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Strait Flush Ch 10 Saturday 1115
Strait Flush Ch 10 Saturday 1115
The next flight to Manila didn't leave soon enough, thought Tom. It would've been great to be on the ground when the C130 rolls to a stop. The Philippine Air 767 approached the capitol city through the cloud cover at 10,000 feet. The Philippine Islands spread below his window, the green hues of the cultivated fields, mixed with browns and tans, lined with dense dark green jungle. Mountains bunched together, revealing tiny cracks that can only be called valleys at ground level. Villages came into view as the plane lowered toward the earth. This is the Bataan Peninsula, thought Tom. He had been here before, but not since his military days.
The plane circled around a jut of land that marked the northern side of the inlet to Manila Bay. A teardrop-shaped island and its smaller counterpart stood sentinel at the mouth. Corregidor and Caballo Islands. The historic last stand as the Japanese overtook the island in 1942, was it? The Bataan death march that followed. Manila lay on the east side of the enormous bay, poised delicately, it seems, on a narrow strip of land between the bay of its name and Laguna De Bay. The 767 lowered its landing gear and began its final approach. It was a postcard day in the capitol city.
The plane had not touched down completely when Rossi spotted the white C130 parked near a hanger at the cargo area. Peering into the rising heat of the taxiway, he could make out the numbers on the tail section and was sure about the identity. He clutched his briefcase tightly and snaked his way forward as soon as the plane signaled the debark sign. The luggage would have to wait.
Rossi trotted down the long terminal and came to a Y-intersection, lined with duty-free shops on both sides. Ahead were the customs desks, ready to stamp his passport and fish through the briefcase. The $30,000 balance of Marty's fees were in an envelope, the customs official said nothing as he passed Tom through. After the baggage area, another customs desk that waved Tom through. Behind the customs officials was a series of windows for money exchange. Tom cashed $100 and strode out into the driveway and hailed a taxi. The Philippine heat immediately swathed Tom in a blanket of wet air and he started to perspire. The palm trees lining the roads and the multicolored Jeepneys brought Rossi back to a country he left long ago. A blue cab pulled up to the curb.
"To the cargo area, quickly." The driver was a chubby Filipino in a flowered shirt. The cab sped around a series of loops and returned to an overpass leading to the commercial area of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. I wonder if they put a marker at the spot where he was slain, thought Rossi, recalling the controversy of the late President Marcos and his longtime ally, Aquino. Ninoy was in exile in the U.S. and was returning to the Philippines a hero after years of martial law throughout the archipelago. He never made it off the plane when armed policemen and a mystery man gunned him down.
The cab approached the commercial gate and Tom got out. A concrete driveway lined with trucks of assorted sizes wound its way to a fenced area. Two policemen stood at the gate. Workers passed through the gate without question, Tom wished he could be so lucky. He wasn't.
The policemen, both wiry and polished in their blue uniforms and brimmed hats, instructed Tom that it was for commercial traffic only. Rossi indicated that he had to go to the C130 around the corner and speak to the pilot. Tom showed his passport when asked and was admitted through.
The Hercules was backed up to the hanger bays; the area around it was a scene of activity. Its ramp was down, engines off. Apparently, it had only been there for less than an hour when Tom landed.
Rossi ran up the ramp and into the bowels, feeling like a victim returning to the scene of the crime. The plane was vacant, of course. Tom didn't know what he was expecting to find. He hopped up the ladder to find an empty cockpit, then back into the cargo bay. The pile of tarps looked disturbed.
Tom pulled off the top tarp and reeled back. Underneath was Marty, barely recognizable from the color of the skin and lips. He was wearing the same clothes as he did at the beginning, stomach-down on the tarp pile, his head turned sideways, eyes open and dusty. A patch of blood was drying between his shoulder blades. Shot once. Tom examined the body closer for a moment, then ran out the back ramp to notify Li.
It had been years since Tom had seen a dead person that he knew. The ones in Vietnam didn't count, you learned to accept those corpses like a carstruck deer on a U.S. highway. Marty was different, he was alive only hours earlier, not more than a day. He was a good guy, Rossi knew that he was getting to know the ex-fighter jock well enough to see him in years to come. Or so it seemed. The other problem was the fact that Marty was shot while in Tom's employ. Tom felt as though he alone knew a terrible secret. It was his choice to magnify the situation.
