Zamboanga City, southern Philippines, June 2002
John Sawtell sopped gravy with a bread roll and kept one eye on the Cubs-Yankees game. Catering grunts cleared out bain-maries and wet-mopped the service area while the late eaters dragged it out in the demountable cafeteria, avoiding the thirty-six degree heat of early evening. The offi cers’ mess was almost empty except for two white guys in clean woodland-cam fatigues sitting three tables away.
Sawtell kept his eyes on the pitcher’s wind-up and away from the white guys – secondees dropped in from Langley with bullshit ranks. Sawtell’s US Army rank of captain was real. Yet here he was, spending whole days in meetings with these blue-eyed boys. He’d now heard enough about paradigm shifts and ‘the big picture’ to last him a lifetime.
Most of Sawtell’s Special Forces Green Berets were working-class men who needed solid leadership, not weasel words. Sawtell heard what his men had to say about some of the intelligence briefi ngs, especially from the guy they called ‘Pencil Neck’. He glanced across the mess and chuckled: everyone on an army base got a name, whether they liked it or not, and Pencil Neck’s was a good fi t.
Pencil Neck had lectured the men on the cultural sensitivities of the Muslim Filipinos. But Sawtell’s men were fresh from Kandahar, and they didn’t much care about which way to point a Muslim’s ass when you buried him.
Sawtell wiped his mouth with a paper napkin, took a draw of iced water, kept his eyes on the game.
The analogue clock above the chow line said it was 8.43 pm local. He threw the napkin on his plate and walked into the blistering evening heat.
The black carpet of the Sulu Sea sparkled through palm trees as Sawtell came off the concrete parade ground and entered the Command Centre.
The air-con was like a wall coming out of the windless humidity.
He ran a hand over his stubbly head, felt the damp of perspiration.
An MP looked up briefl y, but didn’t react. The real anti-terror work was done on the perimeter, from bullet-proof glass cages, pop-up bollards and a mean-as-hell MP detail trained at Fort Bragg.
He moved down the narrow hallway, the fl oor fl imsy beneath his size 13s. From this demountable, perched in an old schoolyard above the city of Zamboanga, the United States controlled the South-East Asian end of its War on Terror, codename: Operation Enduring Freedom.
For six months US military advisers had supported the Philippine Army Scouts and their Navy commandos, the SWAGs. It was a joint operation, so the locals clung to their own name, Balikatan 02-1, but the result was the same: hunt tangos, catch tangos, put tangos out of business.
Sawtell’s Alpha company had already been involved in two full-blown battles in their fi rst four months in Zamboanga. He’d lost two men. He didn’t feel like an adviser – he felt like a commander in a war zone.
As Sawtell made his way down the trailer towards his offi ce, a Signals corporal called Davis emerged from a room fi lled with computer screens.
‘Something just in, sir,’ said Davis, then turned back into his room. Sawtell followed, stooping his footballer’s frame to look at Davis’s screen.
Davis pointed to a secure memo from CINCPAC in Hawaii, dated two minutes earlier. The header on the memo was a bar of letters and numerals. They gave Sawtell the order to chase and catch or kill
Sawtell read it again. ‘Shit!’
‘Number One’ was code for the most dangerous man in South-East Asia, Abu Sabaya, the senior terrorist in the Abu Sayyaf organisation.
Sabaya – born Aldam Tilao – was responsible for hundreds of kidnappings, bombings, assassinations, executions, massacres and extortion rackets around the southern Philippines and Malaysia.
One attempt to free eleven foreign hostages from Sabaya’s stronghold on Basilan Island had led to a forty-two-hour gunfi ght between Sawtell’s Alpha company and the rebels. Two weeks earlier, Sawtell’s Berets and Philippine Army Scouts had stormed the terrorists in the jungle boonies behind Sibuco. Sabaya got away, but not before killing most of his hostages.
Sawtell rubbed his jaw as he stared at the screen. Sabaya looked like a movie star and enjoyed enormous loyalty from the local villagers.
He was almost impossible to track, and if he’d been pinpointed, they’d got incredibly lucky. Either way, Sawtell’s boys would want a shot at this.
‘Get CINCPAC, tell them “confi rm”,’ said Sawtell, turning towards the door.
Davis turned. ‘Sir, there’s more. We’ve got eyes.’
Sawtell followed Davis’s fi nger to a larger screen. It was black with bright green lines on it. ‘Sir, we had an AWACS in the air when the memo came through,’ said Davis sheepishly. ‘I took the liberty of asking them to give us a lock.’
‘On his boat?’
‘Umm, no, sir.’
Sawtell didn’t like coy. ‘What is this, Twenty Questions?’
‘Sir, the AWACS has eyes on a pizza box.’
Sawtell gave Davis a quick look, then focused back on the screen.
Davis pointed his pen at a cigar shape. ‘That’s Sibuco Bay, sir. It’s real time. And that thing moving – that’s Number One’s pizza order.’
‘Are they on the water?’
‘Roger that. Slower craft, just started moving, perhaps to Number One.’
Sawtell stared at the screen. If Sabaya was anywhere near that boat, he’d bail pronto if he heard one hint of helo engine. They’d do this by sea.
‘Print it,’ said Sawtell, nodding at the memo, ‘then get it to the locals asap.’
As Sawtell moved away he almost crashed headlong into the CIA white boys rushing in, obviously tipped off through their own channels.
‘Be ready in fi ve,’ said Sawtell as he passed them. ‘Only one of you though. And come loaded – this is for real.’
Pencil Neck tried to take control.
‘Captain, where’s the colonel?’
‘Don’t know, but give him my regards when you fi nd him.’
Colonel Dave Henson couldn’t make a decision without making seven phone calls. Which was a shame, since Colonel Henson was technically in charge of Enduring Freedom.
Sawtell moved through the centre of the white guys and said to the staff sergeant at the desk, ‘Give me a fi ve-minute call on Alpha and Bravo. Green for Go.’
As he pushed through the demountable’s front door and into the tropical heat Sawtell saw Davis fl y out of a side door and head to the Filipino area of the compound. The locals would get to lead the op – as politics dictated – but the Berets would be there every step of the way.
Abu Sabaya! thought Sawtell to himself, the adrenaline now racing.
Abu fucking Sabaya!
The Philippine Navy SWAGs were waiting at the fenced-off military annexe of Port Zamboanga when the Green Berets’ Humvee convoy arrived. Floodlights lit the huge wharf apron and the hangars. Sawtell issued orders for the sergeants to load the boat, then he made for the fi rst Navy vessel, a forty-foot open-deck powerboat painted in matt olive. It was fi lled with camo-fl ashed Philippine special forces dressed in black fatigues – the SWAGs. Sawtell guessed there were twenty of them. They looked well-armed with their customised Colt M16 A2s and fl ash grenades on their webbings.
One of them stood abruptly and jumped onto the dock. Lieutenant-Colonel Miguel Arroy, Sawtell’s counterpart. They greeted each other informally, as Special Forces etiquette required.
Arroy’s eyes fl ashed. He’d lost three men in the bungled raid on Sabaya’s Sibuco camp two weeks before and his men wanted payback.
‘We still live?’ he asked, pointing to Sawtell’s throat mic.
Sawtell nodded. He’d been taking updates from the AWACS during the ride from Camp Enduring Freedom and the airborne surveillance people still had a lock on the pizza.
‘By the book, Mig,’ said Sawtell. ‘Your boys get fi rst chop.’
Within minutes the two-boat fl otilla was ready to move out. The boats’ confi guration meant the soldiers sat back to back down the centre, with a skipper at the rear.
The SWAGs glistened in the southern Philippine heat. It didn’t matter how advanced the materials, full battle kit in the tropics was a walking sauna. The Berets wore kevlar helmets and matt-black jumpsuits. Their fl ashings were boot-blacked along with their M4 assault rifl es. Men went through their rituals – rubbing crucifi xes, checking their weapons for load, playing with neckerchiefs worn since Kandahar, play-punching each other. Some closed their eyes, others sang to themselves. Several vomited quietly over the gunwale.
The only thing that wasn’t happening was movement. As Sawtell and Arroy went through a mission brief, the Americans’ radio system came in with a direct patch through to Colonel Henson, who was in Jakarta.
Sawtell took the call, unable to believe what he was hearing.
Henson wanted the mission put on hold till some intelligence guy could be fl own into Zamboanga.
‘I hate to do this to you, John,’ came the high nasal sound of Henson’s voice, ‘but my hands are tied on this one – you know how it is.’
‘Sir,’ said Sawtell, doing his best to conceal his frustration in front of his men, ‘we’ve already got intel on board…’
‘I know, John.’
A drop of sweat trickled down Sawtell’s upper lip, onto his teeth.
‘We’ve got eyes and we’re good to go, sir.’
‘Jesus, Johnny,’ said Henson, using the name only Sawtell’s football buddies dared call him. ‘You think I didn’t tell them that?’
Sawtell knew Henson hadn’t told the brass anything like that.
‘Thing is, CINCPAC wants this intelligence guy in the boat, so he’s in the boat. Got that, Captain?’
Sawtell stamped his leg, and sweat dripped into his right boot. He looked over to see Arroy staring at him.
‘I got him timed for ten minutes,’ said Henson. ‘And Johnny – he’s one of the good guys, okay? He’s Australian.’
The Australian arrived early – but he might as well have been seven hours late by the time the Black Hawk had blasted in over the harbour, dropped its human cargo on the two-hundred-year-old quay and taken off into the night.
Sandy-blond and pale-eyed, the Australian was about six foot and built but not worked on. He was all arms and legs but a smooth mover. He wore dark blue overalls, special forces boots and a black Adidas baseball cap pulled low. A black Cordura sports bag was slung over his shoulder.
The Aussie didn’t offer a name or his hand when Sawtell and Arroy greeted him. Sawtell pointed to the back of his boat and the Australian simply moved to his seat next to Pencil Neck.
The outboard engines fi red up and Sawtell watched the CIA honky offer a handshake. The Australian ignored it.
The troop boats cast off, the revs came up from the triple Yamahas. Sawtell landed in the back of the boat with a thump and they moved into Zamboanga Harbour. Sawtell saw an airborne plug of tobacco come dangerously close to their visitor and he gave his men a look. He fi shed a kevlar helmet from the kit box under the transom and offered it to the Australian, who shook his head dismissively.
‘Chief, stop the boat,’ said Sawtell.
The sergeant at the helm looked back in disbelief, and then cut the revs. The boat lost way, fumes washed across the humidity. All eyes turned to the back of the boat. Sawtell looked into the Australian’s pale blue eyes, then threw the helmet into the spook’s lap. The Australian put the helmet on.
Sawtell gave the ‘go’ sign.
The revs came up and the boat lurched into the darkness.
At nine pm the two troop boats exited Zamboanga at fi fty-one knots and turned hard right – north towards Sibuco and the most dangerous man in South-East Asia.
Western Queensland, November 2006
There were seven of them. Six Australian SAS and one Aussie spook on a line of Honda trail bikes slipping through the outback night.
The lime-green GPS instrument on Mac’s bike read 2.49 am, putting the posse ten clicks from the target.
A voice crackled through the headset in Mac’s military helmet. ‘Keep with your mark, Mac.’ The voice belonged to Warrant Offi cer Ward, the troop leader who was right behind him. ‘You’re doing fi ne, mate.’
Alan McQueen was doing far from fi ne. Other special forces had hangars fi lled with military toys that whisked people like Mac all over the world. In, out and back in time for a cold beer. The Aussie SAS used motorbikes, which did the job but were hard on the arse and thighs.
Mac still wasn’t used to riding with lights killed and no night vision.
And even with a full moon and clear night, the terrain of western Queensland was not suited to amateur riders.
Mac stayed in third, focused on the guy in front through the spray of dust. He eyed the digital compass beside the GPS and spoke through his throat mic. ‘Wardie, time to go west.’
The SAS man acknowledged, and the posse swung out of the channel.
Thirty minutes later a sand dune loomed two hundred feet above them. They idled to the foot of the black giant.
Mac came to a halt, fl ipped the stand and almost fell off the bike.
Ward walked up. ‘Well, we got you here, mate. Your mission now,’ he said, dispatching a trooper called Foxy up the dune.
Mac squinted at Ward through pale eyes. He never knew when some of these blokes were taking the piss. At six foot, Mac was the bigger man but he wouldn’t want to get in a blue with the soldier.
Ward had the classic special forces build: heavily muscled and athletic.
Mac had seen what the SAS boys could do when they got annoyed and he was glad to be playing on the same team.
Stretching his fi ngers under black leather gloves, Mac dusted off his blue overalls and replaced his helmet with an old black cap. The tops of his thighs felt like he’d gone three rounds of kickboxing.
He unzipped his black backpack and checked the contents with eyes and fi ngers. No one used a fl ashlight. In the pack was a silenced Heckler amp; Koch P9S handgun, an M16 A2 assault rifl e and two devices the size of casino poker chips – ‘tags’ that guided an air-mounted missile. Nothing fancy, but it all worked.
The SAS troopers were dressed in black urban fatigues, with variations of scarfi ng. It was ten degrees Celsius in the desert and a couple of the soldiers wore fi eld jackets. They cammed their faces, checked weapons.
Ward brought the boys in close and Mac knelt in front of them.
Their headsets crackled: Foxy giving the all-clear from the top of the dune.
The bike engines pinged as they cooled, troopers pulling in closer as Mac outlined the turkey shoot.
Mac lay on the cold sand at the top of the dune. He thought about how his original idea of intelligence work – debonair chat at cocktail parties – had been stymied by someone’s decision that he’d be useful in a paramilitary role. That was history, and so was his intel career.
He’d done his bit, taken his shot. This would be his last assignment before getting out for good. Tomorrow was the next step; tomorrow meant Sydney and a step closer to having a fi ancee rather than just a girlfriend.
He looked out over the endless outback. Thirty miles further west and it turned into the Simpson Desert. Here, below them, there were still channels and clumps of spinifex punctuating the ground.
Ward lay beside him, binos to his eyes. They did a traditional sweep.
‘What are we looking for, Macca?’ asked Ward.
‘Stand-by for a cammo tarp, some sort of covering.’
‘You kidding?’ muttered Ward. ‘Not exactly using spotties here, mate.’
‘Plan B – fi nd the perimeter,’ said Mac. ‘They’d have at least two blokes on the wall.’
The group scanned the desert darkness for the next ten minutes.
It was boring, mentally draining work.
Then one of the troopers saw something.
Ward moved down, followed by Mac. They lay on either side of the SAS trooper, who kept his head still and talked softly. ‘My eleven o’clock. Two fi ngers below the horizon. I saw a puff of smoke. Could be a ciggie.’
Mac peered through his Leicas. Found the sentry. ‘Out-fucking-standing,’ he muttered.
The sentry was well-hidden in a hollow one hundred and fi fty metres from the dune, sitting against a rock in a dark pea jacket and khaki pants. On his lap was what looked like a Heckler amp; Koch MP5 machine pistol, the kind used by counter-terrorism forces. One hell of a thing. Mac had once seen a demo of what an MP5 on full auto could do to a cow carcass. He didn’t eat a hamburger for three whole days.
The guard dragged on a cigarette and let out another plume of smoke. A light breeze carried it south.
‘Got him?’ asked Mac.
‘Roger that,’ said Ward. ‘See that round his neck?’
Mac looked again. ‘Yep.’
‘Night vision,’ said Ward. ‘They’ve got some toys.’
The camp was fi fty metres behind the sentry, built in a channel with tarps running for about eighty metres north-south, and cammo webbing over the tarps. No way to see it from the air, unless someone was looking for it. It was a terrorist training camp, the kind of structure usually found in Libya or Afghanistan.
It appeared that food and power were at one end of the camp, sleeping at the other, operations and stores in the centre. There were a couple of rough timber latrines to the east of the camp, not far from where the sentry was sitting.
Mac reckoned the camp would hold up to thirty men, and if his snitch in Jakarta wasn’t telling him pork pies, one of them was Ali Samrazi – an Indonesian double agent who had dropped from the radar eigtheen months ago and had reappeared with a mob called Moro Jihad. Moro Jihad was a middle-class outfi t that focused its activities on economic and maritime terror. If you could drive up the price of shipping through the Malacca Straits and South China Sea by even fi ve per cent, you were eating into the Western world’s profi t margins. The modern tangos could read spreadsheets as well as al-Qaeda propaganda.
‘Wardie, can you fi nd the other sentries? I need to know where they are,’ said Mac.
Ward had already found them; they were in a triangle arrangement around the camp.
‘Any ideas?’ asked Mac.
Ward took his eyes away from the binos. ‘No worries. There’s three sentries but they’re not overlapped. We take out Mr Ashtray and the others won’t know about it. It’s a free run to the try line.’
The group slid down through the spinifex, gathering behind a rock at the base of the dune. Mac’s adrenaline was pumping, his breath short.
He looked back up the dune to where Foxy was hidden in the scrub.
Ward tapped his G-Shock and held up both hands.
Mac nodded. Ten minutes to knock the sentries out, then the mission would begin.
Ward gave thumbs-up and went south with one man while a trooper named Jones took two troopers north. Manistas – a tough western Sydney kid they called Manny – remained with Mac. Manny was about fi ve-nine and powerful but lithe. Like a stuntman or a gymnast.
As an added bonus, he spoke Farsi, Bahasa Indonesian and some other languages favoured by tangos. That’s why he was with Mac.
They got on their bellies and crawled. The advance was slow and painful. The earth of the Australian outback looks like red talc from a distance, but get amongst it and it’s fi lled with gravel, rocks and insects.
Mac followed the SAS trooper into a channel where they could stand in a crouch and they followed the dry bed slightly to the north and around a bend for forty metres. That brought them north-east of the sentry. Manny stopped as they heard the low hum of what was probably a power generator in the camp.
Manny leaned on the wall of the channel, stuck his scarfed head up slowly, pulled back, nodded at Mac. Then he checked his M4, looked down the sights at the ground.
Mac unholstered the Heckler, checked for load, checked for safety.
With the suppressor screwed on, the handgun was more than twice its normal length. He found a smaller creek bed that fed into the channel and crawled into it on his elbows, the Heckler in his right hand. The creek bed was perfect: shallow enough to be able to keep eyes on Mr Ashtray but deep enough to move undetected through the dark. He moved quickly, his breath coming dry and shallow.
Mac was just about to take another look at the countdown on his watch when he realised he was face to face with what looked like an eastern brown snake. He froze, watching as the diamond head and darting tongue came out from behind the scrub which was half a foot from his face. The snake moved out into the creek bed, its black eyes like onyx, its body glistening in the moonlight.
Mac backed up across the sand, gulping hard. The venom from a brown snake wouldn’t necessarily kill you, but twelve hours of delirium was not Mac’s ideal platform for a mission. The snake’s gaze was steady, the tongue glowing as it fl icked. Mac kept reversing through the dust, trying not to breathe on the thing for fear of annoying it.
As the snake focused on him, Mac fought the panic urge.
The snake raised its head, lifted a whole section of itself off the ground.
Mac back-pedalled like a politician.
The snake pulled its head back on its body, ready to strike. Mac had no choice but to roll sideways out of the shallow depression, into the open. He rolled onto his stomach, looked up at the sentry who was now only twenty metres away. Mac was close enough to smell his Marlboros.
The snake kept coming, Mac could see it slithering fast across the ground. He rolled again and the sentry raised his head. Panicking now, Mac steadied himself on the rocky ground, took a cup-and-saucer grip on the Heckler, aimed it at the sentry and squeezed. The gun spat – the round missed.
Now the sentry was off his perch, MP5 in his hands. Clueless, but alert. The snake didn’t stop. Mac looked down and fi red at the animal, but only grazed it. The snake was as confused as the guard who was now walking towards him.
The snake fi nally made a move, came in fast and struck at Mac’s Hi-Tec boot. As the fangs sank into the black rubber sole, Mac prayed they wouldn’t hit fl esh.
The sentry was fi fteen metres away and carrying a weapon that could cut a man to ribbons. A couple more steps and he would see Mac. The sentry put his free hand to the night vision goggles and lifted them.
Mac had to drop the guy.
He forced his eyes away from the snake and aimed again: two shots in succession. They sounded like a man spitting grapefruit pips.
One shot hit the sentry in the chest. His eyes went wide, his legs folded. Mac should have been on his feet and halfway to the sentry by now, but he turned back immediately to the snake, kicking his legs like a child. He muttered, a clear sign he was on the verge of doing something really stupid.
Pointing the elongated Heckler at the snake on his foot, Mac heard a voice in his head say he’d probably shoot his foot, and what a joke that would make him in Townsville’s SAS barracks for the next six months.
Before he could do it, a knife glinted in the moonlight and the snake’s head was severed.
Manny held the snake’s head and neck in his hand, then he chucked it aside, and put his Ka-bar back in its webbing scabbard.
Mac gave thumbs-up and turned, his breathing still fast and his heart racing.
He was way, way too old for this shit.
The sentry was down, but no one was coming out of the camp for a nosey-poke. Lucky break.
Mac checked his G-Shock – three minutes and twenty seconds to sentry deadline.
The two crawled across the ground to the sentry, whose eyes were still open. He lay on his side gasping for air, blood erupting from his mouth spasmodically and splashing on his MP5. Mac pushed his face into the dirt and tapped him behind the ear.
Manny bent over the sentry, pulled his jacket collar back, looking for something. Mac reloaded the Heckler, panting with adrenaline.
Took the M16 off his back, checked for load and slung it. Then he moved towards the camp in a crouch, Manny at his four o’clock.
They got to the building and squatted in the shadows. Manny pushed a tarp aside and they looked in: there was a solid wall under it. A prefab building covered in tarps.
Mac grabbed a tag from the right breast pocket of his ovies.
Peeling the adhesive protector off its back, he stuck it to the plastic wall, pushing the button in the middle of it. A tiny red LED blinked.
They moved south, along the wall and inside the canvas covering.
The hum of the generators grew louder. They got to the south end of the camp, the generator now screeching in their ears. Manny tested the door, it opened and they moved inside to a strong smell of diesel. The engineer’s night-light bathed the warm room in a soft red glow.
There was a large yellow engine, mounted on skids on the concrete slab, the black letters CAT painted on it. Otherwise the room was deserted.
Manny pointed to another door.
The next room was three times larger. Filled with barrels, stores, boxes. Mac and Manny moved among them: there was food and water, guns and ammo. There was avgas and there was a stack of wooden boxes with MALAYSIAN OPTICAL COMPANY stamped on their sides.
Mac lifted the lid on one, saw three Stinger SAM rocket launchers sitting inside, cradled in wood shavings.
Sweat ran down Mac’s neck, soaked the back of his ovies. At the north end of the storage area was a door to what looked like a cool room. There was a digital combination lock on the handle.
Manny pulled a strip of wax paper from his front pocket, peeling the paper apart to reveal a line of dark red putty. Pushing the red putty around the door handle in a horseshoe shape, Manny squeezed it to make sure it was properly stuck against the lock, then pulled a mini detonator from another pocket. He looked at Mac, fl ashed both hands three times. A thirty-second fuse.
Mac moved back into the power room. Manny joined him fi ve seconds later. The din of the generator room made the explosion sound more like a pop.
The cool room door was now hanging open, artifi cial coldness mixing with the acrid stench of plastic explosive. It was inky black inside. Manny cracked a light bar and the scene lit up dull green. This was the acid test: either Mac’s snitches had it right or the whole thing had been a fuck-up.
The far wall of the cool room was stacked with green plastic suitcases with built-in handles. His snitches had been spot-on. Cases like that only held one thing: HMX, one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosives ever produced. It was made in tiny, government-controlled quantities in Germany and the United States, for military use only. Every batch was numbered, every case was signed for. It very rarely left a military base once it had been escorted there. You couldn’t buy it.
Each of the cases contained fi ve small bricks of HMX, and a single brick was powerful enough to do more than just put a hole in an aircraft carrier – it could break its back. Governments around the world had a hard enough time dealing with the effects of C4, the plastique favoured by suicide bombers. HMX had fi ve times the expansion rate of C4. A piece the size of a fi ve-cent coin was enough to split a bus like a watermelon.
And Mac was looking at twelve cases of the stuff, stacked against the wall of a terrorist camp in the middle of the Queensland outback.
What a pretty mess that would make at Port of Brisbane container terminal.
He had an idea – it would only take a couple of minutes.
Mac and Manny moved to the north end of the structure where the camp management would be dormed.
Mac had briefed Manny on the target: a thirty-eight-year-old Javanese male, average build, average height, no facial hair, good teeth.
Manny had said, ‘Thanks for narrowing it down, champ.’
The north end of the camp had what Mac assumed was a guardhouse. It stuck out from the main structure like a nose. He’d have preferred that the SAS take it from here, since they were the storming experts. Mac preferred stealthing. But the target had to be right fi rst time. He didn’t want the troopers hauling arse out of the camp with the wrong bloke. They might not get a second bite.
Manny stuck his head around the north end of the camp, made a hand gesture to the other SAS troopers who had taken out their sentries and were now waiting on the other side of the camp.
Then Mac stood back, let Manny do his thing on the guardhouse door. The trooper slung his M4 and pulled out his suppressed handgun.
He walked into the darkness of the canvas canopy and knocked on the door. Mac’s heart thumped, his ears roared with adrenaline, his breath rasped.
Manny said something conversational in Bahasa. Now Mac realised what Manny had been looking for on the sentry – a name-tag.
The door opened, everything relaxed and comfortable, revealing dim light and laughter coming from an Indonesian game show on satellite TV. Manny walked forward, head still, shoulders relaxed. His handgun spat seven times. A matter-of-fact professional. Mac took his four o’clock, less relaxed. He held his Heckler ready as he entered the guardhouse, but Manny had done the job. Three young Indons slumped in white plastic chairs. A fourth lay dead on the ground, dressed only in a white singlet and boxers.
Mac swung right, Manny swung left. Area secured.
The TV blasted raucous laughter, it was good cover. The corridor leading from the guardhouse remained silent. Mac waited for a couple of seconds to be sure. Nothing.
They moved into the right-hand leg of the corridor. It was dark and smelled of sweat. The fl oor swayed under their feet as they moved down the narrow enclosure. It was fl imsy, a cheap hire out of Darwin to Arafura Explorations Pty Ltd. Mac had seen the invoice.
His breathing was in the panic range again and he could feel his baseball cap getting wet around the edges. A drop of sweat hit his eyelid.
There was a door on the right but Mac ignored it. They walked further into darkness and away from the light of the TV. Manny moved like a cat behind him and Mac liked that. He hated working with mouth-breathers and leadfoots. You want to walk like a klutz? Join the fi re brigade.
Mac kept going till he reached the fi nal door. It faced north. He was guessing an important visitor would be closest to Mecca. He stood at the door, listened. Manny pulled out a steel tube the length of a small fl ashlight. It was a stunner, a sort of mini cattle prod. Mac pulled his own out from his side leg pocket, put his gloved hand on the aluminium door handle, pushed down real slow, then pushed it open. There was one steel-frame bed against a wall, beneath a window.
One person in it, snoring.
He pushed his head in further, saw another bed, someone in it.
The room was dark. Mac knew he didn’t have long. People sense things and wake up.
He lingered just long enough to see what he was looking for. The snorer had a moustache. That meant the other guy was Ali Samrazi.
This was confi rmed almost immediately when the bloke sat up in bed, looking at Mac like he’d seen a ghost. Mac moved forward, Heckler levelled. He sensed Manny move in behind him.
‘Ali – it’s me, mate. Richard. Richard Davis.’
Ali Samrazi’s eyes were wide with fear. He scrabbled for something on the bedside table. Mac got there just as Samrazi put his hand on a Beretta handgun. As Mac broke the little guy’s wrist, Samrazi fi red the gun.
The shot cracked like a cannon. Ali screamed and his gun fell to the fl oor.
Two seconds of silence, then the sound of voices started up and down the camp. Mac stabbed his stunner into Samrazi’s chest and pressed the switch. Samrazi’s chest heaved like a horse had kicked him. Eyes rolled, he went limp. Behind Mac, Manny had pacifi ed the other sleeper.
Mac duct-taped Samrazi’s wrists and ankles, broke a couple of caps of Xanax into the Indon’s mouth. Manny came over, threw Samrazi into a fi reman’s lift.
Mac pulled down his M16, checked for load – a nervous habit.
Exchanges of fi re had started up outside the camp. Ward’s men laying down diversionary fi re, hopefully pulling the camp’s inmates away from the north dorm.
He looked through the door. The lights were on down the length of the corridor. Doors were opening, young Indons or Malays appear-ing. Some were armed. They were confused, even comical, in three am hair styles.
Mac pulled his head back in.
Manny already had his M4 slung at hip height and Samrazi over his left shoulder. He nodded at Mac.
As they pushed into the corridor, Mac kept left and started fi ring.
The tangos didn’t know what was happening. Most were dead before they hit the fl oor. Manny was on Mac’s four o’clock, more accurate with one hand than Mac was on a range.
They moved towards the guardhouse, squinting hard as their eyes adjusted to the lights.
Gunfi re continued from the western side of the camp. They raised the pace, moved past the game show host and jogged out into the desert.
‘Mate, get this bloke to Foxy,’ said Mac. ‘Keep him alive. I’ll give the guys a hand.’
Manny gave thumbs-up and march-jogged the way the special forces do.
The radio silence had broken and bursts of adrenaline-powered commands fl ew across the airwaves.
Mac circled around the north end of the camp building, his ovies drenched in sweat. He poked his head round the corner, watched it unfold: four SAS blokes in a half-moon, three in the classic kneeling marksman pose, the other in the prone position. They laid down three-shot bursts of fi re at the trainees who were fi ring wildly into the desert. Tracer rounds glowed white, but tangos kept falling. An RPG came whistling out of the canvas but fl ew over the SAS boys and into the great beyond. They were wankers, thought Mac, but well-equipped wankers. Their basic issue seemed to be MP5s; he could hear their signature sound.
One group of tangos, still in their underwear, had got in behind a white LandCruiser parked between the camp and the SAS. Three of the boys fi red around the truck. One bought it in the shoulder, a hideous thwack that twisted the kid into a standing contortion before he dropped to the dust, staring at the clear night sky. The others looked at him briefl y, then one of the tangos opened the rear door of the Cruiser and pulled out a box while the windows and tyres were being shot out. He threw the box on the ground, pulled out an RPG. The air whistled with lead. He took a shot in the ankle. He leaned against the Cruiser, his foot dangling by skin. Mac watched him pull the RPG onto his shoulder, and then turn on one leg. One tough kid. He moved along the bonnet of the Cruiser, prepping to fi re. Mac aimed up, shot him in the fl oating ribs with a three-shot burst.
The other two shooters turned and Mac took them down.
Mac’s new fi ring angle allowed the SAS boys to race in. They took the western side of the LandCruiser, keeping the fi re-rate constant.
One of them lobbed a fl ash grenade at whoever was left.
The dust and smoke cleared as insults and shouts came from inside the building. Mac sparked the radio mic. ‘Wardie, let’s get out while the going’s good.’
Ward didn’t want to know. ‘We’ve still got tangos in there, Mac – I reckon fi fteen, twenty of the bastards.’
Ward was talking into his mic but hadn’t taken his eyes from the sights of his M4. ‘Gimme fi ve, Macca – we’ve got these cunts.’
Mac didn’t want to hang around. ‘Snatch completed, mate, time to roll.’
There was a pause. The kind of thing that always happened when the soldiers realised the intel dude was pulling rank. Again. Joint missions required loads of trust between military and spooks. But when it came down to it, the soldiers – SAS, SEALs, Green Berets
– found it almost impossible to walk away from a bunch of tangos who were shooting. It wasn’t in their nature or their training.
‘Roger that… sir,’ replied Wardie. Almost snide.
The clear-out proceeded without trouble. They RV’d at the top of the dune where Manny had already hogtied Samrazi and bundled him onto the carrier rack of his bike.
The camp was silent but, looking back, Mac could see fi gures stalking around the north end. He watched as Ward switched frequency.
Saw him morse something with the manual radio trigger.
They moved down the dune, packed their stuff, got on their bikes. The adrenaline eased and Mac vomited quietly into the dirt. His overalls were wet down the back. He put on a fi eld jacket and helmet.
The SAS lads did the same.
Foxy led them out. Seven minutes later Mac heard the F-111s roar in from RAAF Base Darwin. They stopped their bikes and behind them, over the horizon, the air boiled up twenty or thirty storeys into the sky, fl ashing orange, white, red and then orange again. The ground shook slightly, and the group turned east again for the helo pick-up.
Samrazi would sing, Mac was sure of that, and the Australian government would own a pile of free HMX that Mac and Manny had buried in the desert.
Mac watched the Dean of History and wondered how much of this chat was Davidson’s doing, how much a testament to his own genius.
The fact that the dean referred to him as being from Foreign Affairs put the odds heavily in favour of it being a gift from Tony Davidson, Mac’s recently retired boss.
Mac had fl own in from Townsville that morning on an Air Force fl ight after a day sleeping and debriefi ng. Today’s mission: fi nd a solid civilian job, ease himself into the straight world without anyone noticing, and have a legitimate life to offer Diane.
Going civvie was harder than throwing on a tweed jacket and pulling the degree out of a drawer. It meant decisions about things he hadn’t had to consider before during his adult life. Things like getting a mortgage, selecting a phone company, getting the gas turned on.
Things you learn by living straight. Things a woman expected from a man if she was going to get even halfway serious with him.
Mac hadn’t owned a car since university but he’d owned six or seven identities. There was going to be a learning curve.
He exhaled, made his shoulders go soft.
The dean loaded a briar pipe. ‘Old habit,’ he chuckled.
‘Go for your life,’ said Mac.
The view from the dean’s offi ce in the old Quadrangle building of the University of Sydney looked over a sloping lawn, across one-hundred-and-fi fty-year-old fi g trees and down on to the city. It felt like a stronghold.
The dean smiled, pushed a stapled set of papers across the wooden desk. ‘An adjunct position isn’t much. Sort of a contracted attachment.
But it’ll get you on board and we can take it from there, hmm?’
Mac wanted to throw himself on the old bastard, weep with appreciation. But he stayed calm. ‘Sounds good to me, Jim.’
The dean pushed back against his desk with his right foot, put the pipe in his mouth.
‘I’ve assigned you to Derek Parmenter,’ said the dean. ‘He can brief you on curriculum before the summer break. You can sit in on a few lectures and you should be fi ne for a February start.’
Mac had met Parmenter and didn’t like him much. But he’d be lecturing and tutoring postgrad students on Australian foreign policy in South-East Asia. The gig was an ‘institute’ rather than a faculty, and that suited Mac. He couldn’t complain.
‘Just look it over, it’s all the basic guff,’ said the dean, nodding at the offer. ‘Then sign it and get it back to me by Monday, okay?’
Mac grabbed the letter and looked gratefully at the dean, who pretended to puff on his pipe as he gazed out the window. ‘Can’t even smoke a pipe these days,’ he said, smiling at something far away.
‘Times have changed, Alan – you know that, don’t you?’
Mac had been pegged for paramilitary duties almost the minute he joined the Australian Secret Intelligence Service from university. He’d played rugby in Queensland and he guessed that to a desk jockey in Canberra he’d looked the part. He couldn’t recall any huge desire for the military direction.
So they’d shipped him to the United Kingdom and into the loving arms of the Royal Marines and their infamous commando training in Devon. He was part of an intake of other British and Commonwealth intel recruits sent for a crash course in elite soldiering.
For seven months he was ‘hardened’ as only the Royal Marines believe a man can be hardened. It was brutal. Straight out of an honours degree in history, suddenly Mac was getting his head shaved in the quartermaster’s yard at Lympstone Barracks. The early days were still a blur. He remembered the fi ghts, the cold, the hunger. He remembered purple-faced men with Geordie accents screaming, ‘You silly-looking cunt.’
The Marines built you up physically and then taunted you psychologically. The airborne course was a good example. High-altitude, low-opening jumps weren’t that bad if you’d trained properly.
The killer was the three am test: getting pulled out of a warm bed
‘wakey-wakey, hands off snakey’ – to go HALO jumping in the dark.
Mac went on to the Special Boat Service course, which involved a survival route in the Borneo jungle. The course, known in British military circles simply as ‘Brunei’, entailed hunger, thirst, loneliness, confusion, trench foot, fatigue, malaria, deadly wildlife and madness.
There were swarms of mosquitoes so aggressive he’d been bitten on the inside of his throat.
There was one guy Mac particularly remembered: Lane, the Canadian. Though Mac’s height, Lane was a bulging gym bunny and a black belt in something. Lane had never missed an opportunity to behave like a wanker, bringing new meaning to the concept of self-belief.
In Brunei, Lane’s macho act fell apart in spectacular fashion. On the SBS survival section – the last test in a six-month course – the candidates were placed in four-man teams. Three days into the hike Lane lost it – dehydrated, fatigued, disoriented and completely spooked by the Borneo wildlife that included spiders the size of dinner plates. Lane’s breaking point came when the Malaysian candidate in their team caught a fat snake one afternoon and prepared it as an early dinner. They were so hungry that three of them seized on the snake meat, but not Lane. He was fi nished. The martial artist was in an advanced stage of mental collapse by the time he took a seat by the river and started babbling.
Mac couldn’t even get him to stand – all the bloke could do was cry.
Mac fi nished Brunei with a small piece of his psyche gone forever. When the successful candidates were all out of hospital, they were called out to the parade ground in searing tropical heat.
Five instructors walked the line, ritually roughing the hair of their successful candidates and muttering reluctant praise. Non-violent physical contact was too much for some of the guys.
Mac kept it tight, looked the chief instructor, Mark ‘Banger’ Jordan, in the eye. He’d completed, and he was out. But he’d be a Royal Marine forever.
Mac walked down from the university knoll and north-east towards Chinatown. Happy. Sydney in early summer was all jacaranda blossoms and the smell of frangipani buds. He had a letter of offer in his pocket and a lunch date with Diane.
Diane Ellison had lured him from his single status about six months before. They’d met at an Aussie trade function in Jakarta where he’d introduced himself as Richard Davis, a sales executive from Southern Scholastic Books. It was a lie he hadn’t yet undone.
Mac had been instantly taken with her. She was beautiful and smart, blue-eyed, blonde, tall and curvy. The daughter of a British diplomat, she worked as an IT maven for a global outfi t. She was based in Sydney but her beat covered Jakarta, Manila, KL and Singapore, and her father let her stay in the British compound when she visited Jakarta.
They’d hooked up again in Sydney, as Mac had found more reasons to fl y down from Jakkers. Things had become serious. It wasn’t just the sex, which was great, but all the close-in stuff that Mac had kept in a psychological vault for fi fteen years. She laughed hard when something was funny but was razor-sharp with men who tried to talk down to her. She was also witty, especially after a couple of wines.
Mac really liked that.
It had turned into love.
And she had no idea what Mac did for a living.
That’s where the university job came in. A chance to slip out the back way of his current life and reappear like a regular citizen with regular prospects. The kind of thing civvie women demanded.
She was worth it, thought Mac, patting the lump in his pocket. As the dean had said, Times have changed.
As Mac strode past the University of Technology he looked across the six-lane road at a Credit Union building covered in mirror glass.
He gave it a sideways glance. It was an old habit: use any refl ective surfaces to see who was following. He saw himself and reckoned he didn’t look bad for a thirty-seven-year-old with some hard miles on the clock. But as he turned back to the footpath something caught his attention.
Mac had once spent a secondment with Shin Bet – Israel’s internal intelligence service – learning the part-art, part-science of psychogenic gait analysis. For eight-hour shifts he strolled in front of one-way glass at Ben-Gurion Airport, sat in front of monitors at Haifa’s central railway station and walked the public concourses of the infamous bus interchange in Jerusalem. Between the Shin Bet offi cers, most of whom were women, and the classes at the academy, Mac learned the psychogenic truth that acting natural is more conspicuous than just being naturally nervous. Things happened to your body when you consciously tried to correct nervousness. You tensed down the front of your pelvis, for example, which resulted in a lifting of the heels as you walked.
The bloke behind him now had that overacted coolness. Mac reckoned him as twenty-fi ve, Anglo. He was dressed like a student with a red backpack, navy T-shirt and runners. He had a medium build, was six foot and professionally exercised. He looked the part, thought Mac, and the bare head was at least a start since only amateurs wore hats on a tail. They made you a walking, breathing beacon.
He checked the time: twenty minutes before lunch with Diane.
Mac looked ahead, saw the pedestrian lights across Harris Street holding on red and a bunch of people waiting for the light to go green across the busy intersection. He slowed, stopped and looked intently in the window of a big university bookstore, keeping his peripheral sight on a circle to his left. He wanted his stalker to pass.
Making as if to move towards the pedestrian crossing, Mac saw the traffi c lights turn to amber. He stopped, turned back to the bookstore, an academic catching sight of something. Then he counted down ten seconds to himself, not looking at the crossing at all. The kid would be getting jumpy, probably also having to feign interest in Windows XP boxes or a book on economics by Samuelson.
Mac heard the squawking of the green pedestrian signal and waited until he heard it stop. Seven thousand, eight thousand, nine thousand
He counted it down slowly then stood straight and started towards the crossing. The crowds had crossed and a few people were building up again on the kerb as the light fl ashed red. He had fi fteen metres to make the crossing. He accelerated and made the distance in four strides. Horns sounded and cars edged forward as Mac ran across the four lanes.
He made the east side of the street and slowed to a walk, panting slightly as he slipped into the cool of a crowded convenience shop.
At the newspaper rack he turned and waited. He could see the kid across the road, rubber-necking like a tourist worried he wouldn’t see another kangaroo.
