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Strait Flush Ch 9 Friday 1712
Strait Flush Ch 9 Friday 1712
The C130 glided smoothly into Dubai's International Airport. Tom and Marty held their breath, wondering if a police escort would take them back to their hanger.
The taxiway was quiet, save a few small twin-engine private planes chocked at their mooring. Marty pulled up the fueling area and asked Tom to stay near the bird while the refueler was summoned. He returned again within minutes, followed by a modern two-ton Ford refueler, emblazoned with the flag of the UAE. The process took several minutes, giving the two enough time to talk before parting.
Marty was anxious to move, it would be a long flight to Madras in the evening, the sunlight will soon die as the plane heads east. They said their goodbyes and Tom left for the taxistand. He had less than two hours to return and catch his Air Cathay flight.
At the hotel, Tom checked out and bid farewell to the lovely Belin, took a quick shower, retrieved his single piece of luggage and caught his last taxi from Dubai, or so he hoped. The prayer hour was over, the hotel was becoming more active. Tom watched the night overtake the dusk in the eastern sky as the cab sped towards Diera, across the river and south to the airport. He gave the cabbie a good tip and entered the terminal. So far, so good, thought Rossi.
He converted his Dirham back to US dollars at the airport exchange service and sat in the Cathay gate, waiting for the boarding call. Finally. None too soon. No sense in staying any longer doing grey-market arms trading with strangers in a country where heroin smugglers are beheaded.
Tom found his seat by the window on a half-full flight and felt a small exhilaration as the 747 accelerated down the runway and into the skies over the Arabian Gulf. The day's exertion had taken its toll; Tom soon fell into a much-deserved sleep.
Drifting in and out of sleep for the next several hours, Tom awoke when he felt the engines change pitch as the Boeing began its descent into Singapore's Changi International Airport. It was 0130 by his watch, still set with Dubai time. The window was black as pitch.
Tom made a mental note of the current location of the Hercules. He had several hours before it was due in and felt wide-awake. He contemplated staying in Singapore for two, possibly three days after the transaction just for local sightseeing. He had been here before, once as a Marine in the early 70's, the more recent trip only a year ago for a computer fair.
The flight attendant announced the time differences, weather, fastening of seatbelts and the like as the 747 hurtled through the darkness. Rossi smiled as he heard the different languages; English, Mandarin Chinese, Indian and Tamil. A flight attendant's job was supposed to be easier than that. Soon Rossi was able to distinguish lights along the shore, maybe ships underway. The plane banked to the right as more lights became visible, then to the left as the flight led over the Mallaccan Strait, circling north to land on the eastern side of the island, then flew into a low cloudbank.
The clouds gave way to exhibit a nighttime view of a beautiful city, bathed in golden light, with a clump of skyscrapers at the edge of a harbor area. All of the streets and boulevards leading to the hub areas were lit; trees and shrubbery surrounded the expressways. The lights of small boats could be seen traveling to and from the harbor areas. The plane descended over the water until it made landfall, then touched down less than a minute later.
After taxiing to a terminal and connecting to a skyway, Rossi stretched and checked his belongings. He still had the second half of Marty's $60,000, as well as over left in $4000 in traveling cash. He had credit cards to make a decent vacation, not to mention his half of the profit. He deplaned and walked towards the terminal behind a groggy Japanese businessman.
After customs, Tom wandered through the terminal to refamiliarize himself with the surroundings. He exchanged some money into Singapore dollars, then located the area that the Hercules was supposed to land and taxi, a commercial hanger section filled with various types of jetliners from delivery services and international corporations. The hanger nearest the north gate was the one where the transaction was to take place. There were no vehicles in that area now, but other terminals had trucks and people busy, moving cargo to and from the fourth largest port city in the world.
Tom wandered back to the tourist information area and looked through several pamphlets, then stowed his luggage in a rental compartment and wandered outside carrying only the briefcase. He toyed with the ideas of what to do with his half-million. There were several projects that he wanted to start on, but for a lack of serious venture capital decided against it. He could've gone public with his stock, but currently he controlled his company as he saw fit, prudent but probing. He had sold small amounts of stock to select buyers that were glad to see their investments double, then triple within six years. This half-million could help push the technicians in R & D through in the optical hard drive system that they were close to completing. It could be the hard drive of the future, or it could be the hard drive of the week. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.
