After 450 pages and well north of 200,000 words, Holly patiently continued to correct my tenses, change my often misused words, and generally tried to teach me what I should have learned years ago. Do they offer Sainthood for editors? I would also like to express my thanks to those of you that have followed my attempts at writing since the first chapter of Princess of the Desert. Your comments and encouragement are the primary reason I have continued to pursue this new hobby, and will continue to do so in the future. I thank you, and now I offer you the final chapter of Tears of the Princess.
Tears of the Princess
By Melodie Thomas
Edited by Holly Hart
Saturday, October 30, 2010
“Raymond Jay Lattimer, Annapolis class of seventy seven, ten years as a member of the U.S. Navy SEALs. Service record is classified, but his decorations listed here look like they belong in a memorial. He got the Navy Cross, twice, Silver Star, Purple Heart, with clusters, plus many, many others. Joined the CIA in eighty nine and is currently listed as the Deputy Director of the Special Operations Group.” I was updating Abdullah on what we had learned from Kathy’s phone call and follow up email.
Lin and I were sitting in Abdullah’s office, where we had been since just after breakfast. After Kathy’s phone call, she sent me an email with a listing of everything she could find on the guy that was identified for her by one of the secret service agents that was on the Albuquerque detail, who only agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity.
“The SOG is the paramilitary section of the Special Activities Group, the black of the black, the CIA’s private army.” I continued, sliding documents across the coffee table where Abdullah could read them, Lin had already gone through everything with me, four or five times. “She wasn’t able to get a recent picture, but was able to get a couple of him from Annapolis, as well as his early military career. Compared to the one we have of him from the FBI office in Phoenix, it is the same guy, he hasn’t changed much.”
“I agree.” Abdullah said comparing the pictures.
“Kathy also said no one has seen or heard from him in the last three days.” I said looking Abdullah in the eyes, “He is on his way here, I know it.”
Abdullah nodded, “Actually, I am afraid to say, I think they are already here.” Abdullah placed a bar graph on the table. “This represents all of the immigrations arrivals for the past sixty days, at all ports of entry, of males traveling on western passports, arriving in groups of three or less. You can see our history shows an average of three to five per day, with a few random spikes. However, if you look at the last four days, you will see those numbers have more than tripled on some days.”
“You think those are the CIA people?” Lin asked with concern in her voice.
“Yes, I do.” Abdullah sighed. “The data became available yesterday evening. We immediately collected the names and pictures of all of the arrivals and sent field agents out to validate where they were. So far, seventeen of them did not check into the hotel or resort that they said they were going to on their immigration forms. We have a few more to look into, but it is not looking good right now.”
“The timing is right,” I said to no one in particular, “Anya would have figured out last Sunday that something was wrong, maybe taken an extra day to do some checking of her own before calling Smith, I mean Lattimer. After he figured out what was going one, it took a day or two to get his people activated and start moving them into position.”
Lin reached over and took my hand, “Dan, I am scared. Are they coming after you? Please tell me the truth.”
“No, sweetheart, I don’t think so. If they were just after me, they would not send a small army, one, maybe two operatives, but not a small army. They aren’t going to start a war with Malaysia and they will not want to cause an international incident. These guys work in the dark; they will not want any traceable attention brought to them. They are coming for one reason, to close the leaks of the people that can truly tie Lattimer to this whole operation.”
“I agree,” Abdullah added with a soft smile at Lin, “if Dan happens to get in their way, I don’t think they will pass up a shot at him, but they are not coming after him. No, they are after Anya, Robert, Yunram and Chaiket.”
“What are your thoughts, Abdullah?” I asked.
“We have already spread the passport pictures of the seventeen to all cities up and down the coast with locate and apprehend directives. If nothing else, they are in violation of immigration rules. I have posted instructions at the hospital that any western male entering the hospital is to receive ‘personal assistance’ from the Malaysian Royal Police. If his picture matches one of the seventeen, he will get personal assistance from me.
“Yunram and Chaiket have already been moved to the detention center and are in isolation, only hand selected guards are allowed near them. As for Brajovik, there is not much we can do.”
Abdullah reached behind his chair and placed a small case on the table, “Even though I agree that you are not a direct target, I will contend that you are a target of opportunity.” Abdullah opened the case and removed two Sig Sauer nine mm semiautomatic pistols. “I will have a police escort on the two of you at all times from here forward, however I would feel better knowing you had the ability to bite back if necessary.”
Abdullah then pulled two identification cards out of his shirt pocket, “These are weapon permits that allow both of you to carry a firearm in Malaysia.”
“But…” Lin stuttered, “I don’t know how to shoot.”
“I know,” Abdullah answered, “You will get some instruction on the range this afternoon, but I would still feel better if you had it available to you, hoping you never have to use it.”
Monday, November 1 2010
The balance of Saturday and all day Sunday was nerve wracking and quiet. The number of suspects entering Malaysia stayed at seventeen, but none of them were spotted. The teams exploring the islands had found nothing of interest so far. We were just sitting and waiting. Lin spent most of Saturday afternoon, and some of Sunday at the practice range with the pistol instructor that Abdullah supplied. After getting over the initial fear of using the weapon, she started to have fun with it. She could actually hit the targets pretty good by Sunday afternoon, but she was more like a kid with a new hobby. Under a stress driven situation, I was not sure she could handle it. I hoped we did not have to find out.
Charlie was released from the hospital on Monday, and given permission to travel. He and Maria informed us on Sunday that they were going back to the Philippines for a while. I could tell it was really bothering Charlie, which in turn bothered Maria, that he was leaving his team in the field. However, he admitted there was nothing he could do but get in the way, and if he wasn’t here at all, we would not have to worry about him.
I arranged for an ambulance to take him and Maria straight to the airport so we could keep him in a wheel chair, at least until he was on the plane. Lin, Sunan, Rachana and I met them at the airport for our goodbyes. It was a pretty emotional send off, but I was happy to have Charlie and Maria out of the line of fire. I wish I could have sent Lin with them, but hell would have to freeze over first. Maria and Rachana seemed to have struck up a growing friendship, and she made Sunan promise to take Rachana to the Philippines for a visit, which Sunan quickly agreed to. I wished they were going too. We all stood around the airport until the flight status board indicated their flight had departed, then, with nothing else to do, we headed back to the hotel, our security detail in tow.