Mac needed to make sure any backup broke cover too. He picked up a banana from a display tray and moved back into the swirl of the shop, positioning himself behind two customers. On the other side of Broadway, a middle-aged tenderfoot had his hands in his pockets, whistling at the sky. Mac thought he knew that face. It was ludicrous.
He guessed the backup had made him, so the tail would hang back. Mac bought the banana, left the shop and kept walking with the lunch-hour pedestrians along Broadway as it swept around left towards the broad boulevard of George Street. In front of him the panorama of Sydney’s theatre district opened up. Mac was certain that the backup guy would now have stepped in as the main tail. His mind spun with the possibilities. They both looked Aussie. Service? ASIO?
Two blocks down the slope of George Street Mac came to an old hotel bar on his left, with several identical glass-door entrances spaced about ten metres apart. He sped up, doubling his walking speed through the foot traffi c. As he reached the last glass door on the corner he turned left without stopping and pushed straight through into the pub.
It was dim inside. No one looked up from the horseracing on the bar TVs as Mac moved through the gloom and a door marked BISTRO. He kept moving through the cool of the air-con, into the pokies parlour, with scores of slot machines whirring. Against the far wall was a glass door that led back onto the street.
He took off his jacket, put his left arm on the top of a pokie machine and looked at it intently, while keeping an eye on the door under his left armpit. Almost immediately the backup passed the door, stressed and sweating. Perfect.
Mac was straight out the door and into Mr Backup’s shadow. He was hoping that by removing his jacket he’d lose the tail who was probably behind Backup. Suits not only change your colour – they change your shape.
Mac blended into the pace of the street and followed Backup, who was dressed in pressed blue jeans, riding boots and a windbreaker
– way too hot for the weather and a sign that the bloke was probably armed.
Mac watched him slow, fade to his left at the door Mac had disappeared through forty seconds before. Mac was closing so quickly that by the time Backup moved through the inward-swinging door, Mac was right behind him. He moved into the small of the guy’s back and pushed the banana in hard, steering the portly bloke towards an empty bench table that looked out on the street.
‘Keep your hands open and where I can see them, mate,’ he hissed.
Backup did as he was told.
‘And make that a schooner of New, you bludging bastard.’
Backup hit the table and turned. His fl orid face glowed.
‘Jesus Christ, Macca. Sorry, mate.’
Rod Scott was an old colleague from the Service who was once expected to rise through the ranks, do a lot of lunching in Jakarta and KL. He was at least ten years older than Mac and had been assigned to the young Alan McQueen during the fi rst Iraq War. And here he was tailing friendlies in Sydney.
Mac shook his head, threw the banana on the table. ‘Mate, what are you doing in the fi eld?’
Scott’s face dropped and Mac instantly regretted his cattiness.
‘Fuck it, Mac. You want that beer?’
The door fl ew open. Mac had been waiting for it. The young crew-cut tailer came through in exactly the pose Mac had expected: right hand under his left armpit and into his backpack.
Scott stepped in. ‘It’s okay, mate,’ he said, holding the youngster’s arm. ‘I’ll see you back at the car in thirty. Right?’
The youngster slowed his breathing and looked from Mac to Scott as the punters in the pub went back to their racing. He was confused as he made for the door.
‘And mate,’ muttered Scott, ‘stay off the air on this, all right?’
The youngster nodded and left, giving Mac a sneer.
Scott brought two beers back to the stand-up table.
Mac worried at his watch. ‘Better make it snappy, mate. Only got a couple of minutes.’ The tension had gone out of the air -
Scott hadn’t been tailing Mac, as such, just having a look at his movements before moving in for a chat.
Scott’s eyes lost their professional hardness as he sipped his beer.
‘Sorry about this bullshit, Mac. Tobin’s got something for you. Urgent.
He wants to talk.’
Mac felt the bottom fall out of his day. Greg Tobin was the Asia-Pacifi c director at the Service. He headed a territory that spread from New Delhi across to Tokyo and down to Jakarta. Tobin had taken over from Tony Davidson four weeks earlier in what had been one of the most unpopular successions in Service memory. Even in a profession staffed by sneaky little shits, Tobin was the alpha shit. He was the new breed: slick, expensive suits and armed with an MBA. Not high on fi eldwork experience but great at getting promoted. Tobin had not acknowledged Mac’s transition agreement, which meant he might pretend it didn’t exist.
‘I’m on the way out, Scotty.’ Mac eyed the beer but decided against it. He didn’t want Diane thinking he was on the piss with the boys.
‘Thirtieth of January and I’m gone, right?’
Scott nodded, not meeting Mac’s eye. ‘Look, mate -‘
‘No. You look. I’ve done it all by the book, I’ve done it totally the way Davidson and the department wanted it.’ Mac felt his anger coming up and he breathed deep. He could see Scotty was scared. ‘I’ve even landed a straight job. This Sydney Uni gig is Davidson’s doing.
Look at me,’ said Mac, holding his arms out, looking down at his charcoal suit and black offi ce shoes.
Mac realised he’d been yelling slightly and he calmed it. ‘Christ, Scotty, why didn’t someone just call?’
Mac already knew the answer to that one. Getting into the spy trade was the easy part. Surviving the debriefi ngs, departmental threats and surveillance on your way out was another thing. Intel operatives never really left the life.
Mac had been where Scotty was now back in ‘02. A fi nancial operative named Kleinwitz had tendered his resignation. The offi cial reason: he’d fallen in love with a local bird during a posting in Manila.
Problem was, Kleinwitz was simultaneously applying to the Australian Trade Commission. Mac was in Manila at the time and was thrown the debrief.
He didn’t like it. Kleinwitz just didn’t vibe in love. His fi le had no trail of love affairs – no wife, no girlfriends, no interoffi ce bed-work, no whoring. His colleagues had him as a professional robot.
The girlfriend was news to them.
Kleinwitz didn’t drink, smoke or gamble and his music tastes ran to Phil Collins – the ninety-nine per cent giveaway that this boy was no bounder. His induction fi le revealed a wave of girls, women and men paid to lure Kleinwitz into bed during his fi rst posting in KL.
Standard procedure with new recruits. The accounting major hadn’t blinked. Mac recognised the name of one of the contractors paid to seduce the geeky young Australian at the embassy. If that bird couldn’t make Kleinwitz giggle, then something wasn’t right.
Mac had run a two-week tail on the bloke. Yes, there was a bird – a dancer from Angeles City. She was clean. But a bit more digging and intel from the Australian Federal Police turned up her brother, a hoodlum named Miggy Morales. Miggy ran nightclubs, Miggy ran bare-knuckle fi ghts and, most interestingly, Miggy ran brothels where the bait was prepubescent boys. Mac reckoned Kleinwitz was being blackmailed into joining Trade. And where there was blackmail there was a rival intelligence outfi t – probably the Chinese – getting an advantage it shouldn’t have.
Mac had cornered Kleinwitz in a basement room at Southern Scholastic Books. Helping out were two offi cers from the Service, Nguyen and Kritikos, along with the AFP’s intelligence liaison offi cer, Jenny Toohey.
Mac started hard, accusing bug-eyed Kleinwitz of being a rock spider. Accused him of being blackmailed by Miggy Morales and his sister. Mac told Kleinwitz that as far as he was concerned, the Mindanao Forest Products infi ltration had gone pear-shaped because he was doubling. Kleinwitz was integral – as the accountant, he had constructed the whole fi nancial scenario. And a local asset had died.
Kleinwitz stayed calm until Mac pulled out the black and whites of Kleinwitz on a bed with a couple of Miggy’s boys, who did not look to be enjoying the experience. Mac threw them on the bolted table top and watched impassively as Kleinwitz squirmed in his chair, the blood rushing into his face. Kleinwitz took another look at the pics and smirked. Jenny Toohey – standing fi ve-ten and a former Australian Universities basketballer – took a step forward and landed a straight right in his teeth.
Canberra dispatched its I-team, a shady group made up of seconded cops, soldiers and intelligence types whose job was completing
‘sensitive disengagements from Commonwealth employment’.
So Mac knew this part of the game. Didn’t like it, but he knew it.
‘When and where?’ he asked Rod Scott.
She rose as Mac walked into the Happy Dragon.
The Chinatown lunch crowd turned as one. She was wearing a sleeveless black linen knee-length dress, her honey-blonde hair falling to her bare, tanned shoulders. Mac’s heart rate bumped up a couple of notches.
‘Hi Richard,’ she purred, quietly cross at his lateness. ‘How did it go at the university?’
‘No worries. Yeah,’ said Mac, greeting her clumsily, a bit distracted.
They leaned in and he kissed Diane’s hair rather than her cheek. Her kiss landed on his cheek, where it always did. Diane had a wet kiss – a kiss you still felt on your face two minutes later.
He sat heavily and babbled about the uni job until he ran out of puff. There wasn’t much else to say. He’d been offered the job and he was going to take it.
Diane smiled at him and raised her glass in a toast. ‘To Richard the Brainiac.’
He tried to get with the spirit, have a laugh. But wine splashed out of Mac’s glass when he tried to drink. He could feel himself losing it. All that embassy life had given Diane a knowingness about life and men, and sometimes Mac felt she was looking straight through him.
As if he would always be the small-town Queensland boy – a ton of energy but no class.
Mac knew how to track, snatch and dispatch people. He could interview, interrogate and inveigle. He could manipulate perceptions with deceptive scenarios. But he had no idea how civvie relationships actually worked. He was used to cops and customs girls, embassy staffers, assistant military attaches, trade mission offi cers – the classic embassy-colony types. All of them work-obsessed, slightly worthy and deeply embedded in the politics of bureaucracy.
In the last few weeks his professional demeanour had been falling apart as Diane came closer to the centre of his life and a new part of himself tried to emerge. She made fun of offi ce politics and jockeying for favour, and made it clear that the best thing about her job in IT was that she was largely her own boss. Diane thought men in suits were boring and the women who loved them were even worse. She was hilarious and had the vaguely piratical air of a rebellious person born to privilege. And Mac loved her for it, an indulgence he couldn’t really afford.
The situation was ridiculous: Diane thought he was a textbook sales executive called Richard who spent a lot of time in South-East Asia. How long did you keep that up when you had feelings for a girl?
In the Service they’d have said his nerves were going, that he was choking.
Mac made a joke about the heat in the restaurant, and calmed himself by acting the part of a composed person. Diane twirled the stem of her wineglass between thumb and forefi nger. She leaned on her left hand and focused on him. ‘Are you avoiding me, Mr Genius?’
Mac realised he’d sat down opposite her. Diane liked him to sit adjacent to her, so she could hold his hand under the table. The fi rst time it happened, at a restaurant in Jakarta, Mac had blushed.
Now Diane raised her hand imperceptibly at the maitre d’ and three men descended on their table. Mac never liked this sort of carry-on. Diane gave a slight wink to the maitre d’ as he bowed, and asked him to change the setting for ‘Mister Richard’.
The Chinatown lunchers smiled as Mac stood and waited for the setting to be changed. One bloke nodded at him with a silly grin, until his wife gave him The Look.
When he sat down again, Diane grabbed his hand and put it on her lap. He tried to avoid her eyes. He took a peek. She was smiling, blue eyes sparkling.
He was way, way gone on this bird.
Mac found a small park under the southern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge as Japanese newlyweds hammed for their photographer.
The lunch had not gone well. Mac couldn’t get his mind off what Tobin might want, and so close to his retirement. Diane had wanted to talk about something. Mac knew it was relationship stuff, an ‘us’ chat – the future. He couldn’t do it and made sure she couldn’t take things in that direction. Then he’d claimed an urgent meeting and done a runner.
He felt like he was tearing himself apart, four or fi ve ways at once.
Mac took another look at the wedding party. He couldn’t look at a camera without thinking about surveillance; couldn’t look at a groom and his bride without wondering where their backup was and thinking, Is it a snatch or a hit?
He couldn’t do it anymore, couldn’t live two or three lives, operating under three names, working for bullshit companies, travelling on false passports, inducing weak people to be even weaker by betraying something they shouldn’t. Couldn’t pull missions and not even speak about them with colleagues.
He couldn’t shoot up a terrorist camp in the outback and then schmooze the Dean of History two days later. Couldn’t break up a street detail and then go to lunch with the woman he loved like nothing was wrong.
It was all wrong.
No one in his world really had the nerves for what they did. To establish trust and then suddenly become the blackmailer, the torturer or the executioner to those who believed in you was not a question of nerves. It was about shutting off a part of yourself – a part that Mac had shut down to get through the Royal Marines and SBS.
Diane had opened him up, and now there was no going back.
He was out.
He pulled his mobile phone from his suit pocket and turned it on. He assumed it was bugged. He thought about saying something smart into the back of it, but he didn’t.
Play it cool – be the straight guy.
The messages icon came up and he dialled in to the voicemail.
The fi rst message was from Diane, wanting to know why he was late for lunch. The second started with Richard, I really wanted for us to talk at lunch… and ended with… I’ll send the books I borrowed over to the offi ce.
Perhaps I could get my keys…
Mac approached the back entrance to Southern Scholastic Books with Scotty two steps behind. They walked through the fl uoro-lit open-plan offi ce space, past ‘secretaries’ and ‘sales people’ who were mostly on phones or working screens. ASIS was supposed to have a foreign-only brief, but if you ran around Asia with a card from an Australian company, you needed an offi ce in Sydney.
A group of Malays in a fi shbowl meeting room turned and looked as he walked past. He smiled, gave thumbs-up, and walked into a large corner offi ce reserved for the visiting brass. Greg Tobin looked up. Three men in dark suits sat on a sofa.
Tobin came at him like a campaigning politician, the confi dence shining from his perfect teeth. He hadn’t changed since his glory days at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. He was still tall, tanned and athletic with perfect black hair, clipped close and pushed back.
Although he had a large jawbone he still managed to look as sleek as a seal. Errol Flynn without the mo. A good-looking man used to having things happen his way.
‘G’day mate,’ he said heartily. Mac shook his hand and watched Tobin spin on a heel and walk back to a large dark desk. He smelled of success, like freshly mown grass.
‘Have a seat, mate,’ said Tobin as he leaned back in a leather chair. ‘Just on my way up to Tokyo and thought we might have a chat, huh?’
Mac took a chair and scoped the three men on the sofa to his right. They stared back at him. Two of the men he didn’t know. The third he recognised: David Urquhart, who smiled briefl y without warmth before turning away.
Mac didn’t like it.
Urquhart and Mac had endured boarding school and uni together.
They’d played footy, sunk beers and chased girls. But Urquhart was of a different tribe to Mac. He was one of those blokes who always moved in the slipstream of power and didn’t pretend he was anything other than the manager of his own upwardly mobile fortunes. He’d begged Mac many times to make more of his UQ background and burrow further into the power structure of Australian intelligence – a part of the Commonwealth bureaucracy that had been heavily infl uenced by UQ graduates over the years. But Mac wasn’t up for it.
Didn’t have the ticker for the toadie routine.
‘So, Al, you’re leaving us?’ said Tobin, breaking into Mac’s thoughts.
‘But according to my debrief, we have a few months more of your expertise available to us, right?’ asked Tobin.
Mac said nothing. He had a velvet box in his suit jacket that would have to go back to the jeweller, he had a job offer from Sydney Uni that was suddenly looking very shaky and he had a transition agreement with Tobin’s predecessor which he assumed was about to be ripped up in front of his face.
Davidson had said, Bring in Samrazi then take a break till you leave.
Urquhart wouldn’t meet Mac’s eyes and Scotty moved his feet awkwardly in the doorway. Not a good sign. Scotty was embarrassed.
‘Good, good,’ murmured Tobin, then held out his hand to one of the fl unkeys on the sofa, a Commonwealth bodyguard by the look of him. The bodyguard reached into a black document case and came out with a fi le. He was meat-fi ngered and slow. Tobin almost clicked his fi ngers.
The fi le was a standard manila folder, with plastic binders along the top. Tobin opened it and looked at Mac, closed it and half threw, half slid it across the desk. Mac had to get out of his chair to pick it up. Tobin creaked back in his leather chair, put a shiny black shoe on the desk and settled his fi ngers in the cathedral position.
‘Her name’s Judith Hannah,’ said Tobin, looking down at his two-hundred-dollar tie as Mac opened the fi le. ‘Smart, pretty, going places.
So God knows what she’s doing with us, eh boys?’
Tobin’s little gang laughed in that lifeless way of the politically astute.
Mac opened the fi le and eyed a black and white photo of an attractive blonde in her twenties.
‘What’s she done?’ asked Mac.
‘Don’t know,’ said Tobin. ‘But we’d like to fi nd out.’
Mac turned to the fi nal page of Judith Hannah’s fi le. Her last posting was the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, her cover was ‘business development offi cer’ at Southern Scholastic Books. Mac couldn’t remember meeting her.
Tobin shook his head. ‘She’s gone, mate.’
Mac looked up. ‘Where?’
‘Gone from the embassy, gone from the compound. Seems to be on the run.’
Mac looked at the sidekicks for a clue. They deadpanned.
He looked back to Tobin. ‘From what?’
‘Like I said – we need to fi nd that out.’
‘From me? Where’re the Feds?’
Tobin squinted at him. ‘Can’t do that, mate. There’s no crime, we have no complaint. Besides, the AFP already have a bigger network than us in Asia. Why give ‘em a free kick, eh boys?’
The sidekicks nodded their agreement.
Mac had what they called an S-2 classifi cation, which meant the Minister for Foreign Affairs had authorised him to carry and use weapons in the conduct of his duties. Because of the way the Service was structured, only a handful of colleagues knew of this secret status.
But Tobin knew, and sending him to fi nd a girl recruit was like using a cold chisel to fi x a Swiss watch. What this was really about was the special access the AFP had gained to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet during the tenure of the current government, at the expense of intelligence outfi ts like ASIS. This was about empires.
‘What about I-team?’ asked Mac.
‘Steady on, old man! I said we didn’t know what she’s done.’
Tobin laughed, then pretended to be collecting himself. ‘That’s why I need someone to just slide in there, have a chat and get things sorted.
The I-team?! Shit, mate – fair dinkum!’
Mac ignored Tobin’s song and dance. ‘No one in Jakkers can do this?’
Tobin gave him a smile that said, Grow up.
Mac exhaled through his teeth, looked at the ceiling. Fuck!
Tobin changed his tone, fi xed Mac with a stare. ‘Mate, I need you on a plane tonight.’
Mac was forty-two thousand feet over north Queensland when he pulled Judith Hannah’s fi le from his briefcase. He was in business class on the late-afternoon Qantas fl ight to Jakarta. Executives were sprinkled around the upstairs deck of the 747. Still in his interview suit, Mac sat alone by the window.
Judith Hannah had a fi rst-class honours degree in law from the University of Sydney and an MA in history from the same place. Mac ran his fi nger down her bio: Protestant. Perfect credentials for the Foreign Service. But she had applied to ASIS and she was accepted on the fi rst go. Must have had a calling or something.
Many people didn’t realise that ASIS was part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its operatives belonged to the same Commonwealth stable as the diplomats and were identical employment conditions and pay scales. The real difference was that ASIS offi cers had individual contracts with the Director-General which made it easier to sack and isolate them. But they all operated out of Australian embassies and consulates. In the parlance of diplomats, they were part of the same mission.
If you really wanted to go places in the public service, you applied for a place in the elites of Treasury or the Foreign Service. That’s how you’d get to graduate to PMC – the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – where all the real glory happened for ambitious public servants.
If you wanted to get to PMC, you didn’t generally set out to be a spook.
Mac worked through the pages. Judith Hannah had joined ASIS straight out of university in ‘01, then trained in Canberra. She’d had deployments in London, DC, LA, Manila and Jakarta. The Jakkers posting told Mac that Hannah was being groomed for interesting things. Jakarta was to the Australian intelligence community what DC was to the diplomats: where the action was; where the Americans and Chinese collided on a full-time basis within the enigmatic context of Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim nation and one which had never fully committed to the US-Australian view of the world. Jakarta was the centre of the Western world’s counter-terrorism activity and Judith Hannah had been given a shot at it just two years into her ASIS career.
He kept fl ipping. It seemed to be a largely uncensored fi le, a rare thing in intelligence circles, where someone was always trying to exert their right to keep information secret from someone else. There were performance reports with the expected conclusions: Hannah was a fast learner, earned people’s trust quickly and had very good ad hoc negotiation skills. A cool cucumber.
There was a list of her specialist rotations: decryption with the British, maritime with the Indonesians, Sinology at the Australian National University, transnational fi nance with AUSTRAC, fi eld craft and interrogation in Canberra, telecommunications units in Singapore and counter-terrorist secondments to Langley and Tel Aviv. It was a full fi le. The Service had done well. Mac found what he wanted down the back. Every ASIS offi cer operated in a team known as a ‘desk’, a sort of specialty they were expected to develop during their career.
There were desks for whatever it was that affected Australian interests, so there was an Indonesia Desk, an America Desk and so on. But a desk team was not confi ned to the embassy posting. You could be deployed in Singapore, but if you were on the China Desk, you were working with other offi cers who were in Jakarta, KL, Manila, DC and Beijing. You’d probably have overlaps with AFP, Australian Customs and Austrade – the Australian trade legation. And if you happened to be on the China Desk or the Terrorism Desk, you would almost certainly be working in some capacity with the CIA and Indonesia’s BIN and BAIS, and probably Mossad and MI6.
Mac sipped on his Pellegrino and allowed his thoughts to wash over him. He was trying to see the scenario of this bird and her story. Because Judith Hannah, according to her fi le, worked on the China Desk.
Too good to be true.
Certainly too good to be missing.
The steward led Mac to a meeting room in the intelligence section of the Australian Embassy and asked if he wanted anything.
‘Coffee, thanks, champ.’
It was past nine pm local time and after two checkpoints of physical search and biometrics Mac was back in a place he knew well.
He felt like shit: needed a shave and a fresh shirt. It was muggy and hot in Jakkers and he wished he’d made better use of the Brut 33 when he’d had the chance.
Mac paused at the threshold of the meeting room out of habit.
Jakarta was a mean town for people in his profession, and even in the lockdown of the Aussie Embassy, he wanted to scope the room. There were four men around a large timber table. Mac knew two: his Service colleague, Anton Garvey, and a US Army Special Forces captain called John Sawtell.
Anton Garvey stood from his place at the head of the table and walked around to Mac.
‘G’day, mate,’ said Garvey, big face lighting up. ‘How was the fl ight?’
‘Piece of piss,’ smiled Mac, ‘once you get used to the shit food, bad air, crap service and the fact you’re only ever a split second away from disaster.’
Garvey laughed. He was a solid, bull-like guy with big arms and a deep tan that included his totally bald head. He dressed in the spook uniform for Asia: polo shirt, khaki chinos and a pair of boat shoes.
He’d done a lot of jobs with Mac and they liked each other. Now that Garvey was moving into management, Mac wondered if the relationship would change.
‘Mate, glad you could make it at such short notice.’ Garvey gestured to a chair. ‘Dave briefed me on the assignment; sorry about all the rush.’
Mac’s mind raced: Garvey had been briefed by Urquhart, not Tobin? So Garvey was answering to the political liaison arm of the Service, not the operational. Puzzled, he threw his briefcase on the table and eased into leather.
‘Quick introductions. You know Charlie from Manila?’ Garvey indicated a dead-eyed guy in his early forties who looked like a tired businessman. He had short, greasy salt ‘n’ pepper hair and slack jowls that rattled around his long face. Mac knew him by reputation: Charles Dunphy, who last time Mac had checked was overseeing the Service’s China Desk. Dunphy inclined his head in greeting, a veteran of meetings that took place in bugged rooms.
On the other side of the table, Garvey introduced Philip Mason, CIA. Mason could have been anywhere from forty-two to fi fty-fi ve, a round-faced Anglo male, shortish, out of condition, navy blue suit, cotton Oxford shirt, no tie but collars buttoned down. Mac had him fi gured as a luncher. Mason leaned across the table, went for the fi rm handshake. Mac took it, smiled. Watched the guy wince.
Only offi ce guys tried the gorilla grip.
The fourth guy, Mac knew: Captain John Sawtell, US Army Special Forces – counter-terrorism. He was based out of Zamboanga City in Mindanao. Neither of them made an attempt to shake hands. They nodded.
Sawtell was dressed in grey sweats and Nike runners. There was nothing to suggest his rank or job, except the haircut and the worked physique. No one would mistake this bloke for a luncher.
Mac’s stomach churned. Sawtell’s presence meant Mac was going into the fi eld again, and he wouldn’t be directing the operation from a hotel room. They wouldn’t fl y a major-leaguer like Sawtell all the way from Zam to fi nd a missing girl, just as they wouldn’t bring Mac up from Sydney. Sawtell was a hardened counter-terrorism soldier whose command was called US Army Special Forces, but was better known to the world as the Green Berets.
‘So, Garvs, we’re looking for a wayward girl,’ said Mac, keeping it civil while he boiled inside, ‘and you bring in the cavalry. Must be some girl.’
Sawtell smirked and Mac clocked that he wasn’t in the loop either.
The suits all stared. Too many years of having their every thought bugged to let loose even a hint of off-message communication.
‘Look, Mac,’ said Garvey, smiling nervously, getting into reasonable-guy mode, ‘you were probably told one thing in Sydney…’
‘And now you walk in here and things have changed a little.’
‘Spare me, Anton. Since when did you need the Green Berets to fi nd a girl recruit?’ said Mac, reaching for the water jug, his head buzzing slightly. It had been a long day and he was hungry and tired.
His mind was still competing for space on the Hannah and Diane front. One bird goes walkabout; another dumps him via voicemail.
Somewhere in there was also a worry that the Sydney Uni job was a trick, like Lucy and Charlie Brown’s football.
Garvey cleared his throat. ‘Okay, mate, I don’t know the whole story either,’ he lied. ‘We’re just the Indians, right?’
Mac caught Sawtell raising an eyebrow. Maybe a black American reacting to the racial bit, or maybe just a special forces hard-head with no fuse for this crap.
Mac wasn’t up for this shit either. His mind was in overdrive: why was Sawtell here? Why was Hannah so important? And why was an Agency guy in the meeting?
Mac eyeballed Charles Dunphy. The intel lifer’s face was expressionless.
Looking at Garvey, Mac said, ‘Okay, mate, spell it out.’
Garvey’s face hardened as he adjusted himself forward and rested his forearms on the Australian hardwood table. ‘Mac, we have a problem with this Hannah bird. She’s missing but the word we’re getting is that she’s on the lam with an American.’
‘Ah, yep,’ continued Garvey. ‘It’s not so much an American, but which one…’
Mason pitched in. ‘One of ours, I’m afraid, Mr McQueen. Peter Garrison – he’s Agency.’
No one said anything for what seemed like ten seconds.
Garrison was a problem.
And so was the fact that Dave Urquhart had briefed Garvey on the missing girl. Urquhart was intel liaison with the Prime Minister’s offi ce. He wasn’t operations.
It had turned political. A snake picnic.
In Mac’s Royal Marines days, the handful of intel people who got through the initial training found themselves in a world of revelation.
The Royal Marines were probably the foremost trainers of intelligence people required to do paramilitary work. And foremost among them was Banger Jordan, an NCO who was not technically running the section but was the person who had a lasting impact on the candidates.
On their fi nal day of training, Jordan took the candidates out to a pub and told them how it really was. ‘The most dangerous animal you’ll ever face,’ said Banger, ‘is an offi ce guy who wants a bigger offi ce.’
Mac had never forgotten that. Not a week of his career had gone by when Banger’s words weren’t vindicated in either small ways or large.
The crap that had just gone down in the embassy was a classic offi ce-guy shit-blizzard where ambitious pen-pushers jacked up some mad adventure to please the political masters. An adventure where the bad guy gets nailed and the girl is saved. Always so clean on a whiteboard but incredibly dangerous for the people who carry it out.
Mac seethed about it as he walked along the largely deserted streets of the expat district of south Jakarta. Police 4x4s and military escort cars cruised the oversized boulevard. There were no sidewalk vendors or hawkers in this part of town. No local lads on Honda scooters crawling the kerbs offering foreigners special deals at the local whorehouse. If those guys showed up they’d be treated as if they had a bagful of C4 over their shoulder. The only locals on the street around here wore their embassy photo ID around their necks on lanyards – an international sign in the brown and black world that said ‘don’t shoot’.
In a strip of Western-style shops not far from the Aussie compound, Mac found a red and white illuminated sign that said BAVARIA LAGERHAUS. He walked past it to the corner. Turned left and kept walking. He stopped after twenty paces, turned and waited. Nothing.
No cars, no people.
He walked back to the corner, paused. Head out, head in. Looked around. Walked to the Lagerhaus, pushed through the swinging doors into the air-con darkness. A polka band played in a corner and European backpackers dressed like dairy maids carried large glass beer steins to tables. Germanic tack hung low.
Mac went to the end of the bar nearest the wall, leaned on it, ordered a Becks and made himself inconspicuous. He had showered and was wearing jeans and a polo shirt. His suit was back in the compound motel room, along with his dodgy phone. He felt tired yet jacked-up on adrenaline, his mind racing in an exhausted body. He wanted out, he wanted respectable, he wanted Diane. He wanted to fl y into a foreign city once in his life and not have to remember if he was Richard Davis or Thomas Winton, depending on whether he was coming into Jakarta via KL or Singers.
The drink arrived, the bierfrau gave him a smile. He gave her the wink, then positioned himself so that a corridor in the corner that led to the toilets was in his peripheral vision.
The clientele were expat. It was after eleven pm and most of them were bombed drunk. Lonely, overworked, overpaid whiteys stuck in a part of the world that was never going to accept them. Somehow the zero-taxation and cheap servants just didn’t cut it. He saw himself as lucky – a bloke with a woman. Then he checked that. He had had a woman. Now he had some running to do to get her back.
Halfway through his beer, Mac saw a Javanese man emerge from the lavatory corridor. He was early forties, full head of hair and very thickly built through the neck, chest and arms. An orange tropical shirt hung loose, covering what Mac knew to be a chromed Desert Eagle . 45. Saba’s bodyguard.
The man cocked his head slightly at Mac and turned away, scanning the room with casual menace.
Mac left his beer at the bar, walked to the corridor. The bodyguard let him go past and followed him down the hallway. They stopped in front of a door at the end. The bodyguard moved in front of Mac, unlocked the door from a key chain, pushed through and waited for Mac to enter.
The room was an offi ce, large and cool. There was a wide oak desk at one end, a bank of screens along the wall and a white leather sofa suite set up around a low coffee table in the middle of the room. The place belonged to a man called Saba. He was ex-BAKIN, Indonesian intelligence from the Suharto days. Now he ran a bar which doubled as a safehouse. All spies had safehouses where they kept spare guns, unoffi cial mobile phones, contraband passports and emergency Amex cards in bogus names. It was no refl ection on the Service, it was just that spies needed to work untriangulated at times.
Mac never paid Saba. He owed him ‘favours’, and so far, the ex-BAKIN man had only wanted the occasional fi le and some telecom logs. But that would change.
The bodyguard patted Mac for weapons. Felt him for wires.
Scraped his fi ngernails over the area just behind the ears and under the hair, looking for the tick-sized fl esh-coloured transmitters that were now being used.
Mac put his arms down. The bodyguard moved to a door on the opposite wall. Opened it, gestured.
John Sawtell walked in, still in grey sweats. He was built like a brick, yet athletic. Mac remembered a detail from the fi le: Sawtell had played for Army as a running back. Mac wasn’t sure how that translated to the rugby codes but it was probably a position requiring high correlations of speed and power. Sawtell was built. And he moved smooth.
The bodyguard saw himself out.
The two men looked at one another. Sawtell broke the silence.
‘The fuck was that shit?’
Mac chuckled, took a seat on the sofa. Sawtell sat opposite in an armchair. ‘That was a mutual secondment,’ said Mac. ‘That’s what that shit was.’
‘Can we speak English, McQueen?’
Mac spelled it out: the Australian intelligence apparatus had statutory sanctions on performing paramilitary work. The US intelligence community had similar laws making it illegal for them to conduct assassinations. It suited both DC and Canberra to ‘mutually second’ agents from one another’s intelligence operations to do certain things for one another that the politicians back home would crucify their own nationals for. Certain things that you may not want the military implicated in. Politicians and intel people called it
‘So you get to tap this Garrison dude?’ snarled Sawtell, not convinced. ‘And some Agency dickhead gets to do a job for the Australians? That it?’
Mac shrugged. ‘I don’t have many more answers than you, mate.
I was told to be in Jakarta this evening to hunt down a missing girl.
Now we have Peter Garrison pissing into the tent.’
‘I assume he’s going to be a nuisance.’
Sawtell was up, moving to a water jug on the coffee table. Mac nodded, Sawtell poured two glasses, handed one to Mac.
‘So excuse my ignorance,’ said the American as he settled into the chair, ‘but who the fuck’s Garrison?’
Mac had a choice: clam up and play it tight, or let the American in on the joke. The smart way was to say nothing. Military guys with snippets of information could go off and actually start thinking for themselves. Not always a good idea. But Mac spilled. After all, that’s why he’d called Sawtell here, away from the full-time listening posts at the embassy. ‘Peter Garrison is a rogue CIA man. Very smart, very dangerous.’
Sawtell paused, looked at Mac, neck muscles fl exing. ‘And you know this, but the Agency doesn’t?’
‘Sure they know,’ shrugged Mac. ‘But he’s been useful, I guess.’
Sawtell looked away. Mac could see he was disgusted with the whole spook thing.
‘Look,’ said Mac, ‘he was stationed for a long time in northern Pakistan and then northern Burma. He’s pulled a lot of real freaky stuff. He’s been on our radar for years. Now he’s in Jakkers and he’s with one of ours.’
‘Freaky? Like what?’
‘Remember the bombing of that Pakistani police compound in ‘03?
CNN ran with it as “The Taliban still strong in northern Pakistan”?’
‘It wasn’t a truck bomb, champ – it was US Navy Hornets. An air strike.’
Sawtell cocked an eye at the Australian, like he was challenging that version of events.
‘You’ve called in strikes?’ asked Mac.
‘There were more codes, grids and passwords than The Da Vinci Code , right?’
Sawtell nodded. Looked away slightly.
‘We knew who called it in about two hours after the air-to-grounds painted the joint – about an hour after the Agency told their stooges at CNN that it was a Taliban truck bomb.’
Sawtell’s nostrils fl ared. ‘Why?’
‘The Pakistanis were fi nally pulling their fi ngers out and shutting down the heroin-for-arms trade.’
‘Was Garrison part of it?’
‘Sure, and more than just Garrison – remember, the Agency kept him on the leash. They sent him to Burma after the fi reworks.’
Mac watched the soldier’s jaw muscles bulge. Your average special forces guy lived in fear of a friendly-fi re incident since it was one of those things you could never train for, couldn’t control. The idea of some slippery pen-pusher calling in friendly fi re on purpose was the kind of thing that made soldiers talk about calling in their own personal head-shot.
Mac didn’t want Sawtell distracted. He just wanted him to know the calibre of the person they were hunting.
‘So where does the girl fi t in?’ asked the soldier, fi nally breathing out.
‘Don’t know,’ lied Mac. He looked at his civvie watch. ‘Gotta go, mate – we’re on a plane at fi ve.’
Sawtell stood and turned for the door he’d come through, then stopped and fi xed Mac with an X-ray look. ‘That was some shit in Sibuco, huh?’
Mac’s heart sank. He wasn’t close enough to touch wood. He hated talking about missions where someone carked it. ‘Yeah, those are some boys you got there.’
‘They call you the Pizza Man, by the way,’ Sawtell winked. ‘Just thought I’d warn you.’
The street was even quieter now than an hour ago. It was almost midnight and Mac sauntered the three blocks to the Aussie residential compound. He concentrated on relaxing from his feet to his head, breathing hibiscus fumes deep and slow and trying to concentrate on pleasant things.
But he couldn’t clear his mind. Sawtell had asked, ‘Where does the girl fi t in?’
The fi le on Garrison said he’d been seen with Chinese agents. In Jakarta. He was believed to be fronting at least two identities in Chinese intelligence’s preferred banking domicile of the Cook Islands.
Now Garrison had inveigled himself into the Australian China Desk, the Hannah bird was missing and their last known sighting was a place Mac had vowed to never visit again.
The morning fl ight was landing them in Sulawesi – land of a thousand nightmares.
Frank McQueen left nothing but shadow in his wake: rugby league star, North Queensland’s top detective and veteran of the Vietnam War.
When cattle-stealing season came around, all the young detectives put up their hands for Frank’s expeditions into the interior. Mac grew up poring over the newspapers with his sister Virginia, looking for the inevitable photograph of their dad dragging a couple of ringbarked bumpkins into the lock-up.
When Mac won a sports scholarship to Nudgee College in Brisbane, Frank gulped down some big ones. That was until he realised that the pride of Queensland Catholic education preferred rugby over rugby league. Frank regularly captained Country Police in their annual rugby league stoush with the Brisbane Cops and Frank didn’t like the idea of his son going to Nudgee to play a sport he declared was only for
‘wankers or ponies’.
Mac spent his privileged education smarting under the sneers of his father. Even making Queensland Schoolboys in his senior year couldn’t turn it. Everything hinged on Mac going into the Queensland cops and getting an armchair ride through the Ds as Frank’s Son.
The day he phoned his mother and told her he’d taken a job with a textbook company, his mum actually groaned. He didn’t tell her he was going to be a spook. Wasn’t allowed. Didn’t know that the fi b he told her would be a lifelong habit.
Frank got on the line, asked Mac a couple of questions and fi gured it pretty quick. ‘Don’t tell me, this place is in Canberra and Jakarta, right?’ Frank upgraded his insult about rugby players. ‘Intel people,’ said Frank, who was infantry in Vietnam, ‘are wankers and ponies.’
Which was what Mac was thinking about as he strode in a crowd across the sticky hot tarmac of Makassar’s Hasanuddin Airport, carrying a black suit bag over his shoulder, a black wheelie bag trailing behind.
In order to get the salesman cover going he wore a short-sleeved beige safari suit, Italian brown woven shoes and a pair of Porsche sunnies. His thin blond hair was gelled straight back and he had a thick gold chain at his neck. The tan was real but it could easily pass for one of those indoor jobs. It was the salesman look he affected for travelling as Richard Davis from Southern Scholastic Books.
If Frank saw his son like this, Mac’s cover would be secure. Frank would ignore him. Stone cold motherless.
Just after ten in the morning and the pilot had warned them that it was already thirty-eight degrees at the airport. To the south, massive cloud formations rose thousands of storeys into the air – black, blue and purple and staring down over the tropical sauna of southern Sulawesi.
There was no wind: the very air strained under the weight of what Mac reckoned was ninety-eight per cent humidity.
Mac glanced back at the Lion Air 737 cooling its wings behind him. Garuda was a nest of spies and informers during Suharto’s era, and no one in the intelligence community had trusted it since. Still, the Lion fl ight was comfortable, unlike what Sawtell and his boys would be going through: Jakarta to Balikpapan by helo and then a C-130 fl ight into Watampone across the peninsula from Makassar. It would look like a military milk run. No fl ags, no Chinese nosey-pokes.
The cabbie who drove him to the Pantai Gapura was understanding about Mac’s requests for a few detours here and there. There was no tail, but that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be. He got the room he wanted at the Pantai, 521, overlooking the pool bar. There were no balconies looking down on his room and there was only one other door on the fl oor. He checked with reception: no bookings in 522.
He threw his suitcase on the bed and opened it: a few loose clothes and samples. The samples were real: history, geography and mathematics high school textbooks in Bahasa. He took a blue Nokia from the bag and made a call to a number in Canberra which was routed through Singapore and into the government/military secured section of the Telstra cellular system in Australia. He confi rmed arrival and good health with his weekly logs.
Shortly before midday he opened the sliding doors onto the patio and clocked the sprawling resort with bungalows scattered amidst stands of old palms and saltwater pools. Nothing untoward, just screaming Malaysian kids in the pool and nagging parents trying to get them to swim in the shallow end.
Mac rubbed his eyes. He was tired, needed sleep. In two days he’d RV with Sawtell’s team and he’d need a lot of energy in the saddlebags.
Mac re-entered the room, locked the balcony door and swept the main bugging points: phone, TV, coffee table, under the bed, mattress, the lamps.
He found a box of matches and tested the mirrors for two-way vision. They looked okay but naked fl ame was not foolproof.
Running the shower hard he positioned himself behind the main door, where he could also see out to the patio. If the Chinese or Indons wanted to move on him, they’d do it while he was showering. Most business hotels in Indonesia were bugged, some of them for video. If he’d missed a comms point, this should fl ush them out.
He waited fi ve, seven, ten minutes.
Steam wafted into the room.
Ringing down to reception, he complained that the bed was broken. Told the girl he was going out for an hour and wanted it fi xed before he returned.
He hung up before the receptionist could confi rm and let himself into the corridor. Shutting the door he moved to the other end of the landing area, beyond the elevator doors and behind a planter box of indoor palms. He stood still, casual and humming to himself. Just some halfwit Anglo with a game of pocket billiards going on.
Five minutes. Ten minutes.
At fi fteen minutes Mac moved back to the room. If management were in on something, they would have had a spook up the stairs within two minutes to work over his room. The hotel was clean. This shift, at least.
Mac phoned reception again, told the girl not to worry about the bed. He secured the doors, grabbed a cold Bintang from the bar fridge, opened it and put it on the writing table where he watched it sweat. Then he stripped to his briefs, did fi fty push-ups and four sets of fi fteen ab crunches. He shadow boxed up on his toes for six minutes and rewarded himself with the beer.
