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“It
went fine, Francine. I need to schedule George on WCT three for a refresher on
checklist discipline—he missed a couple coordination calls. Other than that. .
.” The phone rang at Berrell’s console—the flashing button was the direct line
between the sector and the chief of the
Oakland
Air
Route
Traffic
Control
Center
. Oakland ARTCC, or
Oakland
Center
, was one of the busiest and most diverse
air traffic regions in the world, covering northern and central
California
and
Nevada
. “Southwest Air Defense Sector, Senior
Director, Lieutenant Colonel Berrell.”

 
          
“John,
this is Mike Leahy,” the deputy director of
Oakland
Center
replied. “I just got a call from a Special
Agent Fortuna of ATF. They have a fugitive smuggling suspect that just launched
out of
Chico
Airport
, and they’re asking for assistance. He’s
south westbound, not squawking. His ID code is seven-delta-four-zero-four.”

 
          
“Sure,
Mike,” Berrell replied. “Stand by one.” Berrell put Leahy on hold and turned to
his SD tech, Master Sergeant Thomas Bidwell. It was not unusual at all to get
calls like that from the FA A—that’s what the hot line was for—but to get it
directly from the deputy director of the Center was a bit unusual. ‘Tom,
Oakland
Center
has a recent fugitive departure from
Chico
airport, ID number
seven-delta-four-zero-four. Zero in on him for us. Don’t make him a pending
yet, just an item of interest. Request for support from ATF.”

 
          
“Yes,
sir,” Bidwell replied. He opened his checklist to the proper page, logged the
time of the request in the correct block, and passed the information to the
Surveillance and Identification sections—since this was a target already over
land, and the Sector Operations Command Center usually only tracked targets
penetrating the air defense identification zones, Bidwell had to get his
technicians to break out the new target from the hundreds of others on the
scope and display it to each section. On the phone, Berrell said, “Mike, I got
your slimeball on radar. Do you want to make him a pending or just monitor him
for you?”

 
          
“Monitor
him for now,” Leahy said. “I don’t know what Treasury wants to do. You might
want to get your flyboys up out of bed and thinking about heading toward their
jets, though.”

 
          
“Is
this an exercise, Mike?”

 
          

’Fraid not, Colonel,” Leahy said. “The pilot of this one is apparently some
hotshot gun smuggler. The suspect killed some ATF agents at
Chico
a few minutes ago. He’s got several tons of
explosives on board his plane.”

 
          
Berrell
rose out of his seat, pointed to an extra phone for Tellman to listen in on the
call, and rang a small desk-clerk bell on top of his console with a slap of his
left hand. Serious shit was going down. Technicians who were chatting and
taking a breather hurried to their stations and began scanning their
instruments. “What kind of plane is it, Mike?” Berrell asked.

 
          
“A
Czechoslovakian LET L-600,” Leahy replied after retrieving some notes.
“Twin-turboprop medium transport. Gross weight about thirty thousand pounds,
payload with full fuel about six thousand.”

 
          
“What
kind of explosives is he carrying?”

 
          
“You
name it,” Leahy replied. “Ammunition, demolition stuff, pyrotechnics. Suspect
might be connected with a National Guard armory heist a few years ago. You
heard of the name Henri Cazaux before?”

 
          
“Oh,
shit,” Berrell said, cursing under his breath. Had the world heard about Carlos
the Jackal? The IRA? Abu Nidal? “I understand,” Berrell said. “Stand by one.”
Fuck,
he thought,
this one’s going to happen.
A night intercept, over a heavily
populated area, with dangerous fugitives and someone like Cazaux on board.
Berrell never wanted to see his sector’s pilots or anyone on the ground put in
harm’s way, but if there was a way to gun down Henri Cazaux, Berrell wanted to
do it.

 
          
Berrell
turned to his SD technician, but Bidwell had been listening in and was ready
with the information Berrell wanted: “Sir, I recommend we put
Fresno
in battle stations,” he said. “I’m betting
he’ll make a run for
Mexico
, but we’ll have to wait and see. A cargo
plane like an L-600 has plenty of legs—he can go either to
Canada
or
Mexico
. But I’ll put my money on
Mexico
.”

 
          
Sergeant
Bidwell was seldom wrong—in fact, Berrell couldn’t recall when one of his
predictions was off the mark. Bidwell was always tuned toward economizing their
forces—predicting the flight path of the target and putting the closest
interceptors on the target. But Berrell had a feeling that the Treasury
Department and ATF weren’t going to care about economy on this one. They wanted
every throttle jockey in the Air Force ready to jump the bastard that killed
their agents. Cazaux was supposed to be as wily as he was psychotic, and
Berrell didn’t want anyone in his sector to drop the ball if they had a chance
to catch him. “All the same, get Kingsley and March suited up, too,” Berrell
said. “I got a feeling Treasury or the ATF won’t want to let this guy go as
long as he’s within radar range of the States. Let’s get Northwest sector
geared up in case this turns out to be a relay marathon, too.” The
Oakland
Center
phone rang again. “Senior Director
Berrell.”