The four of us had just settled at a table in the hotel dining room for a late lunch when my cell phone rang.
“Abdullah,” I answered, “what’s up?”
“We have an interesting development here. I am not sure it means anything yet, but it is not normal.” Abdullah responded.
“Okay.” I prompted; anything that was not normal would be something of interest right now.
“The guys chasing down the records on all of the islands in our search area have come up with something interesting. One of the smaller islands in the northern group is listed as privately owned by a Malaysian corporation that manufactures clothing. Yesterday, we were able to contact the Chief Financial Officer of the corporation and asked him about their island. To make a long story short, he got back to us about an hour ago with confirmation that they do not own an island anywhere.”
“Okay,” I responded tentatively, “so someone buys an island, but lists in under someone else’s name. How do they pull that off in the records? Isn’t some kind of identification required?”
“I have a theory on that, but only a theory so far. We are searching further back in the records to see if we can find when this transaction took place. If someone had enough cash to buy the island, and a little extra to help the officials get their paperwork done faster, it is possible that some corners were cut in validating identifications. Now, I should warn you that Malaysia’s property records are not the greatest, or best kept.”
“In the meantime, can we refocus some of the search teams?” I asked.
“Already started,” Abdullah responded, “I sent a fishing group and a photography group towards the island and asked for more airplane pictures. We will just have to wait and see. If anything comes up, I will call you later. Otherwise, why don’t you plan to come into the office first thing in the morning?”
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Most of the Cambodian victims, with the exception of those still in the hospital, had already started their journey home, so Lin went to police headquarters with me. We were sitting in Abdullah’s office discussing what we knew, or what we thought we knew. There were no new developments overnight, and we were still waiting for reports from the teams looking into the privately owned island.
“We need to just take an armed force and go talk to the people on that island.” I said more out of frustration then real intent.
Abdullah smiled, “Even here in Malaysia, we need a little be more to go on before we can invade private property.”
“I know, I know.” I sighed as someone knocked on Abdullah’s office door.
A uniformed officer entered the room and handed a large envelope to Abdullah and left. Abdullah pulled out the three sheets of paper and started reading.
“Okay,” Abdullah said, “now we are getting someplace. Our group was touring around in a fishing boat, near the island in question, and they were met by a boat from the island that carried three heavily armed men. Our guys were informed by the men from the island that all water within three hundred meters of the island was considered private, and they should not be there.
“The first thing that was wrong with this picture was that the men from the island were carrying automatic weapons, which are not allowed to be owned by private citizens. However, following their orders, my people apologized for intruding and left the area without an incident.”
Abdullah continued reading in silence for a moment, “Oh, this is interesting too. As our guys were motoring away from the island, they spotted another fishing boat with three occupants, all white Caucasian, that appeared to be very interested in the island as they were fishing with binoculars and high powered camera lenses.” Abdullah continued to read to himself, and then a large smile crossed his face. “It seems that the Capitan of my detail took it upon himself to contact a local pilot that tows the advertising banners for the local resorts, and convinced him he needed to advertise over this specific island, with the good Capitan aboard. As a result, we have some low altitude pictures of the island and of the other fishermen on their way to us. If this works out, that Capitan may be due a promotion.”
Abdullah looked up at me with a smile, “I think it is time for us to go to work.”
As we left Abdullah’s office, he sounded like a machine gun, firing off instructions to all the people in the outer office area, and people jumping and running in all different directions. Within a matter of minutes, the conference room that we used to plan the assault on the hotel was a beehive of activity with people hanging maps of the area, nautical charts showing the ocean depths and contours around the island, setting up projectors and screens. The commanders of his commando units, those that were in town, started arriving one at a time, and instantly started assessing the situation and issuing their own directives. Telephones and speakers were set up on the table so those commanders that were in the field with the reconnaissance teams could call in and join via the phones.
About an hour after the activity started, a couple of uniformed officers entered the conference room carrying large blow-ups of the pictures taken of the island and the other fisherman. Pictures of the questionable fisherman had circles drawn around each face with a line leading away to a passport picture that was taped to the outer edge. Two of them had been identified as part of the missing seventeen, but a clear image of the third face was never visible, so identification was not possible.
Pictures of the island were of the most interest. The island was covered with heavy foliage and trees, hiding many of the features of the land itself. On the southern side of the island, a fairly large boat dock and pier could be seen, with a road leading from the boat dock to a large house, or better described as a mansion. The road leading to the house formed a circular driveway in front of the house, with a smaller road leading from the driveway to the eastern side of the house, stopping at a second, smaller house that had two jeeps parked in front of it.
Behind the main house, there were two large, rectangular buildings that appeared to be made of cinder block, with metal roofs. If I were looking at the farm land of Arizona, I would consider them tractor sheds, shops, or even livestock barns. There did not appear to be any established roads between the main house and the outbuildings, but the ground was clear and what appeared to be walking paths could be seen. Someone had drawn a couple of circles on the photographs in an area just inside the foliage surrounding the outer buildings. Blowups were made of this area, which showed a fence, estimated to be seven to eight feet tall, topped with inward leaning razor wire, the type used at prisons to keep people in.
The brainstorming session lasted for hours, with the premise that the island was full of hostiles and our goal was to take them into custody with minimal blood loss. Taking the island by surprise was going to be a very difficult task. Over three quarters of the coastline was made up of rocky wave pounded outcroppings, and the density of the foliage made it impossible to tell what surveillance, alarms or other early warning devices may be hidden there, perhaps even booby-traps. The simplest water landings would be the beach area to the south of the main house, around the boat dock, but that was also the area most easily defended, as our assault would be coming in a confined corridor. The use of helicopters was discussed, but there was no way to disguise their approach. This wasn’t a city area, where the noise could be disguised in the background. Even muffled, approaching choppers could be heard a long way out.
I mentioned to Abdullah that he needed to borrow a Navy SEAL team, he just smiled and pointed to three men at the back of the room that I had not noticed, or seen before, studying the nautical charts. These appeared to be hard men, steel eyes, leather skin, and every movement revealed a ripple of muscle under their uniforms. He explained that they were members of the Malaysian PASKAL, their version of the SEALs with over half of their members actually completing BUDS training at Coronado.