He pulled the curtains and got into bed. Fatigue raced up on him and his brain swam: he thought of Diane, and what it would take. He thought of the Sydney Uni job and what he’d need to do to keep it on track. The Garvey briefi ng in Jakkers gnawed at him too. Judith Hannah was last seen – or not seen, depending on the quality of the intelligence
– in Makassar, capital of south Sulawesi. With Garrison. Allegedly.
What annoyed Mac was how quickly Garrison had become the focus. Even Sawtell, the Green Beret, had assumed the mission was a hit on Garrison. Then there was Dave Urquhart. Urquhart, the political liaison guy, the fi xer of ulterior motives between the executive arm of government and Australia’s spies. Where there was Urquhart, there was politics. Which meant some poor operational bastard was going to get screwed.
Sleep crept up on him and he got a glimpse of the time he’d been wandering around The Rocks in Sydney with Diane. They’d drunk too much at dinner and were snogging under a restaurant awning while they waited for a rain storm to pass. A couple had come past, the bloke in a suit and his woman following behind. They’d obviously been fi ghting because the suit was withholding his umbrella. Diane saw it and reacted immediately. Yelled out, ‘Give her your brollie, you selfi sh wanker!’
The bloke stopped and the woman moved under the brollie.
The woman had turned and mouthed thank you at Diane over her shoulder.
That’s what Mac had fallen for. A real piece of work.
Mac woke. It was dark. His civvie Omega on the bedside table said it was 3.11. He dressed in a polo shirt and rugby shorts. Dragged the top sheet from the bed, stuffed it under his arm. Pulled on a black baseball cap and dark sunnies and made for reception.
There was one person behind the desk. A young Indon with a bum-fl uff mo. He was sleeping.
Mac bird-whistled and the guy woke with a start.
‘Sorry to bother you, champ. Forgot to get something from my security box.’
The desk guy slapped his pockets as he stood, eyed Mac’s bare feet, cap and sunnies.
Mac winked, friendly: ‘ Maaate. The lights in this place.’
Just another crazy Skippy loose in the tropics.
The desk guy buttoned up his organ-grinder monkey suit, did a quick ID check of Mac’s passport and then led the way through a door behind the reception desk. They walked along a dimly lit corridor, down two fl ights of stairs and into the basement security box area where the desk guy unlocked a thick steel door. Fluorescent lights fl ickered to life overhead as they entered. It was about twenty metres long, fi ve metres wide and lined fl oor to ceiling with heavy brushed-steel lock boxes. There was a footstand at the far end, sitting on the taupe lino, near a table with two chairs.
The hotel was fi nanced with Singapore-Chinese money and one of the fi rst things they must have designed was the safe deposit area.
Mac could feel the surveillance camera on the back of his neck.
The bloke turned, questioning eyes. Mac held up his red plastic key ring with the number 92 on it. The desk guy moved down to 92, looking for a key on his chain. The boxes between 90 and 100 were painted black, the long-term hires that required both the client’s key and the hotel’s master.
They both put their keys into the medium-sized door and turned.
A brushed-steel enclosed tray lay inside. It was the size of four shoe boxes.
The desk guy stared at it.
Mac stared at the desk guy. ‘Thanks, champ – think I’ve got it now.’
The desk guy smiled. Fucked off.
Mac whipped the sheet over his head so it draped over his security box and down to his ankles. He pulled out the tray and opened the lid.
Bundles of US, Australian, Malaysian and Indonesian currency winked back through a seal-lock plastic bag the size of a decent cushion. It was all used notes, perhaps US$40,000 worth in total.
Mac riffl ed the rupiah, peeled off about US$5000. Trousered it, then resealed the money bag and dug around under it. There was a pile of Amex and Visa cards in various names, held together with a rubber band. There were also passports, drivers’ licences, a digital camera, a BlackBerry and a red Nokia that had seen better days. There were two handguns – a Heckler amp; Koch P9S with a black plastic stock grip, and an American-made Walther PPK. 38 – both holstered in navy blue hip rigs. Mac had never used the Walther.
There were four empty clips and several boxes of Winchester. 45s and. 38s. He couldn’t remember how much ammo each contained.
He grabbed the Heckler, two clips and three boxes of. 45s.
Mac slipped the sheet off his shoulders. Turned it into a swag and put his booty in it. Then he left, walking backwards.
Showered and made up like a sales dickhead, Mac ate up large for breakfast: bacon, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, toast, tea, orange juice and half a rockmelon. He was hunkered down in a corner of the Pantai’s huge tropical-themed restaurant, so he’d get a look at the whole room and everyone in it. He was surrounded by Anglo expats and Malaysians trying to cash in on the boom economy of Sulawesi.
Shortly before eight am Mac was running through his day: he needed extra phones, he needed a car – and maybe a driver – and he needed to get on the Garrison/Hannah trail. The Service didn’t have employees or assets in Sulawesi. But they had Minky Bonuya, a local contractor primarily run by the CIA and a hub of the best intelligence on Sulawesi. His long, vulpine face was a real standout in round-faced Indonesia, and Mac wasn’t a great fan of the bloke. But Minky was allegedly the one with the Garrison drum.
As he left the restaurant, Mac walked past a tourist at a fruit stand.
She smelled of the soap that Diane used. Crabtree and Something.
It annoyed him at fi rst but he fell into daydreaming about perhaps travelling with Diane, when he wasn’t working, when he was a regular university lecturer. When…
He snapped out of it. Gave himself a quick tap on the head with the middle knuckle. Thirty-seven years old, and in love for the fi rst time. He didn’t know how people did it.
Minky’s shoe shop was two blocks inland from the Makassar port area. Mac did a fi gure of eight around it, then did some overruns, double-backs and triangulated patterns, with his black wheelie case in tow. Just an overworked salesman looking for his clients. Only this salesman had a P9S handgun sitting slightly behind the front point of his right hip bone, hidden from sight by a safari suit jacket.
Mac wasn’t big on guns, which was why he hadn’t even practised with the Walther yet. Didn’t read the magazines, didn’t have an emotional attachment to them. He had grown to like the unfashionable Heckler for practical reasons. At four inches, its barrel was nice and short, and it was lighter than the big semi-autos like the Beretta and Glock. Sure, it only had seven shots in the clip, but that meant it used a single-stack mag rather than the jam-prone double stacks. It also made it lighter and thinner, perfect for a hip rig. Banger Jordan had hated the shoulder rigs for their record of accidental shootings. He used to say that if he heard about any of his candidates using shoulder holsters in their careers, he’d come over and personally kick their arses. ‘The most likely victim of the shoulder holster,’ he’d said, ‘is the poor cunt standing behind you – and he’s on your side.’
The street looked okay. It was mid tourist season which meant more people to scope but also easier to spot eyes: people who were not relaxing. Some of the cars parked at the kerb – Toyota Vientas and Honda Accords mostly – had men sitting in them, but it wasn’t unlike an Australian shopping district, the missus shopping while blokes read the sports pages. One of the car-bound blokes even looked straight at him: hardly a professional’s technique.
Mac pushed through the door of Minky’s shop into air-con dimness. Minky looked up from behind a glass counter. Smiled like a fox, lips parting to reveal big rodent teeth. Short and middle-aged, his hair was pushed back like an Asian Nosferatu.
‘Aha, Mr Mac – welcome,’ said Minky, coming around the counter in his white dentist’s coat. He shook Mac’s hand.
‘Minky. How’s business?’ said Mac. The smell of leather was good – a blast of childhood.
‘Oooh, so good, Mr Mac. So good.’
This would go on for a while. It was the Indonesian way. Mac used the interlude to case the place: rows of shoes up and down the sides, glass counter at the end of the shop and a glass door into the back room where Mac knew Minky kept his safes and tricky comms gear, including a military satellite uplink-downlink.
The last time Mac was in Sulawesi, Minky had helped him rescue a mining concession that a large Australian company had paid good bribe money to secure. It was being undermined by a bit of Chinese skulduggery and the resolution saw the Aussie mining company having to pony up more money to get what it had already paid for.
Mac took it as a victory but he was always convinced that Minky had taken a cut of the extra fee. Real meaning: Minky had secretly foiled a number of Service-preferred solutions, such as blackmail, in favour of the cheque. After that gig Mac had promised himself that he wouldn’t return to this beautiful and brutal island. During the operation one of his Indon contacts had been hauled off to the cells at the Makassar POLRI compound and beaten virtually to death. Mac always suspected Minky of informing. He’d have done it to ensure he was the only local asset that the Americans and Australians would use. He’d have done it for money. That was Minky.
Now they talked shit.
‘How are you, Mink?’
‘No, how are you, Mr Mac?’
And it was going on for just a shade too long. Mac started to get that cold thing in his gut. That thing when you’re fourteen years old and you cross the dance fl oor of the school formal to ask the girl to dance, and you get that block of ice in your solar plexus. About half a second before she says, ‘No thanks.’
He looked Minky in the eye. Rather than feeling warm towards the bloke, he saw him now as quarry. Minky clocked Mac’s eyes changing and stopped blathering. Gulped. Gear change into scared. Pale-eyed people were not universally well regarded in South-East Asia, mostly because pale eyes couldn’t hide their emotions in the manner required by a face-saving society. Especially violent emotions.
There was a slight movement behind Minky. A tiny shift of refl ection in the half-open glass door. Mac whacked Minky in the Adam’s apple with a knife hand, grabbed the stunned mullet by the hair, pulled him backwards into his stomach and held his face still by wrapping his hand around the little guy’s mouth. Then he squeezed his thumb and forefi nger together on each side of Minky’s face, so he was making the sides of his mouth push inwards on his tongue.
Minky’s eyes bulged, his small hands mincing at Mac’s paw and his legs thrashing.
Mac kept the air fi lled with pleasant nothings as he suppressed any noise of resistance, making it sound as if they were still talking.
Mink’s mouth gulped against the palm of his hand as he advanced slowly on the door to the back offi ce. Mac put his hand back, drew the Heckler.
Minky convulsed, French-kissed Mac’s palm. The vibration of stifl ed scream microwaved Mac’s hand and he pinched Minky’s nostrils shut to stop him moaning. Minky spasmed and vomit cascaded through Mac’s fi ngers. It smelled like curried fi sh. With coriander.
‘Yeah,’ said Mac over his shoulder, as they crept forward. ‘So if we went with the sirloins it wouldn’t be the same thing as if it were blue.
I said that to Dave.’
At the door he stared into the refl ection and got a good angle, recognising the goon standing around the corner. He looked solid and fi t: expensive black slacks, white trop shirt with his hand poised under it.
He was one of the sports page readers. He had been in a silver Accord.
Mac whipped around, wanting to secure the front door against any backup. But he couldn’t risk it. He wanted the goon alive and talkative, so he dropped Minky’s semi-conscious head, walked around the corner and snap-kicked the goon under his left patella. The bloke’s mouth fell open but no sound came out. One hundred and six kilos driven through the front foot will do that. The knee hyperextended but the goon stayed on his feet. Mac put his weight onto his front left foot and threw a low-high hook combination off his left hand. The low shot to the right kidney broke the goon; the high shot to the jaw fi nished him.
Dropped. Like a cheating girlfriend.
Still struggling for breath, Mac looked through Minky’s front door to the packed street outside. He fl ipped the closed sign, slid the bolt, pulled the venetians down and walked into the back room with the goon’s Glock in his back pocket and the Heckler in his right hand.
He tried to control his heart rate with deep breaths. His mind raced.
Who was the goon? What was the larger picture?
Minky was struggling to breathe through coughing fi ts, purple in the face and vomiting. The goon lay on his left elbow, eyes rolling back in his head, face slackened by the broken jaw, leg useless.
Neither of them said a word. They knew what came next. Minky would squeal straightaway. He was a pro. He didn’t know much and what he did know he would give up fast for a torture-free morning.
The goon was well dressed, probably Javanese – a contractor sent to woop woop to deal with the Skippy troublemaker. If that was the case there’d be at least another person. Mac thought hard but couldn’t recall another man in the silver Accord.
His heart rate normalising slightly, he moved to the back door, bolted it. There was no glass. He moved to his right, along the back wall that was covered with electronics, and found a window high up. He stepped on a chair, peeked through the window. His vision was thwarted. Couldn’t see the door area but could see the dusty Accord fi fteen metres away in the dirt car park area. He clocked the registration plate. A man was in the passenger’s seat: Asian, but he didn’t vibe local. Black polo shirt, Ray-Bans and something familiar about him.
Mac got off the chair. He probably had fi ve minutes before the cavalry tried to burst in. He pieced it as good as he could: the Americans had sent him to Minky to catch another American, a CIA rogue who was still Agency. So who was working for whom? Minky had a couple of Javanese thugs ready for a reception party. Or did he have no choice?
Only one of the thugs went in. They didn’t look bumpkin enough for Sulawesi, they looked very Jakarta. The goon gasping on the fl oor wore fl ash slacks and even smelled of Old Spice. That made him either American-or Australian-trained, which pointed to ex-BIN or maybe Indonesian Army special forces, the Aussie-trained Kopassus. However it worked, Mac was feeling fear.
Mac moved to Minky fi rst. He didn’t need prompting. ‘I sorry, Mr Mac. So sorry, please.’
Sorry? They always were.
‘Who’s this, Mink?’ asked Mac, waving the Heckler at the goon.
Minky shook his head.
Mac shot him in the bladder. Knelt on his chest so he couldn’t scream.
Minky’s face went purple.
‘Who’s this, Mink?’ Mac pointed the gun at the other side of the bladder, intimating a second shot. Minky convulsed, groaned deep and vomited on Mac’s safari suit pants.
The goon started moving. Mac stood, looked down on him. The goon wouldn’t meet his eye.
‘This a Garrison job?’
The goon looked at him, surprised.
Now the goon went back to his studied nonchalance. He tried to shake his head but the jaw situation made him wince.
‘Where’s the girl?’ This time Mac raised the Heckler, pointed it at the goon.
Minky sobbed, puked again. Blood soaked into his dentist get-up.
Mac didn’t want to leave without having at least one part of the puzzle. And he didn’t know where he was supposed to be looking.
The goon looked back at the gun. Mac looked at the back door, expecting a charge-in at some point. The goon lashed out with his right leg, caught Mac on the inside of the right wrist. The Heckler tumbled, bounced and slid along the white lino fl oor.
Mistake one: Mac’s eyes followed the gun.
Mistake two: the goon had his hand on the Glock in Mac’s back pocket before the Heckler had stopped sliding.
Mistake three: the goon didn’t fi re immediately.
Mac swung an arc with his left hand, grabbed the goon’s gun hand, twisted it slightly away from pointing at his stomach. Grabbed the gun-hand elbow with his right hand and snapped the goon’s forearm across his knee. The goon was built in the arms but Mac’s adrenaline and speed broke the forearm bones as if he was about to start a camp fi re.
The goon screamed. The cavalry would be coming.
Mac pulled the Glock from the goon’s limp hand and hit him in the temple. Hard. The goon sagged back to the lino, blood running out of his head.
Mac frisked him for a wallet. There was none. He scooped the Heckler, checked for load. An unnecessary yet robotic habit from the Royal Marines.
A kick sounded at the door.
Mac breathed fast and shallow.
Another kick. A man yelling in Bahasa.
He knelt beside Minky, looked at him hard. Saw the bloke’s eyes, saw a deeper fear. The penny dropped. ‘They got your wife, Mink?’
Minky shook his head. The shock was making his teeth chatter.
Minky nodded, tears starting.
‘I’ll get her, Mink, but you have to tell me where.’
Minky was on his way out. His eyeballs were rolling back.
A shot fi red outside the door. No splinters. Minky’s back door was steel.
Mac slapped Minky. A bladder shot usually gives you ten minutes, but Mac’s slug might have bounced into the leg’s main artery.
‘In Makassar? Is that where she is, Minky?’
Another head shake.
‘Is she with Garrison? Tell me, Mink.’
Minky vomited again. This time green and red. It dribbled rather than poured. A bloke about to cark it.
Minky looked up, said, ‘Eighty.’
Mac slapped Minky as his head lolled. ‘What’s that, Mink – you say “eighty”?’ He didn’t get it.
Minky nodded almost imperceptibly, his face pale.
Then he was dead.
Collapsed like a rag.
More gunshots. The sound of lead pinging around in the door.
Mac stood, raced to the front door, then had another thought and went back to the Javanese goon. He pulled back the guy’s trop shirt collar. No luck. Then unzipped the bloke’s pants, pulled them down.
‘If we don’t tell, then it never happened, hey butch?’
He grabbed the waistband, pulled it round. Bingo! A pink piece of paper stapled to the tailor’s label. Mac tore the dry-cleaner’s ticket off the pants, grabbed his black wheelie bag.
He prepared for the worst as he exited. It didn’t come. He walked straight into tourist crowds. Malaysian lawyers and dentists with their kids all kitted out in genuine Sulawesi tribal headdresses.
He fl owed with them, adrenaline bursting like fi reworks behind his eyes. His vision darted everywhere at once, breathing shallow and raspy. His brain was working so fast he could barely think of anything else except silver Honda, black polo shirt; silver Honda, black polo shirt. Silver. Black. Black. Silver…
He walked for fi ve minutes like that before he took his hand entirely off his right hip. There didn’t seem to be a tail. Not from the silver Accord, at least. The two Western-style Javanese hit men probably hadn’t wanted to take their business into the street.
Mac had got lucky.
He lurched to a stand of hibiscus behind a bus stop shelter. Vomited.
For all his reputation as a tough customer, he hated shooting, hated guns and loathed seeing someone die. But no amount of training or experience could stop a trapped and scared animal behaving like a trapped and scared animal. Mac hadn’t shot Minky because he was tough; he’d shot him because he was scared and wanted to control the situation by making the other guy more scared than him. It was a mistake. He’d known that as soon as he pulled the trigger.
He walked and walked. He backtracked, overlapped and did the oldest trick in the game: turned on his heel suddenly and walked straight back from where he came. It looked natural if you pretended you’d forgotten something. He walked past the markets, down to the waterfront, a thriving fi shing town for a thousand years and now concentrating on netting South-East Asia’s holidaying middle classes.
The local jihadists were trying to reverse that with the aid of their old friend, potassium chlorate.
Midday turned into two-thirty real fast.
He dipped into a series of dime stores of the type that blanket Asia: the ones that sell cigarettes, incense and cigarette lighters where the girl’s bikini drops when you turn it upside down. They sell the local rags as well as Tempo, the Straits Times and the Jakarta Post. Mac bought plain Nokias and pre-paid cellular network cards for a Philippines telco called EastCall. He ducked in, he ducked out. He bought phones from different shops and bought a packet of wet-wipes. He ate goreng at a street stand, sitting back in the shadows where Grandma wrapped spring rolls. He didn’t let his eyes leave the street or his hand leave his right hip, and he cleaned Minky’s vomit off his pants.
He did numbers: six shots left in the Heckler, but it would have to be dumped. He didn’t want to go back to the Pantai for the Walther – too risky now. He should have taken the goon’s Glock with him, but now he’d have to pick up a gun when he RV’d with Sawtell.
Would they have a spare? How many more did Garrison have coming for him? And who or what was Minky talking about when he said
He walked some more, looking for a car hire place that wasn’t a big American brand – the CIA data-tapped those franchises quick-smart. And the Americans were starting to look like being part of the problem rather than the solution. Minky was an Agency contractor and the hit squad was probably the same. But whether the ambush was American or Australian, Mac felt relieved that he’d changed the RV with Sawtell from Makassar to Ralla, up the coast. Mac hadn’t been thinking about double-crossings when he’d done that at the last minute. He’d just wanted to keep a posse of highly conspicuous special forces soldiers out of town until he needed them. Now it might give him a day’s head start on whoever was after him.
He asked around and headed inland to a place called Paradise Holiday Hire Cars. A couple of locals had said it was cheap and reliable.
And they took cash.
He passed by the Golden Hotel on the waterfront and watched a bunch of Anglo and Asian junketeers milling around, waiting to get on a tour bus. They looked like IT consultants or telecom engineers.
Local police lolly-gagged with their assault rifl es. Mac slid in amongst the junketeers, smiling and making quippish non sequiturs to no one in particular.
The junket-lovers were putting their day luggage into a pile to be loaded into the luxury coach. Mac wandered among them with his wheelie case. No one challenged him, probably because he was Anglo. One of the great weaknesses of the coalition of the willing’s War on Terror was its inherent ethnic bias. Something was wrong when a pale-eyed white man could wander through the world’s largest Muslim country and receive less attention than a local.
Mac bent down, pulled his blue Service Nokia from his wheelie and put it in the side pocket of a carry-all. The name tag on the bag said Richard Taylor, accompanied by a Melbourne address. The ASIS listening post would track the junketeers for hours, maybe days, before it sounded all wrong.
Mac walked another three blocks, found his rental car place and hired a white Toyota Vienta. He paid in cash for ten days and coughed up for an insurance policy which was worth more as emergency bog paper in Sulawesi than as something that would save him from being sued.
Driving to the outskirts of Makassar, he pulled over into an elevated tourist lookout and tried to collect himself. Rummaging in his safari suit pocket Mac gasped a little at his right wrist as it caught on the fabric. The wrist was now swelling from the kick he’d taken from the goon. He fi shed out the pink dry-cleaner label. It had a serial number under the name SUNDA LAUNDRY – PALOPO. Palopo was a mid-sized coastal town a day’s drive north. If those fl ash slacks had been recently pressed, then Mac was prepared to bet that Garrison – probably Judith Hannah and Minky’s daughter too – were somewhere in the vicinity.
It was all he had to go on. With Minky dead, it would have to do.
Mac grabbed a set of spare socks from the wheelie bag, tied them together in a knot and pulled the lever to open the gas tank fl ap. He found a stick on the ground, about three feet long, and moved to the back of the Vienta. Pushing the socks into the gas tank with the stick, he held the other end and waited for a few seconds before pulling the petrol-soaked socks out. Unclipping the entire hip rig and Heckler from his belt he knelt and wiped down the gun until the whole thing was shiny with gasoline. He dumped it in a rest area bin and went back to the Toyota, grabbed the Winchester loads and the spare mag, wiped them down with the socks and then dumped them too, along with the socks.
Then he got on the road for Ralla, where he was meeting Sawtell the following morning.
He was exhausted. Adrenaline does that to you.
As he drove he thought back to what he had done with that Service phone. It was only the second time in his career that he’d deliberately slipped Canberra’s internal bugging and tracking.
And that time he had also suspected the Service had a mole.
Mac’s need to win was not a recent development. At Nudgee College in Brisbane, they drafted him into the fi rst XV as a fi fteen-year-old.
They put him at half-back and the theory was that if he couldn’t handle the knocks they’d pull him out.
Near the end of that year, Nudgee played Churchie in the annual grudge match: Micks vs Prods. Mac’s mum and dad and sister Virginia came down for the occasion. Mac could tell they were intimidated by the school’s Renaissance architecture and pillared buildings as they took their seats in the bleachers.
The half-back from Churchie was their captain, a senior and full of lip. The guy wasn’t tall but he was built like a brick one. He got in Mac’s face, sledged him something terrible from the start and didn’t exclude Virginia from his abuse. Mac did it the Nudgee way, with a stiff upper lip.
At half-time, Mac was in the middle of the fi eld listening to the coach when he became aware of a red-faced, pale-eyed maniac on the sidelines calling his name. In front of the high-society set of Brisbane, Frank yelled in his broadest North Queensland accent: ‘Do something about this wanker – he’s a fl amin’ ponce.’
His father was right. If the match had been played in Rockie, Mac’s opposing half-back would have copped a slapping quick-smart.
No more sledging.
Mac gave Frank the nod. His father walked back up to the bleachers where Mac’s mother whacked him on the forearm, rolled her eyes.
Virginia stared at Mac, winked.
At the second half’s fi rst scrum, Mac had the feed. The sledger got too close, trying to edge Mac off his mark. So Mac shifted his weight, lifted his right foot, drove his heel down on the bloke’s foot, putting all his weight on that heel. Wind rushed from the sledger’s lungs, the alloy studs creating agony.
The sledger screamed, stood back, eyes rolling in his head. Mac winked at him, blew a kiss. The sledger threw a haymaker, wide-eyed with rage. Mac rolled slightly and copped it above the left ear. Felt like a bowl of ice-cream. The sledger threw another that completely missed. The ref stepped in, sent the bloke off. He had to be escorted by his team-mates.
Nudgee won and Mac wore the taunts about having the Mad Dad for the rest of his schooling. Mac learned this about himself: he could play the Nudgee game, but he preferred Rockie rules. Which didn’t mean he was right to kill Minky. In golf you didn’t get to choose how your ball lay, and in the intelligence game you often had to work with what you had. Mac’s job now, simply, was to get Judith Hannah and, hopefully, Minky’s girl too.
There were no guarantees on that second one. Mac was now cut off from Canberra and pretty sure there was a mole in the organisation, either in Jakarta or Australia. Something had gone wrong in Makassar but it had gone wrong in a way that felt basically out of step. In his profession there was a structure to every type of assignment, and small but badly placed elements could make it all feel wrong. It was like hearing a pop tune on the radio thirty times and on the thirty-fi rst time you hear it, you hear the live version and someone changes a few tiny notes. Your brain still hears the song, and you can adapt, but you know instinctively that a pattern has been broken. That’s where Mac was focusing: you didn’t get a last-minute tasking to go to Jakarta from the Asia-Pacifi c director, and then a late-night briefi ng from a combined ASIS-CIA team to go into Sulawesi, and then on the fi rst and only contact you are given, the bad guys are waiting for you. It didn’t happen like that.
Someone had set it up.
It came down to a case of who: Tobin? Garvey? Urquhart? That Agency wanker with the He-Man handshake?
Mac drove all night. He wanted to beat the heat, avoid taking a rest, stay ahead of anyone chasing him.
The Vienta wheezed up the hills, dying every time Mac needed extra grunt to overtake the hundreds of overloaded freight trucks that populated Indonesian roads by night. The driver’s seat had no cushioning left and most of the asphalt on the blacktop had washed away. Every turn of the tyres was a new jolt that threatened to break the suspension and Mac was constantly throwing the Vienta onto the shoulder of the road as oncoming trucks used the ‘third lane’ to overtake straight down the middle. A nightmare, but negotiating it kept him awake.
He chewed gum, drank bottled water, plotted scenarios, babbled to himself, sang Beatles songs. The air-conditioning was rooted so he stank up the car with BO as he sweltered in the safari suit pants and shirt. Mostly, he lived in the rear-vision mirror. There was a silver Accord out there somewhere and he knew they wouldn’t stop looking.
By midnight his right wrist was puffi ng like a stonefi sh and ached something chronic. He was getting to the point where he wouldn’t be able to hold a weapon, let alone be effi cient with it, and although Mac didn’t much like guns, he disliked even more being injured in his gun hand. Especially when he was in the backblocks of Sulawesi with a hit squad on his tail.
That assumed he could get another weapon. He felt vulnerable without the Heckler, but it was lying in a rest stop garbage bin for the most practical of reasons. White men sweeping into town and killing the locals meant the police were going to be coming at you. All that rubbish about South-East Asian cops not caring was bullshit. Mac knew Indonesian detectives who would do anything to bag a pale-eye, particularly on something legit. The last thing he needed was to be picked up for questioning and have a warm gun sitting in the back seat. It would mean the local lock-up for two weeks while some fruit salad-endowed chief tried to work out how rich an Australian textbook executive might be. The dream that there was some all-knowing super-spook from Canberra who could appear in a Sulawesi police cell, fl ash a badge and get someone like Mac cut loose never came true. People like Mac were what they called an ‘undeclared’ – they had no diplomatic status and if they were caught doing something illegal, their fate was that of the criminal.
Having wiped and dumped the Heckler, Mac felt the POLRI were going to have a tough time nailing him for the Minky murder.
But he still had work to do with the Americans. In his experience, soldiers hated being pushed around on mad missions by intel types. And this was going to be a doozy: the main contact – a CIA contractor – was dead. There were Javanese thugs in pursuit and they didn’t look like amateurs. And Mac hadn’t even got the drum on Hannah.
It was a complete fuck-up. Worst of all, the dry-cleaner’s ticket pointed towards Palopo. It signalled a shift into central and northern Sulawesi. Southern Sulawesi had a cosmopolitan city like Makassar, as big as Brisbane. The north had a whole galaxy of shit-holes and pirate haunts. It could even mean dealing with the chief pirate and strongman of the north, Cookie Banderjong.
Cookie could be highly problematic, and Mac was not looking forward to selling that proposition to Captain John Sawtell.
The sun was just hitting the horizon as Mac pulled into the Motel Davi, near the ocean side of Ralla. Kids stood by a stand of trees, fl ying kites in the early morning half-light. There were fi sh hooks on the tails of the kites and they were trying to hook fruit bats. Get Mum to cook it up for lunch.
The town was a fi shing village with pretensions to being a tourist trap. But it wasn’t making it. It had a few restaurants, a wharf and a Pertamina gas station. It also had a motel where the management was discreet, or as discreet as you’d ever get in the archipelago.
Mac parked the Vienta, walked the line of thirty rooms arranged in a horseshoe, dragging his wheelie case across red dirt. He was looking for a marker, like a playing card or restaurant menu sticking out from under a door. It would mark the RV.
He didn’t have to worry. The door to room 17 opened quietly and John Sawtell beckoned him in.
‘You look like shit,’ said the American as Mac entered.
Sawtell was showered and shaved, dressed in Levis and a black T-shirt, black Hi-Tec Magnums on his feet. The right-hand bed had been slept in, but it was perfectly made. There was one Cordura bag.
Packed. One set of toiletries in a perfect line on the bag.
Mac threw his bag on the unused bed. He wanted to lie on that thing for seven hundred hours but it wasn’t going to happen.
‘There’s an alteration,’ said Mac as he undid his stinking business shirt. He kicked his shoes off, dropped his trousers, picked up the threadbare white towel on his bed. Wrapping it around him he pulled his toilet bag from the wheelie.
‘Like what?’ said Sawtell, eyeballing him, hands on hips like he was hearing some lame excuse from a private.
Mac didn’t want the military-intel thing to start. Not here, not when he could barely think straight from fatigue.
‘Like we’re going north. Girl’s up north.’
Sawtell didn’t move. ‘That the mission?’
A big pause gaped between them.
‘Snitch told you that?’ said Sawtell, referring to Minky.
‘Something like that.’
‘The mission is south.’
‘Mission is the girl, John.’
‘Mission is don’t die, McQueen.’
The whole thing happened in low tones. Mac knew that Sawtell put the safety of his guys above all else and that going north represented new risk. After the Abu Sabaya thing in Sibuco, Sawtell and Mac had sunk a few cold beers and they’d been frank about the tension between soldier and spook. The intel guy would get the senior rank, but the military bloke really ran the show. It was what special forces soldiers called a ‘bullshit rank’, when you seconded an Agency geek into a military mission and ranked him as a major so he could trump a captain like Sawtell.
Mac turned to the bed and pulled a handful of Nokias from the bag. ‘We need those charged,’ said Mac as he headed off to fi nd the communal shower block.
Sawtell sighed, looked at the carpet and shook his head in resignation.
Mac took Sawtell and his three men to breakfast at a place on stilts over the river. Just along the bank from the restaurant there was a young male macaque monkey chained to a spike in the river bank.
They ordered omelettes and coffee. Mac asked for a fruit bowl and the owner’s daughter brought out a basket of mangos and pineapples. He asked her if there was a laundry in the town and she shook her head, but took Mac’s clothes bag anyway, held up two fi ngers, like ‘peace’.
Mac liked the initiative, asked the girl her name. ‘Arti,’ she said.
The boys hoed in when the omelettes arrived. One thing Mac had noticed working with military blokes was that they were incredibly focused on food. Never knowing when they’d be left hungry for days, they ate like maniacs when the eating was good. Some of this fruit would no doubt be produced tomorrow as an informal rat pack.
Mac felt better for his shower and shave. He was comfortable in his blue ovies, which he preferred to the salesman get-up. The lads hadn’t done too badly on the civvies front, wearing an assortment of chinos and polo shirts. The comms expert they called Limo – a large Latino bloke with a shaved head – wore a Metallica shirt which was a no-no in the intel world. You never wore anything that the human eye picked up subconsciously: no tattoos, no piercings, no hair colour, no jewellery and no message T-shirts. Too easy to remember. Mac made a note to get him something plainer.
Then there was Hard-on, a slow-talking black American with a boxer’s body, who had gone for the preppy look of chinos and polo shirt. He would be the athlete of the crew, the guy who could climb any wall, make any jump, beat anyone in a fi ght. His sidekick was a paler and taller black American called Spikey. He couldn’t keep his eye off the monkey on the river bank, and fi nally asked what the animal was doing.
‘Local shit – don’t worry,’ said Mac, smiling.
The four Americans had that special forces thing about them; not arrogant, but totally self-confi dent. People who liked to get a job done. Mac recognised Hard-on from the Sibuco thing four years ago.
The others were new and he hoped they were as good as the Green Berets crew were that night.
Mac spelled out the mission: go to Palopo, snatch the girl, call in the helo from Watampone, do the Harold Holt.
‘The Harold who?’ said Hard-on.
Mac smiled. ‘You know, like the ice hockey player?’
Hard-on winced with concentration, but Limo nodded slowly with a smile. Mac gave Limo a wink. Hard-on sifted the sands.
The monkey started snivelling. Then it was screaming. It was only thirty metres away and its eyes were pleading while it yanked at the chain around its neck. The air fi lled with the sounds of its terror.
Spikey shook his head, looked at Mac. ‘You gotta tell me, man.
What’s with this ape?’
Arti poured water, smiling at Mac.
‘Maybe that’ll explain itself,’ said Mac.
Spikey nodded at him slowly, not satisfi ed.
The monkey screamed again. Spikey shrugged, went back to his food.
Suddenly there was a cacophony of noises. Water splashed, something roared and a monkey screeched.
Mac looked over. A large crocodile had launched itself out of the river and had the monkey in its smiling mouth. Flipped it. Rolled it.
Disappeared back into the river. Monkey’s arm waving.
Spikey fell backwards out of his chair with fright. Fumbled for his Beretta. Which wasn’t there. Eyes wide, panting breath.
Sawtell laughed at him.
Limo slapped his leg, pointing at Spikey. ‘Look at chu, man. Like your girlfriend just told you she got the clap.’
Spikey’s mouth hung open, his eyes glued to the river bank where there was nothing left but a spike and a chain. And a collar.
‘That!’ sputtered Spikey. ‘What the fuck was that shit?’
Arti came back to the table. Smiled. ‘Croc catchee monkey. No catchee family.’
The Americans’ cover was bodyguarding the Australian forest products executive, Richard Davis. Mac had his cards ready to go:
GOANNA FOREST PRODUCTS LTD.
It had a Brisbane address but the phone numbers all diverted to the Southern Scholastic offi ce in Sydney. The bodyguard cover was totally natural in South-East Asia, as were the side arms. And there would be no reason for the hired goons to know anything about the business venture, which meant four less people requiring background and cover.
Mac and Sawtell had discussed the need to avoid telling the lads that there was a rogue CIA component in the picture and keep it basic damsel-in-distress stuff for now. Sawtell’s aversion to Palopo and Sulawesi’s north was pure professionalism. He was based out of the southern Philippines and knew all about Cookie Banderjong, the strongman who ran northern Sulawesi. A former BAKIN operative who had been educated at an exclusive Melbourne boarding school, Banderjong was a rich kid with family ties to Suharto who got to play spy-versus-spy in places like Paris and DC.
When the Suharto regime fell in ‘99, Cookie had gone back to the last real asset he could put his hands on: the family’s old clove plantations and logging concessions in northern Sulawesi. He expanded his power, made millions from Japanese and Malaysian loggers, brought Western managers into the plantations, bought out small-time competitors and seeped backed into the political wheel-and-spoke structure. As it turned out, many Suharto cronies were rebirthed in the new Jakarta, and many of them were Cookie’s former BAKIN colleagues.
Cookie had built a private army to protect the foreign logging companies. He organised the pirates and bandits on operating concessions and he dealt with the jihadists with brutality. He ran the north of Sulawesi like a medieval fi efdom – so much so that Westerners who had had any dealings with the man referred to northern Sulawesi as Cookie Country. And Mac and Sawtell’s men were driving to the very edges of it.
Sawtell had told Mac: ‘Any freaky stuff up there, and I’m pulling my boys out. Got it?’ His tone had been uncompromising. Mac didn’t take it personally; he didn’t have a choice.
They hit the road before lunch. The Berets had picked up a blue Nissan Patrol from the base in Watampone. It was the big turbo diesel version.
Comfortable as a car and would go anywhere. It had no special comms gear or plating. Mac had been clear about that. He wanted to move around like a party from a logging company, not in a ‘civvie’ Hummer with comms aerials sticking out of it like a game-fi shing boat.
It was stinking hot outside, air-conned in the cabin. The boot was fi lled with guns. Limo drove like a soldier, slightly over the limit but controlled. At Mac’s behest he’d changed into a plain black shirt. All the lads wore baseball caps Mac had bought from the Pertamina. It was beyond him why the American military retained those ridiculous hairstyles that set them apart wherever they went in the world. No way was he going to have kids racing out onto the streets of Palopo pointing at the Yanks like the 101st had just landed at the wharf.
Mac took the front passenger seat but there was a tension in the air. The lads mumbled, weren’t relaxed. It built for ten minutes then Mac turned to the back seat, looked Spikey in the eye. ‘Okay, play the fucking thing. But if I hear the word “nigger” or “ho”, it’s coming off. Right?’
The lads whooped. Spikey high-fi ved Hard-on. Limo put his hand back like he was carrying a fi sh platter. The lads gave him skin and a CD appeared from somewhere; gold-coloured, black texta on it.
‘Enjoy it while you can, guys,’ said Sawtell. ‘Won’t get played on my watch.’
Mac turned back to the windscreen and heard Hard-on say, ‘That’s my Pizza Man!’ Mac laughed quietly. They were kids. Fucking kids!
Winding his seat back, he pulled his black Adidas cap down over his face to grab some Zs as the R amp;B ramped up.
There was only one dry-cleaner in Palopo and it was the Sunda Laundry. They drove past it once and came back for another sweep.
Mac saw cases of Bintang in a stack at the entrance of a roadhouse.
They stopped, bought a case.
After fi nding a rundown Dutch Colonial guesthouse near the southern approaches to the small fi shing town, they hunkered down for the evening and ordered in food.
Mac went through a long tale with the guesthouse owner about not sourcing the meal from a place that would make his friends sick.
Though Mac had grown used to the food in South-East Asia, the Americans ate steaks from Texas and corn from Iowa, all fl own into Camp Enduring Freedom in Zam. The last thing Mac needed was an extended case of the trots from these elite special forces. It didn’t mean the owner would listen to a single word. Indonesians nodded and smiled at every request. Whether they did anything about it depended on if they could. Or wanted to.
Mac realised there were a few kids around the place. Kids were expensive and demanding in any part of the world, so he tipped the bloke large. Gave him the wink and a slap on the bicep. He seemed to get that Mac wanted some privacy from the bloke and his family.
The owner’s teenage son delivered the food. Mac looked him in the eye. Couldn’t see fear. Asked him his name.
Kid said, ‘Bani.’ Quite tall, good-looking, athletic and cocky in that globally fi fteen-year-old way. He wore a white singlet and Mac clocked a crucifi x through the fabric. Mac walked with Bani down to where the Patrol was parked. The boy was still at school, learning English and science, playing soccer. He wanted to stay in school but by the way he shrugged and looked around him Mac could tell that education wasn’t part of his future.
Mac dragged the Bintangs out of the boot, hauled them up to the room. They ate and drank. The food tasted good, clean.
Forty-fi ve minutes later, when they’d all kept it down, Mac knew for sure. Hunger satisfi ed, they sat around, dished out guns and loads from the Cordura bags. Sawtell let Mac have his own Beretta M9, but not before he made Mac spill on how and why he was without a gun.
Mac told the lads most of the truth but stopped short of the Minky details. He didn’t want to admit that he’d panicked and shot the intel source – the only intel source.
Sawtell eyed him. Flexed through his wide neck. ‘Just so you know
– that piece ain’t goin’ nowhere near no garbage can. Reading me?’
‘Crystal,’ said Mac.
They fi red up their mobiles and programmed each other’s numbers into their address books.
At nine-thirty pm local, Mac slipped out into the night to have a butcher’s. It had been a year since he was last in Palopo. For a small town with barely any profi le, it was the crossroads for a lot of travel in Sulawesi. From Palopo you drove north towards the major port city of Manado, to the south was Makassar, to the immediate west was the remote highland areas with their weird architecture reminiscent of boat prows, and further west was the airport hub of Palu.
Palopo itself had changed. There was more neon, more people on the streets after dark and some real restaurants, not just the goreng and fi sh shops that populate rural Indonesia.
Mac moved towards the centre of town, keeping to the shadows.
His cap was low, his ovies covering his body shape and the chunky Beretta handgun in its webbing rig.
Sunda Laundry was down a side street off the shabby main plaza area. Mac walked past it on the opposite side of the street and then came back right in front. It was a double-wide joint and through the glass doors Mac could see a few washing machines and tubs, some dryers too, and a large folding table. A small pilot light was on in a back room.