Rossi stumbled off the rear ramp and almost ran into two Asians in coveralls, one wearing sunglasses, sauntering towards the ramp. Both jumped as Tom approached, then began jabbering and attempted to stop him as he passed by. Both were shorter than Rossi by nearly a foot and seemed reluctant to stop the big American.
Sunglasses was on Tom's left and grabbed Rossi by the arm, jerking him clockwise. The other, seeing his friend's attempts did likewise. Rossi, still in a daze from the discovery, stopped and focused briefly on sunglasses. He dropped the briefcase and wrested his right arm free, then slammed his fist into the thin man's chest. Immediately the jabbering stopped as the sunglasses flew from a face that lost interest in detainment. The Asian released Tom's arm and staggered backward as Rossi spun toward the other. Realizing his predicament and the nationality of the attacker, the pilot switched to English as he backpedaled to safety.
"Stop, you!" It was nearly comical for Tom to watch the little man retreat. "Why you in ouah airprane?! What you doing?!" Tom glanced over his shoulder to watch for the first pilot, satisfied, he took two steps and lunged at the second in a quick right cross. The Asian's attempt to block the blow was in vain as his left cheek took the full impact and buckled his knees. Tom caught the man's overall collar as he fell and twisted clockwise, throwing the second pilot into the first. Both landed in a noisy heap of arms and legs near the ramp base. Tom leaned over the two, face flushed with anger, fists clenched. The two pilots were still.
"Your plane? You've got some serious explaining to do before I rip your heads off."
The two looked at each other and appeared to distance themselves, still too scared to stand up. Sunglasses spoke.
"We were hired to fry this plane to Manila from Singapoah. What is going on heah?"
"This plane belongs to a friend of mine, pal. He's the only one supposed to be flying it."
"We don' know nothing about yoah fren'" Sunglasses was getting anxious. "We hire to do one job. I don' ......"
"Shaddup. Where is the cargo?"
"The prane was em'tee. We been here almos' one hour. We drop stuff in Changi and fry heah. Several big boxes. Two workers."
"Get up. Go inside the plane, I'm going to show you something." The two stood quickly and cautiously moved into the interior of the C130. Tom glanced around to see if the scene attracted any unwanted attention and was satisfied that it hadn't. He picked up the briefcase and stood in front of the two in the darkened bay, sensing their fear.
"You said you were hired to fly from Singapore to here? But where is the cargo? Where did you start? Who hired you?"
"We hired by man in Singapoah from Bangkok. We both frew in Sou' Vietnamese Air Force in nineteen seventies. We have charter service in Thailand now. We haf legit business. No drugs. No nothing, just legit ca'go."
"Where did you first see this plane?"
"At Seletar Airport, early dis' mo'ning."
"Where is Seletar Airport?"
"It is commercial airport in Singapoah. North side of Singapoah."
"It was already there when you got there? Did you see the pilot that flew it in?"
"Yes. He wave to us as we got on. The owner was talking to us as soon as we land."
"What did this owner look like?"
"He was Malaysian or Filipino, perhaps Javanese. I don' know him. He pay us to fry."
"And the pilot, what did he look like?"
"He was also from Malaysia, maybe Philippine'. I did not see very good."
"And the plane had cargo?"
"Yes, many boxes. We took to Changi and a crew unload foah us, then we fry to Manila. We have tickets to fry back to Changi and then we take own plane home."
Tom was thinking a mile a minute on the story. They could be innocent of the hijack, but it was getting clearer. "Did you see any Americans on the plane?" The two looked at each other quizzically.
"No, we didn'. Now you answer question. Who are you and why you here asking us abou' this?" Tom motioned the two to follow him as he walked over to the tarp pile. He lifted the top to gauge the Thais' reactions and guessed correctly. The two stared in disbelief.
"This is the pilot and the owner. You are both involved in a hijack."
"We don' know anyt'ing about this!" It was the second pilot's turn to wail now. "We jus' hire to fry plane." Tom dropped the tarp and straightened.
"What hanger was the plane at in Seletar?"