As the evening started to draw to a close, Abdullah announced that he wanted a plan to take down that island, and he wanted it by the next evening. Also, the command center in Kuala Lumpur was too far from the target area to be effective. The next morning, at ten am, a charted jet would move the command center to Sitiawan, a city within twenty five miles of the island, and everyone was to be on that plane by nine thirty. Abdullah and I also discussed if this was the right island, and all indication were it was, then Lattimer would probably also be using Sitiawan as a base of operations, because of its proximity. Abdullah ordered an intensified search in Sitiawan for any western male to be stopped, identified and questioned. There may be a few small uproars with embassies, but it was a risk worth taking.
Sunan and Rachana joined Lin and I for dinner at the hotel that evening. Conversation was pretty subdued as the impacts of the up and coming activity was weighing on all of us in one fashion or another.
“Dan,” Sunan started, “Do you need me to go to Sitiawan tomorrow?”
Sunan seemed nervous asking the question which made me think there was something else behind it. The truth of the matter was I would be happy if all three of them, Sunan, Rachana and Lin were somewhere else for the next few days.
“I don’t think it is critical, why?” I responded.
“Well… ah… well, Rachana wants to go back to Cambodia for a few days and I would like to go with her, if that is not a problem,” he answered bashfully.
I could not tell if Sunan was nervous because he was asking not to be involved in the action ahead, or because he was admitting he wanted to be with Rachana. I decided to not focus on either of them.
“Your work is done here, there are only a few victims left in the hospital, and Abdullah has a significant force going to Sitiawan, so I don’t see an issue if you want to take a few days and make sure Rachana gets home safe.”
I stole a quick glance at Lin and caught her staring at me, with a fleeting glimpse for sadness in her eyes; however, she smiled the instant she saw I was looking at her.
“Okay,” Sunan responded with a smile, “I think we are going to leave tomorrow afternoon if that is okay.”
Inside I was very happy with that direction. It meant I only had one other person to talk into being somewhere else for the next few days. I just had to figure out the best way to tell her, along with getting out the other question that has been on my mind for the last couple of days. Lin was going to be the hardest one to deal with.
When we returned to our room, I wandered out on the balcony while Lin used the restroom. I was staring out over the city, so lost in my own thoughts; I failed to hear her walk up behind me.
“Are you trying to figure out how to tell me that you don’t want me to go with you tomorrow?” She asked as she wrapped both arms around me from the back.
I turned inside her arms so I was facing her with a smile, “Am I that easy to read?”
Lin returned my smile, “I think I am starting to get better at reading you.”
I sighed, “Lin, I…” but she stopped me by placing a finger on my lips.
“My darling,” she said, “I don’t want to be away from you, and I feel that my place is at your side. However, I also realize that I have no business being there, and if I were there you would be worrying more about me than about taking care of yourself. Maybe even taking risks you would not normally take, because you would be trying to protect me. I promised your mother, sister and Tina that I would take care of you, and, to be honest, as much as it hurts, I think the best way to take care of you in this case, is not being one of the things you have to worry about.
“I have been thinking about this since this afternoon, preparing myself for a fight. I knew you were going to tell me to stay and I was determined that was not going to happen. The problem is, as I worked through the arguments that I knew you were going to give me, I started convincing myself that you were right. At the same time, I feel like I am abandoning you by not being there, always at your side.”
I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her to me, “I love you Lin Vin, and you are always at my side, even when you are not with me.”
“You want me to stay here?”
“No, I want you to go back to Singapore, be where your Uncle can look out for you and you can be with my mom and Brenda. They are going to need some support as well, and they deserve to know what is happening here.”
“I am afraid that your mom won’t understand why I am not with you.”
“Mom is a smart woman. I think she will understand and respect your reasoning. Besides, you can always tell her I sent you back, then she should be mad at me, not for the first time.” I smiled.
Lin nodded against my chest but was quite. I felt her arms tighten around me and could hear a slight change in her breathing. “Please come back to me, Dan. I have never felt more complete in my life than when I am in your arms. I am not sure I deserve this kind of happiness, but someone thought I did when they brought you into my life.”
I chuckled, “Well, I would have to say that our first trip to Singapore turned out wonderful in many ways, for both Charlie and me.”
“How do you mean?”
“We both found something wonderful in our lives, and I don’t mean Singapore.” Lin tightened her embrace a little, “Which brings up another question I need to ask you and have been trying to figure out how.”
Lin pulled her head back from my chest so she was looking in my eyes, “Okay.”
I took a deep breath, “This is probably not the best time or situation, but, I just want you to know how much you mean to me, but there is something I want to know, there is something that has to change between us and I am afraid of your answer.”
“Dan, what is it? You are starting to scare me.” Lin said with a worried look in her eyes.
“I hope not too scared,” as I fumbled for the small box in my pocket.
I took a small step back, away from Lin. My hands were shaking so bad I could barely hold the box, let alone open it. “I don’t know how to do this, if I should get down on one knee, or order champagne, or what, so I am just going to ask the question. Lin Vin Wei, would you marry me?”
I opened the box showing the diamond ring that I had purchased a couple of days before, after the first night that Lin and I made love. There was no doubt in my mind this was the woman I wanted at my side for the rest of my life.
The shocked look on Lin’s face was frozen in time for what seemed like minutes, when it was really only seconds. She looked up from the box and into my eyes. I could see tears forming in her eyes.
“Dan, are you serious? You know I am not a real woman, and you know about my past, and I can’t give you children. Are you serious? Are you sure?”
I stumbled for words, “I only care about what happens from this minute forward, not the past. You are a real woman to me, and, yes, I am very serious, and very sure.”
I don’t know which one of us was shaking worse as I was trying to get the ring on her finger, but in the end we both ended up laughing as the ring slid into place, a place Lin vowed it would never leave.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
I delivered Lin to the train station Tuesday morning in time for the eight am train to Singapore. Letting her out of my arms to board the train seemed to take more physical strength than I thought I owned. I felt like a star in an old time movie, standing on the train platform watching the train pull away, with the face of the woman that I loved pressed against the window mouthing the words ‘I Love You’. I had only felt that kind of pain once before in my life, the day I buried Stephanie.