Mac did another circuit, sweat trickling down his back, and couldn’t see any surveillance. Ducking into the laneway running adjacent to the back of Sunda Laundry, he pulled the Beretta out from under the ovies. He hated Berettas. They had been OK’d and rejected several times by the US military in the 1980s before going into service. They were prone to jamming, the trigger was too far from the grip and, especially annoying for Mac, they had double-stack fi fteen-round magazines. That was fi ne for a soldier or cop, where simply showing a nice big gun was a bonus in itself, but no good for a spook.
A handgun with fi fteen rounds in the handle was like carrying a small shoe box around with you. Who the hell needed fi fteen rounds?
Mac moved down the unlit alley, smooth and slow. He held the Beretta cup-and-saucer, his body pointing two o’clock. He heard his breath rasping and his Hi-Tecs scraping on greasy soil. He moved past garbage bins and mangy cats. It smelled like an open sewer.
He hesitated as he got to the back of the laundry, looking for that pilot light. Heart pumping, he got closer to the fence, moved along it and paused at the point where the laundry’s backyard started.
He turned, out of habit, cased his six o’clock. Nothing, except mangy cats getting back on their piles of garbage.
He looked back at the laundry. The pilot light wasn’t bright, but he could make out the yard. There was no car, certainly no silver Accord. He kept his eyes on the place, checked his G-Shock. Almost ten pm. Sweat ran freely down his back now.
After an hour, nothing.
He walked back to the guesthouse, crossed the streets a few times and backtracked. All quiet.
He hit the mattress at 11.25 and fell asleep wondering if he could call Sydney on his mobile, whether Diane would be sweet with that.
It was just before eight am when Mac got to the Patrol, showered, shaved and back in his salesman dickhead get-up. As he opened the front passenger door, Limo put the big 4x4 into drive. Mac held up his hand. ‘Just a tick, mate.’
Bani came out the side door of the guesthouse and Mac signalled he get in the back seat. The kid was excited – his fi rst interpreter work.
Sawtell shot Mac a look, then got out of the Patrol. Mac caught his eye and followed.
They moved away from the vehicle as Bani got in the back seat.
‘What the fuck’s this?’ said Sawtell, far from friendly.
‘We need someone to do the talking. Bani’s keen.’
‘Spikey’s the languages guy – that’s why I picked him,’ said Sawtell.
‘Shit! That’s a kid! You want that on your conscience?’
John Sawtell had the kind of eyes that could hand out slaps. He had that way of getting up in a man’s face and talking soft, just like Mac’s father used to.
‘Thought about Spikey,’ said Mac. ‘But you know, John, these guys are intimidating to the locals.’
Sawtell cocked an eyebrow. Disbelief.
‘It’s not racist – these are big, scary guys to the Indons.’
Sawtell gave him a you’re so full of shit look. ‘McQueen, he’s a kid.’
Mac could smell the Ipana on Sawtell’s breath.
‘You’re not going to drag a kid into this shit,’ said Sawtell, lifting a fi nger.
‘It’ll be fi ne,’ said Mac.
Sawtell shook his head. ‘The look on your face when you arrived at Ralla? That wasn’t fi ne, my man – that was fear.’
Mac looked back at the Patrol, where all eyes were on them. He looked back at Sawtell. ‘John, if I take Spikey into that laundry, and it turns serious, chances are the dry-cleaning guy makes a call. It goes to shit. Spikey doesn’t do what I do, John. He can’t keep it light.’
Sawtell laughed. Big laugh. ‘Light?! Oh, that’s good. That’s so intel-guy.’
‘Back to that, are we?’
‘Do we ever leave it?’
Sawtell was right. That part of things never stopped.
The American wasn’t letting this go. ‘First time I worked with you, in Sibuco – call that light? My boys talked about nothing but you for days.’
‘Sure,’ said Mac. ‘But it was the pizza delivery part that we had to fi nesse. It took months – not everything’s about kicking in doors and killing bad guys.’
Mac didn’t believe that last bit himself. Sawtell didn’t believe what he’d just heard.
They stared at each other. The audience looked on.
‘I guess that’s it, huh?’ said Sawtell.
Mac deadpanned. Nodded.
The dry-cleaner episode went fast and well. Mac played the dumb-shit Anglo salesman looking for his local businessman contacts. He described Fancy Pants and Ray-Bans and through Bani he explained that he had lost the piece of paper that said where they were staying.
The dry-cleaner told Bani where to go. A hotel in the middle of town.
Bani made one last push, unbidden, asking the dry-cleaner something else. The dry-cleaner answered, giving Bani the name of Fancy Pants. Seems there’d been a delivery to the hotel.
Bani was beside himself with excitement when they got back to the Patrol. Mac gave him a pat on the back, Bani beamed. Then Mac stopped it dead, told the kid not to get in.
The boy almost cried. Mac pulled an envelope out of his safari jacket, told Bani he had to make a promise. ‘If you take this, if you accept this gift, then this is the deal: I want you to go home, pack a bag and catch the midday bus to Makassar. Got it?’
Bani nodded, sniffl ed.
‘I want you on that bus. There’s a letter in there for Brother Tom at the Makassar Brothers’ school. Got that? He’s a friend of mine, I’ve called him this morning. He’s expecting you. His pupils go to university, in Surabaya. You want to go to university, Bani?’
Bani looked up at Mac. Nodded, looked into the envelope. Saw a wad of greenbacks, looked confused.
‘That’s the deal, Bani. You did good work here today, but this is the deal, huh?’ Mac shook the boy’s hand. ‘You beauty.’
Bani hugged him. Mac saw the crucifi x again, through the gap in the boy’s trop shirt. Sadness fl ooded him. ‘ Dominus vobiscum,’ he said, pointing at the cross.
Bani smiled. ‘ Et cum spiritu tuo. ‘
They parked by the fi shing wharves, two blocks away from the Grand Hotel. Mac told Sawtell the name of Fancy Pants, then he got out of the Patrol. Grabbing the wheelie bag from the rear luggage compartment, Mac said he’d see them in fi fteen minutes.
The Grand Hotel was a seven-storey modern place, built for the thriving tourism industry. Mac moved along the drive-through area that led into the lobby. Palms rustled overhead as he doubled back and walked down the side road and into the car park in the back. He did a slow circuit among about fi fty cars and minivans, looking for a silver Accord and anything else that might look out of place. There were no eyes, no silver Accord. He was nervous and the Beretta sitting in the small of his back gave him little comfort.
He came in the front entrance, amidst a crowd of Japanese businessmen in golf clothes, and had a good nosey-poke at the reception staff as he walked past into the dining and bar areas. They seemed to be the real thing, although most Indonesian hotels had at least one person reporting to POLRI, the military or the intel agencies, depending on which department was protecting the place.
There was no one untoward or out of place in the eateries. Mac had a very strong sense of those who were professional watchers, and those who were not. All he could see in the Grand Hotel were civilians.
There was a solid patch of wet down his back when Mac got back to the Patrol. Limo had kept the motor running and the air-con felt icy as Mac got back inside. They confabbed: Mac grabbed the Shell map, sketched the layout on the cardboard cover. Then he handed over the operation to Sawtell.
‘I want the girl alive, okay?’
Sawtell barely heard him. He’d turned deadly serious, muttering, the crew all ears. They transformed from laidback boys to killers in a split second. A special forces hallmark.
Limo got the Patrol moving, they drove the two blocks and pulled into the car park behind the hotel. Not even nine in the morning and it was already thirty-eight degrees and dripping humid. Mac’s stomach churned, his right wrist ached, the greasy omelette breakfast wanted to come up.
Limo backed the Patrol up to a hedge and the Berets walked around to the back, opened the doors and got into their weapons cache. Most of the chat was aimed at Hard-on, whose surname was Harding. He seemed to be the key guy. They focused down like Mac wasn’t there.
Mac had done lots of snatches in his career; he was known for it.
But he didn’t want to go into these building situations with a military crew. They trained together, they did this as a job and one loose screw in the unit was going to get Mac shot. Or it would distract one of the military guys and risk him being shot too.
The lads tooled up and walked across the car park. Casual but menacing. They wore stadium jackets and fi eld jackets concealing M4 carbines, a sort of shortened M16. Mac was sure there’d be some stun grenades in there too.
He sat in the driver’s seat with the diesel running. When the Americans were all inside he slowly pulled away from the hedge and rolled towards the lobby area. The place was not busy. One tour bus sat away from the lobby entrance, the driver smoking, reading a newspaper.
Mac looked in, saw the desk guy being marched to the elevators with Sawtell and Spikey. Hard-on scarpered, probably for the stairwell.
Limo stood like a rock in the middle of the lobby, big bulge under his stadium jacket.
Mac had insisted they dispense with fi eld radios on this trip, hence the Nokias. If Garrison was out there with the girl, he was expecting military to come after him and he’d be prepped to pick up the fi eld radio signals.
Mac parked out on the street in the pre-arranged RV. He thought about Minky’s girl and how he was going to introduce that topic to Sawtell.
Four minutes later, Mac’s Nokia trilled. It was Sawtell, displayed as JS.
‘We’re here. Nothing,’ said Sawtell, panting slightly. ‘Manager says they checked out last night, in a hurry, no idea where they’re headed.’
‘Is he lying?’
‘Shit, McQueen – that ain’t my thing.’
Mac thought quickly. He could go in there and break the guy real fast, make him remember. But the whole thing was dragging on and there was no telling who was protecting the hotel. It was a big tourism concern, which meant someone was paying for the staff to turn up and not steal from the Westerners. The call might have been made already and Mac didn’t want to be a sitting duck when the POLRI commander or Kopassus colonel turned up.
‘Is there anything there? Anything they’ve left?’
The sounds of Sawtell snapping at Hard-on and Spikey echoed from the background. Sawtell came back on the air. ‘A few things.’
‘Get ‘em,’ said Mac, ‘and ask the manager what they were driving.’
Sawtell came back, said, ‘Silver Accord.’
‘How many?’ asked Mac.
There was a pause, then, ‘Three. Anything else, McQueen?’
‘Yeah,’ said Mac. ‘I want the phone logs from that room.’
‘Got it. See you soon.’
The Berets got to the Patrol at a canter. They piled in, Mac pulled out quickly and drove north, out of town. No music now, adrenaline retreating. After twenty minutes they pulled into a bushy wayside area.
Hard-on pulled out a bed sheet, put it on the ground and opened it.
First impressions: Mac could smell the Old Spice wafting off the sheet. He saw several empty steel bandage containers and a ripped-up chewing gum wrapper, shredded thin and purposefully, bits of loose foil everywhere. A surviving piece of green paper said BARTOOK
SPECIAL MINT. There was a paperback book in Tagalog. Not much.
Sawtell had the phone logs. There were fi fteen outbound calls, made in the last nine days. One number wasn’t like the others.
Mac looked at it. Couldn’t get the picture. He grabbed his Nokia, dialled a number in Jakarta, Telekom Indonesia.
Mac swore. He’d forgotten the state of the Indonesian phone system. Telekom Indonesia installed cellular towers where the tourists were starting to come, but the locals had no coverage even a few clicks out of the towns.
They drove back towards Palopo. Mac used a pay phone on the outskirts. Called an old mate at TI, an engineer called Dougie Foster.
They swapped greetings, then Mac said, ‘Mate, I’ve got some numbers.
Can you run them?’
Mac read the numbers. The lone wrong ‘un was a Manila area code. A silent address. Mac asked for as much info as he could get and Dougie told him to hang on. After a few minutes he came back. ‘Got a pen?’
Mac wrote it down. He had the telecom exchange that the number would have been connected to, and Dougie gave him an area: Intramuros, a suburb on Manila Bay that Mac knew well.
The other fourteen numbers were closer to home. Dougie said,
‘You’re in luck, Mac – there’s only eight numbers on that series.’
Mac wrote it down. They were heading north again, for Tenteno.
They made good time on the road to Tenteno. Limo drove the Patrol, Hard-on rode shotgun. Spikey was in the middle of the back seat, Mac and Sawtell either side. Mac’s wrist was now bandaged and Limo had slipped him some anti-infl ammatories. But he agreed with Mac – a chipped bone in there somewhere, and the only cure was going to be resting the thing, something that was not going to happen on this trip.
They’d be arriving in Tenteno after dark and Mac wanted to case the place, have a chat to whoever was around. He wasn’t expecting miracles.
This was Sulawesi, the world’s eleventh largest island and basically unpopulated. Fishing villages dotted the coastline and highland tribes did their thing in the interior. It was all rainforest and mountains, and people trying to win forestry and mining concessions. If the trail went dead in Tenteno, Mac would give the intel guys in Jakarta a chance to come up with some piece of genius. That would set the hounds running.
If the mole was in Jakarta, he or she would make a move. Which would give Mac a chance to pull a counter-ambush.
But the trail didn’t go dead.
Mac and Spikey went into the general store on Tenteno’s main road as soon as they’d driven around the small lakeside town. The store owner was helpful, but didn’t know anything. Spikey kept it calm, doing small talk. Mac watched the owner clench and unclench his left fi st. He only did it once but it betrayed nerves.
Mac strolled out of the store, motioned to Limo and the others to drive round the back. He walked down an alley between the store and another wooden building, and came out in a rear yard.
There was a lean-to on his left. Boxes and drums of cooking oil were stacked to obscure what was in the structure. Mac walked around the makeshift wall, saw a tarp covering a large shape and whipped it off, revealing a silver Accord. Same rego as the one behind Minky’s.
Coming in through the store’s back entrance, Mac took the owner by surprise. The bloke’s eyes widened as Mac said to Spikey, ‘He stays there, he doesn’t move, right?’
It was near to closing time anyway so Mac fastened the front door and pulled the blinds. ‘Tell him this,’ said Mac to Spikey, not taking his eyes off the owner. ‘Tell him he’s harbouring a vehicle known to have been used in the terror bombings around Tenteno.’
Spikey rattled it off and the owner gulped, shook his head, gabbled something back at Spikey.
‘He says it couldn’t be,’ said Spikey.
‘Tell him if I’m wrong I can get my friends at the POLRI or Kopassus to come up here and check it out for us. Might all be a huge mistake,’ said Mac, winking at the store owner.
The owner shook his head, fear in his eyes.
Mac pressed for the breaking point. ‘Tell this guy that it might even warrant a visit from the boys from the BIN. And tell him, Spikey, that those boys will get to the bottom of it real fast by getting his wife and kids into the cells and helping him to remember. Memory is a funny thing.’
When Spikey had translated, the owner went quiet, looked at the fl oor.
Mac started again, Spikey interpreting. Yes, the store owner knew the blokes in the silver Accord. They had been going out on the remote road to Sabulu. They’d made the trip several times and yes, they’d headed out that morning.
Mac got Spikey to ask what kind of people were travelling. The owner said two Javanese and one pale person.
‘Yankee?’ said Mac.
The owner nodded, said something to Spikey: a tall American.
Could be Garrison, thought Mac.
The three men had been travelling in a white LandCruiser, said the store owner. Mac’s attempts to get deeper information met with shrugs. Yes, there may have been more than three and yes, one may have been a woman. The bloke had been paid to mind his own business, and that’s what he had done. Mac believed him. He sliced the telephone lead with Spikey’s Ka-bar and moved outside.
It was dark but some light from the back of the shop spilled on to the Accord, a 2002 model. Mac tried the doors. Locked. After putting a rock through the driver’s side, Mac fl ipped the hood, and unplugged the howling alarm. That brought Sawtell and the others to the party.
‘This it?’ asked Sawtell.
Mac nodded, reached for the door handle, pulled on it.
Sawtell’s mouth fl ew open, wide-eyed, his hand reaching out.
Limo covered his eyes. Hard-on turned away.
Spikey stared at him like he was an honest-to-God dumb-ass honky motherfucker.
‘Shit, McQueen! Holy fucking shit!’ said Spikey.
‘Maybe to you that’s a car, McQueen!’ gasped Sawtell. ‘But to us, that’s a fucking bomb!’
Mac looked down at the open door, looked back. Limo was peeking from behind his hands. Sawtell looked at the sky. Spikey still stared.
‘Sorry, boys,’ said Mac.
Mac stood back, let Spikey check the vehicle for pressure plates, wires and anything tricky on the ignition column. Then Mac had his turn. He went into the boot, the glove box, the centre console, the spare wheel bay, the centre armrest of the back seat, the tool box, the ashtrays, the radio and the storage compartments. Not much.
Chewing gum wrapper again, Bartook Special Mint. Someone liked to get close to the ladies without scaring them off. Someone liked to rip it open in really thin strips.
He asked for a fl ashlight and got under the car. Positioned himself right beneath the windscreen washer reservoir and shone his torch straight up through the transparent plastic. It was a classic place to hide stuff and some people still thought the old places were best.
Then he started on the carpets and before he got far he found something under the driver’s seat. He fi shed out a key and shone the fl ashlight in again to see if there was anything else. He quickly went over the rest of the car’s interior.
Coming up empty-handed, he turned his attention back to the key. Hard-on asked what it was. The other soldiers groaned as one, as if to say, What does it look like, lame?
It had a diamond-shaped, black plastic key ring with the letters MPS stamped on it in silver. The key was big, German, expensive and made of forged alloys suggesting a serious lock. The number was 46. Someone had lost a key. He wondered if they would come back for it.
Mac trousered it.
He turned back to the owner of the place, who was looking unsettled about what Mac had done to the Accord.
‘Don’t worry, sport,’ he said to the bloke. ‘I bet it’s overinsured.’
The owner didn’t look convinced.
‘Ask him about Sabulu,’ Mac said to Spikey. ‘I want to know what we’re looking for.’
The road to Sabulu was even worse than the general store guy had warned. From Tenteno, the road rose up into the highlands in steep, muddy switchbacks. It had been a bad, tropical road to start with and the logging traffi c after the afternoon monsoon showers had torn it apart.
Mac asked Limo to drive. He was good, which was a change.
Most Yanks couldn’t handle that sort of terrain. At one point the Patrol slid across the track and threatened to slide off into a thousand-foot ravine. Limo kept his foot on the gas, counter-intuitively, and the Patrol came right.
‘Not from South-Central, are you?’ said Mac.
Limo smiled. ‘Costa Rica.’
It was drizzling and everyone remained quiet as the Patrol’s turbo squealed and cried its way up one ridge after another. The dark of the tropical night pressed in. The only universe was the one that the headlights illuminated, occasionally fl ashing on macaques at the side of the track, which had obviously seen a similar vehicle across several hours before. Mac could see off-road tyre tracks in the mud.
They were looking for a ‘depot’, which the store owner said was about seventy miles into the interior. Depots were sometimes shacks, sometimes compounds. Loggers and miners lived in them and the natives – the Toraja – collected weekly or monthly deliveries from them. The store owner reckoned they should be on the lookout for a depot called ‘thirteen’.
They pressed on, the Patrol rolling and sliding. They got higher, past the mist-line where it was clearer and colder. Limo hit the heat.
They glugged water from bottles and ate the fruit that Mac had known the soldiers would stash. They got to the top of a switchback and Mac asked for a toilet stop.
The stars shone huge and plush in the blackness above. A monkey argued with a bird somewhere in the rainforest canopy. It crossed Mac’s mind that the next time he came through here it might all be felled. Instead it would be sitting in a backyard in Perth or Melbourne as garden furniture. He started pissing and Sawtell came alongside.
‘You know that dude with the store is as good as dead?’ said Sawtell, not pissing but staring.
‘Hopefully we get to the bad guys fi rst, huh?’ said Mac.
Mac shook off early. Didn’t like where Sawtell was standing. If Mac was going to poleaxe someone, that’s where he would stand. At a bloke’s four o’clock while he had his hands full.
Sawtell must have sensed the vibe. He moved around in front. They both felt the cold. Plumes of mist came out of their mouths.
‘My boys weren’t happy about the Bani thing.’
‘I wasn’t over the moon myself. But it’s a good school,’ said Mac.
‘That was nice. What does he say to his folks?’
Mac didn’t want to go into all the details. He’d had a chat with Bani’s dad that morning before they went down to the dry-cleaners.
The dad had thanked Mac profusely for the opportunity. Education in Sulawesi was not like it was in the United States. Wasn’t a birthright, wasn’t an entitlement. Parents with the smartest kids watched all that potential go to waste most of the time. But there was no point in telling that to Sawtell. He was a good man, but he was an American good man.
Mac changed the subject. ‘Mate, I don’t know what to expect up here. Can we tool up now?’
Sawtell gave him a disappointed look. He stepped back, tapped on the roof of the Patrol, and the boys spilled out.
It was almost daybreak when they fi nally hit Depot 13. They were high enough to watch the sun come up over the Pacifi c. An amazing sight. The primordial rainforest started up like a soundtrack. In the space of twenty minutes it was deafening.
The depot was signalled by a couple of lamp posts dug into the ground, thirty feet apart. A track ran between them with a sign with the number thirteen strung above. They killed the lights. Mac handed off to Sawtell, who ordered Hard-on and Spikey to run a point. Then Sawtell got out of the Patrol and took a stance behind the rear fender; Limo did the same thing behind the front hood. Mac sat in the back seat with the Beretta on his lap, yawning, dreaming of some nosebag.
They waited for the all-clear and Mac asked Sawtell if Enduring Freedom was a success yet.
‘Ha!’ Sawtell snorted.
‘I take that as a no,’ said Mac.
‘Holy shit! Oh man!’ Sawtell seemed genuinely amused. So did Limo, who smiled his way.
‘It’s the wrong mission, in the wrong part of the world, for the wrong reasons with the wrong tactics,’ drawled Sawtell. ‘Oh, and the wrong leadership – political and brass.’
‘We got Sabaya, didn’t we?’ asked Mac.
Sawtell was out of view, behind the Patrol. He didn’t answer.
Half an hour later, Hard-on fl ashed three times through the trees in the dawn gloom. Limo drove the Patrol through the gates, Sawtell walked behind on the verge of the track. They drove like that for fi ve minutes and came out into a clearing. There were six or seven mid-sized wooden buildings that looked like they’d been built a decade ago and then abandoned. Hard-on put his fi nger to his lips and beckoned Mac and Limo out of the vehicle. They walked behind him, guns ready, heading between two of the buildings and coming into another clearing, a courtyard with three accommodation-style buildings around it. It was a barracks of sorts. The place looked deserted, except for the white LandCruiser that dominated the courtyard.
Sawtell looked at Hard-on, who said, ‘All clear, sir, far as we can tell.’
Sawtell looked around. Pointed at the LandCruiser. Hard-on shook his head. ‘Haven’t checked it. Waiting for you, sir.’
Sawtell nodded. Hard-on went to work on debugging the LandCruiser. Spikey jogged back into the courtyard to give him a hand.
Sawtell was distracted. He looked off into the distance and looked around very, very slowly, his face completely impassive. Mac had seen career soldiers do this before, and it usually meant the shit was on the doorstep. They just knew something was up.
Mac realised they were standing in the middle of a natural ambush.
Surrounded by buildings, surrounded by jungle.
Sawtell slowly put his fi nger in the air. ‘Hear that?’
‘Helo,’ said Limo.
They looked at each other and tried to fi nd the source. Mac couldn’t hear a thing.
‘Ain’t military,’ mumbled Limo. ‘That Euro piece of shit?’
One of the fi rst things special forces soldiers learned to do was identify aircraft and vehicles by their sound. Much of what they did they did in the dark, without fl ashlights or open comms. The tales of tired soldiers piling onto the enemy’s helo or onto the bad guys’ boat were as legion as they were apocryphal. But the lesson was the same: know your hardware.
Sawtell indicated its position with his fi nger. Then shook his head. ‘Gone.’
‘Probably a logging scout,’ said Mac.
They ignored him.
Hard-on and Spikey cleared the LandCruiser of booby traps.
Mac found a map in the glove box, and more Bartook Special Mint wrappers. Torn thin.
The map was in relief, of the highlands. It showed broken lines in red, which meant dirt roads. And it had another series of thin blue lines, which Mac assumed were horse tracks, or whatever they used up here.
It wasn’t that much use. Mac threw it back in the LandCruiser, slammed the door, moved to the rear. Then he had another idea. In the Royal Marines there had been an absolute ban on touching any map with a pen or a pencil. Anything that could possibly mark it. You put a map in a plastic sleeve, you pointed at it, you used bearings and you used coordinates so that everyone knew what everyone else was talking about. But if you marked a map in the British military someone was going to get in your face and accuse you of defacing Her Majesty’s personal property. It was a ‘back to base’ offence.
Mac went back to the front seat, unfolded the map and had a good look. If these guys did not have that basic training, they might have absent-mindedly drawn on the thing. Even just touched it. Which was the universal human instinct.
He found what he was looking for on one of the central panels. A defi nite depression with a blue ballpoint at the end of one of the blue lines. A slight blue squiggle a couple of centimetres away – someone trying to navigate with the thing on his lap.
He called Sawtell over, showed him. Sawtell picked up the map and, without hesitating, turned due north, pointed into thick jungle and said, ‘That way, nine or ten clicks.’
They tooled up. Sawtell was serious about this one, just like Mac had seen him in the Sibuco take-down; a bit nervy and controlling it with glacial calm. The lads sensed it. They checked guns and cammed their faces without saying a thing. When the Old Man went like that, it was time to get serious.
The boys took US Army fatigues out of Cordura bags. The guns were M4s – short, black assault rifl es favoured by the US Army Special Forces.
They pilfered the rat packs and the stashed fruit. Ate up large.
Then they headed into the jungle, Hard-on walking point.
The heat came up fast. The noise of the forest was thunderous and screeching at the same time, crowding in on the senses, enveloping the party with humidity, bugs and noise. They tabbed for an hour.
The horse track they were on was a steep climb. It was agony.
Mac made a mental note: more running to balance the gym and boxing fi tness.
Sawtell was a conservative campaigner. Mac wanted to stride out, get some blood going. But Sawtell stopped, peered, backtracked and did all the special forces hand-signal stuff. He was the jungle version of how Mac moved around a city: with total paranoia.
They maintained silence and walked Mac in the middle of their set-up. The tension was heavy. Every time Mac looked at Sawtell, he saw more concern. Concern that the American would not share. John Sawtell may have been a bleeding-heart boy scout but he kept it tight when the shit was hovering. There was a maelstrom of worry and contingency-mongering going on in that square head, but Mac knew he wouldn’t spook his boys. Not a squeak.
Five clicks into the hike, they took a rest in a clearing. Limo produced water bottles from his pack. Mac checked a moss-covered log for snakes and spiders, and lowered himself.
There was a crack, a soft warm feeling in his head.
Then it all went black.
Mac came to with the kind of head pain he’d experienced once during a bout of malaria. A sensation so powerful that you hit your head against a wall to make it go away.
He could hear something. People’s voices. Then something else, humming like a machine. He took his time opening his eyes, let his right eyelid go up slightly. The rush of light was like an explosion in his brain. He groaned. His mouth was dry, tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He could barely think straight. Was he drugged? Drunk?
More voices. He tried again to crack an eyelid but the light shut him down just as quick. Sparklers behind his eyes. The noise got louder and he felt hands under his armpits. Hands on his feet. Then he was going up, like when he was a kid and his dad picked him up off the sofa where he’d fallen asleep watching television.
The noise got louder. It thromped and whacked and whined.
It was fucking with his mind.
Mac thought: a helo.
Then he blacked out.
The patch was wet. Very wet. Mac shifted his head slightly and felt it cold and damp on his cheek. He must have been dribbling something chronic.
He opened his eyes. No pain in the eyeballs but a ton of it behind his right ear. He was lying on his side. There was a white sheet on him. A white pillow, white mosquito net over him that smelled of pyrethrum. He was naked except for his red briefs. He rolled over so he was looking at the white ceiling, fan turning.
He breathed, wiggled his toes, fl exed his fi sts. The right hand was still swollen and painful. But he was alive and in one piece – for the moment.
He wondered who it was. Garrison’s thugs? The Chinese? He prayed it wasn’t the boys from Beijing. When intel hacks got gossiping they inevitably came to the Chinese torture scenarios: the drugs, the hypno, the implants, the beatings, the surgery.
There were no restraints. Whoever it was, they didn’t see him as a threat.
He sensed movement. A face looked down on him. Large, round, male.
‘How’s the head, chalks?’
The guy smiled. A big, confi dent smile. Mac didn’t know what to say.
The big Maori laughed, a high-pitched chortling giggle. ‘You remember me, eh Chalks?’
Mac was a stunned mullet. He was looking at a ghost from his past: Sonny Makatoa.
Mac carried something on his CV that he reckoned he shouldn’t. He was a veteran of Desert Shield/Storm. Technically. Straight from the Royal Marines he’d rotated into Basra in ‘91. The fi rst Iraq war was winding down, the wells were burning, Bush Senior was pulling the boys out and novices like Mac were being sent into a war zone to see how intelligence worked in the shit. It was the only way to get that experience. The only way for the spy masters to know if this was your thing.
It was Mac’s thing.
He deployed with a couple of older Australians, one of whom was Rod Scott. They were doing lots of sweeps for hidden missile silos and bio-warfare factories. There were loads of snitches and turncoats coming out of the woodwork in those fi nal days. Saddam military wanting US dollars. Saddam military wanting Australian visas. Saddam military planted by his intel people as doubles and provocateurs.
Mac worked the ‘show-me’ detail, as in, So this is the Brucellosis weaponisation program you were telling us about? Show me!
The Australian SAS was in demand elsewhere, so in one of the last factory-checks the spooks were doing for bio-warfare manufacture, the New Zealand SAS stepped in as the escort. It was scary work: mines in walls, snipers on the peaks, everything booby trapped. They were into the cave systems of southern Iraq where the turncoat colonels reckoned the bio-labs were.
That’s where Mac had met Sonny Makatoa. Sonny was only six years older than Mac but already leading his own unit. Senior ranks deferred to him, lesser ranks were shit-scared. His boys loved him.
He stood fi ve-eleven and was built like a tree stump. It was hard to imagine who or what could intimidate him. Sonny was tough in the strangest way. Tough like he was born to be in a war zone. Careful and professional but not nervous. Almost as if he liked it.
He remembered Sonny because on his fi rst day Mac had turned up with a different kind of hat to the rest of the spooks and soldiers.
They all wore khaki boonies while somehow Mac had ended up with a blue one.
Sonny had thrown him a spare hat at breakfast. Told him to put it on. Mac had hesitated. Sonny eyeballed him. Mac put it on.
It wasn’t till late morning when they were waiting – and for some reason, war is all about waiting – that Mac had got talking to one of the Kiwi SAS. Asked him about the hat.
‘Corporal’s saving your lily-white,’ said the Kiwi. ‘Snipers round here fi x on anything out of the pattern. Assume it’s a commanding offi cer, or someone important. He likes you.’
So Mac had remembered Sonny. And Sonny had remembered too, probably for other reasons.
Mac swung his feet to the fl oor. He was in a demountable and from the decor and size of the room, he assumed it was the sick bay. The room was air-conned but that wasn’t helping with his head. He had a dizzy spell, thought he would chuck. Put his hand to his mouth.
‘Hem – fucking get in here, now!’
It was the same old Sonny. Barking, yelling, expecting everyone around him to be on the ball. A large Maori man in a black T-shirt and olive fatigue shorts scooted into the sick bay. Barefoot, tucking in his shirt. Sonny nodded at the bloke and they got on either side of Mac and helped him up. The headache subsided slightly as they walked him out the door.
‘Put on some weight, Chalks?’ said Sonny. ‘You were a skinny little runt when I knew ya.’
The sick bay opened into a communal area with loads of natural light. Mac winced and squinted. There was a kitchen down one side, bench tables and chairs in the middle, and an area with sofas and a La-Z-Boy in front of a big plasma-screen TV at the end of the room.
Barcelona was playing Liverpool. Mac took one guess who got to sit in the La-Z-Boy.
They sat him on the sofa and he saw rainforest through a window.
He nodded to the offer of tea and the big guy called Hem moved to the kitchen. Mac had him at one hundred and eighteen kilos, about six-two, all muscle and moving like a cat.
Sonny grabbed a chair, sat on it, leaned forward with forearms on his fatigues. His black T-shirt had a white crest on the left breast, the words TOKOROA RFC printed in white.
‘That’s Hemi,’ Sonny pointed. ‘Played reserve grade for Canterbury-Bankstown. Couldn’t control the temper, though, eh?’
Sonny chuckled, then whistled low, shook his head slowly. Sombre.
‘Big, strong cunt that Hemi. Good soldier, great fi ghter. Tough as.’
Sonny looked back at Mac, smiling. ‘Just can’t let him drink, eh Chalks?’
The teapot came back, along with a glass of water. Mac sank the water in one, wincing at the pipe that bulged in his brain.
‘So what’s the set-up?’ asked Mac, who was getting his bearings and starting to worry about where Sawtell and his boys were.
‘Private work, mate. Contracting, protection, a bit of law and order. You know how it is.’
Mac had a fair idea how it was. In places like Sulawesi, the foreign miners, loggers and oil companies wanted to be able to work their concession without complication. Mercenaries like Sonny removed the complications. Accountants back at head offi ce called it ‘pacifi cation’.
Hemi moved to Mac’s nine o’clock and Sonny changed the pace.
‘So what brings you up here, mate?’
‘Girl,’ said Mac. ‘She went missing from the embassy. Just checking she’s okay.’
‘Little out of the way to go missing, eh?’
Mac was getting his instincts back. He was going to tread very, very carefully. Sonny had said he was mercing. But not for whom.
‘Well, she might be up to no good,’ said Mac. ‘Might be nothing.
They sent me out for a chat. No biggie.’
Mac reached for his tea. He realised Sonny hadn’t offered him any clothes. He was still in his undies – no Beretta.
‘Coming out for a chat with the cavalry, Chalks?’
Mac looked up and Sonny looked straight back. It was a steady gaze and it gave Mac the creeps.
‘Those boys would be, what, Yank special forces?’ asked Sonny.
‘Probably came in from Zam, right? Or Guam?’
Mac looked away.
‘What’s she done?’ said Sonny.
Funny, thought Mac; three days ago he had asked the same question in exactly the same tone. And now here he was in the middle of Sula-fucking-wesi and still none the wiser.
‘Don’t know?’ Sonny raised his eyebrows.
‘Don’t know – on the lam with an American as best I can fi gure it.’
‘American, huh?’ Sonny looked quickly at Hemi, looked back.
‘Tall cunt? This Yank?’
‘About my age? Dark hair?’ asked Sonny.
‘That’s the bloke,’ said Mac.
Mac’s training and natural inclination told him to always withhold names and histories. ‘Need to know’ was a well-worn cliche but it saved a lot of complications. Then again, Mac didn’t have many options. He decided to horse-trade. ‘Where’re my boys?’
‘They’re safe. But one of them didn’t make it.’
‘Which one?’ said Mac, gulping.
‘Big cunt. I was about to tap you on the shoulder and he took a shot at me. Hem took care of it.’
Mac felt a wave of sadness. An American who could drive jungle terrain and not carry on about it. Dead.
‘Quick?’ Mac asked. Mac could feel something welling in his chest. He fought it off, kept it tight.
‘About fi ve minutes,’ said Sonny. ‘Billy – my helo guy – did all that Catholic shit with him.’
‘And the others? They okay?’
‘Sure. Got ‘em locked up though. Don’t wanna turn your back on those special forces cunts, eh, Chalks?’
Mac nodded, dazed. Pointed to his head.
‘Yeah, sorry, cuz.’ Sonny chuckled. ‘Got such a fright from your mate that I spun and collected you with the butt. Got you a beauty, eh?’
Mac had a choice: play the game with Sonny and see where it could lead; or clam-up and try to bluff his way out with threats of government involvement. He wanted to keep his momentum, get Hannah and get out. So Mac spilled on Garrison. Told Sonny just about everything.
Left out the bit about killing Minky and Minky’s daughter being somewhere with Garrison.
As it happened, Sonny and his lads had been keeping an eye on Garrison’s people. They were in an area which had been a Japanese mica mine in the 1940s. There were a lot of old buildings and tunnels up there, disused. But Garrison’s people were in a forestry concession, and that’s what Sonny and his mercenaries protected.
Mac couldn’t read how their chat was going to end. What Sonny might want. Then the former SASer dropped the bomb. Talking about his boss, Sonny used the word ‘Cookie’.
Mac’s face must have betrayed him.
‘What’s up, Chalks? Seen a ghost?’
‘You working for Cookie Banderjong?’
‘What’s it to you?’ snapped Sonny.
The possibilities started mounting up. With Canberra out of the picture and Mac suspecting a mole, he needed private infrastructure, he needed a guy who could make things happen. But Cookie had to have a reason to help him. Mac decided to give it a burl.
‘Does Cookie like stability? Is that what keeps business good?’
‘Maybe,’ said Sonny.
The sealed track to the mansion led up the hillside from the military compound. They walked by the helipad, where a white and blue Eurocopter sat on its wheels. There was a hangar behind it and further down the track was a long garage with cammed LandCruisers, the kind with the double rear axles. Mac noticed one of them had a turret in the top with what looked like a US military gun rail. There was a fl eet of motorbikes in there too, orange KTMs.
Mac was back in his ovies and Hi-Tecs but he still had no gun. He had his G-Shock but the time – 2.34 pm – didn’t compute. It felt like early morning and he still felt like shit.
‘So where are we, Sonny?’
‘Foothills of Malino. Santigi’s that way.’ Sonny gestured south.
‘Nice up here, stays cool in the summer.’
‘Sabulu’s a bit far south for Cookie, isn’t it?’ asked Mac.
Sonny gave him the up and down look. Like Mac was getting cheeky.
‘He’s been going south, some power vacuum thing. But you’ve heard all about that, right Mr Spook?’
Mac hadn’t heard any such thing. The truth was that Indonesian politics were a mystery to all but a circle of about two hundred insiders. In a nation of two hundred and twenty million that was a pretty tight inner circle. Back in the days when Jakarta’s heart was up for grabs and Sukarno thought that ‘non-aligned’ meant not having to deal with the Yanks, the CIA had an entire desk devoted to Indonology.
The big foreign newspapers still sent in their brightest journalists, the governments rotated in their expert diplomats and the spies trained for a year to get a posting in Jakkers.
And none of them knew what the fuck was going on.
Sonny veered towards a demountable building on the road side.
It was cool inside. A very large Fijian soldier in a black T-shirt and olive fatigue shorts sat at a desk. He leapt up on seeing Sonny, webbing gun rig swinging around as he did.
‘How they going, Mosie?’ said Sonny.
Mac looked to his right, saw Sawtell, Hard-on and Spikey. They were sitting at a table eating lunch behind a steel-mesh cage. They looked over: swollen eyes, split lips. Hate in their eyes. Mac was going to have to work on this.
‘Good – no problems,’ the Fijian replied.
The guy called Mosie looked quickly at Mac.
‘Moses, this is Mr McQueen. These are his boys.’
Mac took his hand. ‘Looking after them, Moses?’
‘Yes, Mr McQueen.’
Mac winked at him. ‘Set, brother.’
Moses beamed. There were two types of fi eldwork: thuggery and enlistment. You either treated your world as eternally hostile – like the Israelis and Russians – or you cosied up to people and enlisted them.
Mac preferred the enlistment model.
Mac moved to the cage. ”Zit going, boys?’
‘The fuck you think?!’ said Sawtell.
‘You’ll be out soon, Moses has it covered,’ said Mac, trying to keep it light.
He saw a rack of guns and Cordura bags hanging from the whitewashed wall as he left.
Time to get it sorted.
Cookie Banderjong was nothing like Mac expected. He had a full head of hair, pushed up and back in a pompadour. A good-looking, round-faced Javanese. The legs outstretched on a huge teak desk revealed a pair of Billabong boardies. His legs were muscled, his chest pushed out against the white polo shirt – the one with the alligator on it. His intel days were over but he was still working out.
As Sonny and Mac entered he was talking on the phone, wearing a headset plugged straight into his computer. He twirled the headset cable in the air as he yelled at someone in Indonesian. Then it changed to English. ‘Dave, that prick’s got something wrong with his brain. Deadset, you make me come down there and it’ll get ugly.
Tell him that… okay… yeah… sweet. Sweet as.’
What stumped Mac was the accent: pure Strine. So it was true, Cookie Banderjong did grow up in Melbourne. You could read all the fi les but you never really got a feel for a person until you heard them.
Cookie was still into somebody. ‘Yeah, I know, mate. Like I said, either the company starts getting eight-hour shifts – of actual work! out of these blokes or I’ll come down with Mr Makatoa and we’ll have a word in the shell-like.’ He smiled at Mac and Sonny, held his hand up in apology.
Mac felt expensive Sumatran silk carpet through his socks. They’d been asked to remove their shoes at the tradies’ entrance.
Cookie signed off: ‘Yeah, yeah, mate. I know. It’s not your fault.
Time to sort it though, huh? Sweet, no worries, catchya.’
He squeezed a button on the cable, tore his headset off and chucked it on the desk. Walked around the desk and across the chocolate-coloured carpet in his bare feet. Cookie was about fi ve-nine and athletic. He put out his hand, smiled big like a movie star.
‘You must be Alan?’
”Zit going?’ said Mac.
They shook. Mac smiled back. Couldn’t help himself.
‘They call me Mac.’
‘Mr Makatoa’s told me a bit about you – sounds interesting.’ Cookie pointed to the white leather sofas by the huge PanaVista window that looked out over the valley.
So Cookie was an enlister too. He used the correct pronunciation of Sonny’s name. He said it Maka- tor, knowing how irritated Sonny would get hearing the Anglo version of Maka- to -er. In Maori, toa meant warrior, and people with that in their names felt it was there for good reason. Enlisters noticed the small things; Mac decided he’d better be cagey with this guy.
