg once, like some large dark swamp bird.

 
          
Satisfied
that the six loaders were sufficiently cowed and working as hard as they could,
Cazaux stepped through the L-600’s forward port doorway into the cargo bay to
inspect the goods. He had just a few inches to squeeze through between the
fuselage and the three cargo pallets that occupied the bay—no fat boys on this
crew—and Cazaux had to be careful to step over the thick canvas anchor straps
securing each pallet to the deck.

 
          
The
cargo hold smelled like gun oil and machined metal, like sulfur and gunpowder,
like terror and death—and money, of course. Lots of money.

 
          
The
first pallet was just forward of the cargo ramp, and it held the big prize, a
cargo worth more than the aircraft that carried them and probably all the
humans nearby—three “coffins” of Stinger shoulder-fired heat-seeking antiair
missiles stacked aboard, with nine cases to go. Nine coffinshaped cases each
held two Stinger missiles, preloaded into disposable fiberglass launch tubes,
and four cylindrical “bean can” battery units. The other three cases held two
launcher grip/sight assemblies and four battery units. The missiles had been
stolen from a National Guard unit in
Tennessee
shortly after the unit returned from Desert
Storm, and scattered in various hiding places across the country while the
sales deals were cut. Cazaux had managed to stay well ahead of the authorities
as long as the missiles were hidden and off the market. But as soon as the
missiles came out of hiding—which meant hiring loaders, truckers, middlemen,
guards, and bankers—the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agency, the Army
Special Investigations Unit, and the FBI were howling at his heels. Cazaux was
certain there was an informant in his operation, and he would ferret him or her
out soon. Killing the informant would be his pleasure.

 
          
The
next forward wooden pallet contained shipment crates of various military field
items, ranging from fatigues and boots to U.S. Army MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat,
or more popularly known as Meals Rejected by Everyone), from medical supplies
to tents, from power generators to five-pound bundles of cash worth at least
two thousand dollars a bundle. When it came time to bribe a customs official in
Mexico
, the
Bahamas
,
Bermuda
, or
at the cargo’s destination in
Haiti
, just one discreet toss, and the plane,
five pounds lighter, would be on its way within moments. Each bundle of cash
was worth about ten times what a Haitian Customs officer legitimately earned in
a year, and Cazaux rarely encountered anyone who would turn down a bribe.

 
          
The
third pallet, secured closest to the front of the cargo bay, held the really
nasty stuff—almost five thousand pounds of ammunition, high explosives,
detonators, claymore mines, demolition gear, and primacord. Most of the stuff
was stable and fairly safe to ship, except for the stuff in the center of the
pallet, surrounded by Styrofoam shock absorbers—five hundred pounds of
pentaerythritol tetrani- trate, or PETN, the primary component of detonating
cord and used as a booster in large demolition charges. For the flight, the
crystalline PETN was mixed with water to form a gray sludge, then packed in
cases surrounded by wet sponges to keep it cool and protect it from shock—it
had a detonation temperature of only 350 degrees Fahrenheit. PETN was the most
sensitive of the primary military explosives, almost as bad as
nitroglycerin—the friction of two crystals rubbing against each other could be
enough to set it off.

 
          
The
explosives-laden pallet was placed toward the front of the plane to keep it
closer to the L-600’s center of pressure, where aerodynamic forces were more
balanced—no use whipping the pallet around unnecessarily. Cazaux was not the
best pilot in the world, but he had not lost a shipment of weapons yet in over
ten years. Although his copilot, the Stork, always checked the security of each
holddown strap in his cargo bay several times before and during each flight,
Cazaux himself triple-checked the security of all the straps on the third
pallet, then double-checked the security of the middle pallet.

 
          
A
few moments later, one of the beefy loaders came up to the entry hatch nearest
Cazaux. “All cargo loaded aboard as ordered,” he reported.

 
          
Cazaux
maneuvered his way aft to the third pallet and inspected the Stinger coffins.
He had placed an almost invisible pencil line on each crate lid that would
clearly not be aligned if the lids had been opened—none had been touched.
Cazaux made a few tugs on the straps and several hard pushes on the stacks of
crates and found them secure. He reached over to the second pallet and
extracted three packets of cash. “Good job, gentlemen,” Cazaux said. “Your work
here is finished. That buys your silence as well as rewards you for your labor.
See to it that silence remains golden.”

 
          
The
loader’s eyes flashed with delight when he saw the bundles, but they just as
quickly blinked in surprise when a large switchblade stiletto suddenly appeared
in Cazaux’s hand out of nowhere. Cazaux’s eyes registered the loader’s
surprised expression, and his handsome face smiled, if only for a brief moment.
Then he dropped the packets into the loader’s arms and drew the stiletto’s
razor-sharp edge across one of the packets. The loader’s greedy hold on the
money packets allowed waves of one-hundred-dollar bills to ooze out of the
incision. “Count it,” Cazaux said casually as he folded the switchblade and
instantly returned it to whatever secret place he had drawn it from.

 
          
“Not
necessary, sir,” the loader said breathlessly, turning to leave. Cazaux looked
a bit perturbed at first, then shrugged and nodded as if silently acknowledging
the man’s offhanded compliment. “Call on us anytime, sir.”

 
          
“I
could use some men like you in my operation,” Cazaux said to the back of the
man’s head. “Join my team now, and you’ll make that much cash, and more, on
every mission.”

 
          
The
loaders stopped, looking at each other—obviously none of them wanted to accept,
but they were afraid of the consequences of saying no to Henri Cazaux. But one
black man turned toward Cazaux. “Yo, man, I’ll take it, right here.” The other
loaders, all white, looked relieved that the lone black had left them.

 
          
The
black guy was big, with beefy shoulders and arms and a broad, massive chest,
but with a bit of a roll of fat around his middle and a spread in his ass, like
a veteran truck driver, a played-out boxer, or an ex-artillery loader turned
couch potato. His eyes were clear, with no hint of dullness from drugs or too
much alcohol, although the flabby waist and chest said this guy downed at least
a case of beer a week. “Do you have a passport?” Cazaux asked him.

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