Rossi walked out the terminal doors and walked slowly in the direction of the commercial terminal. It was over a thousand meters away and would probably take fifteen minutes to get there at this pace, but it felt good to stretch his legs after the flight. The cool night air was heavy with moisture, reminding Tom of other jungle countries that had only two seasons. The cab traffic was light, a few solo travelers on the curbside, illuminated in the pale yellow mercury vapor light. Tom walked on. It was becoming dawn, the morning sun colored the eastern skies a deep amber.
After walking through the space between the terminal buildings, Tom came to the parking lot for the commercial traffic, then through a chain-link fence gate, doublewide for trucks. There were some pay telephones there. The Malaysians would have their own loaders for the plane, due in about two hours. The Hercules would be on the ground for about two. Tom checked his watch. One hour to touchdown. Rossi located a bench near the gate and sat, resting the briefcase on his lap, wishing he bought a coffee in the terminal. It was light enough to see well, although the taxicabs across the apron still drove with their lights on.
Every ten minutes or so, a truck would pass through the gate, on its way to other terminals. The same types of trucks, South Asian loaders, names of companies written in three languages. Tom waited, glanced at his watch. Twenty minutes. It was fully light.
Ten minutes. Tom wanted this episode to be completed, figuring it was the riskiest part of the venture, then recalled thinking that very thought after leaving Bahrain. Five minutes.
Tom searched the end of the runway for a sign of a propeller-driven Hercules. The activity of the commercial area intensified, the trucks were frequent, more air traffic in and out of the airport as Singapore prepared itself for yet another busy day, even if it was Saturday. No Hercules. Maybe Marty was late taking off from Madras. After flying across the Indian Ocean, he's entitled to be a little late. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Tom wished he'd taken up cigarettes. Fifteen minutes.
At thirty minutes, Rossi went to the pay phone and called for airport information. After a dollar coin, he was placed with an English-speaking terminal operator for commercial flights.
"Yes, I am expecting a plane from Madras, India due about six-forty and it's a half hour late, could you tell me if there were any scheduled flights that were changed?"
"Please hold, sir." The voice was Indian, probably Hindu, probably young, and definitely female. Tom waited for a half-minute. "Sir" she was back. "The plane scheduled from Madras to Changi reported high winds in the Bay of Bengal and had its course altered to the south. There would be a half-hour to hour delay." Relieved, Tom breathed easier.
"OK, Thank you very much. That is what I expected."
"Yes, our records show that the plane is propeller-driven and therefore less stable in high winds. It is a good decision."
"Well, he is a good pilot. Thanks again."
"Thank you for calling."
A half hour to an hour. Now Rossi really wished he'd bought a coffee at the terminal. The Malaysian is due soon, it would be embarrassing to see him appear without the plane, then spook him into leaving without settling the deal. Come on, Marty.
The truck and pedestrian traffic was busy now, Tom occupied himself by watching the various workers ambling to and from the parking lot and hanger buildings. Tom stretched his legs and walked about, hoping to catch the Malaysian, trying to spot him in the crowd of workers. The buyer would know Tom on sight, but may be leery of approaching the American when the plane had not landed yet. One hour had passed. One hour and fifteen minutes. Tom started getting frantic again. He checked the hanger where the transaction was to take place.
One hour twenty. No Marty. Tom went back to the telephone and repeated the process with a different operator. No changes in the flightplan, it should've landed by now. Tom asked if there were any disappearances on radar reported of air traffic. None. Unauthorized over flights? Diverted landings? None. Tom was getting frantic. He hung up the telephone and went back to the park bench. One hour forty minutes.
Rossi searched the parking lot for the buyer without knowing exactly what to look for. He went back to the phone. Li should be in his office by now, enjoying a cup of tea and chatting with his pretty secretary. Rossi dialed Li's number and was surprised to hear Li answer on the first ring.
"Tom! How did it go?! " Li was excited, expecting only good news. Tom continuously scanned the lot for the buyer and the airfield for the inbound flight.
"Li. Something's happened, the package was sent off and made its halfway point, but now it's two hours overdue. I'm at the terminal building, the buyer hasn't shown up, either. How well do you know this Malaysian?"
Li acted stunned, quiet for a moment. "He is a shrewd businessman, Tom, but he is no double-crosser. What about your pilot?"
"He's trustworthy, as a matter of fact, he's anxious to deliver this load and go home. I doubt the problem is there."
"Tom, we must get that package. It is crucial. Can you wait a bit longer?"
"Yes, but I think our buyer is too scared to come out. What does he look like?"
"Ah, he is thin, as tall as I am, dark hair, no glasses...what can I say. Maybe early forties. Dresses in slacks and barong shirt."