That was the last I was going to see or hear of her until this was over. We both agreed that phone calls were too risky, in case anyone was listening. I stayed on the train platform until the train was out of sight, knowing Lin had a three man security detail with her, and her uncle was waiting on the other end. I returned to the car that was waiting for me and headed to the airport.
From wheels up to wheels down, the flight to Sitiawan was only an hour long, but the mission planning activities never stopped. We moved into a crowded conference room at the Sitiawan police headquarters and worked late into the evening before a plan was ready to present for final critique. We had to work on the assumption that Lattimer’s team was working on a similar timetable to ours, so time was not a luxury that we felt we had, we need to move quickly, which meant taking more risk than we would have cared for.
The use of helicopters was ruled out for this mission. There were miles of open water that needed to be covered, so that the chance of exposure was too high. We would have them in reserve for evacuation from the island, but not for the insertion. The final plan that was proposed would have ten members of the Malaysian PASKAL approach the island first, from the rocky shore side, using rebreathers. Their mission was to penetrate the shoreline defenses, covertly if at all possible, and then move to securing the beach area for the landing of the main force.
The Malaysian Navy supplied us with a small troop frigate that would be loaded with three twelve man inflatable boats, one for the PASKAL and two for the main group, which would be deployed about three miles from the island. The boats would approach to about a mile from the island using small gas powered outboards, and then switch to silent electric outboards for the final landing, once the beach was secured. Both Abdullah and I would be on one of these boats. The assault on the island was planned for two am, Thursday morning. Wednesday afternoon all of the men and equipment were loaded on the frigate, and we left the harbor, steaming in the opposite direction of the island, with the plan to circle around after dark.
On board the ship, the planning and rehearsing continued. Equipment was checked and rechecked. I was given the same gear as the rest of the team, black jumpsuit, light body armor, ear bud radio, combat vest with flash bangs, spare magazines, side arm and combat knife. I was also given one of the Chinese bullpup assault rifles and taken through the drills on tearing it down, putting it back together; clearing jams and everything else I needed to know about it.
Four hours before we reached the PASKAL’s drop point, the ship converted to dark running, all lights off. The assault team was directed to rest, or whatever they needed to do to get their minds sharp and relaxed. I wandered up on deck, leaning over the railing watching the florescence of the waves dance in the darkness under what little light there was from the moon. My thoughts were on Lin and Stephanie, and missing both of them. I hoped Lin was safe, and hoped I would be back in her arms in a few days. I also thought of Charlie and Maria, and of Sunan, who had gone back to Cambodia with Rachana for a few days.
The effects of the last few weeks had been profound on Sunan. Even having lived through his own kidnapping, his experiences of working with the others and losing friends to the evils of human trafficking, cemented his place in Trail of Tears, vowing he was a lifelong enemy of the evil. Sunan had told me on the last day we were in Kuala Lumpur that Rachana was an orphan, and did not have a family to go home to. She had kind of latched on to him as a protector, and the more time they spent together, the more fond of her he became. He told me he was still having a hard time with the fact she was not female, and asked me what he should do about it. I told him to just look at the heart, don’t worry about the body, the heart and soul make the person.
“How are you doing, my friend.” Abdullah said slipping up next to me in the dark.
“I am doing okay, Abdullah, just thinking about friends.”
“You are a lucky man as you have some very good friends. Did you give her the ring?”
I smiled in the darkness, “I did.”
“Very good,” he said patting me on the shoulder. “Then I request an invitation to the wedding, regardless of where it is.”
“Of course, Abdullah, I would not consider otherwise.”
We were both quiet for a minute watching the waves. “Abdullah, how are we going to deal with Lattimer if we encounter them?”
Abdullah sighed, “I don’t want to get into a shootout with U.S. Government employees, but they are criminals in my country. Perhaps Lattimer himself is involved in all of this, but I doubt all of the men with him are. They are just doing the job they are told to do. At the same time, I will not put my men at risk, and if it comes to it, we will fight them like any enemy of the state. We will just have to see.”
Three hours later, the ship slowed to a near stop as the PASKAL team emerged on deck in their diving gear. The first inflatable boat was lowered to the water on the rear ramp and the team loaded up. The leader of the PASKAL team turned and saluted Abdullah, who was standing next to me on the deck. Abdullah returned the salute.
“This is what they live for,” Abdullah said, “but I hate sending good men into harm’s way.”
The inflatable slipped clear of the frigate, and I could see every man in the boat grab an oar and start moving the boat away from the stern of the frigate. The loading ramp was closed and the churn of the frigate’s props started again as we moved on in the night. We were just over an hour from our drop point, time to get ready.
An hour later the scene was replayed, but this time with two boats launching. With gear in hand, and life jacket on, I took my seat in one of the boats next to Abdullah. Abdullah and I were seated near the stern of the small boat. We would be the last ones off at the beach. I have never been much of a water person and the thought of bobbing around in a little rubber boat in the middle of a black ocean was bothering me more than what could happen on the island. Looking around me, at the darkened faces of my boat mates, I realized I was not the only one with butterflies, maybe each had different reasons, but we were all feeling them.
Both boats were launched and the pilots maneuvered us on course using the small gas outboards. We were to travel two miles before switching over to the electric motors and that was estimated to take about thirty minutes. The outboards were kept at no more than a strong idle to help with noise reduction, but the continuous rumble of the engines brought a welcome comfort in the open sea. So much so that when they were shut down twenty five minutes later, the silence was almost shocking. The hum of the electric motors was barely discernible against the sound of the water, as we slowly moved closer to our objective.
“Assault one, this is Ghost one,” the voice of the PASKAL leader could be heard on the radio; “we are not alone here. We found trip wires and booby traps at the coast. All had been deactivated or cut. We also found two cuts in the perimeter fence that would allow man passage.”
“Affirmative, Ghost 1, post guards on the perimeter fence and secure the beach area.” Abdullah answered.
“Roger, Inspector, stand by.”
“We are five minutes from the beach,” the driver of our boat announced.
“Hold here until we are clear.” Abdullah ordered and the boat pilot relayed the instructions to the other boat.
About ten minutes passed, “Inspector, Ghost one, beach secure. Come on in.”