 
          
“We
just got word from the Treasury Department,” Leahy said. “They want you to
intercept the target, accomplish a covert shadow, and stand by for further
instructions. It sounds like Treasury is leaning toward an intercept and
force-down. Treasury would like to try to force him away from populated areas
if possible, and then attempt to force him down at a less populated airport or
over water.”

 
          
“Mike,
I have Captain Tellman, the deputy sector commander, on the line. Repeat what
you just said.” The
FAA
Center
deputy repeated his message. “Mike, we need
to talk to Justice and Treasury right away and straighten those boys out,”
Tellman said, “because you know we don’t have any procedures for trying to
force an aircraft down.”

 
          
“You
can’t fire some shots across his bow, crowd him a little on one side to make
him turn?”

 
          
“You
been watching too much TV. We have no procedures for anything like that, and I wouldn’t
want to freelance something like that at night over populated areas with a
terrorist like Cazaux at the controls of a plane full of explosives. The
potential for disaster is too high, especially compared with the option of just
letting him go and shadowing him. But even if Air Combat Command approved a
maneuver like that, I don’t think it would work. If the target doesn’t comply
with visual, light, or radio signals to follow or turn, we either shadow him or
shoot him down. Period. Our procedures say we can’t get any closer than
searchlight range of a known armed aircraft, and I’m sure as hell not going to
have them try to turn a plane loaded with explosives—especially one piloted by
an operator like Cazaux.” “All right, Captain, I hear you,” Leahy said. “I’m
just passing on this ATF agent’s requests. Obviously he doesn’t know your
procedures, and he thinks you’ll do whatever he asks because of his dead
agents. We’ll have to conference- call this one with Justice. What’s your
recommendation?” “I’d gladly give the order to blow this scumbag out of the
sky,” Berrell said, “but your best option is to have us do a covert shadow on
the target, find out where he goes. Does ATF know his destination?”

           
“I don’t think so,” Leahy replied.
“He’s filed a VFR flight plan to
Mesa
,
Arizona
, but I don’t think anyone expects him to land there.”

 
          
“If
he goes away from the mainland, then we can talk about trying some heroics, if
you want to catch him so bad—and I think we’d all like to bring that bastard
down,” Berrell suggested. “But if he stays over
U.S.
soil, I recommend a covert shadow. My
fighters can follow him easily, and with our night-vision gear, Cazaux won’t
even know he’s being tailed by an F-16 Fighting Falcon. Have ATF agents
leapfrog after us in jets or helicopters, land when he lands, then nail him.”

 
          
“Stand
by, Colonel, and I’ll pass that along to Treasury,” Leahy said. The reply did
not take long: “ATF didn’t see anything wrong with just putting a missile into
him,” Leahy said, “but the Treasury Department okayed the shadow. They’ll be
putting the official request for support through channels, but I’m authorized
to request assistance now.”

 
          
“You
got it, Mike. I concur and agree. Stand by.” He turned to Captain Tellman, who
had been listening in on a companion phone at Berrell’s console. “What do you
think, Francine?”

 
          
“Well,
I’m with the covert ID and shadow also,” the Navy captain replied. “What’s his
track?”

 
          
Berrell
checked the radar once again. “Still heading southeast, away from San Francisco
Class B airspace,” he said. “Class B airspace,” what was once called a Terminal
Control Area, was the high-density air traffic airspace over San Francisco
airport, the fifth-busiest airport in the United States. The target was
approaching the “upside-down wedding cake” of the class B airspace, so
technically he was clear, but San Francisco International averaged one landing
and one departure every sixty seconds all day long, and the target with
fighters in pursuit was definitely going to mess up air traffic if he decided
to veer back toward San Francisco.

 
          
“I
agree with Sergeant Bidwell, except I think we ought to move on the target as
soon as possible in case he heads for the Sierras and we lose him,” Tellman
said. “Scramble
Fresno
, put Kingsley at battle stations, and suit up March. We should also get
the alert AW ACS airborne from Tinker in case he tries to hide in the
mountains.” The Air Force E-3 Sentry AW ACS (Airborne Warning and
Communications System) was a radar plane designed to look down and track aircraft
at all altitudes from long range—if their target made it over the
Sierra Nevada
Mountains
before a fighter found it, ground-based
radars could lose it. ‘Til get on the horn to the commander.”

 
          
“Roger,”
Berrell said. He opened his checklist binder, got out his grease pencil, then
turned to Sergeant Bidwell and said, “Okay, Tom, make the target a Special-9,
covert ID and covert shadow.”

 
          
“Yes,
sir,” Bidwell said. He opened up his own checklist, filled out the first few
squares, then announced over the building-wide intercom, “Attention in the
facility, attention in the facility, target ID number
seven-delta-four-zero-four, designate a Special-9, repeat, Special-9 covert
intercept, stand by for active alert scramble
Fresno
. All duty controllers report to your
stations. All duty controllers report to your stations.”

 
          
“SD,
this is the WAO, we have positive contact on target ID
seven-delta-four-zero-four, confirm ID.” The WAO, or Weapons Assignment
Officer, was the overall supervisor of the section of the command center that
controlled the fighters from takeoff to landing and monitored the entire
intercept.

 
          
“Target
ID seven-delta-four-zero-four, confirmed, WAO, you have the intercept.”

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