Cookie’s offi ce was a sprawling thing up on the second storey of the mansion. Around the walls were the mementos of his life in BAKIN, the Suharto-era Indonesian intelligence apparatus which had also had a secret police function. There was a picture of Cookie smiling with an elderly Richard Nixon, both of them in golf clothes.
A black and white photo of a group of men looking serious, standing around a strategy table. It featured a younger short-back-and-sides Cookie with a man who might have been Alexander Haig.
Cookie called for tea and came over to the sofa, saw Mac checking the walls.
‘So you’re ASIS?’
Mac didn’t respond. In any other company he’d have done the old then I’d have to kill you. But he wasn’t going to say that to Cookie Banderjong. Not here. Not in front of Sonny.
‘You’ll like this one,’ said Cookie, moving to a picture on the wall.
He took it down and gave it to Mac. It showed two men of similar age talking to one another in what looked like a banquet hall. A Chinese banquet hall. Communist Party dog collars and Liberation Army fruit salad displays fi lled the background. The two men in the foreground were in suits and ties: Cookie animated, the other man sullen but intent. The unmistakable face of Vladimir Putin.
Mac smiled. ‘Where and when?’
‘Beijing, ‘93,’ said Cookie. ‘I went through our surveillance footage with the technical guys after the dinner – as you do – and there was this one. He was such a strange guy: very smart, very intense. He was nothing then, just one of those over-serious Commies with the Russian legation.’
‘You guys got a camera into a Chinese state function?’ Mac chortled. ‘Are you fucking nuts?’
‘Only when I drink.’
They shared a laugh. It was funny. But Cookie was also pulling rank, showing Mac that he was hardcore. The real thing – a bloke who could waltz into Beijing and pull counter-surveillance on the MSS, on their own patch.
Cookie warmed to the story. ‘I saw Putin on the news a few years ago when he became president, and I’m like Holy shit – I know that prick.
Went back to the old surveillance prints, pulled some strings and got that little beauty on my wall.’
Mac was being played. He handed back the picture and Cookie gave him the wink.
The tea came through with the housemaid and kids’ screams echoed through the open door.
‘Thanks, Rosie – and tell those kids if I have to come down there I’ll take the damn PlayStation and chuck it in the bin. Okay?’
Cookie eased back into the sofa. The enlistment was over, his face slackened a bit. ‘What have we got down there, Mac? And what’s in it for me?’
Mac told Cookie as much as he could about Judith Hannah and Peter Garrison. Mentioned the ambush in Makassar, but not that he thought it was Canberra-connected.
Cookie squinted at Mac. ‘This Garrison, is that the northern Pakistan Garrison? The police compound guy?’
Mac nodded. ‘Drugs for guns for gold. A clever guy, good at playing everyone off.’
‘That wasn’t a terrorist attack, was it?’ Cookie smiled but with no conviction.
‘Nah. Garrison called in an air strike far as we could see.’
Cookie looked out on the valley. ‘And Garrison’s still Agency?’
‘I was briefed three nights ago, and they were claiming him then,’ said Mac.
Cookie looked at Sonny. ‘Well this might be a nice coincidence, hey Sonny?’
Sonny had most of his mercs running cover and clearances for a Malaysian logging company in the Tokala peninsula. At the same time, Cookie seemed to want Garrison shaken down to see where the money trail led. Sonny needed a slightly larger crew for that gig and Cookie wanted Sonny to use the Americans to make up the numbers.
‘Works for me,’ said Cookie to Sonny. ‘I want a chat with this Garrison prick, and these guys want the girl. Everyone’s happy.’
Sonny didn’t like it. ‘Those Yanks aren’t happy, boss. Might have their minds on payback, not on the mission.’
‘Your call,’ said Cookie.
Sonny and the boys had been monitoring the activity up at the old mine, but now that Cookie knew who it was on his turf, he wanted them out of there.
‘I’ll have a chat to the Yanks,’ said Sonny, not convinced. ‘See if they’re up for it.’
Cookie looked at Sonny. Looked at Mac. ‘So let’s do it.’
Sonny and Mac walked down from the house in the heat, the cicadas deafening. Sonny suddenly stopped and put a fi nger in Mac’s face.
‘Here’s the deal, Chalks. We go and talk to the special forces boys, see if their hearts are in it. Right? But whatever happens, you’re vouching for them. Got it? They’re your problem.’
Sonny ended this sentence with a poke in the chest. Mac got the point: if Sawtell fucked up, Mac got whacked.
The lock-up was still cool when they let themselves in. Moses walked out of a door, zipping himself, his SIG handgun in its webbing rig on his chest.
Sonny didn’t waste time. ‘Hey, Mosie – let ‘em out,’ he said, pulling up the chair behind the desk and sitting down. Moses opened the cell door and positioned himself in front of the confi scated weapons.
Sawtell stalked out of the cage, looking like he could kill someone with his bare hands. Sonny put his hands up, palms facing Sawtell.
‘Time to talk, eh boys?’ When Sonny said ‘boys’ it sounded like he was saying ‘boice’.
Sawtell and Sonny talked and talked. They talked about campaigns, about people they’d lost, bullets they’d taken, idiot superiors and the stresses of dealing with friendly fi re in a combat zone. They even realised they’d both been in Somalia at the same time.
When Limo’s death came up they talked about how much it hurt to tell a bloke’s mum that her boy had bought it, but how important it was to make that call yourself, not let the bureaucracy do it for you.
Sawtell welled up. Sonny didn’t blink. He said you knew you were in deep when your boys’ welfare meant more to you than your own.
‘That’s not weak, John – that’s being a professional. That’s the way it has to be.’
Sawtell sniffl ed. Wanted to say something but his lip quivered and he stared at the ground. Mac didn’t know where to look. He’d never been in the inner circle of the military when soldiers did this kind of debrief. He’d assumed they just got drunk.
‘Tell you something else, John – that boy, the big fella – he was the only one who clocked me,’ said Sonny, his voice respectful. ‘Got a shot off too. Good talent, good lad that one.’
‘His name was Alvarez, Christian Alvarez,’ said Hard-on, tears running down his cheeks. ‘We called him Limo ‘cos he was built for comfort not speed.’
‘Well he was the fastest of the lot in that clearing, eh boys?’ said Sonny. ‘Billy the fucking Kid. Scared the shit outta me – lost it so bad I almost took Chalkie’s head off!’
They all chuckled at that one.
‘And then what’d we do? One less intel fuckwit to get us in the shit.’ There were wry smiles as Sonny continued. ‘Us simple army boys wouldn’t know how to fuck it up without Chalks here to help us, eh?’
The soldiers laughed and Sonny ruffl ed Mac’s hair, pretended to try again when Mac leaned away.
Soldier psychiatry: make it all about the offi ce guy, get the team bonding.
Sawtell wiped his cheek with the back of his hand. Turned to his lads. Hard-on and Spikey looked like jocks ready to get back in the game. Something passed between the three of them.
Sawtell looked back to Sonny, said, ‘What’s up?’
The Green Berets were assigned rooms and had their showers, then ate with Sonny’s skeleton crew in the mess. They ate steaks, mashed spud and then Hemi brought over a plate of steaming corn cobs.
Sonny’s eyes went wide as hands reached from everywhere. Corn was a favoured military food if you could get it. It made you feel full and had a slow-burn energy effect.
‘Hey, McQueen. This reminds me of that time in the desert.
Remember?’ said Sonny. ‘In the Yanks’ mess? Tell ‘em the story.’
Mac had hoped Sonny wouldn’t want to relive that episode. He batted it away. ‘Some other time, eh Sonny? Let’s talk Garrison.’
‘Easy,’ said Sonny. ‘You get the girl, Hemi grabs Garrison, then we pick up Limo on the way back. Sounds like a plan.’ He pointed his cob at Mac. Sly smile. ‘Shit, Chalkie’s embarrassed. A blushing Australian.
Who would have thought.’
Mac put his cob down, leaned back, looked at the ceiling. Yes, he was embarrassed.
‘It was a long time ago, Sonny – I thought I was doing the right thing,’ he said. He could feel a constellation of dark eyes in brown faces staring at him. He felt like an iridescent son of Saxony. He looked back at Sonny.
‘I’m not a racist, okay?!’
There was a pause. Then they all laughed. Mac put his face in his hands, moaned slightly. He was still very tired, lump on his head the size of a lemon.
Hard-on grabbed Spikey by the arm, made a high-pitched nasal mimic. ‘ I’m not a racist, okay?’
The hard men of the military shrieked like a bunch of girls. Hemi had to hold on to the kitchen bench, like he was having a seizure.
Sonny cried with laughter. Moses, who was sitting beside Mac, patted him on the back. Smiled a very big Fijian smile.
Mac let them go. He watched a joke go down that he was excluded from. Forever.
He fi nally held up his hands. ‘Okay, Sonny, I’ll tell the fucking story.’
‘See this corn?’ He looked at Hard-on and then Sawtell as they caught their breath. ‘They don’t serve it like this in the ANZAC chow tents. If you’re Aussie and Kiwi, they pour loose frozen corn kernels out of white plastic bags, boil it till you can’t taste it and then expect people to eat it.’
‘Yuk,’ said Spikey. ‘Why don’t they just get the cobs in?’
‘That’s what Sonny here reckoned. It was the end of the fi rst Gulf War, there were two days till the airlift, and this madman here,’ Mac pointed at Sonny, ‘had heard that the Yanks served fresh corn cobs. So he invited himself to eat in the US Army NCOs’ mess.’
‘This in Basra?’ asked Sawtell.
Hard-on whistled low.
‘They put up with him for a few days – the Yanks were getting ready to pull out and they were feeding a lot of people. I think they were being polite.’
‘Sounds like us,’ said Sawtell.
‘I was seconded with Army MI for a few days and I was sitting in the NCO mess one afternoon. I had a pass.’
The lads ooo ed.
‘Anyway,’ said Mac, ‘in walks Sonny with a couple of his SAS lads.
And the bloke – what’s he called, the steward?’
‘Yeah, the mess steward,’ said Sawtell.
‘He intercepts Sonny and tries to tell him that lunch is off. Sorry, but that’s the rules.’
‘No dice?’ asked Sawtell. He laughed, shook his head like hard case!
‘But Sonny has already seen the corn, sitting there in the bain-marie,’ Mac continued. ‘And the cook seems okay to have it eaten, so the steward shrugs it off. But on the way to the bain-marie Sonny goes past this Army bloke.’
‘US Army?’ asked Sawtell.
Mac nodded. ‘They let you wear T-shirts in the American messes, and this bloke had a very short-sleeved T-shirt on, and he had these tattoos down his arms. He was a skinny, blond guy. You’d call him a peckerhead, or a, a pecker…’ Mac searched for the word.
‘Peckerwood,’ said Spikey.
‘That’s it,’ said Mac. ‘Peckerwood – Southern accent, and on one of his arms he had a Confederate fl ag.’
Hard-on whistled low again, turned to look at Sonny. So did Sawtell. Sonny shrugged.
‘So Sonny stops. But he doesn’t worry about the bloke’s fl ag, ‘cos on the other arm he’s got a Maori design.’
‘Moko, Chalks,’ said Sonny. ‘Fucking moko. Get it right.’
‘Sonny goes “Nice ink you got there, Chalkie – perhaps you’d like to fi ll me in on its history?” And the Peckerwood doesn’t have a fucking clue who this guy is or what he just said.’
The table laughed, egging Mac on.
‘So Sonny says, “The tat, Chalks. The fucking tat – that’s my family you’ve got on your fucking arm.” And this Peckerwood is getting frazzled. Tries to shoo Sonny away.’
Sawtell was loving this. ‘Bad idea, huh?’
‘Terrible fucking idea. Sonny does that Maori thing, looks him up and down like he can’t believe that such stupidity and ugliness exist in the same body – it just can’t be physically possible.’
Hard-on and Spikey high-fi ved.
‘The steward is coming over, people are putting down their cutlery.
It’s a bad scene because most of the people in the mess are black and Hispanic. They’re tuning in and they’re in no hurry to poleaxe Sonny Makatoa.’
The Americans swapped glances.
‘So Peckerwood tells the steward “It’s okay” and says to Sonny,
“Why the fuck would I have your family on my arm?” like he wouldn’t sink so low. And Sonny points at the tattoo and says, “‘Cos you’re wearing a something-or-other moko.”’
‘Ngati Tuwharetoa,’ said Sonny. ‘The tribe is Ngati Tuwharetoa.’
Mac continued. ‘The guy doesn’t know what the hell is going on.
And then Sonny says: “If you don’t know whose family you’re putting on your body, Chalks, then don’t fucking put it on. Understand that, boy?”’
Sawtell laughed. ‘“Chalks” and “boy” in the same sentence – bet he never got that in Tupelo.’
‘So Peckerwood leaps up,’ said Mac, ‘and Sonny just looks him up and down. Doesn’t move. Just leans further in. Peckerwood is clenching his fi sts and Sonny is ready for him. They were about to get into it.’
‘Yeah, so?’ said Hard-on.
‘So I stopped it,’ said Mac, looking at Sonny. ‘Got between them.
I shielded the Peckerwood.’
Hard-on slid his hands over his stubbly head, exasperated. ‘Oh, man. You stopped it? Why?!’
Sonny stared at Mac.
”Cos that’s how I reacted,’ said Mac.
The good humour defl ated. Mac looked down at his plate, said,
‘The guy was ignorant, had no idea what someone like Sonny could do to him.’
‘I wasn’t going to hurt him – just wanted to know about the tat,’ said Sonny.
‘You were going to take him apart.’
Sonny chuckled, then went serious. ‘You got it wrong, Chalks.
The motto of the story is this: you don’t spend a week under a soldier’s protection and then side against him in a slap-up.’
Mac looked at the lads, who nodded sagely.
‘Not how it works, cuz.’
The helo swooped in to the landing zone a little after four pm. Sonny had wanted to go while there was still wind around in the tops and the noise of an aircraft wouldn’t drift. They landed downwind from the area they were targeting as an extra precaution. The bloke called Billy de-powered and the thing came to a silent stop.
They piled out in an assortment of clothing: the Green Berets in their fatigues, Mac still in his overalls and black baseball cap, Sonny’s boys – four of them in total – all wearing the olive and blacks they’d had in camp. The new addition was the fi eld radio with throat mics.
They were wired again and Mac could see the Americans were more comfortable with it.
Sonny pulled them in, spelled it out: no heroics, no rock stars. He wanted to turn the thing around real quick without anyone getting shot. If that meant Garrison’s blokes just threw down their weapons, all for the better.
He wanted to pull the classic special forces trick: attack at about three am with maximum force and see if the enemy had the ticker for it.
Mac had one proviso on that: he’d rather take one guy – Sawtell or Hard-on – into the structure and try to snatch the girl. He’d want to do it while there was a diversion elsewhere.
Sonny gave him the okay. ‘But pick your target well. Once the shit starts there’s going to be fi re everywhere. Once it starts I can’t guarantee the girl.’
They started out and made good time across bad terrain. There was a moon and the lads were fi t. This was a lightning raid and everything they needed they carried on their webbing. M16 A2s and M4 carbines sat across their chests. Hemi hauled a heavy calibre machine gun and Mac had a borrowed SIG 9 mm handgun, with a customised suppressor that he stashed in a webbing pocket. It wasn’t as good as the Heckler but it was better than nothing.
Mac was still woozy and he struggled to keep up. He was also worried about his wrist. It was still puffed and he couldn’t get his hand properly around the SIG’s grip. But he kept that to himself.
Hemi walked point and Hard-on swept from the back. It was steep, and dark where the branches hung low; roots tripped them.
But there was little noise from the party.
Sawtell hung back a bit and Mac slowed to walk with him. There was something on his mind, something he had to clear before any shooting started.
‘John, can we talk?’ he said in a rasping whisper.
Sawtell looked at him. Mac saw a cammed face and the whites of Sawtell’s eyes.
‘What is it?’
‘Ah, the girl – Judith Hannah,’ said Mac.
‘There’s another one, I think.’
‘Another girl? With Garrison?’
‘Remember I told you about Minky?’
‘The CIA guy?’
‘Yeah. Well, he’s dead.’
They stopped, Sawtell looked away, put his hands on his hips.
‘Yeah – not good.’
‘You shot him?’
‘I was ambushed. I got scared, carried away.’
‘And this girl?’
Mac nodded. The entire thing was a less than ideal situation and one that he had been hoping would go away. But here they were, about to storm a compound, and a young girl was in there somewhere. It didn’t seem fair not to warn the soldiers.
‘You thought maybe some of us might like to know this? Shit, McQueen, how old is she?’
‘Dunno – eight or nine.’
Sawtell bit his bottom lip. He looked angry. Real angry.
Mac tried to dilute it. ‘Look, I didn’t want to tell you guys in Ralla
‘cos I was embarrassed, and I was hoping I’d be able to get her when I snatched Hannah. And then we ran into Sonny and, well, you’ve seen what he’s like with me.’
Sawtell nodded. ‘Yeah, I saw that.’
‘So, whaddya reckon?’
‘You’d better tell Sonny is what I reckon, ‘cos if you put a young girl’s life on his conscience it might be you he comes after.’
‘I don’t think he’d wear that shit.’ Sawtell almost spat it. ‘And I don’t have a problem with that either.’
They eyeballed one another. They were strong words: if the girl got hurt, Sawtell would stand back and let Sonny whack the culprit.
Soldiers were a whole different breed.
Mac thought about his next words very carefully. ‘It’s just that I don’t want to get Sonny distracted with the racial stuff just before we do this thing.’
‘And why wouldn’t he be distracted by that? You focus everything on the cute white girl and a little brown girl can go to hell?’
Mac swallowed hard. This wasn’t going the way he wanted it.
‘That it, McQueen? You know that if a bunch of black and brown men know there’s a little brown girl up there, they might just give her equal priority?’
‘Look, John -‘
‘So you get the black man to make peace with the angry brown man?’
‘Five minutes before go?’
Sawtell was looking at him like he was a different species. ‘What is it with you intel guys?’
‘John, it’s not like -‘
‘Fuck you, McQueen.’ He hissed it. ‘I’ll tell Sonny. We’ll do what we have to do. But fuck you.’
Sawtell moved off, shaking his head.
Silence in Mac’s head. Like a drum.
Mac lay on the ridge, behind a log under a low-hanging canopy of branches. Hard-on lay beside him. Below them was a compound of eight oldish wooden buildings, like pre-war public schoolhouses.
A generator drove a fl oodlight system that illuminated a courtyard.
The place had been built with little evidence of permanence and the main buildings were arranged in no particular order or angle, except that they surrounded the courtyard.
Thirty metres up a scree and clay slope Mac could see why the compound had been built: there was a mine entry with a small railway coming out of it. During the Second World War the Japanese had exploited the mine for mica, the prime ingredient in silica gels.
They took turns with Hard-on’s binos, looking for the main residence and a lock-up – diffi cult given that the buildings looked so similar to one another.
Mac had to think it through: he was either going to stealth into the right building, or he was going to stealth into the wrong building and start a shooting match.
There wasn’t one girl, there were two. What if they weren’t in the same area? Mac would bet they were. This was hardly a prison set-up and criminals were usually lazy when it came to managing incarceration.
His mate Jenny Toohey from the AFP once told him about a raid she’d led on a child sex-slave ring in Semarang. They stealthed in to fi nd the boys and girls watching TV in their pyjamas while the kidnappers slept off an opium bender.
So Mac was going to take a calculated gamble. All he needed was a good odds-on pick on which building the girls were in. He didn’t want to be wandering in and out of barracks at three in the morning, saying, ‘Sorry, fellas, wrong building.’
According to Sonny’s local intel, there were ten or twelve people in the camp. A dozen was doable.
The fi rst part of the exercise was sacking the perimeter security.
Sonny and Hemi had taken that job. There were two guards, as far as they could tell, and Mac wanted them both totally out of the picture before he wandered across that fl oodlit courtyard.
The radio system crackled. Hemi’s voice: ‘Blue team this is Red.
Good to go. On your signal.’
The sentries were down. A good start.
The plan now was old and simple: Mac and Hard-on would break into their building and search as far as they could without starting the shit. If they couldn’t go further, and needed a distraction or cover, they’d call in the Red team, who would come in with a lot more noise from the other side of the compound. The way these things worked, when they worked well, was highly effective. The louder distraction usually triggered the human instinct to protect; the enemy would hopefully race out of the place leaving the intruders and the abductees inside and unaccompanied.
Or, it could all go to shit. Like when the distraction didn’t work, or you trod on a cat or someone was simply lying awake, helping himself to a bit of self-love in the dark. That’s when it was close-range gunfi re, which made even professionals rethink their career. It was scary, and someone usually died.
When Mac did these things, he liked to work with a military athlete, and with Hard-on he’d got lucky – a good operator with soft feet, a calm brain and a killer’s body. Someone who kept their head still and their heart rate down.
He liked special forces blokes because they thrived under pressure.
That was something the intel guy needed when he was trying to think things through. Like when you get to a cell and there’s no one in there. Or there’s someone in the cell, but they’re hostile – don’t want to go anywhere.
Hard-on and Mac mumbled to one another. They settled on the larger of the buildings as the most likely residential. It had a large three painted on it in black, faded but still visible. They could make out a clearly worn path through the clay courtyard to the steps which went up into the building. They couldn’t see similar paths to the other buildings.
Sawtell agreed over the earpiece, told them he could see a cable from the generator room going into building three, but not going anywhere else.
The last thing they looked for was a security system. With two perimeter guards, Mac doubted it. Not out in the highlands of Sulawesi. But they did the grid-scans with the binos: started with the foreground, worked to and fro. Moved to the next grid, to and fro. They each did it once over, looking for small white plastic boxes mounted on the wall of a building or on a stick, hip-high to a man.
They checked each other. Mac had the SIG 9 mm. The silencer wasn’t the best but it might give him a slight edge. SIGs had the fi fteen-round mags which Mac hated. On a job like this, however, it was welcome.
Hard-on had his Beretta in his webbing and an M4 carbine lying in front of him. But he was going in with a Ka-bar as his primary weapon. Also in his webbing was a sealed plastic bag fi lled with a length of muslin soaked in the US military version of chloroform. If Garrison was inside, Mac had some questions for him and he didn’t want the bloke dead. There was also the issue of female hysteria: a woman being woken in the early hours by one bloke in overalls and another in a black ski mask might not think she was being rescued.
Hard-on pulled black gloves over his fi sts. Clenched them. He pulled a black ski mask from inside his shirt, put it on.
Mac rubbed his right wrist against his face, hoping it would hold out. He could have sat back and let the soldiers do their thing, used his wrist as an excuse. But Judith Hannah was his responsibility, his mission.
He thought about Minky’s girl and what Sawtell had said. He hadn’t deprioritised her because she had brown skin; he’d done so to keep his mind focused on the mission. Still, it didn’t look good.
He admitted that. He just couldn’t admit it to them.
His heartbeat rose in his throat. He took a couple of deep breaths, then held down an acrid sensation in the back of his mouth. Nerves rising, Mac pulled down his black cap, looked at Hard-on and nodded.
‘Red team, this is Blue,’ said Hard-on into the throat mic.
Mac’s ears roared with nerves as he scooted along the south wall of building three. He was in shadows but still vulnerable. The moon was out and while that was good for his general vision it was also good for an enemy who might be watching.
He battled to control his breathing. Hard-on crouched in front of him. Before them was the expanse of the courtyard – about thirty metres across and fl ooded with artifi cial light. They’d spent the last fi fteen minutes circling round behind building number three, now they were tucked in behind it, under the window line.
Hard-on took his time. Mac watched the soldier’s back heaving through fatigues and webbing. You couldn’t stop the nerves, but you could breathe with it. They waited. Listened for the slightest sound.
Nothing. Except the sound of heartbeats roaring in Mac’s ears.
Hard-on put his hand slightly above his shoulder. A get-ready signal. Then he picked up the M4, shouldered it and shifted his feet and hips into the marksman position.
Mac stood from his crouch, pulled the SIG out of its webbing, checked for load, checked for safety, slapped his breast pocket for the spare mag. He fi shed the suppressor from another webbing pocket, twisted it on, giving it a fi nal hard screw at the end for good luck.
Then they heard it. Faintly at fi rst, like it might have been a monkey.
But they stopped, tensed. Waited. It came again. A yelp, some words.
Indonesian, female, high-pitched. Yearning then trailing off.
Mac felt ice in his heart. They could barely look at one another.
They’d just heard a young girl crying out in a nightmare. They had the right building. And one of the hostages was alive.
Hard-on looked at him through the holes in the ski mask.
Mac didn’t know how Sawtell had handled the bit about Minky’s girl. But Hard-on seemed focused on the mission rather than angry with him.
Hard-on held up his right hand again, numbered down with gloved fi ngers: fi ve, four, three, two, one. Then he thumbed-up. Mac moved around the Green Beret, trying to keep his eyes on the clay ground while also looking ahead. He kept to the short side of the building but the fl oodlighting increased. He felt like he was walking onto a stage. It got brighter and brighter until he was standing at the last corner before he’d have to turn right and go up the entrance stairs and into the front porch of the building. He squinted – a bug under a microscope.
He paused, stuck his head around. Looked. Nothing. Pulled back.
Looked again. Realised he’d been holding his breath, and made himself breathe out.
To his left Hard-on was circling further into the courtyard, M4 to his eye line. He held a perfect shooting stance while also crabbing silently sideways – right leg over left – and keeping his sights trained on the building. He trained the weapon back and forth down the eight windows of the building. Anyone sticking their head up was going to get shot.
Mac swung around the corner, into the full blast of the fl oodies.
He walked the twenty paces to the entrance steps, stayed close to the wall, under the window line. His footsteps roared like a rock concert.
At the steps he stopped, lay on the dark red clay and pulled himself under the wooden steps like he was inspecting a car. Looked for weight and movement sensors, looked for grenades and trip wires.
He pulled himself out, his wrist aching and his head throbbing from Sonny’s butting. He’d stopped breathing again. He wasn’t feeling so good. Cold sweat soaked into his cap.
Hard-on moved in from the courtyard. No resistance. Still no movement from inside. Hard-on put a hand on Mac’s shoulder, his eyes questioning. Mac gave thumbs-up.
Hard-on handed the M4 to Mac, and walked up the beam on the side of the stairs rather than the stairs themselves, landing like a cat on the porch. Mac covered the courtyard from beside the stairs. Took long sweeps with the assault weapon, looking for movement, sounds.
He glanced over his shoulder a couple of times, saw Hard-on working his lock magic. When he looked back a third time, Hard-on had his gloved hand reached out. Mac handed over the M4 and pulled out his SIG. Then he joined Hard-on on the porch. The door was now slightly ajar and Hard-on took his standing marksman stance. Nodded at Mac.
Mac put his back against the wall, reached his left arm out and slowly, at arm’s length, pushed the door open. It was silent for the fi rst half of its arc. Then it made the slightest squeal which ended in a small croak. Hard-on stood like a statue, the door open before him.
If anyone was waiting, or anyone just happened to be in that zone, Hard-on would nail them and the shit would start.
But there was no shooting. Hard-on looked briefl y at Mac, held up his hand in a ‘wait’ signal. Lay on the fl oor, looked along it for thirty seconds, looking for tripwires and lasers. Mac thought back to the fear he’d evoked in those boys at the Honda Accord. Realised that to a special forces guy this whole mission might look like one big booby trap.
Hard-on stood and fl icked his head. Mac came away from the wall, into the room. It was a kitchen. Mac held the SIG in cup-and-saucer, moved immediately to his right, around the side of the room. Pots and pans hung from hooks along the wall. Musty smell. Moonlight came through the window over the sinks. He moved around the right wall towards a portal without a door and took a position. He turned back and watched Hard-on check behind the door, look up at the ceilings and walls, crouch down to look under the large table in the middle of the area, even open a broom closet door.
They stood either side of the doorway. Hard-on took off his ski mask and stashed it in his back pocket, did a quick peek around the corner. Pulled back. Looked again, slower. Mac took his six o’clock.
Hard-on slipped the M4 strap over his neck so the thing was hanging horizontal across his chest. His eyes were fi xed on something.
He pulled his boot-blacked Ka-bar from the webbing, held it hammer-grip, blade up – less likely to cut one of your mates than if you held it hammer-grip, blade-down.
Hard-on turned to Mac, pointed to himself and held up one fi nger.
He would go fi rst. Pointed at Mac, held up two. Mac was backup.
Hard-on slid into the next room. It was darker, sheets over windows. Two camp beds, one on either side of the room. Walkway down the middle. On the left, an Indonesian man was asleep on his side, facing away from Mac and Hard-on. The other bloke was sleeping on his back, snoring, fatigues on, boots by the bed, M4 leaning against the wall.
Hard-on took two strides to the guy in his fatigues, clapped a gloved hand fi rmly over mouth and nose and slit his throat, all in one movement. He didn’t hesitate, made two strides to the guy under the sheet, who made a humming sound – like he was waking up next to his girlfriend – and Hard-on did the same thing to him, except he entered the bloke’s neck from the side, taking the carotid artery direct.
Total silence. No more snoring, no more breathing. The white sheet was now dark and shiny. The bloke hadn’t moved from his sleeping position. The other bloke hadn’t even opened his eyes.
Hard-on stood up too abruptly, the M4 clattering briefl y on his webbing. They paused. Mac’s wrist had almost seized up in the cup-and-saucer position. Nine-millimetre handguns actually had a decent amount of kick and with the suppressor hanging off the end, he was scared his wrist wouldn’t be able to deal with it.
His breathing was plain embarrassing. Special forces blokes lived, slept, ate and trained together, and after a while their breathing got synchronised. So Mac knew Hard-on was probably spooked by the ragged, gasping sound coming from the intel guy. He could imagine the Green Beret having a beer with his boys after this was over, saying something like, ‘That Pizza Man – he asthmatic or some shit?’
Hard-on put the Ka-bar in his webbing scabbard, brought his M4 up to his eye line again. Pointed. Now they were looking at another doorway, this one with an actual door in it.
Hard-on made a gesture with his hand to show he wanted a low-high team for entry. He wanted Mac covering left, he would cover right.
Mac crouched on one knee in front of the door knob. It was an away-swinging door. Hard-on was in standing marksman pose straight over the top of him. If there were people on the other side, they would look up and see the profi le of one man. Less to aim at.
Mac went to turn the knob, an old brass number, nice and worn and quiet. His breathing was now coming so fast and shallow that it reminded him of what he was like after a fi fteen-minute session with the jumprope at the gym.
He shook it off. Sweat fell onto his forearm. Took a deep breath.
Exhaled. Pushed the door in, brought the SIG up to eye line. His heart thumped in his temples, throbbed at the lump on his head, roared in his ears.
The door opened into a long corridor with doors and rooms. This was not what Mac wanted. It was gloomy but he reckoned there were at least three rooms off the corridor. The only good part? Not all of them had doors.
Hard-on and Mac moved forward, Hard-on in the lead.
Same routine for the fi rst door. Mac kneeling, Hard-on standing.
Door swung open with a creak. They took it in. Moonlight came in the large sash window, a naked Asian man lay on the only bed. The bloke lifted his head, opened his mouth in surprise.
Mac rose, SIG ready, levelled the suppressor and was about to fi re.
Heard Hard-on say, ‘No.’ Then saw why.
There was a woman behind the bloke.
Naked, blonde, and out to it.
Mac hesitated, then lowered the SIG so it was at hip-height and popped the Asian man in the forehead.
Blood sprayed on the girl, but he was pretty sure he’d missed her with the slug.
The sound of voices and feet hitting fl oorboards came from next door. Urgent commands.
Hard-on keyed the throat mic. ‘Sonny, shit’s started. Bring it.
Bring it now.’
Almost immediately the staccato sound of short-burst machine gun fi re came from further down the building. Glass smashed and someone screamed. Shots fi red back, echoing inside the building.
Hard-on said, ‘Get the girl.’ Then he went to the doorframe, stood beside it and fi red in short bursts down the hallway. The air fi lled with thumps and male fear.
Mac knelt on the bloody bed, pulled the dead guy off the girl.
Two rounds came through the wall above him. He was full-on panting now, muttering to himself. The girl was Judith Hannah, he was sure. She was naked and from the breasts up she was covered in blood. There were bits of brain and bone in her hair.
She was tied to the bed head with cargo ties, both wrists, both ankles. He tried to get them loose. Reached for his own Ka-bar, fumbled, dropped the knife. He was not handling this well. Then he realised there was no response from Hannah.
‘Judith – how are you?’ He picked up the Ka-bar and slashed the ties on her wrists.
Panting, gulping and muttering like a madman, Mac checked for a pulse on her inside wrist. Pressed three fi ngers close to the bone.
Got it in one. Drugged? Catatonic?
He gave her a soft slap on the left cheek. Her eyes didn’t open.
‘Judith – talk to me!’
The shooting went on around him. He slashed the ankle ties.
Hard-on popped shots like a robot and yelled, ‘How we going, Pizza Man?’
‘Where’s the other girl?’ shouted Hard-on before shooting again.
‘She’s not in here, mate,’ he yelled over the gunfi re.
He knew Hard-on would avoid fi ring in a downward trajectory until they knew where the younger girl was. Mac looked around in the gloom and realised he hadn’t looked behind the door. He pulled it away from the wall and looking straight back at him were big dark eyes under a fringe; a cuddly blanket clutched into a naked chest.
Minky’s girl, alive.
Splinters of doorframe fl ew into the room.
Hard-on yelled, ‘Fuck!’ and staggered in, clutching at his right bicep. ‘Fuck it!’
Minky’s girl screamed.
Mac leapt up, took a crouch at the doorframe. Two men down the end of the corridor were laying down indiscriminate fi re. It whistled around, sliced through the wooden walls, tore strips off the plaster ceiling. There were two sounds: loads fi ring and the building being torn apart. Mac pulled back in.
The radio crackled. ‘Blue team, this is Red. Ten more tangos from another building. We’re bogged down. Can you hang on?’
Hard-on winced, growled at his pain. Keyed the mic, said, ‘Red team this is Blue – we have both targets. Repeat both targets. We need cover. We need it now. Over.’
Radio contact ceased.
Hard-on took his hand away from his bicep. It was a mess. The shirt was torn and blood was seeping into it as Mac watched.
‘It’s a fl esh wound,’ said Hard-on. ‘But a bad one.’
‘Can you cover me if I get the girls?’ asked Mac.
Hard-on nodded, reloaded, moved back to the splintered doorframe. The shooting had died down. They were probably waiting to see if it was safe to approach. Hard-on did a quick peek, then pulled back.
Mac went to the bed, dragged Hannah up to a sitting position.
Kneeling on the fl oor he pushed her arms up, pulled them over his left shoulder and her body followed. He wrapped his left arm around the back of her knees and when he stood she hung limp down his back.
He turned for Minky’s girl. She would have to run.
Hard-on counted his fi ve then leapt into the corridor, laying down fi re. Mac would have maybe ten seconds to make a dash for it with the girls, before the return fi re came back twice as hard.
Smiling at Minky’s girl, he put his hand out.
She shook her head.
Mac smiled harder, wiggled his hand, tried to grab her wrist.
‘Come on. Let’s go.’ She pulled her hand away.
‘Come on, darlin’ – I’m here to help,’ said Mac, clicking his fi ngers at her.
Hard-on looked back to Mac. ‘On my fi ve, Pizza Man.’
Mac made another attempt at Minky’s girl and she pointed at her ankle. He looked closer: the girl was handcuffed to a pipe on the wall.
The fl esh around the steel cuff was worn and bleeding.
With Judith Hannah on his back, he knelt to the dead rapist on the fl oor. But the guy was naked. Where would he keep his keys, Einstein? Up his arsehole?
Mac was seriously losing it. Hard-on was losing ground and yelled into the room, ‘Ready?!’
And then he smelled it.
The joint was on fi re.
A bullet passed inches from his face, thwacking into the opposite wall. It was time to go. Mac returned to Minky’s girl, pulled the SIG from the webbing holster, pointed it in close at the handcuff chain and pulled the trigger. Minky’s girl screamed as his fi rst shot missed.
Mac got the suppressor’s muzzle closer to the chain and tried again as the girl jerked around, scared of his gun. Her shrieks hurt his ears but this time the handcuff fell away. Mac put his hand out again and the girl took it.
They moved to the doorframe, which was now hanging by a few shreds of wood and plaster. Hard-on was ready to go, his right arm limp and dripping blood at his side. The M4 was in his left.
There was a lull in the gunfi re. Mac gripped tighter on the girl’s hand, but he could feel her pulling, scared witless. Hard-on fl icked his head and Mac took the two girls into the corridor, but as he did more gunfi re erupted. Hard-on fi red back but in the confusion the girl pulled free as Mac ran in a crouch towards the exit. He looked back and saw the wall and door give way as the girl disappeared back into the room. She was buried in wood and plaster.
Hard-on and Mac looked at one another and Hard-on shook his head.
Mac fi red back down the hallway with his SIG as Hard-on joined him, and they jogged out the way they’d come in.
The radio came back to life as they went down the entrance stairs and into the courtyard. A scene of carnage met them, fi re billowing out of the far end of building three and bodies lying on the red clay.
Spikey and Sawtell walked along the courtyard side of the building, aiming up at the spaces that fi ve minutes earlier had been windows.
Sporadic fi re issued from the windows. The Americans returned with interest.
The fi re was taking hold. More gunfi re came out of the building.
On the radio, it sounded like Sonny and Hemi were nailed down elsewhere. Mac wanted to drop Hannah and Hard-on in the bush and get back to rescuing Minky’s daughter.
Hard-on was in a bad way as they headed for the RV, groaning every time his feet hit the ground. Judith Hannah bounced rhythmically against Mac’s back. At least her legs were warm, which was a good sign.
Mac keyed the mic: ‘Red team, this is Blue. We have one target.
Repeat one target. Need help on the other. Over.’
He tried again. ‘Red team, Minky’s girl is in building three, repeat building three, in one of the middle rooms. A wall has collapsed on her – can we get someone there?’
Hard-on, through his agony, shook his head. ‘It’s not going to happen, Pizza Man. This is one we’ll just have to live with.
They hit the cover of the jungle and made up the slope for the RV.
Mac dumped the girl softly on the mossy forest fl oor. Hard-on almost collapsed in the leaves. He was in shock, losing blood and in a lot of pain.
Mac opened Billy’s triage pack which had been left at the RV.
He peeled back the fl ap to reveal morphine vials, bandages, needles, scalpels, hypodermic syringes, horsehair sutures and much more.
He found a thick bandage then pulled a squirty bottle fi lled with pure grain spirit from the bag and tore open a packet of fi ve sterile pads. Ripping away Hard-on’s sleeve, he had a closer look. The bullet had passed on the inside of the bicep and out the other side. It had probably nicked an artery and chipped the bone.
‘What’s it like?’ asked Hard-on in a small voice.
‘A fucking mess,’ said Mac, already working on the wound.
Hard-on’s body spasmed at the pain of it, but he was a good soldier.
Tears ran down his cheeks, he gasped, moaned and swore through gritted teeth as Mac cleaned the gaping thing out with spirit and the pads. Finally Mac squirted spirit on the last pad, placed it on the wound and strapped the bandage around the bicep.
By now Hard-on was full into shock: pale lips, chattering teeth and eyes rolling back. Mac kept him talking, asked if he wanted a shot and Hard-on shook his head.
‘Just say no.’
They both chuckled, but Mac couldn’t do anything more for now.
He got on the radio. ‘Billy, I got a man down. At the RV. Repeat, man down.’
‘Got that, Blue team. There soon, over.’
Mac turned to Judith Hannah. Not much change. He still had no clothes for her so he took off his webbing, dropped his ovies and put them on her.
Fishing in the medic pack he came out with a cap of smelling salts. Tried them under her nose. She reacted slightly but was still in some kind of coma.
He grabbed Hard-on’s M4. Checked for load, checked for safety and then barrelled down the hill in his briefs and Hi-Tecs.
The fi ght was still going and the building was now completely enveloped in fl ame. Mac felt sadness about Minky’s girl. He gulped it back and moved to the end of the building where the shooting was still happening. Sawtell leaned out of another building, called him in. Mac raced around, ducked in a side entrance and joined Sawtell, Sonny and Billy in the room. Across a small fi eld, a posse of thugs fi red intermittently from building fi ve. Sonny, Sawtell and Billy fi red back.
‘Well that went to shit in a handcart real quick,’ said Sawtell as Mac joined them.
‘Cunts were waiting for us,’ said Sonny. ‘Had a whole backup team in number fi ve.’
They looked Mac up and down, taking in his briefs. Didn’t say anything.
Through the window they watched Hemi, behind a long-abandoned bulldozer, enthusiastically hammering away with a belt-fed. 50 cal machine gun. Every time he loosed a burst, whole sections of building fi ve fell away, as if someone were poking pieces out of a jigsaw puzzle from the inside.
‘I’ll give him ten more seconds,’ said Sonny, ‘then we roll, eh?’
Mac nodded. ‘Hannah’s okay. Local girl didn’t make it.’
‘I tried,’ said Mac.
‘I know,’ said Sonny.
Sawtell asked, ‘How’s Hard-on?’
‘Not good. Needs a doctor.’
Sawtell looked at the blood on Mac’s hands, then looked away, sad.
‘You use the morphine?’ asked Billy, getting ready to go.
‘No,’ said Mac. ‘Didn’t know how.’
‘Good,’ said Billy, and he left.
‘Where’s Moses? Where’s Spikey?’ asked Mac.
‘Didn’t make it – got caught in there.’ Sonny gestured at the inferno, shook his head. ‘Fuck that for a game of cards. I’d rather be shot.’