Abdullah nodded to the boat driver who increased the throttle on the electric motor as well as passing the word to the other boat. A few minutes later the sound of water lapping up on the shore could be heard, followed by the scraping sound of our boat hitting sand. The first four men jumped from the bow of the boat into ankle deep water and proceeded to pull the boat further ashore, while the rest of us swung our feet off of the side of the boat, prepared to step off. The lead men off of both boats moved fifteen to twenty feet up from the water and dropped to their knees, weapons pointed outward, forming skirmish line, while the rest of us came ashore. As soon as both boats were empty, we moved up from the water, to the foliage at the edge of the beach to get out of the open.
Crouched in the shadows of the jungle, the teams were starting to form up for their individual assignments, when the leader of the PASKAL approached Abdullah and I.
“Sir,” the PASKAL leader started, “we encountered three tangos guarding this side of the compound. All three were wearing American flags on their shoulder patches.”
“Casualties?” Abdullah asked.
“No sir, as soon as the Americans recognized who we were, they pointed their weapons skyward and slipped back into the jungle. They did not engage us at all.”
Abdullah thought for a moment, “Okay, pass the word, do not take chances, but do not fire unless you are fired upon. I want prisoners taken without casualties if at all possible.”
The PASKAL leader nodded and starting issuing orders over his radio. The directive was also passed to the beach landing team.
The easiest path to the main house was to follow the road that lead from the boat dock, but that was also the easiest way to get spotted. Moving through the jungle also risked contact with trip wires and booby traps, as the PASKAL had already found. The original plan was to break our forces into eight three man teams and surround the perimeter fence, and cut our way in, at the same time a team worked their way to the front of the house, following along the road. A quick discussion with the team leaders, following the PASKAL’s discovery, resulted in agreement that surrounding the facility was still our best option, as we need to cut off the escape routes. Abdullah spread the word about the encounters with the Americans, if that is what they were, and warned everyone not to be trigger happy, but to defend themselves if necessary.
Abdullah, myself and four commandos, were going to follow the road from the boat dock to the front of the house. We moved quickly down the beach until reaching the road. Two of the commandos and I moved to the other side of the road, leaving Abdullah and two commandos on the opposite side. The plan was to hug the jungle at the edge of the road, but not enter the jungle.
The two commandos were in front of me, with about ten yards between each of us, as we snaked our way along the edge of the road. We just rounded a bend in the road and the main house was in sight, when the lead commando on my side of the road tripped and I could hear the snapping of a trip line. Instinctively, I dove for the ground just as a string of explosions started to my right in the jungle, and sequenced across the road to Abdullah’s side. It took a couple of critical seconds for me to realize what I did not hear. There was no screaming of shrapnel, no breaking of trees and brush, just the explosions.
I slowly raised my head and saw the two men in front of me doing the same. “Abdullah!” I whispered into my radio.
“We are okay over here.” I heard his response.
“Those were not mines, they were flash bangs!” I said.
“Why?” is all Abdullah said in response.
“Not meant to hurts us, just slow us down or stop us.”
Just then the new quiet of the night was shattered with the familiar barking of an AK-47 on full auto, coming from the direction of the main house, and the small house to the side. Radio chatter picked up as we confirmed that none of our people were currently being engaged. I signaled my commandos back to their feet, and patted each on the back as I worked my way up to them, making sure there were no injuries.
The AK continued to fire in spurts, and there were numerous small explosions going off around the main house and a few more coming from various parts of the jungle. Radio chatter confirmed that other parts or our force had also tripped flash bangs. I could hear weapons fire, probably pistols, coming from behind the house and the chatter on the radio was becoming overwhelming. I started moving up the road in a hunched over sprint. I over took the lead commando and took over the point position with both of them trying to keep up with me.
“Abdullah, hold back a little, we are going to try to get to the main house.” I whispered over the radio.
“Daniel, be careful.” I heard Abdullah’s warning.
The three of us move as quickly as we could down the edge of the road, watching for additional trip wires. We reached the circular drive way in front of the house and had about seventy five yards of open ground to cover to reach the front door. I pulled both commandos to me for a quick discussion on how to proceed. The best approach was for two of us to cover the crossing of the third. There was no way to reach the house using cover; a sprint across the open was our only choice. I told them I would go first and they moved into position on each side of me.
I jumped to my feet and had taken only a couple of steps when I spotted two figures dressed in black in front of the small house to the side of the main house. Both figures dropped to their knees, pointed their weapons in my direction and fired. I flew face first into the road as the sound of bullets ripped through the trees and shrubbery behind me. I quickly crawled back to the two men at the edge of the jungle as they laid down a cover fire. As I reached the edge of the jungle a realization hit me, they were not shooting at us. They were shooting to miss. All of the rounds fired in our direction had gone high into the trees, or raked across the road well to our right. Either these were the worst shots I had ever seen or they were doing it on purpose.
“Daniel, are you okay?” Abdullah’s voice screamed across the radio.
“I’m okay. They are not trying to hit us! They are trying to keep us away from the buildings!” I answered.
I could see Abdullah and his men reached the edge of the clearing on the other side of the road, and the two black figures near the small house had disappeared. One of the men with me tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to himself, and then pointed to a section of jungle to our right about fifty yards. From there he would have a better view of the small house. He was going to take a shot at it. I nodded and moved up beside him to cover him. He jumped to his feet and made the dash across the clearing. No shots were fired. As he reached his target, he made a hard left and took off running for the house.
His maneuver surprised me, but he was going to try to make it all the way. I jumped to my feet but stayed in a crouch trying to see the best I could around the small house for anyone. The commando was about half way to the main house, crossing directly between the small house and me, when the night became blindingly bright as an explosion completely demolished the small house. The shock wave rolled out from the flatten structure and swept the commando off of his feet and he vanished in the flash. The shock wave hit me in the face, lifting me off of my feet and throwing me back into the jungle.
A large bush cushioned my fall as I came back to earth at the edge of the jungle. Other than being stunned by the shockwave, I was uninjured. I scrambled back to the edge of the road while trying to regain my senses. The man that was still with me gave me thumbs up signal that he was okay. I could see the guy that had tried to reach the house lying in the middle of the clearing, not moving. I jumped to my feet and ran towards the fallen man while scanning where the smaller building had been. It was completely gone, nothing left standing. Windows on the east side of the main house were shattered, and a section of the roof on the main house had been peeled upward. I could not help the first thought that crossed through my mind as I ran, ‘…did you use enough dynamite there Butch?”