"I donnot know numbah." Sunglasses spoke. "It was by main road, second from gate end. A long way from towah." Tom thought for a moment. The arms are still in Singapore. Are they worth finding? Tom needed to call Li, since it was his money to begin with.
"Wait here. I'm going to make a phone call."
"No, not by body. We wait outside airprane."
"Fine, but don't go anywhere. I'm sure you're innocent, but the police will want your stories." He turned and walked back into the sunlit opening and onto the concrete. Rossi spotted a telephone symbol at the edge of the building, opposite the gate end and quickly walked toward it. The booth was located out of sight of the airplane. He dropped a peso in and began to place a collect call to Li.
He noticed a slight young man in long hair walking toward him. An oversized T-shirt ballooned over his pants, his left hand in his front pocket. Something wrong, Tom sensed as the boy stepped closer like a shark in for the kill. The connection was made and Li voice answered the telephone when the boy was ten feet away. His left hand was deep into his pocket, his right moved to his waistband under the T-shirt. Tom watched in slow motion the hidden hand push up the muzzle of an automatic, exposing the hammer as the right hand found the grip and yanked it clear of the trousers. Rossi instinctively dropped the telephone receiver and lunged forward, smashing the ribcage of the boy in a blurring straight punch. The boy was driven to his back, clutching his side when Tom realized that the gun had flown up and landed several feet away. He sprang upon the pistol, but by the time he righted himself and swung the weapon around, the boy disappeared like a cat.
Shaken, Rossi checked the pistol. It was a worn .45 Colt Commander, shorter in magazine and barrel length than the issue .45, but every bit as deadly. Rossi checked the slide and saw fresh brass in the chamber. The magazine was full as well. He trotted back to the phone, dangling with a noisy Li in the receiver. Tom felt the adrenaline starting to course its way through his body, his hands began to shake.
"Li, this is Tom. We're in some serious trouble. The load is in Manila and the pilot's dead. The plane is here, empty. It looks like the Arabs and the Malaysian got together and got us to do the transportation for free. I told you..." Tom paused as he heard shouts.
"Tom, what is happening? The shipment is gone? Tom! "
"Li, I think we should just forget about this deal, it's way too hairy. If we could..." Tom dropped the phone as he heard several shots fired around the corner in the vicinity of the C130. "Li, I'll be right back. Stay on the line."
Tom had the .45 in his waistband as he ran around the corner and saw what had happened. The two pilots were sprawled on their backs, bloody. The area was littered with shell casing from an automatic pistol or machine gun, judging from the brass and smelled of the familiar cordite after a firefight. Several workers were on the concrete, face down in their own blood. More shots around the corner and Tom saw one of the two policemen stagger back, clutching his side and returning fire from his service revolver. After three shots, the policeman collapsed. A burst of automatic fire riddled his body. Tom pulled the .45 out and scanned the area for additional gunmen.
He was stunned. Too much death in a few minutes, especially after the attack at the phone booth. Now the area in front of the hanger had a surreal atmosphere. Rossi leaned over the two pilots, not knowing what to do.
Sunglasses had several hits in the chest, a bloody wound in the neck. He was dead when he hit the ground, thought Rossi. The second was still breathing despite being shot nine times in the chest, stomach and legs. Rossi leaned over the man, kneeling on one knee. The pilot's chest wound created a gurgling, sucking sound as he attempted to breathe.
"I'm getting an ambulance."
"Three gunmen. Three.." The pilot drifted off. Dead? Rossi sprang up open the briefcase. He stuck the $30,000 in his back pocket as well as some of the important papers. He tossed the briefcase into the C130 and dashed back to the phone.
"Li!" Tom shouted, still not believing that the events had just occurred.
"Tom. What is going on?"
"Someone just shot up several workers, two cops and the two pilots of the C130. I'm going to..." With a horrendous invisible wave and a deafening roar, Tom was knocked to the wall behind the phone as dust and debris cut into his face and arms. His ears started ringing immediately and his chest hurt from the pulsing shockwave that coursed through it. He dropped the telephone and sagged to his knees before realizing what had happened. A bomb. Also in the area around the C130. He picked up the phone, it was dead, and just as well.