The evacuation went smoothly. Hemi carried Hard-on, Billy took Hannah. Sonny took point duty, Sawtell ran the sweep.
They got to the helo as fast as you could carrying two people.
They put Hard-on in a stretcher. Wrapped Hannah in a blanket and harnessed her into the back seat of the Euro. Her head lolled and Mac jammed a folded blanket under her left ear. He found a pair of orange ovies in the tool bay, put them on.
Billy got on the fl ight deck, made ready to fi re her up. The whole crew was defl ated, exhausted, sad, drained by the adrenaline come-down.
Sawtell suddenly pulled back from talking to a zonked-out Hardon. There was a commotion outside and voices raised, slides clicking and the sound of a rifl e being manhandled.
Mac grabbed the SIG from between his feet, poked his head out of the helo. Beneath him Sonny had his arms around Moses and Spikey.
They all looked down, smiling and crying at the little girl lying in Mosie’s arms.
Spikey’s left hand was held to his ear, blood was crusted down his neck. He was saying to Sonny, ‘Damned if Mosie don’t just pick up that wall like it was litter.’
They got back to the compound at sun-up. Sonny and Sawtell went drinking in the mess, played Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones and Grand Funk Railroad. Played it loud, talked loud, tried to sing along – a couple of boys with some pipes to clear.
Everyone else hit the hay.
Mac lay awake, remembering one night his father had got home late. Mac had been ten years old at the time. It was hot, the middle of summer in Rockie, and Mac had got up after midnight to get a glass of water. Frank was sitting in the darkness of the kitchen, sipping Johnnie Walker and sucking back Pall Mall Plains, an ashtray fi lled with white butts in front of him. The dark red pack was going end over end on the formica table between Frank’s fi ngers. Mac got his water, and as he was going back to his bed Frank said, ‘You’ve gotta promise me, mate. Never mix alcohol and fi rearms – got it?’
Mac had nodded, freaked at his father’s slurred and bloodshot state.
In the morning the Bulletin ‘s front page was dominated by the story of a local girl killed while asleep in her bed. Her father had shot her. He was a wife-basher and a violent drunk who’d regularly threatened his wife with a Smith amp; Wesson. 38. On this night, he tried to scare his wife and shot at a wall beside her. The slug went through the wall and hit his nine-year-old in the head.
Mac remembered his mother telling Frank that he should have locked that bullying prick up years ago.
Frank didn’t tell her to shut up. Just wore it.
Mac thought about it.
Then he breathed again. It felt like the fi rst time in days.
Mac woke later in the morning in the air-conned men’s quarters.
He dressed in his blue ovies, which had already been washed, dried, folded and left on a tallboy in his room. On the ovies was the black diamond key ring with the MPS logo and the big German key.
He looked at it again. Put it in his breast pocket and moved down to the mess.
After he’d fi nished eating, Hemi came over with a mug of coffee.
‘Some shit last night, huh?’
Mac nodded. He’d never been shot at that much for that long.
He was still a little jangled and deafened by the experience.
‘Yeah, wouldn’t want to go to a party up there,’ said Mac. ‘If that’s what they’re like on a week night, imagine them on a Saturday when they’re really on the piss.’
Hemi laughed. ‘Like some of the pubs back home, eh?’
‘Fucking Gisborne. Heard of it?’
Mac shook his head.
‘Fucking hard case.’ Hemi shook his head.
Mac asked him about the girls.
‘They’re doing all right,’ said Hemi. ‘The little one is fi ne but the Aussie girl’s still asleep. Don’t know what they were feeding her.’
Mac’s job had been to snatch Judith Hannah, but not interrogate her. That had been made plain by Garvey back in Jakkers. They’d given him nothing to go on, no reason to talk with her. Even in his initial briefi ng with Sawtell back in Jakarta, the whole emphasis had been on Garrison, not Hannah.
But Mac didn’t give a shit now about what he was supposed to do.
Minky was dead, Limo was dead, Hard-on had half his arm shot off, Hannah was in some kind of coma – probably drug-induced – and there was a little girl, now without a dad, who might or might not have been subject to unwanted sexual attention.
So Mac didn’t give a rats about what Jakarta wanted.
He poured another cup of tea from the silver pot. ‘Hem, tell me, who was doing the shooting last night?’
Hemi shrugged. ‘Dunno, really. Looked like locals, I suppose.
Organised though. Trained, I reckon. All kitted-up. No sarungs – that what you mean?’
Mac nodded. ‘Well, yeah. Any Anglos in there?’
Hemi did the theatrical frown. Shook his head. ‘Mate, it was dark, eh? All I know is they knew what they were doing – didn’t run, kept fi ghting. Not a bad outfi t really.’
Mac thanked him and got up to go. Then turned and asked if there were any special handshakes he needed to know in order to get in and see Cookie. Hemi said he’d handle it. He went to a wall-mounted phone, spoke briefl y. Put his fi nger on the hook, let it go, called someone else. Came back.
‘Mosie will meet you at the gate.’
Mac breathed the steamy equatorial air as he wound his way up the drive to the mansion. He had this place as Dutch-built. It was elevated and Sonny was right, it had been built precisely in the right rise of the valley to get both the breeze from the west off the Macassar Strait and the southerly that came up from the Sunda Sea and Flores. The rainforest came right to the edge of the driveway. Amazingly coloured hornbills strained the breaking point of branches as they gnawed at the fruit. There were also piping crows and cicadabirds, and the racket they made, along with all the insects, made the air vibrate.
By the time he got to the gate, the back of his ovies were wet with sweat. The black iron-work gate was at least two storeys high and wide enough for three trucks to pass through abreast. Those Dutch must have been a paranoid bunch. A bored-looking local made no attempt to leave the glassed-in guardhouse. Probably orders from Sonny. Moses appeared on the other side of the gate, said something to the guard, and the small walkway gate next to the guardhouse swung open silently. Mac walked through and the two men greeted each other with a thumb-grip handshake.
‘Set, brother. Nice work last night,’ said Mac.
Moses grinned big. ‘Set, brother. Set.’
Moses wore olive fatigue shorts, Hi-Tec Magnums and a black polo shirt. He’d dumped the webbing and the SIG and now had on a hip rig with a large handgun in it.
Behind Moses three children were playing on a groomed and irrigated lawn. It extended all the way to the swimming pool area and the four-storey white mansion.
He recognised one of the kids as Minky’s girl. She ran with the other kids, laughing. She wore a new white linen dress. She and another girl about her age teased a younger boy with a ball. Piggy-in-the-middle stuff, and the boy was about to lose it.
Moses turned and snapped something. The girls gave him a cheeky look. Minky’s girl held the ball out to the boy, and when he went to grab it, she pulled it back. The girls ran up the lawn, shrieking with delight.
The boy lost it.
Moses rolled his eyes and they walked across the lawn. He put a friendly hand on the crying boy’s shoulder and the boy leaned into the Fijian, walked alongside muttering something, probably about girls.
In the wealthy Indonesian families, they had a word for people like Moses that translated loosely as ‘house boy’. Moses’ job was to ensure that the family was safe from bandits, kidnappers, slavers, thieves and assassins. He was a hell of a thing to look at: about six-four, one hundred and twenty-fi ve kilos and all muscle. According to Hemi, Moses was part of the same clan that included General Sitiveni Rabuka, the military strongman of Fiji. Mac remembered a bunch of journalists once asking Rabuka about his boxing and football prowess, and the general had laughingly remarked that he was the small one of the tribe.
Moses kind of explained that.
When Mac asked about Hannah, Moses led him behind the mansion to a modern annexe that at fi rst glance looked like a guest wing. But when they walked into the air-con comfort, Mac realised it was a small hospital the size of a large vet clinic.
They got to a door. Moses knocked, opened it and Mac saw a nurse – a young local woman – wiping Judith Hannah’s forehead with a wet towel, talking low and sweet to the girl. Hannah had a drip in her arm and her eyes were still shut. Pale, sickly.
‘Billy don’t want her talking,’ said Moses. ‘She gotta rest, brother.’
Mac looked at Mosie, thought about arguing. Thought again. Mac had a good idea what was wrong with Judith Hannah. A fast and clumsy way to get people talking was to hit them up with overdoses of scopolamine, which was a truth serum of sorts. Trouble was, it was derived from the Datura family of plants which also had hallucino-genic properties. It was a dangerous way to mess with someone’s biochemistry. When you’d got the story you wanted, you administered a ‘hot shot’ of scopolamine and morphine which induced amnesia in the short term. Secret police used it more than spooks.
They headed for the house, running into Hard-on and Billy, who were on the way out. Hard-on’s arm was now totally strapped and in a sling.
Mac gave a wink. ”Zit going, boys?’
They went through the tradies’ entrance into the mansion and both men kicked off their boots. Mrs Cookie demanded it and Sonny had warned Mac that ‘the missus of the house is a real piece of work’.
Mac had grown up in a house where the missus was a piece of work and he knew the secret was to do it her way.
Moses took them through. Cookie stood from the desk, asked how the girl was going. Moses said, ‘Real good, Mr B. She a happy one, that one.’
‘All that screaming?’
‘That lil’ Santo, Mr B. Girls gang up. Two on one, not fair.’
Cookie put his hand up, like Yeah, yeah.
Moses was dismissed. He gave Mac the wink as he shut the door behind him.
Mac and Cookie sat on the white leather sofas. A housemaid came in with green tea and left. Cookie lit a smoke and they did small talk about Australia and big boarding schools. Cookie had been schooled at Xavier College in Melbourne, where he’d acquired the accent and the ockerisms. ‘The culture of that place was “fi t in or fuck off”, so I went local.’
They talked about Australian politics, the problems with Melbourne Football Club and Aussie-Indon relations. Cookie was well read, smart.
‘You did the right thing, telling Sonny about Lastri,’ said Cookie, changing tack.
‘Minky’s girl. Her name’s Lastri.’
Mac looked away. He hadn’t fi gured he’d have to do this conversation again.
‘Look, Mr B…’
‘Cookie. Call me Cookie.’
Mac paused. He wasn’t going to rush in with the racism disclaimer again. ‘Um, it’s been quite a few days, you know…’
Cookie leaned forward, poured the tea. ‘You don’t have to explain. The important thing is you told Sonny and that American before they went in. That’s the part that counts. That’s why Sonny let it go. Can you imagine if Mosie was running around with this girl he pulled out of the fi re, and you’re going, “Oh, yeah – her “?
You think Sonny would let that go?’
Mac had always backed his ability in the blueing stakes, but Sonny and Sawtell deciding to teach him a lesson at the same time? That wouldn’t work well for Mac.
Cookie chuckled. ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself, Mac. Thing is…’
Cookie exhaled, looked at his smoke. ‘Her mother’s dead too. Made some calls this morning. Makassar cops all over it.’
Cookie waved him away again. ‘Problem’s gone. You’ll be allowed to leave Sulawesi, then the investigation will start again. For now, guess we have a new girl in the family.’
In Indonesia, families took in orphans. It was informal; it was the culture.
Cookie fi xed him with a look. ‘This business is hard enough on you already without beating yourself up. You know, I once did things the other way round from you. I mean, I really fucked it up.’
Cookie moved forward on the sofa, fl icked his smoke at the ashtray.
‘We’d lost this computer programmer guy from our air defence program. There was all this evidence left around that he’d gone on holiday, but we tracked him down in a house at Kuta. The fucking Koreans had him. It was a tough one. We didn’t want him dead – we needed to debrief him – but we didn’t want him explaining launch algorithms and all that shit to the Koreans.’
‘So it was like your one last night. We fl ew in the Kopassus boys, and they pulled an early am raid. Went great, everyone happy.
Except the eleven-year-old daughter of our scientist who got shot in the leg.’
‘What was she doing there?’
Cookie shrugged. ‘Koreans had snatched the bloke’s two girls as well. So there I am in the debrief and this intel idiot from Jakarta has turned up with the full fi le!’
Mac looked at him. ‘You’re kidding me.’
‘Where’d they fi nd that genius?’
‘Dunno where they scraped him up from, but he’s working presidential liaison now – briefs SBY on intel matters.’
They both laughed. There had never been any military commander of any rank who’d ever been given the full fi le on anything from intel.
Soldiers were considered to be the ‘operational’ end of the gig; spooks saw themselves as the brains.
‘So there I am sinking further under the table. I’m not kidding.
I’ve got this Kopassus colonel, this damned gorilla, right beside me and he’s reading my comms logs.’
Mac made the eek face. The comms logs were all the minutes made from phone calls and recorded meetings. They’d include all of the internal BAKIN briefi ngs that Cookie had been giving his own controller, all the requests for Kopassus involvement and the reasons.
They’d include the full rundown of who was in the house.
‘So this Kopassus gorilla is looking at dates and times and my comments and who else is present – he’s never seen anything like it.
He’s got eyes like goggles, and he’s looking at me and saying, “So you knew those girls were in there when you called us in? You knew they were in there when you briefed me?” ‘
Mac could hardly believe what he was hearing.
‘What could I say? It was all there. Anyway, about an hour later I’m getting out of my rental car at the airport and I’m snatched, right out of the fucking Denpasar airport car park. Off to the police barracks.
I’m bashed by these Kopassus goons, and down comes Colonel Gorilla for a word in the shell-like.’
Mac couldn’t help himself, he was laughing.
‘Gorilla gets in my face, says, “I don’t care who you are or who you know, no one does that to my boys.” ‘
Cookie pulled up the hair over his left ear. Mac saw only half an ear, ending in a ragged horizontal line. ‘So then he takes a souvenir cuts off the top of my ear, holds it in front of my face and says, “Be happy the girl didn’t die. You pull shit like that again, and I’ll take your heart.”
‘Then he walks off… with my fucking ear! ‘
They laughed, slapped their legs. Then they both sat back, realising it wasn’t that funny.
‘So the lesson was that soldiers are damned superstitious. You ask a lot, and they’ll deliver. But they don’t do kids. They won’t cop that,’ said Cookie.
Mac hesitated, then asked Cookie outright. ‘Can someone fl y me down to Sabulu? I need another look.’
‘Let’s go,’ said Cookie, getting up.
They fl ew in over the site of the battle. The place was still smoking. Mac could smell the charred wood and the burned rainforest from a hundred metres up. Not a great advertisement for Cookie’s protection service.
They walked down from the landing site, into the courtyard, armed with M16s. Billy walked point, Mac swept. Cookie was in the middle, dressed in olive ovies of the aviation jumpsuit style, sleeves rolled up to just under the elbows.
They strolled through the smoking wreck of building three, which was burned to the ground. Some of the foundations were still sticking up out of the ground.
Buzzards erupted into the humid air as they came upon bodies and charred boots. Mac smelled burned hair and toasted fl esh. Cookie kicked a corpse onto its back, crouched down. Looked up at Mac, said, ‘Look at that – Filipino, or Polynesian. Not local, anyway.’
Mac looked at where Cookie was pointing. The dead man’s body had been burned down the back, but he’d fallen on his arm and the fl esh was intact. There was a tattoo on the bloke’s forearm, a scimitar and stars, done with the long curves of the Polynesian tats.
‘Moro shit,’ said Cookie.
They walked up to building fi ve, where Garrison’s extra boys had appeared from. It was still intact. They entered in a staggered formation, weapons at eye line. Billy went into the main room fi rst, checked for wires and sensor pads, then waved the others through.
The walls boasted holes the size of large pancakes. The impact of the. 50 cal gun had taken whole sections of the wooden walls off their studs. It smelled of old cordite and there were brass shells scattered on the fl oor amidst the rubble. Mac looked it over, still not really sure what he was looking for.
They cased all the buildings. In one of them, there was evidence of people having slept there. It had much better security and the beds were proper mattress jobs. There were two of them and they had their own rooms. The showers had been done right and Mac noticed that the power cable from the generator room ran underground, not over it. In the rooms, there were trapdoors in the fl oor. Someone had been worried about security and escape.
In the vestibule was a room with camp stretchers. The place was set up so intruders would have to go through the guards. Under one of the beds Mac found a torn strip of foil. It smelled of Bartook Special Mint.
Mac went back into the VIP rooms, had a quick look down the trapdoor of the one in the right. Nothing.
Looked down the left room’s trapdoor.
A face looked back at him.
Mac leapt back, yelped. The trapdoor dropped and bounced on its wrong side. Mac tried to get his M16 around as fast he could.
Flustered, jerky, he pointed it at the hole in the fl oor.
He struggled to control his breathing as Billy and Cookie came through, guns ready.
Mac put a hand out. ‘Watch it – someone’s in there.’ He nodded at the trap hole, breathing fast.
‘Who?’ asked Cookie.
‘A kid. Looks like a kid.’
He swallowed hard, the adrenaline bursting through him from the fright. Cookie spoke to Billy without looking at him. ‘Cover the escape will you, mate?’
Billy scooted out while Cookie and Mac trained their guns on the hole. Cookie started talking. Low, smooth, cooing. Mac couldn’t make out all of what he was saying but it sounded good. He talked and talked, then sang something.
Mac was getting sweaty palms on the M16 – Sulawesi in summer was so hot. There was movement around the trap hole. First one hand and then another came out. Two slender hands up in the air – international sign of surrender. A mop of black hair came up. It was a boy, maybe seventeen, eighteen. He turned to Cookie, pleaded for his life. Mac didn’t need a degree in Bahasa to get that.
Cookie snapped something at him and the boy stood totally still.
He asked the boy something. The boy answered. Cookie cocked the M16, aimed up. The boy pleaded. Without taking his eyes off the boy, Cookie yelled, ‘Billy, get under the building – see if this kid’s standing on anything.’
Mac looked sideways. Cookie said, ‘Could be standing on a mine or a grenade. That’s what these pricks do, make a kid stand on a mine and then piss off. The kid has to wait till the cavalry arrives. Boom. We all go up.’
Billy’s voice came back. ‘He looks okay, Mr B.’
Cookie motioned the boy to come out. He stood, skinny and scared.
The boy’s name was Setiawan, but friends called him Seti. He’d come along with his cousin because there was work up at the mine. He didn’t know it would involve working with thugs. He’d been given a gun but when the shooting started he’d become scared and hid in the remotest building. This one.
Cookie was good. He kept the guy going, offered him cigarettes, then got Billy to get some water for the guy. Classic enlistment technique – the hard stuff could always come later.
Seti had no names. Yes, there were two white men – one of them a tall Yankee. And there was a broader Aussie. There was another man too. Asian, maybe southern Philippines, maybe Polynesian even.
After half an hour of the smiling act, Cookie turned to Mac.
‘I reckon he’s spilled. But I’ll shake him down if you want.’
Mac looked at the kid, winked. The kid smiled big. Mac wished he had some rupiah to sling around. But it wouldn’t have helped.
‘Ask him about the Aussie.’
Cookie asked him and turned to Mac. ‘Didn’t see him – only heard. He only came up here once.’
‘Ask him if there was a place called “Eighty” mentioned. Or maybe a person?’
Cookie asked and the kid became animated. Yes, the Asian dude was called Eighty. Mac asked through Cookie and got the answers.
Eighty was about fi ve-nine, good-looking, clean shaven, happy, well dressed in black T-shirts and Aussie board shorts. Had some business in the mine.
Then, said Seti, the other guys had said there was a white girl in the camp. They wanted to have their turn but Seti was brought up right, didn’t want any of that.
Mac looked at the kid. Boy averted his eyes. Fucking liar.
Mac turned to Cookie. ‘Does he have any idea what Eighty is, what it means?’
The kid shook his head.
‘That’s it,’ said Mac. ‘I’m done. That’s good stuff.’
Cookie gave him a suspicious look.
‘He’s going to be helpful, Mr B. Honest.’
Mac shouldn’t have said that last bit. Cookie laughed. ‘I wasn’t going to whack him. Honest! ‘
The buzzards rose like angels as the helo came down. The clearing where Limo had bought it was the size of a tennis court – just large enough for the Euro to land. Billy didn’t like it but Cookie wanted it.
So they landed.
Limo’s eyes and tongue were gone and the buzzards had started on his rear end, but Mac reckoned Sawtell and his boys would be happy to have something pretty much intact to ship back to Limo’s mum.
Mac must have been getting better – he was sad watching this kid’s face disappear into darkness as Billy zipped the navy blue body bag, but he wasn’t as emotional as he’d been the last day or so. He was tight again, and it felt good.
Billy and Mac lifted Limo into the Euro, strapped him to the cargo cleats behind the last row of seats.
Billy moved to the cockpit. Mac looked out and saw Cookie sitting on the same log where he’d been butted a day earlier. Cookie beckoned him and offered him one of his smokes as he sat. Mac declined. Cookie took a swig of water, offered it. Mac took the bottle and fi nished it.
Sulawesi was a steam room.
Mac had been waiting for this chat. The chances of Cookie Banderjong being this helpful and this involved without wanting something in return were between nothing and zilch.
Cookie looked down at his legs, fl icked a piece of ash off the ovies. ‘You run a database on Garrison lately?’
Mac hadn’t, only read the fi le that Garvey gave him that night in Jakkers. Big oversight.
‘Let’s work it backwards,’ said Cookie. ‘Garrison’s trade is drugs for guns for gold, right?’
Mac nodded. Cookie sucked on his smoke.
‘He’s good at it – making someone a shitload of money. He’s doing his thing in northern Pakistan, right? He goes too far, bombs the police compound, and rather than being kicked out or dragged back to DC, he’s suddenly in northern Burma.’ Cookie turned his palms to the sky. ‘And ‘cos it’s Burma, we’re straight back into drugs, guns and gold.’
Mac kept nodding. One part of his mind wanted to get to Cookie’s insights, while the other was on high alert for where Cookie felt Mac fi tted.
Cookie continued, a man used to having the fl oor. ‘So who benefi ts?’
Mac thought it was a trick question. It was obvious to anyone who had worked this area for any length of time. ‘The Chinese.’
‘Right – they’ve got the weapons, they want the gold. Burmese have the drugs, they want the Silkworms and radar arrays. All the good shit.’
Mac nodded. ‘All they need is the middle guy who can turn drugs into weapons and gold.’
‘Garrison,’ said Cookie.
Cookie paused, fl icked the butt of his smoke into the forest, brushed ash from the leg of his ovies. ‘So Garrison snatches your girl.
Mac’s professional life rarely worked with this level of discussion.
He had to keep his paramilitary missions secret from his colleagues, most of whom had no idea he was an S-2 operative. It didn’t make him feel elite – it isolated him, put him in a position of being unable to swap information and talk things through with workmates. In a world of cellular information, Mac was usually in a cell of two or three people. So he was warming to the openness of Cookie’s conversation.
‘Dunno. An affair that went wrong?’ Mac guessed.
Cookie shook his head. ‘Garrisons don’t think with the little head. Ever.’
Mac tried again. ‘She was on to something – Garrison wanted that info.’
‘I think that’s more like it,’ said Cookie, and changed tack again.
‘Judith Hannah was a regular visitor to Sulawesi, did you know that?’
‘Know her expertise?’
‘China,’ sighed Mac, the pieces slowly tumbling into place.
‘Know what she was doing in Sulawesi?’ Cookie was taunting, smiling. He didn’t wait for Mac to shake his head. ‘Counter-surveillance.’
Mac turned. ‘Of what?’
‘The Chinese maritime security team.’
Cookie laughed at the look on Mac’s face, then said, ‘Your girl is one of the world’s experts on how the Chinese military intend to secure their shipping lanes for the next twenty years.’
Cookie smiled like the cat who got the cream, put his hand on the back of Mac’s neck. Massaged it. ‘Cut off from Canberra, mate?’
‘Maybe,’ rasped Mac.
Cookie laughed. Then paused. ‘Let’s work on this together, huh?’
Mac let a long slow breath out. It hissed between his lips. He looked back at Cookie, looked down at Cookie’s extended hand, looked into Cookie’s eyes. Cookie had guessed, correctly, that Mac wanted to know the truth behind the Judith Hannah rescue, and that the truth would bring Mac back to Sulawesi. Cookie was saying We can all help each other, or I can make life unbearable for you in Sulawesi. Mac didn’t really have a choice.
Mac shook his hand and looked away.
Sawtell’s boys and Mac fl ew direct from Cookie’s compound to Hasanuddin military base in Makassar in an unmarked Black Hawk.
There they refuelled and ate, and then helo’d into Halim Air Base on the outskirts of Jakarta just after seven pm.
Mac was rooted. His back didn’t agree with the Black Hawk seating systems, which basically entailed a canvas hammock that folded down from the rear and centre bulwarks. Judith Hannah slept lengthwise in a medic’s litter, still zonked out. Hard-on and Mac sat with Sawtell and Spikey in the load space. Limo was strapped to the outside of the aircraft.
The Black Hawk was the loudest and most uncomfortable way to travel in the US military. When it had come into sight at Cookie’s compound, Hard-on had groaned. ‘Fuck that – just once you’d think they could send a Chinook out, huh? Would it kill them?’
Mac said his farewells under the tarmac fl oodlights, in the stinking heat. He clapped hands with the men, thumb-grip style. Sawtell was last. His eyes were rheumy and Mac could smell the booze on him.
‘Well mate,’ the American joked, trying to ape the Strine accent.
‘Mission completed. We got the girl.’
‘Nah, mate. We got both girls.’
Sawtell looked at the tarmac, shook his head, kicked at something that wasn’t there. Embarrassed. ‘Sorry ‘bout all that. It got a bit loose out there, huh?’
Mac watched another American crew in black ovies pull Limo’s body bag from the Black Hawk’s external cargo rack and carry it off to a Dodge Voyager with no side windows.
‘Sorry ‘bout Limo. I liked the guy,’ said Mac.
Sawtell nodded. ‘He was good people.’ Then he looked up with a slight smile. ‘By the way, the boys have a new name for you.’
‘Well I guess old Sonny had to be good for something,’ said Mac, smiling.
Sawtell laughed. They shook.
The Americans stowed their Cordura bags and walked towards an unmarked Hino minibus where a couple of CIA guys waited. The way the US Army worked, Sawtell was going to be piloting a laptop for the next two days.
Mac’s own debrief was leaning against a white Holden Commodore, which had turned orange under the glare of the fl oodies.
Beside the Commodore was a white Mercedes-Benz ambulance, a local behind the wheel. Three Anglo men – two of them from the Service, the other the chief medical offi cer of the Australian diplomatic mission – hurried into the Black Hawk as the rotors came to a standstill. The driver got out slower, walked round the back, grabbed a gurney. By the time the most self-important Anglo realised he needed a gurney, the local ambo was right behind him. The others raced to get Judith Hannah onto the gurney, but the ambo had to stop them because they were messing it up. Within fi ve seconds the ambo was running the show.
Mac snorted. He turned back and Garvs was beside him. His tanned bald head glistening in the lights. The big tanned forearms stuck out from his hips like wings.
‘Buy you a drink?’ asked Garvey.
‘Buy me ten and I’ll let you get into my pants.’
Garvs pointed at Mac’s strapped wrist. ‘Got a girlfriend for that?’
Mac deadpanned him. ‘I’m ambidextrous.’
Mac showered, shaved and got dressed in chinos and a short-sleeved business shirt before heading for the Lagerhaus with Garvey for a feed. Around them Anglos were getting pissed and yelling at the big screens. Mac saw a highlights package that featured Victoria smashing New South Wales in the cricket. Someone yelled out, ‘You fucking bee-utey!’
Garvs, through a mouthful of tuna, yelled back, ‘Yeah, yeah – put it away, ya fucking poof.’
When they drank together, it was always the same. Garvs was the loud one who started the fi ghts. Mac made the peace.
The cricket fan stopped, wandered over, big stein of Becks in his hand.
Mac caught the bloke’s eye, winked. ”Zit going, champ?’
He was Mac’s size but dark haired with dark features and a cop haircut. About six foot, big in the shoulders and arms, thick in the legs.
‘Not bad, not bad,’ the bloke was sizing up Garvs, steaming. He had a group of four blokes behind him looking on. One called, ‘Leave it, Keith, fuck’s sake.’
Garvs looked Keith up and down. Snorted.
Mac came in fast. ‘That was some shit you guys pulled in KL, huh, champ?’
Keith tore his eyes off Garvs to look at Mac.
‘Don’t know how you keep doing it.’ Mac shook his head pensively.
‘Resources they give you guys, yet you come up with something like that. Make the FBI look like a bunch of amateurs.’
Keith eyeballed him, looked into his stein, looked up. Mac saw unhappy drinking. He knew from Jenny Toohey that the federal cops posted in South-East Asia were overworked, stressed out and disillusioned about how much of a dent they were making in the slaving and drugs rackets. They were lonely, tired and constantly in danger of being assassinated. All for $71,000 a year plus allowance.
So this bloke probably thought he deserved to have a few quiet ones with other cops and customs people without a countryman calling him a pony’s hoof.
‘You know,’ continued Mac, ‘you go through all that shit to break one bunch of slavers, and you think you’re not getting anywhere, right? Well you’ve probably made thirty or forty parents real happy, huh? Gotta take the positives, mate.’
Keith was looking in his stein again. Slumped.
‘So don’t worry ‘bout this prick…’ Mac pointed his steak knife at Garvs. ‘He’ll get slapped, don’t you worry ‘bout that.’
Keith laughed. ‘Thanks for that.’
Mac gave him the wink as he went back to his mates, then turned back to Garvs, who was making a face like Who’s the fucking boy scout?
Mac swigged his beer, pointed at Garvs with the knife. ‘You behave yourself.’
Mac had never fi gured out how it worked, the whole organisational thing. Garvs and Mac had started in the Service about the same time, trained together, always been deployed in similar areas and with similar goals. But right from the get-go Garvs had been pegged as management, while Mac was always going to be the operations guy.
Garvs had an offi ce and a team. Mac had assignments – Mac was the team.
He’d been so busy, for so long, that he had barely noticed the transformation in their friendship. One moment he and Garvs were bullshitting their heads off to get to the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix for a weekend on the piss courtesy of a Tommi Suharto company. Next thing, Garvs is sitting there shovelling him manure about Judith Hannah, shrugging too hard, giving the old gee-whiz look while knowing full well that Mac looked straight through all that shit for a living.
‘Mate, let’s make this the last one, huh?’ said Garvs abruptly.
He must have clocked Mac’s surprise. It wasn’t even ten o’clock and Anton Garvey was piking. Garvs was not the kind of man to run screaming from a cold beer.
‘Not like you, Garvs. Doctor’s orders?’
Garvs called the bierfrau over. ‘Nah, mate, but I’ve got you on the morning fl ight into Sydney. You know how early you have to leave.’
The Qantas morning fl ight out of Jakarta departed at 4.10 am and went through Singers before heading south. The drive to Soekarno-Hatta took an hour, and on a bad morning, clearing security could take an hour. Mac had drawn the crow.
‘Not trying to get rid of me, are you, mate?’
Garvs’ face told Mac that’s exactly what was happening. ‘Nah, Macca. If that was the case you’d have been on the night fl ight.’
The beers arrived. ‘I have to talk to Hannah. You know that, don’t you?’ said Mac.
‘Don’t worry – we’ve got it from here,’ said Garvey.
Mac remembered when ‘we’ used to have him in it.
Garvey had changed. Or had Mac? He remembered one of the fi rst times they’d got on the turps together, in KL. It was one of those embassy functions where they pull out the big TV screen, fi re up the barbie and turn on the booze for the Bledisloe Cup – Kiwis and Aussies on the razz. And locals looking on amazed that two nationalities could stand there giving each other a total shellacking and be laughing about it. Garvs and Mac had bonded on the schools thing since they’d both gone to a St Joseph’s school: Garvs in Sydney, Mac in Brisbane. Mac had decided to have some fun with the bloke, said, ‘Shit, if you’re a real Mick then what happened to the Mac at the front of your name? Not one of them closet Prods, are ya, mate?’
Garvs had come back fast as you like, said, ‘Mate, if we dropped the Mac off your name we might be getting closer to the truth, huh?’
That was pretty much how their friendship had continued. Always taking the piss. No one ever getting the last word.
Now, Mac’s skin was crawling. He pushed again. ‘So who’s we, mate? This a Tobin thing? Urquhart?’
Garvey snorted through his nostrils. Shook his head as if to say, This is all too tedious. ‘Oh, by the way, Macca. We found your Nokia. Bus driver. We got it pouched in from Makassar.’
Garvey pulled the blue phone out of his breast pocket, like he’d just remembered it was there. Threw it on the table.
Mac smiled. ‘Damned things – got a mind of their own, huh, Garvs?’
Garvey stared at him too long. ‘Mate, the listening post is for your own safety, you know that. You take things so personally.’
Mac could have made an allegation about the Minky ambush, could have pushed the conversation into there being a mole, or at the very least someone on the Garrison payroll. Could have got on his high horse and asked how that was contributing to his safety.
But he didn’t. His friendship with Garvs had run out of gas, right there, right in front of him, after knowing the bloke for almost fi fteen years. Garvs wasn’t going to let him talk to Hannah, wasn’t going to let him stay in Jakkers for a second longer than he had to. For the fi rst time in his career Mac was not really being debriefed. He was being dismissed.
Mac thought back to the warning Banger Jordan had given them about offi ce guys being the most dangerous of all. He realised that it wasn’t the fact that Garvs had become an offi ce guy that had thrown him. What got his defensive instincts going was that Anton Garvey wanted a bigger offi ce.
Garvs left before fi nishing the last beer, the farewells were hollow.
Looking around the Lagerhaus, Mac thought about old times, thought about mates, thought about another drink. A hand waved from the bar. Keith, pointing down at the taps. Mac gave thumbs-up, thought, What the hell: last time in Jakkers with a false passport, I may as well go out with a king-size hangover. A real Barry Crocker.
He grabbed the Nokia, fi red it up as Keith approached with two steins in one hand. Mac pegged him as similar to himself: a small-town bloke who hadn’t been quite good enough to play footy for a living, so he’d had to fi nd something useful to do with himself.
Keith plonked down, slid the Becks over. Put out a hand: ‘Keith Cavanaugh.’
They shook, keeping it soft.
They chatted, Keith had some stuff to get off his chest: like how do you stop the sex-slavers with all these Aussies and Yanks arriving with their hard currency and willing to pay a thousand dollars to rape a child? How was a mere cop from Victoria supposed to tear down the police, military and politicians who were either behind the trade or protecting it?
Keith kept shaking his head, not in a good way. Some of the stuff he’d been exposed to was well beyond how they did it in the Mallee. He had a fi ancee, but working up here was putting him off having kids.
Keith wanted to talk about ‘this thing’ that had gone pear-shaped.
Mac knew about the Lombok incident, even though Keith only alluded to it. In August a combined AFP-FBI-POLRI transnational sexual servitude taskforce had fi nally cornered a gang of child slavers in an old factory. The Aussie and American cops had only got that far because of the amount of information they’d kept from their POLRI colleagues.
In the last hours before the planned raid, the slavers were tipped off. When the Aussies and Yanks got there, the place was already ablaze, destroyed, the ‘evidence’ with it. The evidence in this case was an estimated eighty-three children, both genders, ages ranging from four to twelve.
Mac only knew how distressing it had been for the cops because his friend Jenny Toohey had described fi nding a dumpster behind the factory. It was fi lled with soft toys.
Women cops had an ability to turn that sort of thing into a stronger resolve to catch the bastards. Men found it much harder for some reason; hit the piss, got depressed, didn’t see out their rotation.
Jenny had been up here for years. She was one tough girl.
‘Take it easy, champ,’ Mac said as Keith shook and left to get back to his boys. He’d bet Keith already had an application in for stress leave. This just wasn’t his go.
Mac leaned back, had another look at the Nokia. Three messages: the fi rst two from Garvs – offi ce shit.
The last had been left little more than an hour ago.
His heart raced as he listened, fl ustered. Diane was in Jakarta, staying with her dad at the British compound. Had some big client to schmooze. Mac smiled, he could have listened to that voice for hours.
Then came the clincher. ‘Richard, I didn’t hear back from you about my, er, message. Did you get it? I’ll be back on Thursday – can we talk then? We could go for a drink, right darling?’
Relief poured through Mac and he laughed at the ceiling – he adored the way she called him ‘darling’.
Mac tried to sober up. Diane thought he was in Sydney. He’d surprise her, but not now. He had no idea who was sitting at what listening posts.
He ordered a coffee, asked for Saba. The bar manager came over, went to a phone, came back, pointed at a small CCTV camera up near where the Glenfi ddich and Grey Goose lived. Mac looked at it for four seconds. Looked away.
Sipping on the coffee, Mac waited. Saba’s bodyguard came to the entry of the toilet corridor wearing a white trop shirt that didn’t hide the gun bulge as well as his last ensemble. He looked around slowly, glanced briefl y at Mac, fl icked his head very slightly.
Mac moved to the corridor and down to the security door. Took the pat-down and scraping behind the ears. They walked into the offi ce, out through the door that Sawtell had walked through fi ve days earlier.
The room they entered looked like a store for booze and snacks.
It was cool, musty. Behind piles of cartons the bodyguard opened a security door using a key from a retractable key chain and hit the fl uorescent lights. There were a dozen black strongboxes bolted to the wall, each one the size of a mid-range TV set. The bodyguard made straight for the one marked 9, pulled out his key chain again, rattled through some keys and opened the box. Then he walked outside, standing where he could see Mac. He snarled slightly, reminding Mac of the small detail: this guy’s uglier brother was a professional cage fi ghter in Manila.
Mac slid out the drawer on its rails, lifted the lid which was hinged at the rear of the drawer. In the box was a typical assortment of passports, drivers’ licences, credit cards and guns. There was also a clear plastic seal-lock bag fi lled with cash. He grabbed the pile of Singapore dollars, and gave it a quick fan. He reckoned maybe three thousand. Trousered it. He grabbed a third of his rupiah, stashed that too.
The passports, drivers’ licences and credit cards were strapped into single units, held together lengthwise with rubber bands. He picked up one. The rubber band held a small stack of cards in the name of Brandon Collier, Vice president, Sales, Orion Forestry Consulting (Aust.). There was a passport, a NSW driver’s licence and a Visa card.
Mac had always worked under two main identities in this part of the world, but this was not one of them. He’d never used Collier as a name and the Service didn’t know it existed. Most people in his business had some sort of fail-safe identity and credit card. Some had their ‘pensions’ stashed in credit card accounts under these names, which ran out of banks in the Cook Islands or Fiji.
Mac didn’t have a ‘pension’. What he had was a valid incorporation of Orion Forestry Consulting in Singapore, with a DBS business Visa card in the name of Collier and Orion. The bank account was legit, so was the company. An old associate of his – Benny Haskell – had done the incorporation. Benny was one of the accountants who worked on the original incarnation of AUSTRAC, the Australian federal government’s money-tracking neural-net. Now he had a thriving banking-domicile practice, with an Australian solicitor, in Singapore.
Benny had spruiked the taxation benefi ts of incorporating in Singers but Mac had just wanted the banking secrecy laws. Besides, when his days with the Service were done, forestry consulting might be his fallback gig. There was certainly enough work to go around if things didn’t work out as a university lecturer.
He trousered the whole bundle, went to another bundle and pulled out a laminated ID card. It was an Australian Customs Service ID in the name of Richard Davis, allowing him access to bond stores and restricted parts of airports and container ports.
Picking a black toilet bag out of the bin, he motioned with his hand to the bodyguard. The guy swaggered over.
‘The Heckler, thanks, champ. Plus a clip,’ said Mac.
The bodyguard pulled out the Heckler amp; Koch P9S in the black nylon hip rig. Picked up one clip.
‘Can you load it?’ asked Mac.
The bodyguard sneered, handed Mac the clip. Mac loaded it himself from the box of Winchester. 45s in the bin. In Saba’s bar only one person ever touched a fi rearm, and that was Saba’s bodyguard. Mac wouldn’t get his Heckler until he was standing in the back alley.
Mac stood on the back steps, unzipped the black toilet bag. The bodyguard put the Heckler in it, looked left and right, stood back and shut the door.
Mac walked the blocks to the Aussie compound. He had a mild sense of being followed but it felt like light surveillance. Felt like Garvey doing something for Mac’s own safety.
A knock sounded at the door at 2.15 am. Mac was showered, shaved and had only a mid-sized hangover. It was Garvey’s lackey, a bloke called Matt. They piled into a red Commodore, hit the airport freeway.
Matt was about thirty, tall, Anglo, educated. He was confi dent without being full of himself – a good lad to put on Mac’s case. Mac wondered if he had someone on the plane with him, or another tail waiting at Singers. Wondered if Garvs was just testing Matt, to see if he had the ticker.
They parked in the consular annexe of Soekarno-Hatta, went through the consular security clearance and into the consular ticketing for Qantas. The girl behind the counter was a pretty local and Mac hammed it up with a back injury, trying to get an upgrade to Singers.
The federal government had an eight-hour policy for travelling business class: you fl ew under that and you fl ew in the back, unless you were SES. Jakarta-Singers was way under eight hours.
The girl didn’t smile, didn’t react. But she gave him the upgrade.
‘Wish they did that for me,’ said Matt.
They walked into the main concourse. It was 3.20 am but the place was packed. Lines for the Qantas fl ights stretched out of view.
Kids moaned, dragged on their mums’ arms. Other kids snored on top of bags on the trolleys. They passed a group of Aussies with a state hockey team emblem across their cabin luggage. Mac slipped the wink to one of the blokes. ”Zit going, champ?’
Mac walked towards the huge security clearance section that transitioned passengers from the public concourse into immigration and the airline lounges. It stretched the width of the building and looked like a tollgate for humans. POLRI stalked back and forth with the low-hanging peaks on their caps. German shepherds, beagles, metal detector wands. Colt M4 carbines hanging across their chests.