"Well, you just described every male in the area, with exception to age. How many workers will he have with him? What kind of truck?"
"I don't know. I don't know. Keep looking, maybe he will call here."
"Tell him that I am at the hanger, but I will go to get a rental car and my baggage, which should take a half hour. If the plane is not here by that time, I will buy a ticket out for later today, but I'll be at the parking lot near the hanger until that time. Damn!" Rossi felt the anger welling up inside of him.
"Tom, wait, you must find the ...."
"Dammit, Li, something's wrong here. Very wrong. I've got my ass on the line and it's flappin' in the breeze and you want me to wait for someone to spot it!"
"Tom, please, stay there. Just wait. Maybe the buyer will call me here." Tom could feel the blood in his temples pounding. Another deal gone bad. And how bad will it get before it engulfs everyone.
"Li, I'm going to get a rental car and pick up the luggage, then wait for the plane. In one hour I will buy a ticket out of this town for later today. I will look, I will call. If it isn't here by the time my flight is due, I'm outta here."
"Call me in one hour." Tom hung up, then looked around. Nobody seemed to be watching the tall American, irate with the telephone. No plane. Tom started walking back to the main terminal, still looking for any signs of the buyer or Hercules, feeling very foolish.
His pace had picked up; in ten minutes he reached the locker and withdrew the suitcase. He searched the terminal for the rental agency signs, located one and headed that direction. One more look out the terminal window. No C130. Damn. Tom headed towards the rental car counter.
Tom considered carefully what he was doing. Maybe it would not be a good idea to get a rental in case he needs to make a run for it. Too easy to track down. Singapore was a free port, so cargo traveled through unmolested. The Malaysian is supposed to make all the arrangements on this end. The government here may not even do anything about a shipment of weapons just passing through, especially disguised as oilfield equipment with good documentation.
Rossi decided against a hasty decision and bought a cup of coffee with a pastry from a nearby vendor, contemplating his choices. Finished with the pastry, he went to a telephone and dialed Li's number again. Li answered on the first ring.
"Li, has our man called?"
"No. Please do not go away yet. Maybe the plane had mechanical difficulty, maybe the plane had to land somewhere else for repair. I don't know...Tom, we must get that shipment. The money..."
"Yeah, I know, Li, the money." Easy money, the thought was echoing in his head. There was no easy money. "I'll wait a little while longer. I'll call the tower again. I'll call you later. Don't go anywhere. Don't go to lunch. Don't go home tonight until I tell you. You're not leaving me in a bind."
"No problem, Mr. Rossi. I will be here. If you need me for anyting, you just call. I can do things from here, too."
"It's a happy thought, Li. Just stay put for now." Rossi hung up. He fished another coin from his pocket and dialed the number to the flight information again. The voice was an older man.
"Yes, I am expecting a cargo flight from Madras that was delayed from the weather. It was due at six forty originally. What is the current status of that flight?"
"Madras? OK.....hold please." The wait was agonizing. Thirty seconds. "Sir, that flight has not landed yet?"
"No, I've been waiting, it's over two hours late..."
"Sir, a cargo plane from Madras landed here about twelve minutes ago.."
"A C130?!" Tom almost dropped the phone to run to the terminal window.
"Ah, yes, it look like Hercules, it is at cargo terminal, hanger four.."
"Thanks, thanks much." Tom slammed the receiver and annoyed several passers-by, picking up his bag and walking briskly to the terminal doors. What a relief, he thought. Right when hope was lost. Li should be kept in suspense for another hour, make him sweat for his share a little. Rossi exited the terminal through the sliding glass doors amid the throngs of passengers, baggage handlers and family members.
Tom sighed when he walked away from the passenger terminal and watched the loaders unload the crates into the hanger. There was a truck nearby, with several Asians, two apparent supervisors. Marty was not visible, but it was several hundred meters from the walkway. The Hercules was facing the passenger terminal, engines still running, its ramp down and facing toward the cargo hanger. Tom spotted a pilot in the seat and counted six workers unloading the crates. His pace slowed. He noticed one who seemed to be in charge, most likely the buyer. No official vehicles or uniforms in the area.
He was breathing easier now. Let's wrap this up and go home. Forget the vacation afterward. Let's just get this over with and leave.
Rossi walked around the backside of the parking lot, through a small personnel gate, when he heard the engines flare and increase in pitch. Is it leaving? Surely not, probably just repositioning. The Mayasian had a good half hour, it's probably unloaded now. Nearing the doublewide gate that led to the loading area, Rossi heard the truck start its engine and barely had time to jump aside as it came barreling through the gate. All six loaders were on board, the truck's tires spinning as it made the right turn into the parking lot.
