Tyndale House Publishers
>> MEDITERRANEAN SEA, OFF THE COAST OF GREECE
>> NINETEEN DAYS AGO
Intensely alert, the radar operator sat hunched over his equipment in the small cabin of the research ship Observer. “The target is holding steady.”
“You are certain this is the ship?” Qadir Yaseen stood behind the young man. Yaseen was in his fifties, lean and hardbodied because he had spent most of his life fighting a jihad against the aggressors of his people. He wore a traditional mogasab over a thobe. The robe’s gold trim stood out against the dark cotton. His black smagh framed his face.
“Yes, sir. I have verified the satellite signal you gave me.”
“Very well,” Yaseen said. “Let us go and get my cargo.”
He alerted the ship’s crew over the PA system, then strode out of the bridge. Two bodyguards armed with machine pistols went through the hatch first, flaring to either side to take up escort positions.
As Yaseen stepped out onto the deck, the ship came alive around him. Anticipation filled him. Finally, after nearly three years of preparation, bribing, blackmailing, falsifying identities, and careful murder, his plan was coming together.
Yaseen had been born in 1948, a man without a proper country because the Great Satans had given Palestine to the godless Israelis. Since that day, he had fought and shed his lifeblood and the fortunes of his father, pursuing the war to push the Jews from Palestine. But the Americans had constantly shored them up with money and weapons. He had begun his holy war against the Israelis when he was nineteen, serving against the hated Jews in the Six-Day War.
Until 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed with Israel, Yaseen had faithfully followed Yasser Arafat. Once the agreements had taken place, Yaseen had gone his own way and remained apart. Over the intervening years, he had raised an army to fight against the Israeli occupation of his homeland. For most of his life he had struggled to further Muslim interests in the Middle East. For too long his people had possessed little means to strike back at Israel and the Western world.
Tonight, however, that balance of power would begin to change. He was going to strike back in such a way that others who hated the Americans would attack as well. The Americans, under their warmongering president, had engendered a great feeling of enmity around the world. Everyone would blame them for the chaos that followed.
Yaseen strained his eyes against the dark night that lay heavy on the sea. He could see nothing yet, but he was not dismayed. The ship was out there. So was the deadly cargo it carried. Observer’s engines throbbed to life. The ship shouldered its way through the sea at half speed.
The thirty warriors Yaseen had brought with him by helicopter at sunset took their places across Observer’s deck. All of them were young believers in the mission that Yaseen had set for himself.
They carried AK-47 rifles and Tokarev pistols. The Russian assault rifles and handguns had been easy to acquire in Odessa, Ukraine. The city was a major Black Sea port and had a large amount of illegal contraband flowing through it. Inhabitants there still referred to the city as Odessa Mama, which had begun life as an underworld trading post.
A pale yellow oval burned a hole in the night. It rose and fell below the dark horizon of the sea.
Yaseen’s heart raced. He had spent millions on the weapons he was about to acquire but had not yet seen. Anticipation filled him and made him take a deep breath.
Within minutes, Observer overtook the cargo ship. Yaseen could see sailors shifting into defensive positions on deck.
“Sir,” the leader of Yaseen’s warriors called.
The leader gestured. Immediately one of the warriors stood and pulled his rifle to his shoulder. The blunted detonation of a round echoed across the deck. In the next instant, a grappling hook arced across the water between the two ships. Loops of rope followed, singing as they spilled from the reservoir beneath the rifle. The hook bounced on the cargo ship’s deck for a moment, then caught on the railing.
Instantly sparks exploded into the night as bullets whined from metal surfaces. The cargo ship’s crew had opened fire, targeting Observer’s prow and deck. The chain around the deck jerked and rattled as bullets struck it.
Yaseen’s warriors returned fire, proving their greater skill and precision as their bullets drove back the cargo ship’s crew.
Yaseen drew his own pistol and fired as well. There was no mercy in him when it came to his enemies. He’d killed his first man, an Israeli soldier, when he was twelve.
“Lights,” the commando leader called.
Harsh white illumination strafed the cargo ship’s deck. Dead bodies rolled on the heaving surface as the ship fought the water.
A few wounded tried to crawl away. One man got too near the deck’s edge and tumbled overboard. The black water immediately swallowed him.
One after another, Yaseen’s warriors clipped D rings to the cable and slid across the intervening distance. Once aboard the cargo ship, the warriors moved across the upper deck and quickly executed all crewmen they found. Their orders allowed no survivors. Bright muzzle flashes flickered to life, then died.
Clipping his own D ring to the cable, Yaseen followed his men onto the besieged ship. Just putting his feet on the wooden deck empowered him.
Several warriors produced flashlights and stood waiting at the top of the stairs. They went down into the hold at Yaseen’s command. Yaseen followed.
The hold stank of fish. A few inches of water sloshed across the floor. Yaseen led the way farther back into the hold. He stopped beside an eight-foot-tall bin packed with ice and fish.
The arrangement had been simple. Yaseen had paid his money, and his merchandise was to have been hidden within the ship’s load. The crew had had no idea what was hidden beneath their feet as they went about their duties on deck. Only the ship’s captain was aware of the deadly cargo. Two of Yaseen’s men were searching the ship for the captain now. In moments Yaseen would finally take possession of his prize: two nuclear missiles.
At Yaseen’s order, two of the warriors laid down their rifles and took shovels from the tool cabinet on the hull. They clambered into the bin and started shoveling ice and fish into the water sloshing across the lower deck. It took several minutes for Yaseen to realize that nothing was buried in the reeking mixture.
A scramble of feet came down the stairs.
Another two warriors brought a fat man down the stairs and dumped him unceremoniously onto the floor. Water splashed across the man’s face, and he blubbered in pain and fear. He spoke in a language Yaseen didn’t understand but believed to beGreek.
“Do you speak English?” Yaseen peered at the man.
Hiding behind his arms and hands as if they would somehow deflect the bullets from the weapons pointed at him, the man looked up. “I speak English. Yes. Good English.”
“Where is the captain?”
“I am the captain.”
“Where is my cargo?” Yaseen asked.
The captain shook his head. “What cargo?” He remained huddled on his knees.
Moving as quickly as a striking snake, a warrior backhanded the captain across the face with a pistol, knocking his head back sharply.
“The missiles,” Yaseen said calmly. “Where are my missiles?”
Sweat rolled down the man’s face. “I have no missiles. Gronsky gave me nothing.” He was weeping now. “He said the deal was off. He said you knew.”
A black rage possessed Yaseen. He’d hated dealing with Colonel Vladimir Gronsky of the Russian army. The man was greedy and unscrupulous, but he routinely worked in the blackmarket circles, and Yaseen had needed him to arrange his munitions purchase.
Unable to control the rage that filled him, Yaseen picked up one of the shovels and beat the man to the ground. He didn’t stop hitting the captain until he had no energy left. All the years, all the money he’d spent, and he’d been betrayed by another man’s greed. Shuddering, Yaseen threw the shovel aside and glared down at the captain’s bloody, lifeless body.
Then he took a deep breath. Gronsky was greedy. The missiles still existed, were still within his grasp, as was his vengeance for his family and friends whom the United States had killed and would kill for generations to come. He could still make his plan work.
He turned and walked from the cargo hold. On deck, Yaseen gave orders to place demolition charges. Minutes later, the men returned to the Observer the same way they had come. The moment the ship had moved a safe distance away, the munitions blew and the cargo ship broke to pieces.
Yaseen watched the ship and crew settle into their watery grave. Gronsky would be made to pay for his betrayal. He would pay most dearly.