The blast must have damaged my radio, as my ear bud was no longer working. I reached the fallen man and slid to a stop on my knees, rifle pointing towards the main house, nothing moved. I check the fallen commando and found him with his eyes rolled back in his head and mouth open. He was dead. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Abdullah and his two men dashing for the front of the house. My remaining partner was kneeled behind me, covering my back. I tapped him on the side and took off for the house.
As I reached the front of the main house, I slammed my back against the wall on one side of the front door, while my partner did the same on the other side. Within seconds Abdullah slid up against me.
“My radio is out.” I whispered.
Abdullah did not ask about the fallen man. “Teams have penetrated the rear fence and are entering the two big buildings in back. They are reporting finding cells with nearly twenty people locked in each building, all feminized and some badly injured. The PASKAL are reporting capturing five of the Americans attempting to escape back to the ocean. They did not resist being captured once they had no way out.”
“Have your guys check the buildings for explosives, but they are to be careful not to touch anything. If they find anything get the hell out of there fast.”
Abdullah relayed the instructions as the two commandos with him moved up near the front door. I reached down and tested the door knob, surprised to find it unlocked. I signaled to the two commandos with Abdullah to cover the door as I opened it. If clear, I would enter first and my partner would follow me. After getting acknowledgments I slowly turned the knob until the latch released and pushed, quickly ducking back behind the wall.
Both commandos nodded, indicating the area was clear. I spun my rifle through the door, holding it in firing position as I moved inside with my partner directly behind me. The entry way was a hallway that entered a living space. As I reached the edge of the living space, I spotted the body of a man, not in uniform, lying face down on the floor in a pool of blood. Around the corner from him was another one in the same condition. There was a stairway heading to the second floor on my right, and I signaled the two commandos to take the stairs up.
With my partner behind me, and Abdullah behind him, I moved through the living room into what appeared to be a dining area. Two more bodies were found here, one of a man and the other of a woman. At least I thought it was a woman but would not know for sure until later.
On the opposite side of the dining area was another doorway, without a door. As I moved closer I could see this opened into another living area, almost a sporting type room with various pictures on the walls showing outdoor and ocean scenes. There was another body on the floor next to a couch, as I edged my way through the open door.
“Hello, Son. Good to see you alive.”
As I entered the room I spotted Lattimer standing in the middle of the room holding a handgun, but it was not pointed in my direction, but at someone sitting on another couch. A quick glance at the couch and the long dark hair caused my heart to skip, quickly thinking of Lin, but this hair belonged to Anya Brajovik.
“Oh, great,” Anya said as she saw me enter the room, “we have the whole fucking family reunion happening.”
“Despite your best efforts, I still seem to be that way.” I answered, never taking the sights of my rifle off of him.
Lattimer laughed, “Son, if I wanted you dead, you would have been dead a long time ago. No, I never tried to have you killed.”
The commando that was my partner moved to the back wall, covering all the activity in the room as Abdullah edged around the corner.
“What about Sloan in Baltimore?” I asked.
“Welcome, Inspector Abdullah, sorry that I can’t make proper introductions right now,” Lattimer said. “That is where you are wrong Dan; Ryan Sloan never worked for me. He worked for Evil Queen here. Actually, he worked for Vivian, but got a new boss a little over a year ago.”
That surprised me; I thought he was always part of the CIA. “So, what else have I got wrong? You want to tell me what is right? What this is all about?”
“Inspector Abdullah,” Lattimer said, “before I get into to Dan’s question, I would like you to know that my men are under specific orders not to engage your people. I would like to request you tell your team that, so mine are not killed unnecessarily”.
“Have them surrender and there will be no issue.” Abdullah responded.
“They will if they have no other options. I ask that you just give them the chance.” Lattimer said as he slowly moved to the opposite wall, never taking his gun off of Anya. “As for your question, Dan, I discovered Vivian’s operation with the Brajoviks a number of years ago. At first they were a terrorist threat to the U.S. and I had the goal to neutralize them. However, I later decided they could be a useful tool in battling other terrorist organizations, so we started doing business.”
“Kidnapping, torturing and brainwashing American Citizens is an acceptable tool to battle terrorism?” I asked sarcastically.
“Again, you are a bit off base,” Lattimer smiled as he looked at his watch. “It is true that many of Vivian’s initial victims were American citizens, mostly because Ms. Anya here was working to get the support money from her own government, and using Americans was the way she choose to try to get that support. However, part of the conditions that I laid out were no more American citizens were to be involved. The last batch that was taken from the U.S. contained your Stephanie.”
“Why did she have to die?” I asked and heard my own voice crack as I felt the anger boil up inside of me and my grip tighten on the rifle.
Lattimer sighed and a sad look crossed his face, “That sad truth to the matter, son, is she didn’t. That was all Vivian. She could not believe there was a flaw in her science, that the years of her work and programming could be overcome by the simplest act of falling in love. Vivian just would not let it go.
“I tried to convince her to just forget it. I could have kept the two of you chasing shadows for another year, if necessary, until you got bored with it and just went off to have your own life; pretended you were making babies, or whatever you wanted. She would not let it go.”
For the first time Lattimer took his eyes off of Anya and looked at me. I would swear I saw true sadness in his eyes. “I am truly sorry about that, son. I liked her, and I thought you two were good together. I am truly sorry.”
“Oh, so heartbreaking,” Anya said, dripping with sarcasm.
Lattimer smiled at her, “I can save you the heartbreak, Anya, if you will tell me where your other three girls are.”
“What other girls?” I asked.
“Three of her top performers, the last one from Stephanie’s group and two from the initial Thailand group are not here.” Lattimer said looking at his watch again.
“You keep looking at your watch,” Abdullah interjected. “Going somewhere?”
“Actually, we all are, Inspector. You may consider getting your people off of this island. In about seventeen minutes this place is going to become a hole in the ocean.” Lattimer said checking his watch again.
“How is that?” I asked.
“A cruise missile salvo was launched about three minutes ago. Combine that with the secondary explosives that my team has planted, this island will be pretty much flattened.” Lattimer answered.