Panic. Anger. Betrayal. The loaders were angry, everyone yelling at each other. The Malaysian was in the passenger seat as the truck sped past the startled Rossi, the Asian eyed him suspiciously. The driver gunned the engine and shot through the lot, then made a left turn and entered the exit road.
Tom was stunned. Dropping his suitcase, he ran to the terminal door and saw the C130 taxiing toward the runway. Inside the hanger were all twenty-five crates, bands cut and lids pried open. Running to the first crate, he flipped off the lid. And stared in disbelief.
Pipes. Rough cut lumber and pipes. A sense of betrayal overtook him, Tom nearly was sick with anger.
He flipped the top of another. More pipes. And another. No wonder the Malaysian left in a hurry, he was smart enough to smell a double-cross. Tom heard the roar of the Hercules' engines as it entered the runway area. A complete feeling of betrayal and shock began to overtake Tom, he felt numb, like sitting on the dusty hanger floor and screaming. One million dollars. All this work. All this worry. All these safeguards. Where did it go wrong?
He rushed to the hanger door in time to watch the Hercules take off into the southern breeze of early morning. Where was he going? Why was he leaving after being on the ground only a half hour? Could he have the weapons on board still? Remembering the size of the Hercules' cargo bay, it would be unlikely that the weapons and crates had room enough to share. Tom walked back inside the hanger and stared at the crates, mocking him with their phony cargo. One million dollars. Pipes and lumber. Rossi had never felt as stupid in his entire life. He slowly walked back to the pay phones to call Li.
He retrieved his bag and walked to the phone, thinking that Marty seemed too good to be true, too loyal, too perfect for the job. Surely he didn't take a hundred thousand or so from the buyer and take off after dropping the stuff, the buyer wouldn't do that, knowing he'd still deal with Li and Rossi. Maybe he saw the pipes and....no, he must know of the pipes, they didn't change magically in flight. Could he land somewhere and do his own deal? No, then he wouldn't bother with the trip to Changi. No logic. Could the plane get hijacked in flight? Not likely. If it was forced down by mechanical trouble, it could get rushed and overtaken, but the attackers would know what the cargo was....which still didn't explain the trip to Changi. Tom wracked his brains to find an explanation. A decoy. They didn't know if the crates were going to be opened at Changi, presumably they'd go to Malaysia and Sumatra without being unbanded. To let the thieves get further away. Yes.
Tom lifted the receiver to call Li, but thought again. Why did Marty come to Changi when he knew it would be easy locating him back in Dubai? Nothing made sense. He was alone on the plane. He couldn't unpack and repack the same crates without some hired crew that was standing by when he landed.
Tom deposited another Singapore dollar and called flight information. The same older man answered.
"Yes, I called earlier about the C130 from Madras..."
"It landed, Sir."
"I know that. And it took off again.." Tom knew that the constant calling about the Hercules would raise much suspicion. "Is it going back to the Middle East, or towards India? What is its flight plan?"
"Let me check, Sir." More agonizing than torture. "The flight plan was changed when the plane landed. It is going to Manila."
"Manila!" Tom shouted in disbelief. "Is the pilot's name listed?!"
"It was announced as unchanged since the first half of the trip."
"Yes, a Marty Harrell. Is there a problem, Sir?"
"Well, the pilot and I needed to talk before he left. Thank you for your time."
Tom hung up the phone and thought for a moment. He called the operator for passenger flight information at Changi and spoke to a girl with a heavy Chinese accent.
"Yes, can you tell me when the next flight from Changi to Manila is leaving?"
11/5/2005 7:05 am
Was wondering if there is any written work by you in book form???
11/7/2005 2:26 am
Jim, cant wait to see the next chapter....about Manila...keep writing..want to see this novel in prints someday...mwah!!!|
Love..Faith ..and Hope..
11/7/2005 9:19 am
Good morning ladies...thanks for stopping by..|
Hi Kate...I suppose you can see where this is going...
Hi Sasha..I haven't written anything since high school and none of it was published anyway. I fugured if I wanted to be a writer, why start with short stories and such...just jump right into a big, fat nevel..
Hi Pinay..you'll recognize places that you've been pretty shortly. I have more in Olongapo than Manila, though...and I haven't rewritten the naughty parts in Chapter 13 for you yet. I've got to tame it down if you're printing it for that 'someone'..