Mac made a note of the M4. The Indon government’s anti-terrorism unit, Delta 88, had been equipped by the US government with fl ash new toys such as the M4 assault rifl e and Mac was glad to see they were actually being deployed rather than sold on by a general with a Ferrari habit.
Mac turned to Matt, shook his hand. ‘Thanks, champ. Let you get back to sleep now, huh?’
Matt smiled. They both knew Matt was going straight back to a listening post where he’d give regular updates to Garvs.
Mac had replaced his wheelie bag with a small black Puma backpack that had been lying in his room. Inside was the Service Nokia and the toilet bag, minus the Heckler. That was in the mail with his ovies and Hi-Tecs, posted from the Australian diplomatic compound by the night manager, Conzo. Conzo was an Indon who Mac had helped out a few times with money after his betting sprees at the Pulo Mas track in North Jakarta had gone awry.
So when Mac gave Conzo a package at midnight and asked him to mail it to Mac’s PO box in Jakarta, Conzo was straight on it. He parcelled it and addressed it, put a franking stamp on it and put it in the mail bag, all the while telling Mac about his latest losing streak at Pulo Mas.
The 38s were too big so Mac asked the shop girl to bring him the bone-coloured chinos in the 36. The girl swung the pants over the change room door. The 36s fi tted. He left them on, along with his new navy blue polo shirt, before heading into the Ralph Lauren shop barefoot. Sitting on a fi tting seat he asked the girl to bring over a pair of dark brown boat shoes – size 10. Asked for a couple of pairs of socks and got a brown leather belt.
It all fi tted, it was all good. Mac asked the girl if she could also hook a pair of dark blue 38 chinos and an XL white cotton Oxford shirt from the racks.
She was quick. He put his backpack in front of him on the counter to shield the transaction, put his blue chinos and white shirt in the pack. His old clothes went into a shop bag. He sauntered out into the giant mall that Soekarno-Hatta had become and walked straight up to his tail, an Aussie Vietnamese girl in a red Nike T-shirt, blue jeans and runners who was pretending to read the Economist.
Mac sat down beside her. She was mid-twenties, just learning her stuff. ‘Don’t tell me – too smart for the federal cops, too good-looking for the diplomats, huh?’ he said.
She looked up from the magazine, said, ‘I’m sorry?’
‘The spying thing? Thought about the cops, thought about foreign service, but settled on this. Can make a real difference, right?’
The girl feigned confusion. She was good at it. ‘Umm, sorry – think you got the wrong person.’
She had a nice voice. Low register, good long vowels. Smart but sensitive.
‘Your mum doesn’t get it, right? You can’t tell her what you do, but you can’t get engaged to that lawyer she’s lined you up with. Holy shit! Not the lawyer.’
Mac was going for the mum connection. When he’d fi rst seen her he’d noticed a slight pronation of the left ankle. In gait psychogenics the Israelis would say she had an ongoing dispute with her mother.
Mac guessed it was to do with having some bullshit corporate cover yet a total lack of interest in suits.
The girl turned to him slightly, said, ‘Like I told you, mister, you got the wrong person.’
Mac was almost there. ‘By the way, the worst thing you can do in this business if you’re a girl? Sleep with a colleague. Doesn’t matter how profound it was, the blokes will call you a slut.’
Mac let it hang. He waited. Waited. The girl looked into the distance, she turned back. ‘Like I said…’
She trailed off. Looked away.
Mac shook his head. ‘Even if he said he loved you.’
He watched her eyes refocusing.
‘Wasn’t Matt was it?’
She kept looking away.
‘Okay,’ said Mac. ‘Gimme the mic. I’ll have a chat to the bloke.’
He pretended to be going for the ear device that Mac was guessing was hidden by her hair. The girl pulled back, put her hand to her ear.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Mac. ‘I’ll tell him what’s what.’
The girl was on her feet. ‘Like I said, sir, I think you have the wrong girl.’
She picked up a blue backpack and walked away. He watched her walk across the mall area, down past the Gucci and Vuitton stores, along the cafes and up to the toilets. She looked into shop window refl ections to check on him, then she disappeared into the ladies.
Mac had one minute before she fi nished her conversation with Matt, was yelled at for losing eyes, and then came back out.
Mac turned, unzipped his backpack and took out the Nokia, while heading across to a Swiss watch emporium where the hockey players were ogling the price tags. He had a look at something that cost $5200, looked closer, dropped his clothes bag, bent to pick it up and deposited his Nokia in a mesh water bottle holder that sat on the side of one of the hockey boys’ bags.
Had another look at the $5200 watch – was happy he had a G-Shock habit.
Scooting over to a garbage bin, he dumped his old clothes out of the plastic shopping bag, put his backpack in the bag, then sat back down where he’d been with the girl.
The conversation he’d had with Garvs the night before was too pat. His one-time friend had made a point of giving the Nokia back to him, which Mac took to be a decoy gesture – it meant Garvs was going to microdot Mac’s clothes. Microdots were the size of a very small bindi and they stuck to clothes just as easily. You couldn’t guarantee you’d get conversations off one but they were a great location device.
The good thing about them was you could place them on a person by touching them on the sleeve or patting them on the back.
Now Garvs was going to be tracking Mac to the local dump.
The girl came back into sight. Mac’s fl ight was called. He stood, walked past her, winked. Smiled. Stopped.
‘The worst thing about spooks?’
The girl said, ‘What?’
‘All twenty-second wonders, mate. Are they coming? Are they going? Who can tell?’
He thought he saw a smirk, made a wiggling sign with his little fi nger as he moved off.
The girl laughed, looked away.
Good-looking bird, thought Mac. Shame about the circumstances.
He reached immigration at Changi at about fi ve-thirty am. He’d made a point of changing his ticket from a transit to a stopover from the public phone at the Lagerhaus. Matt would have checked – would have known. He moved through the arrivals lounge looking for the tail and found it easily: early thirties Chinese-Aussie, white short-sleeved business shirt, black slacks, paper under his arm, pretending to talk into a mobile phone. The bloke wasn’t too bad.
Mac moved straight to the gents, the shop bag now in his backpack. Getting into the last booth, he pulled the shop bag and the toilet bag out of his pack, put them on the toilet seat. Then he stripped off his shirt and stashed it in the pack, unzipped the toilet bag and pulled out its contents: passport, driver’s licence, credit card, business cards, Customs ID. Pulled out more: three unmarked screw-top jars, a travel pack of Wet Ones, a pair of owl-eye spectacles, a rolled-up dark neck tie, a black plastic hair comb and what looked like a red plastic compass box of the type a student would have for geometry class.
He went to work rubbing the contents of the small jar around on his hands, smoothing it through his hair; forward, back and both sides. Next, he combed his hair, giving it a left parting. Opening the compass box he pulled out a dark, hairy mo and a tube of theatre make-up glue. Squeezing the glue onto the back of the mo, he rubbed it with the tip of his index fi nger and then pressed the mo down across his top lip.
He put on the specs, changed into the size 38 trousers, used the Wet Ones to wipe around his neck and hands, which were covered in black residue.
He put on the too-large shirt, buttoned up and put on the tie.
The spare clothes and Richard Davis ID went into the backpack. The jars and containers went into the toilet bag, apart from one of the unopened jars. The toilet bag went into the backpack. The backpack went into the shop bag. He took his shoes off, put a coin in each, face down. Put the shoes on again, picked up the shop bag and moved into the washroom area. There was one last thing. Pulling a dark contact lens from the jar, he put it in fi rst go. He hated the sensation. Did the other. He was lucky: his pale eyes and blond hair were such beacons in South-East Asia that changing them to dark rendered him almost invisible. He hoped.
He hadn’t been more than seventy seconds in the booth. Someone moved quickly to take his place.
He examined himself critically in the mirror, hoping he had at least two more minutes before the tail wandered in. This was the moment of truth: he pretty much matched the photo on his driver’s licence and passport. He was now Brandon Collier – a dark-haired, spectacled bloke whose baggy clothes were hiding a pudgy body.
The coins would alter his gait slightly, and gait was a more powerful identifi er to the human brain than just about anything else.
He went out the door, the coins in his shoes making him walk upright and jerky. The Collier character, Mac decided, was confi dent about his nerdiness. So he put a superior smirk on his face and walked down the concourse with his 38 pants giving him an elephant arse. He didn’t look, just walked like a man with all the time in the world.
Mac found the Singapore Airlines ticketing right beside the transit desk. People were yelling and carrying on. Mac got in line behind a Dutchman lecturing his wife. The Dutchman then took his turn lecturing the Singapore girl. He shrugged a lot about what kind of a country this was, had some long story he wanted to tell, with spittle fl ying off his lips in that guttural way the Dutchies speak. His wife nodded a lot.
The SIA girl gave customer service a good name. She smiled and nodded and sent them on their way without them getting what they wanted.
Mac stepped up, put down his passport. ‘Some morning you’re having, huh?’
She smiled. Tired, late thirties, smart. Once pretty, she was now just sexy. Her shift would have started at midnight and she’d be getting all the crazies, the ones who hadn’t slept, or who had fl own in from the West and had no idea what was happening to their circadians.
‘Bloody Austrians,’ said Mac. ‘How rude can you get?’
‘They were Dutch,’ said the girl.
‘Germans, Dutch. All look the same to me, mate,’ said Mac, winking.
She smiled as if she really shouldn’t.
‘You’re not the girl, are you? You know, with the parasol and the geese?’ asked Mac.
She looked confused, then suddenly got it. Smiled big, looked at her screen too intently, looked back. ‘No – I’m not her.’
Mac asked for a one-way to Surabaya.
She asked, ‘Economy?’
She shook her head. ‘Economy’s sold out on the 7.35 fl ight.
I can get you on the evening fl ight in economy.’
Mac shook his head. ‘How much is fi rst class?’ he asked, fanning out his Singapore dollars on the counter.
She looked back at the screen, chewed her bottom lip. Said,
‘I think we can do this.’
Mac fl ew fi rst class on an upgrade. The food was great, the leg room was even better, the brand new Airbus was out-fucking-standing. He grabbed a cold orange juice, reclined and had a think about what the hell he was doing. Five days ago he’d had a soul-weary feeling about this profession – just wanted it to be over, get into uni life. He could have walked away that morning, jumped the south-bound fl ight for Sydney, sunk a few cheeky ones, then stretched out in business class and slept all the way into Kingsford Smith. The Service apartment was valid until the end of January so he could have spent some time working out how a mortgage was going to happen. Could have booked into the Coogee Bay Hotel for a couple of nights, lain on the beach, knocked back cold beers, inspected the insides of the eyelids.
Could have spent Christmas with his mum and dad at their retirement home in Airlie; taken up some pressies for his nieces, spoiled them rotten, annoying Virginia big-time.
But Mac wasn’t going home. He was heading back into a potentially ugly situation, partially blind on info and with no Commonwealth backup. A regular boy scout running into a snake pit.
He laughed out loud at the absurdity of it. At some point every bloke turns into his father.
Mac remembered the summer of his last year at UQ. Virginia had just started uni. She came home with a bloke called Miles who she’d been seeing. Mac had seen Miles too. He wore John Lennon glasses and got around in bare feet, beret and a rat’s tail of hair down his back.
He had a ‘Meat is Murder’ T-shirt and a Mao lapel badge on his WWII great coat. Mac had fi rst seen Miles with a megaphone in his face on the vice-chancellor’s steps at the St Lucia campus, banging on about Palestine or Guatemala and saying things like ‘fascist’ and ‘pigs’.
Then Virginia turned up with the bloke, who sat there at Sunday lunch telling Frank how it was with human rights and the corrupt pigs and the brutality against protestors. Frank didn’t say a word.
Finally, Miles challenged him, said, ‘Okay – so why are you a cop?’
Frank looked around, put down his fork, said, ‘Because it needs to get done. ‘Cos most people can’t.’
If Mac was honest about why he ended up in public service when he could have done a lot of other things, it had a lot to do with what Frank had told Miles.
But it hadn’t helped Frank much. The last time Mac had been in Airlie, the federal election was on and Mac was amazed that his father had become a silent voter – a good man trying to disappear beneath the radar while the criminals who would harass him roamed free.
Frank had looked at Mac a bit sheepish after he told Mac. ‘Things sure changed, didn’t they, mate?’ said Frank.
They sure did.
And people like Mac just kept stepping up for it.
They touched down at Juanda airport mid morning. Mac hired a Honda Civic from Avis with the Orion Visa card. If anything was going to come up strange on a neural-net system, it was going to be a car rented on a Visa card that had been issued fi ve years before and never been used. But someone would have to be looking for that. They’d have to realise that the only way for Mac to slip off everyone’s radar would be that he’d assumed a new identity. And when they couldn’t fi nd any fl ags on the IDs they knew of, they’d have to backtrack and go looking for new ones. That’s what Mac would do, but a lot wouldn’t.
And he hoped that the people who were now following him were as hopeless as he used to think they were.
He pulled out of the enormous Juanda rental car parking lot, hit the air-con as the heat started to grip and took the direct feeder on to the Trans-Java Highway.
Then he headed west, for Jakarta.
Mac hit the fi rst toll road, to Mojokerto, paid in cash, keeping off the databases. There were toll roads all the way west to Jakarta and he could have used the e-tag on the rental car to speed straight through and be billed when he took the Civic back. But if Matt found a one-off credit card usage, he could cross check it with the toll road databases and the rego of the rental car. He’d have the time and everything.
He stuck to the speed limit while trucks fl ashed past him. No excuses for the POLRI to pull him over. A white Commodore followed him for a while so he pulled over, let them pass, got right in behind them. The Commodore took an off-ramp fourteen minutes later.
He pulled into a shopping area, bought water, fruit, cotton buds and nail polish remover. Sat in the car park, removed his mo. He did it slow. If you looked after those things you could get three uses out of them – maybe four if you weren’t getting into fi ghts.
He found a local band on the AM radio dial playing covers of Billy Joel, Phil Collins and Olivia Newton-John. Hard to tell if they were in Bahasa or bad English. He’d re-strapped his wrist but the worst seemed to be over. The swelling was on its way down and the lump behind his ear was much better. He felt okay and kept his spirits up by slugging water from a large bottle on the seat beside him. And tried to sort himself out.
Garvs had said, ‘It’s over.’ It was far from that for Mac. He’d been through this before, in East Timor. The politicians and Service lunchers had wanted him out, but Mac had gone back in. That had been a clearer scenario and he’d been vindicated, made the offi ce guys look good. This wasn’t clear, and Mac was confused about his next move. He didn’t know what Garrison was up to, didn’t know what his connection might be to someone in the Service. He needed to know more about Eighty and where he fi tted. He also had no backup in the embassy, since there’d be a general low-level alert out for him.
Mac’s main role at the Service was in trade, banking and fi nance.
It wasn’t what they’d sent him to the Royal Marines for all those years before but it’s what he’d spent most of his time doing. That’s where Mac overlapped with Judith Hannah. She was tailing the Chinese intelligence blokes who were working on a maritime security system to protect Chinese trade. Indonesia was the key to it, given it had the world’s worst piracy problem in the world’s most valuable shipping lanes: the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea.
Mac and others – including many people in the US State Department – knew that the Chinese approach to maritime security was ultimately the establishment of a Chinese naval base in Singapore.
They’d been hinting at it, enlisting cocktail drinkers to it and generally seeding the idea for most of the 1990s. It was a simple piece of arithmetic: if your booming economy relied on making lots of stuff really cheaply, then you had to be able to transport lots of stuff really cheaply. Every time there was another act of piracy in the South China Sea, another maritime terrorist warning in the Malacca Strait, or another bluewater heist in the Java Sea, you added more slices of a per cent to the costs of your goods. Once those slices rose too high, either your profi t margins eroded or your buyers in Italy, Bahrain, Malaysia or Australia had an excuse to buy elsewhere.
And the Chinese economy was not able to handle an erosion of margin.
China had annoyed the region and the Americans by trying to establish a PLA navy base in the Spratlys in the 1990s, as an attempt to patrol the South China Sea. But the People’s Republic really needed to have its ships on the Malacca Strait. It couldn’t get a base in either Indonesia or Malaysia and the Chinese had threatened to go to Burma, which would mean pumping billions into the Burmese junta’s military.
It could even end up in an independent Aceh.
But it really had to be Singapore – ethnically Chinese, the unoffi cial banker to Chinese Communist Party cronies, and the controlling maritime presence in the Malacca Strait.
What had infuriated the PLA generals was the successful lobbying in the 1990s for the US Navy to build a military pier at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base. On completion in 2001 the pier was large enough to birth a Nimitz-class supercarrier, making it essentially the US
Navy’s hub in the western Pacifi c. Far from dousing the naval base aspirations of the Chinese, it merely intensifi ed their efforts. Even during Mac’s time in South-East Asia, Singapore had turned into a lobbying bazaar where every offi cial, professional, business person or public servant now had strongly held views on Chinese naval involvement in Singapore. The Chinese-Singaporeans were either pro-or anti-PRC; they either took their messages from the CIA or the MSS – China’s Ministry of State Security. You could go to cocktail parties or symposia where the room was divided in two.
But when Mac knocked this around with what Cookie had told him, he came up with nothing. What did a CIA rogue like Garrison and his Asian friend called Eighty have to do with Chinese maritime security issues?
It didn’t make sense.
Mac fi lled up at the Pertamina roadhouse just out of Bandung, dashed into the gents and pulled out the dark contacts. He bought a coffee and a roti and grabbed a white plastic table by the window. The coffee was crap – there was no excuse given the island they were on. Nibbling on the roti, he fl ipped through a transportation trade mag that had been left on a neighbouring seat.
Mac read the editorial: about the importance of foreign investment in vital infrastructure. The boring stuff. The kind of issues that Mac did for a living. He was even driving on the result of some of his work: the Trans-Java Highway. It was going to be completed over the next decade and would cost billions more than the government had.
The missing link was foreign investment and the problem was a thing called sovereign risk – the risk to bankers that the government would renege on loans, resume assets or fi x components of the market so investors couldn’t make an economic return on the asset. The way around the sovereign risk issue hinged to a certain extent on internal regulations and anti-corruption measures; but it also rested on the banks being able to own not only the asset, but the land it sat on. That was a big cultural problem in a place like Indonesia, where the ability to control territory or shipping lanes was the source of all power.
Mac and a Malaysian spook worked on it for years and fi nally found the gap – one of the big Golkar powerbrokers was a fi rm opponent of ceding land titles to foreign fi nanciers. A Suharto-era, old-school oligarch, he was TNI-aligned and steadfast in his opposition. He was also homosexual. Least, that’s what Mac took from the video footage and recordings he had of the bloke. Mac and his counterpart had a word in the shell-like with a couple of lads from BIN – the president-controlled intelligence service, which luckily had its own rivalry with the military-controlled intel group called BAIS. They sat back, waited for the announcement. Later, it was the Malaysian and Aussie bankers who announced they were taking fi rst lick at the low-hanging fruit that was Java toll roads.
He fl ipped on, a typical Indonesian journal in that it was written in both Bahasa and English. He was about to chuck it aside when something caught his eye, and he fl ipped back. There was a half-page display advertisement in black and white. Mostly in English, the banner read SURABAYA PORT STORAGE, followed by the acronym SPS. The artwork showed a group of gabled dock warehouses and a cartoon man in overalls holding a key. They were short-and medium-term freight transit facilities, self-service and non-bonded.
Down the side of the ad was a list of Surabaya Port Storage’s other sites. Mac felt his pulse lifting. Looking around the room out of habit, he ran his fi nger down the list and found it two from the bottom: Makassar Port Storage (MPS).
Mac got into character, convinced himself that the number on the MPS key was 46 and fed some change into the roadhouse TI phone.
Rang the direct number on the magazine ad. It answered in three. Mac said, ‘G’day, that Gerry?’
There was a confused sound at the other end, whispering, someone who didn’t have English handing over to someone who did.
A new male voice, slightly younger, came on the line. Said, ‘Hello?’, like he was asking a question.
‘Yeah, sport, Collier here. Brandon Collier from Orion.’
‘Hello, Mr Brandon.’
‘Mate, having one of those days – had a bunch of stuff in number forty-six. But I’ve just got the consignment and it’s all linen, mate.
Those useless bastards got me the wrong goods.’
‘So I’m trying to work out what’s been left in forty-six, if what I’ve got is the frigging linen consignment. With me, sport?’
‘I not know, Mr Brandon.’
‘Can’t you just have a look for me, champ? I don’t want to send someone all the way to Makassar just to look in the damned shed.
With me, sport?’
‘Can’t look, Mr Brandon. No rule.’
Mac wanted to keep the bloke talking in the hope he’d just go and have a peek, see what was in the joint. But there was something else there – fear. They probably had his family or had threatened to do something similar to what they did with Minky if any Anglos or POLRI turned up for a butcher’s. Mac decided not to push it. He’d just have to look for himself.
Mac made it into Jakkers in one go, without getting lost. The outer and inner freeway rings of Jakarta were notoriously confusing, especially where they interchanged. Even the locals who drove them every day found them a nightmare. The worst was a three-level interchange which saw extra fl yovers being added every ten years to alleviate the confusion that had been created previously with the one below. A total Barry Crocker.
It was early evening when he drove through the leafy affl uence of south Jakarta. The Australian Embassy was on one of the grandest boulevards, called Rasuna Said. Mac skirted it, then made for a commercial area. He pulled into the off-street car park of a large private mail centre. It was fl uorescently lit inside. Walking in, Mac made for the service counter. A middle-aged Javanese face stared back blankly.
‘Georgie, it’s me, Richard.’
Georgie’s face sprang to life. Big smile. ‘Mr Richard – I did not know it was you.’
‘Like the hair, mate?’ he said, pulling the black hair off his face and smiling.
Mac found that joking about sudden changes of appearance was better than trying to fool people with it – especially people you knew, and wanted to use.
‘Mate, I left my key at home,’ said Mac, slapping at his pockets.
‘How’re the kids by the way?’
‘Teenagers! Mate! Forget it!’
Georgie waved his hand dismissively and walked behind the bank of mail boxes. He kept talking. ‘I say to my son yesterday, “How come you turn fi fteen and you suddenly the genius? You’re having the lend.” ‘
Mac loved it when Indons went all Strine on him. That was Indon Aussie diplomacy, right there.
Mac was laughing when Georgie got back in front of him. ‘Mate – he knows it all. Just ask him!’
‘It true,’ said Georgie with the Javanese wide-eyes. ‘It true!’
Georgie put down some letters, and the package Mac had parcelled up the night before. Consular mail sure beat the public version. Georgie put it all in a white plastic shopping bag with the mail centre’s logo on it.
There was a stack of TI phone cards on a rack behind Georgie.
Mac asked for a 10,000 rupiah version, paid in cash and left.
He opened the package in the Civic. Everything was there. He put the Heckler in the centre console and unfolded the blue ovies, pray-ing he hadn’t chucked the key in some fi t of effi ciency. Shaking the ovies, out came the cheapo pre-paid phone he’d bought in Makassar and the black diamond MPS key ring followed it.
He was about to start the Civic, but saw a TI phone booth beside the mail centre and decided to save the pre-paid phone for the more important calls.
Secretaries put him through to PAs, and fi nally Diane came on the line, ‘Richard! How are you, darling?’
Mac could have been a pool of melted heart, right there on the pavement. He choked a little. ‘Yeah, no worries.’
She chuckled, she pouted. She was making up with him and Mac was dissolving into his shoes. Total squirrel-grip.
He apologised for doing a runner in the restaurant and Diane apologised for dumping him by voicemail. They had a laugh. Diane said they should apologise a bit more personally over a few chardies.
Mac said how was tonight? Diane didn’t hear him right. So Mac lied that he was in Utara – the north of the city. Diane was speechless for a few seconds.
‘You okay?’ he asked.
‘Something caught in my throat,’ she said, then gathered herself.
‘So where are you staying?’
‘Well, I was going to check into the Sultan. I’ve just got into town.’
‘Why not stay down here?’
‘Where – at the embassy?’ asked Mac.
‘Sure. I’m in one of the cottages.’
‘Okay,’ said Mac. ‘What’s the secret handshake?’
Diane gave him the drum. Said she’d have his name at the gate.
‘See you at nine, darling.’
Mac signed off, breathed out. There was at least one game that he was playing in.
He pushed in the TI card and dialled again. Jenny Toohey came on the line. ‘Can we talk?’ he asked.
She said sure, she was going to be home at seven.
He was about to make another call, but hesitated. The last few days had seen him surviving more attempts on his life than he was happy with. He wondered about tempting fate. Wondered who really gave a shit about Garrison and his snatch on Judith Hannah. Maybe Garvs was right. Perhaps he should walk away and leave the whole wash-up to the politicians.
He looked into the middle distance. Tapped himself on the head with the blue plastic receiver. Tried to make himself see it the cynical way. Tried for once in his life to think like an offi ce guy. But he couldn’t make it come. He looked up at the sky, said, ‘ Faaarrrk!’
Then he called Lion Air, and booked the morning fl ight to Makassar.
Mac drove north, dropped the Civic at Avis’s downtown depot and took out the plastic mail centre bag with the ovies. He put the hip rig on, letting his white shirt out a little to cover the weapon. Putting the cheapo phone in his pocket he grabbed a cab to the fi nance district.
Got out. Walked both sides of the street. Looked for eyes, swapped taxis and made for the trendy port area of Jakarta.
Jenny had lived on and off in the Aussie residential compound.
But a couple of years ago she’d moved to a private residence. It kept her from having to reject advances from workmates but also increased her risk of dying from misadventure.
Mac had the taxi drop him three blocks from Jenny’s address.
He walked one side of the street, then the other, counter-surveilling, looking for eyes. Satisfi ed, he walked up a frangipani-lined path to a modern block of apartments in a fi ve-storey building.
He smelled cayenne pepper and coriander – dinner time in Jakkers. Walking up the stairs to the second level, he rang the bell. The door opened slightly and Jenny Toohey’s pretty face peeked out. She smiled, opened the door, looked over both his shoulders. Mac stepped in, hugged her. She hugged him back, but with one arm – the other held a Glock 9 mm pointed at the fl oor. They kicked at the door at the same time. It slammed.
Jenny stood back, fl ashed a smile. She was looking good – tall, athletic, fresh-faced, dark hair back in a ponytail. She fi lled out a pair of Levis and a T-shirt like God had poured her in. Mac would have done the business if he didn’t have his mind on another woman.
‘Ooh, aah – the hair. Decided being brunette makes you sexier and smarter, huh?’ she said, squeezing his bicep playfully.
”Zit going?’ asked Mac.
‘Not bad for an old girl.’
‘Thirty-fi ve’s not old,’ he smiled. ‘It’s fucking ancient.’
She laughed in mock rage. ‘Need a beer? I got some cold ones.’
‘So,’ she pointed at his crook right wrist. ‘You got a girlfriend for that?’
Mac slapped her arse with his good hand. What was it with Australian humour and the subject of self-service?
They walked into the kitchen-breakfast area. It was clean, nice, but not a home.
She cracked two VBs, handed one over. They clinked bottles. Drank.
‘Aah,’ said Mac, looking at the stubbie like he was appraising a fi ne wine. ‘Nothing quite like the taste of Mexican bat piss.’
Jenny rolled her eyes. ‘Queenslanders! The day you lot can explain the appeal of rum, then you can slag off our beer.’
‘Simple, mate,’ said Mac. ‘Makes everyone look the goods, and we need all the help we can get.’
Mac had a strange bond with Jen. They’d met six years before at a Boxing Day embassy barbecue in Manila. The Ashes was on the telly and a bunch of Aussie, Kiwi and Pommie diplomats, law enforcement and intel types were sitting around in the residential compound getting completely shit-faced on Aussie booze.
Mac was introduced to Jenny via a Pommie bloke who was trying to crack on to her. Jenny was the going-somewhere golden girl of the Australian Federal Police. She was all ironed-out and buttoned-down.
Beautiful, and a former university basketball star.
But an ice queen.
The Pom spoke down to him, with a plum stuffed somewhere.
He wore a tie on Boxing Day – a wanker.
Mac and Jenny had done the polite Aussie thing, smiled and nodded, tried to make the best of it. Then the Pom told the Aussies how ‘privileged one felt to be part of the world’s oldest diplomatic legation’. Mac had told the nonplussed Pom, ‘Mate, you’d wanna get your hand off it at some point, wouldn’t you?’
Jenny had ejected her mouthful of chardonnay through her nostrils. It took her fi ve minutes to compose herself.
The ice queen had a sense of humour.
Soon after they became on-and-off lovers – drank a bit, laughed a lot and joined forces on their loneliness. They liked each other’s company.
She cried after sex.
Jenny had gone into the Feds straight out of uni. After doing the usual ambitious-girl rotations she’d ended up working narcotics details out of Darwin, Perth and Brisbane. She was going places.
Groomed for management and the SES structure of the Australian Public Service. A place where you fl ew business class, stayed at the Marriott and no one told you in advance what your expenses claim was going to be.
Jenny was twenty-six when her life changed. During an ongoing investigation into a Vietnamese heroin importation ring the call had come through once again from Australian Customs in Vietnam. A husband, wife and kids were on the same route out of Saigon into Brisbane via Singers. All over again. The personnel changed regularly, but they were always a family unit and the intelligence placed them with the same drug gang.
Jenny was in the Feds’ tail car, riding passenger and working the radio. She told the lead car where to go and let the backup car know where they might have to cut in. It was late January, the stinking Brisbane heat making a mockery of the Falcon’s air-con.
Everyone was over it. They’d been tailing this mob and others from the same syndicate for almost two years and the heroin was still hitting the streets. The one bust they’d pulled seven months before was a roadside swoop in Logan City as the suspects had driven south to their Southport unit. It yielded nothing, except the gang complained about the racist treatment given that the mother had a young baby with her at the time.
The complaint stuck. Offi cial reprimand. The whole suits versus cops bit.
On the day her world changed, Jenny’s mind was elsewhere. Six days earlier she’d had a termination at the behest of her fi ance – an ambitious lawyer who wanted ‘a life’. She’d wanted the baby.
Jenny was still bleeding and eating Nurofens, pale as death, as she tailed the Vietnamese family south-bound out of Brisbane. Suddenly, she’d had a fl ash. It went like this: ‘The baby!’ It was like she was sleepwalking.
She turned to her superior, a guy called Steve Hornby who, in spite of his clumsy attempts at charm, was a good operator with the kind of arrest and conviction record that cops love.
‘Steve – the baby. The fucking baby!’ Jenny screeched.
Hornby had recoiled. ‘What?’
‘Steve listen to me – pull them over. Do it!’
‘Fuck that for a game of soldiers,’ Hornby had replied, his left eyelid twitching, nervous about the vibe and uncomfortable with angry women.
Jenny reached forward for the lights and siren switch.
‘Don’t you fucking do that, Toohey. That’s an order.’
Jenny had never used her looks with her male colleagues – she didn’t want the reputation. But she leaned over, pushed her breasts onto his arm, slid her hand up Steve Hornby’s thigh.
‘Steve, it’s the baby. Trust me.’
She sounded crazy and far away, even to her own ears.
Steve broke a forehead sweat, his eyelid going crazy. ‘There goes my super.’
Jenny hit the lights and they swooped on the Vietnamese.
Which was how Jenny Toohey came to be standing on the side of the M1 at Rochedale in the early afternoon heat, holding the cadaver of a baby that was stuffed with the highest-grade Laotian heroin.
Jenny’s mouth open, but no scream, looking down on the baby’s dead eyes staring out of heavy make-up.
Packets of brown heroin fell out of the baby’s hollowed-out back as Jenny unwound the swaddling.
Steve Hornby on his knees vomiting in the grass, begging for mercy. Please God, no!
Feds from the lead car chased the ‘mother’ and ‘father’ down the nature strip, the mother’s right sandal fl ying off as she veered towards a wire fence.
Panicked, out-of-breath yells came over the radio system.
Jenny Toohey made no sound, heard only the roar of emptiness in her ears.
She took stress leave and dumped the fi ance. She ducked counsell-ing, didn’t cry. She retrained, redeployed as AFP intelli gence liaison in an area that hooked from Saigon to Jakarta and up to Manila. Mac happened to know she was very good at what she did, which was busting the slave rackets – what they called transnational sexual servitude.
Mac suspected she was in love with him, but she didn’t say it.
She let him come and go. Mostly he went. She didn’t ask him about Southern Scholastic, she didn’t seem to need the details of what he did. In Mac’s experience, this was an almost super-human effort for a female cop.
In return, he ignored the salt-crust she left on his chest when he slept over.
She had only one stipulation: ‘I don’t cry, understand?’
Mac said, ‘Good as gold.’
They sat on her dark green canvas sofa, her giving him the look. Like she knew something was up.
‘Jen, it’s over – I’m out.’
‘What? The ASIS thing?’
‘Book company, yeah,’ he said, winking.
They smiled at each other.
‘When?’ asked Jenny.
‘My offi cial last day is January thirty.’
Jen narrowed her eyes, thoughtful.
‘But there’s one last thing I have to do,’ said Mac. ‘And they don’t want me doing it.’
Jen shifted forward on the sofa, looked at him with big dark eyes and said, ‘I know.’
Mac cocked an eye.
‘That bloke – what’s his name? – Matthew, sidled up to me today.
Asked me if I was in contact with you. Said something addressed for you had turned up in his pigeon hole, you know, and it was the kind of thing he had to give to you personally.’ She was being facetious, had that same cop disrespect for casual deception that his father had.
They laughed. Sometimes spooks made it way too complicated.
‘And you told him?’
‘I said, “Matthew, wherever McQueen is hiding I’m sure it’s not down the front of my blouse.” ‘
Mac laughed. Jenny could do that to him. Take all the stress and chuck it out the window.
‘Holy shit! You’re a piece of work, you are.’
‘Me?! It’s that bloke who’s the boob-talker – ask any of the girls.’
Mac ran the options. Either she was part of the program and was carrying a wire, or she had dismissed Matt cold. The third option was that Matt had heard some talk round the traps and had Jenny’s apartment under surveillance. Mac would have done it.
She shook her head.
Mac trusted Jen. She was highly tail-sensitive. A foreign female cop, living alone in Jakarta, spending her life tracking the kind of crime gangs that would steal children and sell them to paedophile brothels. If Jenny said there was no tail, there was no tail.
A pause opened up. She stared at him, stared at the beer, gave him the hard eye. ‘Okay, Mr Macca – you can ask away, but if I say no, then it’s no. That fair?’
Mac nodded. He couldn’t ask more than that.
He started with the Sulawesi adventure and the Hannah snatch, ending with the Jakarta return and the instruction to get on a plane to Sydney. Only, he kept it vague. If she was a journalist, she wouldn’t have been able to write a story on what he told her. No names to follow through on.
She stared at him.
‘Something’s a bit dodgy about the whole thing,’ he said, fl ustered.
They had never really spoken like this. ‘I’m – I want to cover-off. I have to… I’m looking for maritime activity around Sulawesi in the last week. Not necessarily terrorism,’ he shrugged. ‘Could be something else. Something out of the ordinary.’
Jenny made a face. That was nothing she had heard of.
Chatter was what people in the intelligence community picked up in their rounds but perhaps wasn’t the stuff of reports and memos.
It was the daily gossip gleaned from being around people, making small talk.
Jen shook her head. ‘I’ve heard that Chinese naval base thing – you know, in Singapore? I’ve heard that a couple of times in the last ten days or so. It’s getting talked up again. But you know how the Chinese are.’
Mac knew how the Chinese were. But he’d been out of South-East Asia for long enough that he wasn’t hearing this stuff. If Mac was Garvey, he’d want him the hell out of it too, before he started connecting back into his networks. He’d want him in Sydney, cut off, thinking about his new life.
‘No piracy or terrorist alerts in the Java Sea?’
Jen shook her head.
‘Malacca? Macassar Strait?’
Jen stared blankly.
‘What about Maluku?’
He was grasping. If anyone would know, or had access to the knowledge, it was Jenny Toohey. Her role was to coordinate intelligence from organisations as diverse as POLRI and FBI to the Jakarta Container Port and TNI, the Indonesian armed forces. And her main briefs – narcotics, people smuggling and sex-slavers – were all connected with shipping. She was also one of the few people Mac had ever heard of who had good relations with both BIN and BAIS. Even in the Indonesian bureaucracy and government, you were aligned with one or the other intelligence organisation. You were either the President’s people or you were TNI’s people.
Mac slumped back, sipped the beer, thought about what he had.
Not much. Tomorrow he’d fi nd out what was in the MPS warehouse in Makassar, hopefully. Right now he was fl ailing. He was also tired.
The phone rang. Jen got up, took the call, and by the sound of it the caller was in southern Thailand. Mac could hear the voice: high-pitched, male, hysterical. Jen talked him down, stayed calm. She was a natural leader. Mac had no doubt she’d make it to the upper echelons of the AFP. Maybe take a right turn and end up in PMC.
Suddenly something clicked.
The phone logs!
The phone logs Sawtell had brought out of the hotel in Palopo.
Mac had read them, got on the blower to his contact in TI and most of the numbers had pointed to Tenteno. But one had been in the Philippines, in an area of Metro Manila called Intramuros: trendy, expensive, latte-sipping, intellectual. Most important, it was coastal right on Manila Bay, with views of the container terminals if you were in the right building.
Jen said something gentle to the bloke on the other end, hung up, paused, big sigh. Made a quick call to someone else. This time her tone was less conciliatory. She was remonstrating.
She rang off, walked to the fridge, grabbed two more VBs. ‘Thai water police.’ She shook her head. ‘A bloody worry.’
When she sat down again Mac said, ‘What about the Philippines?
Manila? Anything out of there?’
Jen looked at the ceiling. ‘There was something I read today in a circular. Didn’t look like my go.’
‘What was it?’
‘Heist. Container. Whole shipment lost, unaccounted for.’
‘Containers go missing all the time. They’re not supposed to. Not after the Yanks went and spent all that money on the tracking protocols.
But stuff goes missing. They’re ports, and people work at ports.’
Mac looked at her. ‘So why was it circularised?’
‘I mean, what was in it? Where was it going?’
Jen stood, walked to the phone.
Mac piped up, ‘Umm, not a good idea.’
She clocked his embarrassed tone, did a double take. ‘Fuck, Mac. You people are too much! I’m a fucking federal cop! A senior federal cop!’
Mac looked away. It’d be good to be civvie again – weird, but good.
Jenny walked to the kitchen area, shaking her head. Pulled a Nokia out of a charger, made to turn it on. ‘I’m one of the good guys
– remember that part?’
Mac looked over, scratched the back of his head. ‘Uh, yeah… You got a personal one?’
Jenny shook her head, rolled her eyes like Are you people for real?
‘I’m serious,’ said Mac. ‘You got a non-Commonwealth phone?’
Now Jen had her hand on her hip, giving him the evils. Giving him the ice queen. Slight tooth-grinding motion in the mouth, she slowly shook her head.
Mac pulled out the cheapo pre-paid. ‘This should do.’
Jen stayed where she was. Mac had to get off the sofa, walk to her, pick up her hand and put the phone in it. Close the hand around it. She didn’t take her eyes off his face. Not hate – another thing, like his sister Virginia used to give him. Like the time he had to deal with the bloke who’d been grabbing her on the dance fl oor of a footy club bash, lifting her dress up and that sort of carry-on. Had asked the bloke to stop it which turned into Mac having to give the bloke a little something to go on with. Didn’t help that the drunken groper was Ginny’s boyfriend.
Mac and Jen stared at each other for thirty seconds. Mac needed this. Jenny didn’t.
‘Please,’ he said.
Jen looked down at the phone, mumbled something, shook her head and dialled AFP, Manila.
Mac had once vowed he wasn’t going to foul his own nest. That whatever he was asked to do, it wouldn’t involve mixing his personal life with his professional. The Service encouraged people to observe those limits. It was why you didn’t tell friends and family where you worked. When he started out Mac had imagined that the issue would be more to do with something that Frank was investigating that Mac would be asked to whitewash. But it had come down to another cop in his life: Jen. He’d just stepped over his line and he felt sick about it.
Jen came back to the sofa, sat down and put a white pad on her lap. ‘My guy says it was an unmarked ro-ro container ship, shipping for San Francisco.’
Jen shrugged, used to the lingo. ‘You know – roll-on/roll-off.’
‘Unmarked? You mean no name?’
‘Just telling you what he said.’
Mac thought about it: unmarked or non-commercial ships were usually military, government.
‘Go on,’ he said.
‘Not much else. When the alarm went out the whole place was swarming with US Army. A section’s been shut down. Media blackout.
Local cops on the outer. There was a bunch of blokes with bio-hazards on – not that unusual.’
‘Yeah, but there are spills all the time at container terminals and you never quite know what’s leaking. They send them out in the suits and breathers just to be sure.’
‘US Army is normal?’
‘No, it’s not.’
‘Does your guy know what’s in it?’
‘Nah – it’s hush-hush.’
‘Come on, Jen.’
She looked at him like she might be going too far.
‘Okay. Gary was in Bangkok a couple of years ago, at a maritime security symposium – one of those events that the British put on.
Turns out one of the guys who gave a paper at the symposium is running the show at the Manila thing.’
‘Know who he is?’
‘Gary couldn’t be sure, but he was ninety per cent certain the guy was DIA.’ Jenny shrugged. Threw the pad aside.
The evening was over. Mac made a promise to himself; that he would make it up to Jen. She’d recovered from her annoyance, but Mac knew there were other things she wanted to discuss, possibly even the future and commitment. It might have been. Before Diane.