“There is a military strike against my country?” I could hear the shock in Abdullah’s voice.
Lattimer smiled, “I think, Inspector, you will find your politicians and my politicians are already talking about it. Malaysia will be a hero for helping to destroy a terrorist cell.”
“What about the victims that are trapped here?” I asked.
Lattimer just looked at me and shrugged. “You had no intention of trying to get them out of here, did you?” I asked angrily.
“Sorry, son, the less loose strings the better.”
Abdullah paused for a moment then started talking in his radio. I turned to Anya. “You are being pretty quiet for someone at the center of all of this.”
She smiled at me, “Oh, I am just waiting.”
“Waiting for what?”
I saw Anya’s eyes shift to the back of the room the same instant I heard a grunt and gurgling sound. Turning in the direction of the sound, I saw a dark skinned woman holding the handle of a knife that sticking out of the neck of my partner. She was holding him in front of her and had already claimed his rifle. Another dark skinned woman was pushing Abdullah’s rifle over his head with one hand and held a knife in the other. I spun my rifle toward the woman attacking Abdullah, and touch off a three round burst into her right side as the other woman did the same in the direction of Lattimer.
The woman I shot spun sideways toward the door with three red spots growing rapidly on her side. I shifted the rifle to the other woman but did not have a body shot. She was trying to keep the commando’s body in front of her as a shield as she turned the rifle in my direction. With no better options, I changed the sight picture to her face and touched off another three round burst at the same time she did. Her face disintegrated before my eyes as her rounds went into the floor in front of me.
I suddenly felt like I was punched in the back as the wall next to me exploded into dust. I dove forward, rotating to my right, to see Lattimer on the floor and Anya standing with his pistol firing in my direction. I heard the impact of something solid behind me and a grunt as I brought my rifle in her direction, firing a burst before I completely hit the floor. As I slid across the floor, I saw three red spots appear on Anya’s chest as the force of the impact picked her up and dropped her back into a sitting position on the couch. She had an open mouth and a surprised look on her face as the pistol slipped from her hand, and fell to the floor.
I spun over on my back to check the two women that were at the door and both were down. I spotted Abdullah sitting on the floor with his back against the wall, still holding his rifle, eyes wide with excitement and pain. I checked Anya again to see her head lolling to the side, her eyes staring into nothingness.
I quickly got to my feet, holding my rifle at ready, and hurried to Abdullah. He was holding his left leg with his left hand, while keeping his rifle up.
“The bitch shot me in the leg.” Abdullah said through gritted teeth.
I used my knife to cut open his pant leg, showing the hole. I gently tried to move his leg to check the exit wound and was greeted with a deep groan from Abdullah and a grinding feeling in my hand. The bone was shattered, but the main artery had been missed.
“Just sit still, Abdullah.” I said as I moved to the dead commando, trying to ignore the gore and retrieved his radio.
“The inspector is down,” I said into the radio after putting it on. “I need a situation report from all teams.”
I moved across the room towards Lattimer while listening to the reports coming in. Most of the teams had worked their way back to the water. We had five prisoners from Lattimer’s team and about ten rescued hostages. Lattimer was lying on his back in a pool of blood, holding his right side and gasping for air fighting the pain.
“Don’t worry about me,” Lattimer said as he pushed my hand away, “I am bleeding out and will be dead in ten minutes. You could never get me to a hospital fast enough.”
I looked at him for a moment, “I have to try.” I said.
Lattimer tried to laugh, “Always the fucking boy scout.” He reached up and grabbed my shirt, “Get out of here, Dan. You have eleven minutes before this place goes to the moon. You are a good man, save those you can and put this mess behind you, it is over. I am sorry about Stephanie; I am sorry about all of it, don’t throw your life away too. Get the inspector and get out of here.”
The outburst took a lot out of him as he collapsed back to the floor with a groan. I was not the type of person that could just leave someone to die, but there was no way I could get both Abdullah and Lattimer out of here in less than ten minutes. I did a quick time check on my watch, looked Lattimer in the eye and nodded once, and moved back to Abdullah.
“Abdullah, this is going to hurt like hell, we have to get out of here.”
He just nodded and wrapped his left arm around my shoulder, giving out a loud groan of pain as I helped him stand on his right leg.
“Dan,” I heard Lattimer call from across the room, “there is one more out there somewhere. She may be on this island and she may not. But there is one more out there.”
I looked at him for a second, then started working Abdullah back through the door into the dining area.
“All teams, I am trying to get the Inspector out of the house. We have nine and a half minutes to be off of this island. Get everyone to the boats.” I screamed into the radio.
Abdullah was crying out in pain with each step and we were using precious time trying to get to the front door. We were losing minutes quickly, with only five minutes left we barely reached the entry way.
“Just leave me, Dan,” Abdullah cried, “I can’t make it, you go!”
I stared down the road in front of me. We had three hundred meters to cover to reach the water. “Like hell I will!”
I threw my rifle aside, leaned in front of Abdullah, hooking my right arm around his right leg and pulling his body across my shoulders. Abdullah screamed in pain as I lifted him and his left leg hung free behind me. The unfamiliar weight caused me to stagger for a moment, but I got myself pointed towards the door and started moving that way as fast as I could. I knew if I fell or dropped Abdullah I would never get him back up again, I just kept moving.
Turning sideways to get out the front door almost made me lose my balance, but we made it. Abdullah started to get quieter as I think shock started having an effect. Once I hit the open sand of the road, I tried to pick up speed, but was more stumbling forward under the weight than running. I had just cleared the driveway and started down the road when my right foot snagged on something and I fell forward, dropping Abdullah and crashing face first into the road.
I scrambled to my feet again, and hurried to Abdullah. He had passed out and try as I might, I could not get his dead weight off of the ground. A quick glance at my watch told me we were under the two minute mark and I felt panic rising inside of me. I screamed in fear and anger as I tried one more time to get Abdullah off of the ground, I pulled up on his left arm and was surprised that his body weight was gone, and he floated into the air, but not to me, but in the arms of two PASKAL members that suddenly appeared at my side. The two PASKAL men started running for the beach with Abdullah’s unconscious body between them. I stood there for a second until realization hit me, and I raced to catch up with them.