Rossi ran around the corner and saw the carnage of the blast. The Hercules' wingtips were on the ground. The entire tail section was separated from the fuselage and inside the hanger building. The fuselage itself looked as if it were torn in half by some giant being, the sheet metal skin was peeled back, bright red flames gushed out of the hole, and thick, oily smoke billowed skyward. The concrete hanger was apparently not damaged, but the doors were swaying from the shock wave, and several light planes inside were tossed to the back of the hanger room like a child's playtoys. There were a dozen workers woven in and around the debris, not moving. The flames intensified and Tom was aware of the heat for the first time. Several workers staggered back, shouting, some injured. A sense of disbelief and alienation surged through Tom, he realized that his ears were ringing so badly that everyday sounds were drowned out. The two pilots were not even where he had last seen them, possibly blown into the hanger.
He looked around dazed and clenched the .45 tighter. Several workers appeared, pointing to Tom and jabbering in the singsong Tugalog, pointing at the American with the pistol. The one who threw his briefcase into the plane less than a minute before the explosion. The one who knocked down the two pilots that were shot minutes later. In the distance he heard sirens. More workers appeared from around the corner, where the two policemen lay on the pavement of the driveway, dead. All started jabbering and pointing Rossi's direction.
Suspecting the worst, Tom backpedaled toward the pay phone and sprinted to the chain link and barbed wire fence between hangers. Two 55-gallon drums helped catapult his body over the fence and onto the trunk of a parked car in the parking lot. He scrambled to his right, tucking the .45 into his waistband. A row of taxis stood at the end of the parking lot, the drivers out and gawking at the smoke climbing up over the hanger roof. Rossi went to the lead taxi and asked to be taken downtown flashing a hundred-peso note. The driver quickly hopped in and started the engine.
Rossi watched the police, fire trucks and ambulances speed toward the hanger as they made their departure, heading west on Mia Road, then turning north onto Roxas at the edge of the bay. For the time being, he was safe.
11/8/2005 4:14 am
Two Thumbs up for you Jim!!! Its a great privileged that was featured in your writings,...well, you did great in your description of Manila..dont worry...the pic in the post is the beautiful Taal Volcano..in Tagaytay City..one of the summer capital of the Phils. Im printing this one again...keep on writing Jim..you have a BIG fan here!!! MWah!!! Someday I hope to see your writings in books...dare to dream for that one ..you can do it...you already had a first buyer...ME.|
Love..Faith ..and Hope..
11/8/2005 2:50 pm
I have been waiting til I had time to sit and read all of your posted chapters in one sitting. I'm glad to say it was worth it. Well written and interesting reading. Can't wait to find out what happens next.
TY for the welcome/response in my blog. I have a feeling that young lady may have missed a very special night that you both could have remembered fondly.
11/9/2005 12:26 am
Wow...ladies...I'm thankful for your visits.|
Hi AsianLady..good to see you back. I'm like you..I need to wait a while and catch several chapters at once..
Hi Waggy! I'm going to need you to give me some insight into another chapter later on...I 'guessed' after light research on Kota Kinabalu on Sabah. Are you familiar with this area?
11/9/2005 12:30 am
Hi Sexy...you know I love your responses in my blog and I appreciate the feedback. I couldn't find an aerial photo of Manila so I settled on this one (you're GOOD...) but I remember a lot of the Philippines looking similar to this..|
Hey JustForFun..you're welcome and thanks for stopping in. There are 32 chapters in all...and quite honestly, I have a hard time finding time to blog...I comment whenever I can but the job keeps me busy. I wish I had more time to stay up with all the 'stuff' going on. I'm glad to be of any help to you....
11/9/2005 1:46 pm
as i said i\ll wait till its in print|
11/9/2005 3:49 pm
Great story Jim thanks for sharing it|
Now I've got to find time to catch up and read the beginning
Definitely let us know if you get it published
S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.
11/11/2005 10:20 pm
Thanks You, 'A'....I value your opinion as we all do..|
...so good to see you again...
11/13/2005 12:23 am
whew,its nice to read more about your story,knowing the place,I feel like I was there!|
11/13/2005 5:21 am
Thank You Bakekang...I have several Filipinas that are readers and I value all of your comments. Visit again...|