As we hit the beach and angled for the boats, I could see two of the overloaded inflatables already fifty yards off the beach with the gas outboards screaming under their load. The third boat was already floating and a line of men holding it to shore waiting for us. According to my watch we had less than a minute, but I only had a guess from what Lattimer had told me. The PASKAL carrying Abdullah reached the boat and started handing him off to others in the boat. I was only thirty feet from the boat when the ground started rumbling and suddenly night turned into day as the entire island lit up behind me. Everyone in front of me was diving for the boat or the water. I had closed to within ten feet of the water when the shockwave picked me up and threw me out to sea.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
“So, this is how it ends?” I asked, tossing the paper back on Kathy’s desk and looking at Ryan O’Keefe.
“This is how it ends.” Ryan said nodding.
I looked back at the headline on the paper.
Shutting Down Human Trafficking Terrorist Group
“The White House and the CIA came out with a full disclosure,” Kathy said from behind her desk. “They admitted to all of it, but claimed all of it was part of a covert action to capture or eliminate the terrorists. Even though it is a crock of shit, there is nothing left for us to chase here. We can’t prove anything. All we can do is add another conspiracy theory to history, similar to the JFK assassination.”
“It is probably not even worth trying.” I said to no one particular. “But, she is still out there, somewhere.”
Three days after the take down of the island, a nurse in Kuala Lumpur walked into Robert Brajovik’s hospital room and shoved a six inch dagger through his forehead. Security cameras at the hospital captured the picture of the same woman that had been in New York. She vanished without a trace.
“Yes, she is,” O’Keefe admitted, “and I would not be surprised if she had a CIA identification card by now.”
“What are you two going to do now?” Kathy asked.
“We are going home.” Lin answered, taking my hand, “I have a new home and a new family, and I hope to spend a lot of time with both.”
“You understand, Dan,” O’Keefe said, “that part of this whole story was your sacrifice to make it happen. You are being offered your job back with the FBI, and an increase in pay grade.”
I looked at Lin, “What does the future Mrs. McNeil think of that?”
Lin thought for a moment, “What is the saying used here, ‘when pigs fly’?” Lin smiled, “No, I think we will stay with our team and our friends at Trail of Tears. There are still a lot of people out there we can help.”
Kathy chuckled, “How is your Malaysian Inspector?”
“Better, now.” I answered, “He had four hours of surgery to install a titanium rod in his leg, but at least they were able to save the leg, though his days in the field are over.”
After getting the boat launched, and fishing me out of the water, the PASKAL operators, who are all cross trained as medics, were able to splint Abdullah’s leg. However, in a tactical oversight, there were no medical supplies on the small boats so Abdullah had to suffer through the pain until we could get him to the medical facility on board the frigate. He called me every name he could in more languages than I could count, but at the same time, would not let go of my hand, or let me out of his sight.
Once we got him to the hospital in Sitiawan, I called his wife and she was on the next flight. She arrived before they took Abdullah into surgery and he made sure to tell her, and everyone else that would listen, that he would not be alive if it weren’t for that God damn American with the horrific bed side manner.
Before they boarded their flight, the PASKAL commander gave me their version of the SEAL Trident, telling me I was an honorary PASKAL, though I could use some help with physical conditioning. I thank them and told them I could use some help with alcohol consumption, which they quickly volunteered for.
Lin tapped me on the arm and pointed at her watch, we had a flight to catch. We said our goodbyes and headed off to Dulles for the first leg of the connections that would get us back to Tucson. Once we reached the airport, the TSA inspectors must have thought Lin had lost her mind when she could not stop laughing when I was pulled aside for an extra inspection. I hate that airport.
When Lin had arrived in Singapore wearing my engagement ring, my mom was ecstatic and could not stop talking about how happy she was. Lin’s Aunt and Uncle joined the ecstatic club as well, knowing that someone was going to take care of their adopted child. Between them, Lin said the wedding talk kept her totally distracted from worrying too much about me, though she did, she did not dwell on it. That is, until she saw me get off of the train days later. Though I was not seriously injured, I was bruised, scratched and battered, and the sight of me brought all of her fears back in a wave as she ran tearfully into my arms.
We made it off the island that night with nine victims, five American prisoners and four less men than we started with. The two men that were with Abdullah and I died, along with two others that were attacked by the victims that were far enough along in their programming to be killers. The majority of the victims would not leave their cells in the two rear buildings, either out of fear or training. With no control over the explosives that had been set, or really knowing where all of it was, there was nothing that could be done but save those we could. The nine we could save were from four different countries and at the orders of the Malaysian government, were turned over to their respective embassies, and quickly vanished into the world.
The five Americans that were captured were never questioned and locked in isolation, by orders of Abdullah. Three days after the assault, they were quietly released and delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia, never to be seen again. The final action report was written up as a joint effort between the U.S. and Malaysian governments, and politicians being politicians, felt the piper had been paid, and votes gathered, there was no reason to continue the issue.
Lin had gotten word from Maria that Charlie was doing great and they both missed all of us. Their Philippine wedding date had been set for Christmas, and they were targeting Valentine’s Day for the U.S. ceremony. Lin and I already had tickets to spend Christmas in the Philippines, as did Charlie’s parents. Having an inside track to the planning, I already knew what Maria’s Christmas gift was going to be a full scholarship to Medical School in the U.S.
As our plane was on final approach into Tucson, Lin and I decided we needed to get to the cemetery before dark, each for our own separate reasons. Lin said she wanted to thank Stephanie, and I just wanted to tell her it was over. We grabbed a taxi to the house, stuck our luggage in the garage and took the Vette to the cemetery.
Everyone has their own beliefs and opinions on the here and hereafter. Everyone has their own thoughts on spiritual or divine guidance, guardian angels, and life after death. Was Stephanie’s involvement with Lin and me something that had really happened or was it just in our minds? Did Stephanie guide us through the paths of the case, and to each other, or were her images just the results of two wounded hearts, looking for something to believe in? I am not sure I will ever truly know the answer to those questions. However, what I do know, what I see as a point of fact, is when we rounded the hedgerow in the cemetery that gave us the first sight of Stephanie’s grave, a chill passed through both of us as we saw the black streaking tears of the Princess… were gone.
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