‘By the way, Jen,’ he said, stepping to the front door, ‘you don’t think I’m racist, do you?’
Jenny thought about that, and said, ‘No. No I don’t.’
They stared at one another, Jen imploring him with her beautiful dark eyes. Mac knew what she wanted. She wanted him to unload, talk about stuff like fear and regret. But he couldn’t. He felt blocked up, like he had a piece of concrete in his throat. As her eyes softened, his were getting harder – she reached out, he defended. He wanted to tell her he had another bird but he didn’t know how to say it.
So he said, ‘Thanks, mate,’ and did the Harold.
Jen shifted her weight. Both hands in the back pockets of her Levis.
He saw her staring at the ceiling as he slipped out. A proud girl.
I don’t cry, understand?
Mac took the third cab that stopped. He trusted too-easy cabs like he trusted fi sh and chips in Alice Springs. He went north to the retail district in downtown.
The DIA connection was odd. The Defense Intelligence Agency was a super-group connecting all the military intelligence outfi ts of the Pentagon into one collection and counterintelligence bureau. It was extremely powerful and operated in a far less publicly accountable way than the CIA. Globally connected, it had at its heart one of the most powerful networks of any intel organisation, with 1.4 million defence personnel who could become agents, co-optees and sources at any time. It could use more than seven hundred bases and facilities in forty countries. What was a DIA guy doing shutting down a section of Manila’s container terminal? What was in the missing container?
It spelled ‘United States military’ and Mac knew only one person under that heading who he could call right now: John Sawtell.
Mac got on the cheapo phone, called DC and got a listing for Camp Enduring Freedom in Zam. He mumbled the number to himself as he dialled, wondering if one of these days his knack for short-term recall of numbers and names was going to evaporate. You only got it with practice.
The switch came on the line. Mac asked for Captain John Sawtell -
US Army Special Forces. After Mac didn’t settle for ‘not available’, the bloke said Sawtell was in the mess. The bloke asked for a contact number and Mac said he’d try back soon.
They got to downtown in twenty-one minutes. It was eight-thirty pm and still somehow the rush hour. Mac got out of the cab with the mail centre bag, walked fast through a large shopping mall and came out the other side, on a whole new block. There was a big cab rank out the front of the mall – lots of Vientas lined up waiting for shoppers, lots of drivers in white trop shirts, black chinos and plastic sandals, leaning on hoods, smoking, talking on mobiles, shooting the shit.
Mac walked the line, the bag under his arm. He was looking for someone in his mid thirties, someone with overheads and middle-class aspirations. Someone with kids.
Someone with shoes.
He focused on one guy, about fi ve-eight, oval face, sensitive expression and a full head of black hair. He was groomed, no sandals and there was a dark blazer hanging against the inside right door. The guy had pride and his cab looked clean.
Mac stopped, gave the bloke a wink. ”Zit going, champ?’
The driver was all smiles.
Mac sat up front, had a natter with him. His name was Rami, which in Indonesia could have been his fi rst name, a contraction of his surname, a family nickname from childhood or a name given to him by his local religious teacher when he came of age. You never quite knew in Indonesia. The bloke could have gone his entire life being known simply as Rami and that would not have been considered strange or unhelpful in the archipelago.
Rami was trying to fi nish an IT qualifi cation at a local technology college, but he had to drive a cab to fi nd the money and that meant studying part-time. Which slowed the whole middle-class dream to a crawl. Rami shrugged. What could you do? Couldn’t ask your wife to work when she had two kids.
‘Maybe we can help each other out,’ said Mac.
Rami dropped Mac in an area four blocks south of the British Embassy residential compound. Mac got out, looked around, walked to the rear of the Vienta. Rami joined him. He opened the boot. Mac put his plastic bag with the ovies, MPS key and Heckler in the trunk, jamming it behind the back seat so it didn’t slide around.
Rami shut the boot lid. Mac put a hundred-dollar greenback in the breast pocket of Rami’s white trop shirt, held two more US hundred-dollar notes up in front of the cabbie’s disbelieving face.
‘Here’s the deal, champ. Six o’clock, on this corner, tomorrow morning. You get the rest of the money. Sound fair?’ Mac winked.
‘And no one touch the bag,’ said Rami, underlining it with a stern Javanese shake of the head.
Mac had no choice but to trust him. He didn’t feel entirely safe without the Heckler but he was close to making something happen with Diane and he wasn’t about to blow it by trying to smuggle a handgun into the British Embassy compound.
He walked the remaining blocks, crossed the street, stopped and looked in window refl ections. Stalked the few cars allowed to park around the embassies, looking for eyes. Around this area of south Jakarta your average punter couldn’t just park and have a nosey-poke.
Anyone on the streets would be diplomatic, intelligence, cops.
He doubled back and presented himself at one of the glass-cage gatehouses that had sprung up all over South-East Asia in the past fi ve years.
‘Richard Davis. For Diane Ellison. Thanks, champion.’
Mac waited by the gatehouse in early evening heat. The sky was orange-red – a tropical barn-burner of a sunset. Behind the bullet-proof glass a big Anglo was looking over the shoulder of the local guard, checking out Mac’s passport. The big bloke looked up at Mac’s face, looked back, leaned further over the guard’s shoulder, fl ipped at the passport and looked up again.
Mac winked. ‘Look better with the goldilocks, huh?’
The mo was in the container, the contacts were in the jar but his hair was still black.
The big Anglo was expressionless.
Mac had him as former HM Customs, intel section – big, beefy, red-faced sort of bloke who clocked faces like he was a biometrics computer. It had been a long day and the last thing Mac needed was some customs robot getting in his face about where he’d been and what he’d been up to. Just some old chat, maybe throwing in one of their trick asides about swimming at a Darwin beach or the famous train journey from Madras to Chennai. Mac had had his hairy moments in many airports with blokes just like old Beefy here, and he didn’t have the ticker for it after the kind of forty-eight hours he’d just been through.
Beefy smiled, said, ‘No luggage, Mr Davis. Not intending on staying?’
‘That depends on her ladyship, champ. She might get lucky.’
Beefy snorted, smiled, slipped the passport back under the glass.
Mac gave him the wink and giddy-up. Beefy stepped away from the bullet-proof screen, shaking his head slightly, keyed the radio hand-piece on his left shoulder, mouthed something. Came back, fl ipped his head to the right. The pedestrian gate slid straight back into the gatehouse. Mac said, ‘Thanks, lads,’ and walked into the residential compound of the British Embassy. Just another Aussie sales dickhead with a thing for tall blondes.
He didn’t have to wait long, only about ninety seconds before a sapphire-blue Jag came around a corner between a stand of topiary.
Mac went to get in the front, by habit, then realised Diane was in the back. He slid onto leather, into air-con, smiling at the fi gment of his marriage fantasies.
”Zit going? All right?’
‘Ooh, the hair, Richard! I love it!’ she said.
Mac felt the car surging forward as he was pulled down into a kiss. He felt Diane’s breath blowing out of her nostrils like plumes of desire and he got his arms around her waist. She shifted her mouth to his jaw and then his left ear, which tickled.
‘God it’s good to see you again,’ she whispered, then kissed him on the mouth, slipped her right hand down to his bicep, sinking her talons into it.
Mac fi nally came up for air. They were driving what he reckoned was north. He pushed his hair back, thinking, Do I have enough Brut on?
Is she going to get black dye all over her hands? Is it kinky if another bloke’s sitting two feet away?
Mac sat back, took her in. She was smiling, pale eyes sparkling in a strong, oval face. Intelligent and not cowed. She fi lled out her sky-blue linen dress, which came to just above the knee. Black shoes with a single strap, cute little gold watch on tanned skin. Mac was used to birds in Levis and runners, boardies and tank tops. Diane was a whole other level.
‘Where we going?’ he asked.
‘Sunda Kelapa – that fi sh place we got trashed at once.’ Diane said it with an air of smiling collusion, as if her world was made of two people and Mac was one of them.
Sunda Kelapa was the original fi shing village Jakarta had been built around. It was still used for fi shing and was probably the only part of Jakkers where you’d see a man in a sarung who wasn’t hamming for a tourist photo. It was old-school Jakarta and after dark there was a chance of being mugged. Mac let it go. He wanted one night of non-paranoia. He’d leave the worrying to the driver, who seemed to know what he was doing.
He was back with Diane, as if Sydney hadn’t happened. He was giddy, intoxicated with it all, in love.
They ate up large: curried crab, salty fi sh, prawns in the banana skins, buckets of goreng. The whole Javanese bit. Being back in Jakkers seemed to have a calming infl uence on both of them. In Sydney, Diane’s personality had brought out a chip on Mac’s shoulder, a nagging sense that he may not be good enough for a diplomat’s daughter. The morning that had started with the interview at the University of Sydney, and included being tailed, and ended with that awkward lunch, was really just the climax of a lot of worries that Mac had been feeling in Sydney. The fear of not being able – or allowed – to make the shift to civvie life. Or the deep-seated suspicion that perhaps some people just weren’t equipped to have wives, mortgages and fi nancial planners. There was also the loss of control, the ebbing away of his carefully crafted internal walls and walls within walls. He knew it was happening and he blamed Diane for how weak it made him feel.
Maybe it was just the age-old worry, that he’d ask the girl to marry him, and she’d laugh, say something like, You? Why would I marry you?!
All of it had come together that morning, and he’d taken it out on Diane, right at a point where she wanted to talk about where she fi tted in his future – which, now he was relaxing over a meal in Jakarta, seemed to be the most acceptable thing a woman might want to do when she’d been going out with a bloke for six months.
One of the things Mac had always liked about Diane was that – chips on shoulders aside – she didn’t make him feel like a pig.
She ate as much as he did, also spoke with food in her mouth and laughed about how gross that was. She was one of those women who jam their fork into a piece of food and feed it to their bloke.
The inferiority bit was all in his head.
They were actually a right pair: sinking cold Singhas, taking the piss out of uptight Germans at exhibitions and laughing about their short-lived break-up.
‘I’m sorry about the whole voicemail thing, darling,’ she said, grabbing his forearm. ‘What a cliche! I can hardly believe I did that!’
Mac apologised for avoiding a chat about what they might do in the future. And for doing the Harold Holt.
‘The what?’ she asked, laughing.
‘You know – the Aussie prime minister, the Chinese sub, the MSS?’
‘Tell me more.’ She widened her eyes.
‘Then I’d have to kill ya.’
Mac didn’t know why he’d said that. It was an intel in-joke; you only really said it to someone in the community, someone who already knew. He was exhausted. Maybe he just wanted to come clean with her? Maybe that was part of his anxiety the last time they’d met?
Mac changed the subject. ‘Remember that wine we got here last time? Time for a comeback?’
Diane made a face that said, Bad idea.
Mac remembered how they’d sunk a couple of bottles of the Balinese white muscat a few months ago. They’d got so drunk that Diane had tried to go for a swim in the harbour and had got down to her bra and undies before Mac and her driver could bundle her back into the car. The muscat gave Mac a hangover that would kill a wild brown dog, and Diane had an IT trade show to attend the next morning which she could only endure through a pair of very dark sunnies.
So they ordered the wine.
Carl, the driver, who had been standing against the wharf railing since they arrived, approached the table as Mac gave back the wine list. Carl looked at the owner, pointed at the table. The owner nodded, came back with the bottle, showed Carl the seal. Carl nodded, stepped back to his railing and let the owner cork the bottle and pour.
Mac gave Carl the wink. ‘Thanks, champ. Anything we can get ya?
Carl shook his head, his hands hovering over a black pouch-bag slung around his waist that was actually a disguised holster. ‘No thanks, Mr Davis. I’m right.’
The British used ex-soldiers and ex-cops for their diplomatic protection details. The main risk in Jakarta, for people like Diane, wasn’t terrorism. It was snatches. And Carl had the body, the presence and the handgun that made Asian kidnappers pause. He was about fi ve-eleven, one hundred kilos and fi lled out his jeans and polo shirt like he was made of arms and legs and nothing else. His presence said, I don’t hesitate and I don’t miss.
Mac relaxed with it, and drank.
They fell into Diane’s cottage a little after midnight. Carl had already entered and done his recce, gun drawn. Diane held Mac against the vestibule wall in a deep kiss. She tasted of Balinese muscat. Smelled of shampoo and sea air.
Carl walked past them, stood at the door, cleared his throat and looked at Diane. She rolled her eyes. Mac came forward instead, shut the door and turned the key to deadlock. Asked through the door,
‘Only one, mate?’
Carl said, ‘Corner bolts, if you would, sir.’
Mac slid the big stainless steel bolt at the bottom of the door into its hole in the fl oor, pushed the top one up into its steel slot above the doorjamb.
‘Thanks, sir,’ said Carl.
‘Goodnight, mate. Thanks for everything.’
Mac pulled Diane onto his chest, so their faces almost touched. They were both naked, sated. Looking at her, he wrestled with the idea of coming clean. But it felt wrong. Like going into a forbidden zone. He hadn’t even had that discussion with his parents or sister.
He wasn’t sure how he was ever going to unhitch himself from the lies, starting with his name. Diane had been forthcoming about her past: the dropping out from Cambridge, the attempt at being a kept woman in London in her early twenties, the Kuwaiti fi ance and her unanticipated drift into the world of IT and high-level sales
– something she was good at and well rewarded for.
Mac couldn’t tell her that kind of story about himself. Where would he start? With ASIS? The Royal Marines, Desert Storm, East Timor, the Bali bombing? Abu Sabaya? There were whole chunks of his life that not even Garvs knew the full story about.
He decided to try a smaller bit of candour.
‘You know, that day at the restaurant in Chinatown? In Sydney?’
‘I had a ring in my pocket. I was going to… umm… you know…’
Diane smiled at him. ‘Do I?’
‘I was going to ask you to… aaah, be my fi ancee.’
She raised her head, smiled. ‘Really?’
‘Yeah, but I couldn’t. It’s why I did a runner.’
‘Why?’ Diane pushed his hair back, looked from one of his eyes to the other.
Mac almost said, ‘Cos I’ve been bullshitting. Lying to you.
But he didn’t, pulled himself back.
‘I was too scared.’
‘You silly thing,’ said Diane, her eyes refl ecting disappointment.
Mac lay awake while Diane snored softly. She’d taken it well. Said she was still in love with him. Said she wanted to think about the marriage bit.
He was in love but confused. He found himself wondering about privilege and pecking orders and the level of personal security you got when you were born into the right world.
He lay there thinking that it would work out just perfect if Jenny was assigned a Carl. Someone to guard the perimeter and let her relax at a restaurant: no more asking for the table furthest from the front window, no more demanding the seat that faced the door. Whenever he’d gone to a restaurant or movie with Jenny, she’d worn a holster-bag just like Carl’s. It sat on her lap like a security blanket.
He’d never mentioned it to Jen. Never told her that if she got rid of the disguised holster, she might get herself a bloke.
Rami was early. So was Mac. They greeted each other on the arranged corner. Mac stood at the back of the cab, looked around for eyes while Rami popped the trunk from the driver’s seat. Mac leaned in, opened the mail centre bag and checked the fi ve strands of cotton he’d left across the velcro strap of his holster. The cotton was intact. No one had been in there.
Mac walked to the driver’s seat, gave Rami one of the hundred-dollar notes and said, ‘Gimme two minutes, champ.’
He leaned into the trunk and opened the toilet bag, got the moustache on in twenty seconds, took longer with the contacts, but still fast for a bloke with no mirror. Trousering the passport and key, he tied the neck-rag and then pulled out the black backpack and pushed everything into it.
There was a sudden racket, like mortar shells dropping on their tails and fi ring. Clunk! Whoosh! Clunk! Whoosh!
It scared the shit out of Mac, who hit his head on the boot lid as he swivelled to fi nd it was just the sprinklers going on at exactly six am, all the way up and down Embassy Row. He was labouring under a hangover that felt like a croc was trying to death roll his brain. The airport was going to be a hoot.
They made good time to Soekarno-Hatta. The air-con worked, which put a few more miles in Mac’s white shirt and chinos. He’d defi nitely have to buy more clothes in Makassar.
He made small talk with Rami, who was excited about the money.
His missus was excited too. Mac asked him to promise to use it for college. He had lived in South-East Asia long enough to know that when the missus of the house was a piece of work, it often meant household wealth was being siphoned to her parents or sibs. A weak husband was not a good thing to be in this part of the world.
Rami promised, laughed as he saw Mac’s worried expression, and said, ‘My wife is my friend too, yes? But it always good to do what she says.’
‘When she says it, right?’ said Mac.
Rami laughed, genuinely amused. ‘You married too?’
‘Nah, champ – but I’m aware of the general situation.’
Mac stood outside Terminal 1, Rami’s cab waiting in the honking traffi c of the set-down area. Mac’s pack was in the back seat and Rami was waiting for the last hundred-dollar greenback – waiting for Mac to take a quick recce and come out with the all-clear. The airport police and POLRI were at the other end of the apron and Mac reckoned it would be at least three minutes before Rami got a face full of German shepherd.
Mac still wore the specs, too-big clothes, his hair dark to match his black moustache. The coins were under his heels, the Heckler in his pack. The fear of God was in his head, helped on by his hangover.
The Heckler was a calculated risk. Domestic fl ights out of Soekarno-Hatta were checked by security, but they would be selective in their searches, and Mac was hoping no one would make him for a hijack risk.
Mac held up one fi nger to Rami, then walked slowly to the air-powered sliding doors of T1. Paused in front of the heavily tinted glass, looked at himself, controlled his shallow breathing, walked into the terminal.
The place was almost packed – long lines at checkin, cafes, ATMs.
Not bad for 6.50 am. Soekarno-Hatta had been stealing market share from KL, Singers and Honkers for several years and was now a Top Thirty airport by passenger movements. It suited Mac – he liked busy.
He liked Top Thirty because they were the airports the drug mules targeted, which meant the cops would be looking elsewhere. From Mac’s perspective, he wanted the men and women behind the two-way glass in the observation rooms to be looking for the real bad guys. It was another reason Mac fl ew Lion when he travelled inside Indonesia. The major Indonesian airlines – Garuda and Merpati Nusantara – were housed in T2, the international terminal of Soekarno-Hatta. And it was T2 where all the ghost-corridors and two-way glass and surveillance equipment had been laid out like a customs man’s wet dream. That was good for Beefy, but not for Mac.
Mac kept to the wall, staying relaxed in that nerdy way he’d developed for Brandon Collier. He walked down the side of the checkin hall where all the seats were arranged, heard families arguing about why a child couldn’t have Coca-Cola, watched businessmen reading the Jakarta Post, saw teenagers fi ddling with iPods, annoyed to be up so early with parents who so obviously sucked.
Mac kept his eye on the Lion Air suite of checkins. It looked clear. No eyes, no magazines being read upside down. He walked further, to the end of the T1-A section and as he was about to turn, saw something.
Held his breath.
Walking south from T1-B, straight towards him, past the Air Batavia and Kartika Air checkin suites, was a person he recognised.
Shapely, tall, very good-looking. Female. Vietnamese-Australian.
Mac was hungover enough to actually say ‘Fuck’ as he turned as smoothly as he could.
A disaffected teenager looked up, a bit spooked that an oldie was more disaffected than her. He took off back to the Lion Air suite and around the corner. Back into the set-down area. He did it smooth but he was burning inside. The ASIS bird was there, which meant Matt was there.
He stood on the set-down apron, saw the sun coming up, felt the heat and humidity starting to move into the air. Airport police were walking the lines of cars and cabs, telling drivers to move on: beagles for drug mules, German shepherds for those with a reading disability.
Mac stared at Rami’s cab, coming to grips with something he’d just seen in the terminal. Something other than the ASIS bird. As he’d walked to the doors, he’d looked over to his right, where an Aussie surf clothes emporium beckoned shoppers with massive posters of young Anglos enjoying their unfettered lives in southern California and Surfers Paradise.
Dominating the main window was a huge poster of Kelly Slater, the famous Californian surfer. The surf company had named their latest range after him. They called it ‘SL8TR’.
Mac’s thought process had gone like this: that’s a clever marketing ploy in South-East Asia because of the acronyms and contractions the locals use with one another’s names. They contracted long multi-word names into one short one, such as Hispran, the Indon-Islamic leader from the 1970s whose full name was Haji Ismail Pranoto. Or they used acronyms, such as with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known as SBY.
Once they had their contractions or acronyms, they fi led them down so they became a word in their own right. If you were an outsider, you could pick up the word but never know what it really meant.
Mac stared over Rami’s cab, out over the sprawling megalopolis of Jakkers, where the brown haze was starting to rise. Acid rose in his throat. When Minky had told him the name of the person who had snatched his daughter, he had said ‘Eighty’, but Minky didn’t mean eighty, like the number. He was using an acronym: AT, the teenage nickname for an aspiring actor from the southern Philippines, whose name had been Aldam Tilao – before he’d changed it to Abu Sabaya.
Abu Sabaya: pirate, bandit, terrorist and the most dangerous man in South-East Asia. Supposed to be dead.
Peter Garrison and Abu Sabaya. Two psychos. Two very, very smart psychos. Now acting together? In league with someone in the CIA?
Being helped by someone in ASIS? Or both?
It scared Mac. He had to get to Makassar, start putting this thing together.
He looked to his right, saw POLRI approaching, a shepherd straining on its leash.
Rami was in front of him. Right there in front of his face. Mac came to. Shook it off.
‘You okay?’ asked Rami.
Mac nodded, knowing there’d be little colour in his face, that his pupils were probably dilated. He turned to the POLRI guy, smiled, tapped his G-Shock. ‘My fault, offi cer – moving on now.’
Rami turned, saw the POLRI guy and the shepherd and ran to his cab. Mac followed, leaned into the back seat, picked up the black pack.
‘Here you go, champ,’ said Mac, handing over the last hundred-dollar greenback. Rami smiled, took the money, turned to his right, wound down the window to talk with the POLRI guy. Mac noticed Rami averting his eyes, not actually looking at the cop. A car parked outside a public building was no big deal in Australia. In Indonesia it meant plenty, and Rami obviously didn’t want to be mistaken for someone with an ammonium nitrate experiment going on in the back seat.
Rami put the cab into drive, and Mac said, ‘Mate, I just realised I need a blazer for my meeting in Makassar. You take Singapore dollars?’
He nodded at the blazer hanging on the rear passenger’s handle.
‘Um, yeah. How much?’
Mac showed a wad. Said, ‘There’s fi ve hundred there. For the college fund.’
Rami smiled. ‘Sure.’
Walking into T1 in his too-small dark blazer, Mac heard an announcement that included the words ‘Ujung Pandang, Makassar’.
He guessed the fl ight would be boarding in fi ve minutes, closed in twenty.
He found the biggest group of travellers and mingled through them, up into T1-B and T1-C. His stomach churned with fear but it helped him focus. He hopped from group to group, fi nding camoufl age, then he saw what he was looking for: Matt, walking away towards the end of the T1 hall. Mac watched him stop, talk to the breasts of a pretty Kartika stewardess.
He looked back, got on his tippy toes, saw the ASIS bird back at T1-A. Mac realised what Matt had done: he was simply covering the two departure gates that led into the departure lounges. He was waiting for Mac – knew he was heading for Makassar, knew it wouldn’t be on the major airlines.
Mac would have to go through them, and if they’d been doing their job they would have looked through the surveillance tapes from Changi and realised what Mac now looked like.
Mac couldn’t get through.
And he couldn’t not go to Makassar.
He had about two minutes to make a decision. He hadn’t even checked in.
He saw a local bloke in a sports jacket and cream chinos. Black shoes, strong build, wide in the stomach and hips. Five-ten, about Mac’s age. Radio on his belt. A cop.
Mac drilled further into the large group, pushed his hand into his pack and came out with the Heckler and the hip rig. He wouldn’t have time to set the whole thing up, thread it through all the belt loops, so he stripped the belt component out of the holster and put the holster and Heckler under his belt, just in front of his right hip bone. He took the specs off, trousered them. Then he edged up to the cop, keeping his back to the ASIS bird. Pulling out the Customs ID in his right hand, he folded it back slightly to obscure the picture page.
Then he leaned into the cop, kept his voice down. ‘Federal Agent Collier, AFP.’
He showed the bent-back ID, fl ashing the photo and badging, but looking around – furtive, serious – as he put the ID into his inside blazer pocket. The cop looked Mac up and down, looked into him.
Mac faked it out, leaned into the bloke’s ear. ‘This is embarrassing, but my radio’s rooted. One of those useless American jobs.’
The cop warmed to that. All cops have problems with radios. All cops think it’s the fault of some offi ce guy who’s trying to save money.
Mac did a cop-like hands on hips, let the bloke see the Heckler, put his hand out. ‘Name’s Brandon – with the JOC.’
They shook and Mac watched the wheels whirr, watched Samo realise that he was talking with someone from the Jakarta Operations Centre. Mac had Samo’s attention: this wasn’t about catching mules or credit card fraudsters. JOC oversaw the counter-terrorism joint effort between Indonesia and Australia.
‘Some pen-pusher’s still lying in bed, getting his beauty sleep, huh?’ snarled Mac. ‘And here’s us out here at sparrow’s, and they give us radios that don’t work!’
Samo shook his head, looked away disgusted. Mac wondered how long a graveyard roster lasted for Jakarta cops. A month? Two months?
Working through the early hours hurt no matter what country you lived in.
‘They got a million people a week going through this airport, and I have a team of ten! Ten! I don’t believe. I don’t believe!’
Samo was just getting going. ‘You say that to senior person, but they not know. Why they care?’
He did the big Javanese shrug, a gesture that made the Gallic shrug look like a mere tic.
‘My people are all over the shop,’ said Mac. ‘Can I get some backup on my detail?’
‘Sure,’ said Samo.
Matt and the ASIS bird walked towards one another from opposite ends of T1. Matt was wearing a pair of dark chinos and a pale blue polo shirt. No gun – ASIS offi cers weren’t allowed them unless they were S-2. The bird was in her Levis and an Aussie surfer T-shirt.
Mac was waiting for them. As they got within twenty metres of one another, Mac broke out of the group he was camoufl aged in and walked straight up to Matt. Into his face. Pretended to be surprised and scared. He turned, ran.
Matt hadn’t been sent out to physically restrain Mac. He’d been sent to do words in shell-likes and escort him to a Sydney-bound fl ight. But he reacted like anyone would. He gave chase. Mac pretended to run for three strides and saw the ASIS bird start to react towards him. Mac suddenly stopped and turned. Matt was caught unawares, couldn’t stop his momentum. Mac grabbed him by the front of the polo shirt and the forearm, pulled the young bloke down on him.
They went to the white lino. Matt struggled, but he was on top of Mac and couldn’t get off.
Mac smiled in the youngster’s face. Said, ‘Steady there, fella. Steady!’
To Samo it would look like Matt was attacking.
‘Fuck you, McQueen. Fuck you!’ said Matt as he grimaced with the effort of the struggle.
Mac made sure he couldn’t move. The ASIS bird made it to the two men and didn’t know what to do, so Mac grabbed her ankle with his free hand. Made it look like she was stomping him as she struggled for balance.
‘Help!’ yelled Mac, and Samo’s team moved in.
The fi rst one to hit was a female called Suzi. She had a ten-inch snout and a set of teeth like a wolf. She had something personal against Matt’s rib cage, thought Mac. The boob-talking thing must have done the rounds.
Mac sat at the front of the 737, which he didn’t like. But he did his breathing exercises and attempted to relax, analyse everything, see if there was something about his life he hadn’t completely screwed up in the past fi ve days. The Soekarno-Hatta madness had worked out but in the excitement he didn’t have enough rupiah to buy the ticket so he’d paid with the DBS Visa card.
The Service and the CIA and anyone else who had been taking an interest in Mac over the last few days would now have a known alias and an electronic funds trail. Which meant he was probably travelling into a welcoming committee in Makassar without a weapon – he’d dumped the Heckler rig in a concourse bin at Soekarno-Hatta after the kerfuffl e made the security bulls move in.
Sometime during the next twenty-four hours he’d be going back to the Pantai. An option with its own problems.
Mac munched on fresh fruit, drank bad coffee. Thought about where Sabaya might fi t.
Mac had started with the Service at the end of the Cold War, and in those days the emphasis had been on trade, fi nance, technology and political infl uence. It was clever, intricate espionage, and it was what Mac was really trained for: infi ltration, surveillance, covert ops, snatches, provocations, bribes and blackmail. Mac’s mentors were Cold Warriors
– people like Rod Scott – and their craft was the subtle stuff. Finding key infl uencers in South-East Asia and turning them, fi nding the bad guys and making them doubles, manipulating the media as much as possible
– pretty simple when you could ‘leak’ the inside story to journalists at the Jakarta Marriott, see it turn up in print the next day.
The Service would fi nd where the illegal technology transfers were taking place, and why a rival nation might want a certain microprocessor or titanium self-sealing O-ring. In those days, discovering why the Chinese or Koreans were trying to infl uence a certain Indonesian political or bureaucratic fi gure was almost as informative as if you had one of your people inside their organisation.
The main mission was to secure South-East Asia against Chinese political, military and economic hegemony.
That was during the 1990s. The Chinese economy was in double-digit growth and their MSS people were stealing as much mid-level technology as they could from the US, Germany, Japan, the UK and France. The Chinese became brazen but they were stealing ‘secrets’ that were well behind the cutting edge – sometimes three or four years out of date. Mac remembered the time a group of Chinese posing as scientists had followed a photographic and imaging trade show around the South-East Asian circuit, stealing as much as they could.
The scientists were going down to the Agfa booth, pretending to be looking at something and dipping their ties in an improved fi xing solution. The Service lost interest in technology transfers when Mac and others realised that the technology companies were employing Indonesian and Malaysian go-betweens to fence illegal technology transfers. The companies were making money from the Chinese by selling them old rope. It took the fun out of it.
Mac had two main identities during this era: textbooks executive and forestry consultant. Textbooks allowed you cover for just about any trade show or discussion with a government offi cial. And forestry gave you access to the interior of countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines while creating an excuse to be around ports, rail yards and trucking depots. In the embassy, he was Alan McQueen, second assistant trade attache. He was plain old Macca with a face that blended in the crowd.
But when September 11 happened, ASIS hit a snag. The Prime Minister’s offi ce needed a ton of intel and analysis, and they needed it yesterday. They needed counter-terrorism intelligence, what was known as CT. Australia was camped on the doorstep of the world’s largest Muslim nation, which meant some fast re-aligning of regional interaction. It meant knowing what the hell was going on. And the people with the CT answers weren’t the spy agencies of ASIS or ASIO or the military intel operations. The organisation with both the intelligence and operations reach into Muslim South-East Asia was the Australian Federal Police. Which is why Mac had found himself hunting Abu Sabaya. The Service needed to win back some infl uence and favour in Canberra by proving it could partake in America’s ‘War on Terror’. And the Service dreamed up an adventure.
Mac was in the middle of a dangerous infi ltration of a Chinese front company called Mindanao Forest Products when he was called into a meeting at the embassy in Manila one afternoon. Sitting in the embassy intel section meeting room when Mac walked in was Tony Davidson, director of the Asia-Pacifi c region. A large grey-haired bloke with jowls who had once opened the bowling for Western Australia, Davidson was the spook who controlled the spooks across India, China and South-East Asia – Australia’s most important region. The ASIS station chief for the Philippines, Joe Imbruglia, leapt up to greet Mac, who was dusty, sweaty. Imbruglia had one of those smiles Mac’s mother used to give him when friends popped over unannounced. It said, ‘Please be nice?’
Mac had liked Tony Davidson immediately. He had a soft handshake, oozed power and confi dence, and he was one of the few intel chiefs left in the Western world who actually had some operational experience. Davidson had ignored his lackeys, leaned his large forearms on his thighs, and spoke like it was just Mac in the room.
‘Tell me about Sabaya,’ he said.
Mindanao Forest Products had started as a name on Mac’s to-do list.
It was a known front company for the Chinese government’s attempt to control its offshore primary produce sources, timber being one of them. At some stage Mac was going to fi nd a way to infi ltrate some of these organisations, maybe see how far Filipino offi cials were implicated. Mindanao Forest Products wasn’t special in his list. But before he could infi ltrate the company, Mac took a phone call which led straight to Abu Sabaya’s people.
In one of those weird twists of the intel world, Mac had got a call for Thomas Winton, Goanna Forestry Consulting. It was a Service front company. You gave out the card, you played the part but you never expected to be taken seriously as a professional. Now, a representative of Mindanao Forest Products had asked to meet him. Someone wanted his forestry expertise. He would get to invoice and everything.
The fronts for Mindanao Forest Products met Mac at the Peninsula Hotel in Manila. Mac had taken Kleinwitz, the accountant. The fronts had a problem. They had a forestry concession for Mindanao – the Muslim-dominated island of southern Philippines – but they couldn’t log the place.
Mac was confused. ‘Why not?’ he asked.
‘Because they stole our machinery.’
‘They’, as it turned out, were Abu Sabaya’s crew: Abu Sayyaf.
The Chinese had got their wires crossed, had thought that some casual baksheesh in Manila would carry weight in the boonies of Mindanao.
Sabaya was an economic force. He was known to the world as a terrorist who ordered bombings, kidnappings and beheadings as a way of securing Mindanao as a Muslim state separate from Manila.
But Sabaya also operated a traditional protection service – he was a person who did for foreign loggers and miners in Mindanao what Cookie Banderjong did for those people in Sulawesi. You didn’t pay the man, you didn’t get protected.
‘So why don’t you pay him?’ Mac had asked.
The head guy had shrugged. ‘Don’t know where these people are.’
Abu Sabaya was no dummy. The shareholders and CEO of the forestry company were no names he’d ever heard of. His bankers and accountants ran the databases, did the numbers. Couldn’t get to the bottom of who ran Mindanao Forest Products. So Sabaya stole all the logging and hauling equipment shipped in for use in the Malaybalay region. Then he sat on US$10 million worth of plant and machinery and waited for the Chinese to come to him.
‘That’s what the Chinese wanted me to do,’ Mac told Davidson.
‘Find Sabaya, broker an agreement, get the machinery back and get the logging started.’
Davidson looked at him. ‘How you doing?’
‘Logging’s started. First invoice was paid,’ said Mac, then winked.
Davidson laughed, pulled back and looked at a very nervous Imbruglia. ‘An intelligence offi cer out there making money – the accountants are going to love that, eh Joe?’
Imbruglia was sweating, nervous, not a man who understood how fi eld people preferred to interact. All he knew was that one of the most powerful men in Australian intelligence was in his meeting room, having a laugh with his most independent-minded offi cer. An offi ce guy’s nightmare.
Davidson’s face slackened. He turned to an offsider who handed him a piece of paper. Davidson looked at the paper, handed it to Mac.
Mac, on high alert, looked at it, whistled low.
‘Had a meeting last night with some people from the American side,’ said Davidson, leaning back and sliding down in the Aussie hardwood chair. ‘They’re going in hard in Mindanao – already in build-up mode.’
Mac nodded. He’d seen the circulars about Zamboanga City and the old school site being prepped by US Army engineers. Now he was looking at a plain piece of foolscap with a few simple lines of typeface printed on it. It mentioned a thing called Operation Enduring Freedom and listed a bunch of names as South-East Asia’s most wanted terrorists.
Abu Sabaya was Number One, ahead of Khadaffy Janjalani, Azahari Husin, Noordin Mohammed Top, Radulan Sahiron, Abu Sulaiman and Hamsiraji Sali. The remaining names included two CIA agents and a plant from Pakistani intelligence.
Davidson said, ‘I saw that name at the top, and it rang a bell. Asked around and someone told me you were on top of this bloke.’
‘I wouldn’t say on top. I met him once. But I deal with his people,’ said Mac.
‘Yeah, Alan, but there’s no intel bloke I’ve heard of who would know how to get to this guy. I mean, other than you. Right?’
Mac had looked from Davidson’s smiling face to his Service lackeys, and to Imbruglia. What Davidson was saying was, There’s no AFP or CIA person infi ltrated to the extent you are. Davidson saw a chance to win back relevance in the Prime Minister’s offi ce. And Mac was getting the tap on the shoulder.
He was used to these conversations. He’d had them in the East Timor thing, in the Kosovo shit, even the Samrazi snatch where at the last minute he’d been fi tted up with the missile-homing devices.
It was always the same. Mac was never asked directly to do what they wanted him to do. Davidson had fl own up from Canberra on short notice to get Mac to kill Abu Sabaya, but he wasn’t going to ask him.
Not in a taped and logged ASIS meeting room. They never did.
Davidson smiled, leaned forward again, said, ‘It’s actually quite fortuitous, wouldn’t you say?’
Mac said nothing.
Davidson got quieter. ‘I mean, given your background and everything.’
Mac became an expert on Abu Sabaya, studying his fi le, following his MO, doing endless face-to-faces with Mindanao villagers, small business people and cops. He enlisted where he could.
The overall impression of Sabaya? Too smart to catch, too tough to kill. Aldam Tilao wasn’t purely a terrorist, he was more a businessman who had seen the level of money fl ooding in from Saudi, Syria and Iran in the early 1990s and made a commercial decision. Sure, he was a Moro – which was what southern Philippine Muslims were called.
But his business was stealing stuff, the same business that entire families and villages around the South China Sea had been doing for a thousand years. Piracy, banditry, kidnap, protection. He’d simply switched to jihadist rhetoric and put his hand out for some of that Middle Eastern cash.
The cash had fl owed, and with it his gang and their equipment levels had fl ourished. At one point, the CIA had the gang at two hundred strong. Which, if you wanted to get technical, was a private army. He gave them a name too: Abu Sayyaf. And with the name came a political goal to make Mindanao a separate Moro state, much to the annoyance of the two existing Marxist-based Moro separatist organisations.
Everything about Sabaya was clever and ambitious. He didn’t just kidnap Westerners and ransom them. He rode boatloads of his soldiers into coastal resorts on huge speedboats and took off with twenty tourists at a time. In one year – between mid 2001 and 2002 -
Sabaya’s crew abducted more than one hundred foreigners, beheading several. He taunted the Americans, and the Filipino commandos who were working with them. It was classic stuff, such as offering to buy the Philippine soldiers’ brand-new American-provided M16 A3s and M4 carbines, or making an offer for the Stinger shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile systems. Offer these poor soldiers so much money that they couldn’t say no. So when John Sawtell’s boys – or the US Rangers or SEALs – had to storm Abu Sayyaf fortresses like Basilan Island, they were facing the latest American ordnance coming straight back at them.
Abu Sabaya went to ground as soon as the Americans arrived in Zam. He moved around in his trademark black T-shirt, jeans, sunnies and black backpack. He was generous and charming. The poor folk of Mindanao loved him. But the main thing going for him was the incredible support of the womenfolk. On Abu Sabaya’s patch, there was no sex slavery, no sex tourism, no freak shows with mothers and their kids. Mac had once seen a bloke crawling around a village in the boonies behind Cotabato, with no hands and no feet. He’d asked what was up and a local told him that the crawler had tried to set up a child sex freak show for Australian paedophiles. Abu Sabaya had used his own keris – a short, South-East Asian sword.
He loved money and he loved pizza.
Mac’s digging fi nally nailed down Abu Subaya’s favourite pizza joint in Sibuco and he found that Sabaya would have his pizza delivered when he was in the area.
Mac had co-opted a worker in the pizzeria, Davey, and given him a couple of the tiny microdot locators just starting to be introduced by the Americans for shipping. Mac had some false starts – hot pizza grease wasn’t great for the microdots. Davey also tried to run away. He was scared of what would happen to him if a microdot was found or someone saw him trying to insert it into the cardboard box.
Mac had found Davey and talked him round – even though the bloke had every right to be scared.
When the deal fi nally went down, the Americans had fl own Mac into Zam, dropped him on the quay with Sawtell’s boys and the Philippine Navy commandos, the SWAGs. It was a lynching party: no cops, no fl exi cuffs, no spare boat to transport prisoners, no evidence bags. No one brought a notebook. The only camera was the Coolpix in Mac’s breast pocket.
They closed on Sabaya’s pump-boat at speed. A pump-boat is a daggy wooden, high-sided harbour vessel. They’re old, slow, running on tiny diesels that give them a top speed of ten knots, if they’re running downwind. Mac had watched Sawtell stand in impatience as Arroy made the request for the pump-boat to shut down power and prepare to be boarded.
But the way it happened was this: the Philippine Navy commandos hit the spotties, yelling obscenities, and the gunfi ght started immediately. The Americans had lost a guy they called Jacko to an Abu Sayyaf bomb a couple of months earlier, and they weren’t going to screw around that night. The Philippine commandos had lost their own people.
Having worked with many special forces outfi ts over the years, Mac knew they always engaged in gunfi ghts with their assault rifl es set to ‘three-shot’ mode. But that night, Mac didn’t hear the tap-dancing of three-shot. He heard a roar of lead and felt the air shake with full-auto. The Green Berets and the SWAGs put so much lead into the pump-boat that it listed to port, dipping its gunwale into the diesel-slick waters. Mac remembered the heat and the metallic smell of human plasma, diesel and tropical salt water biting into the back of his throat.
Mac had to ask Sawtell to stop the fi ring. Arroy overheard the request on the headset, shut it down himself. Then the whoops started up.
Mac grabbed the CIA guy they called Pencil Neck and tried to get him onto the pump-boat. ‘Come on, champ, time to go to work,’ he’d urged, but Pencil Neck couldn’t move. He was vomiting, crying. A bit of human scalp had stuck to the sleeve of his pressed battle fatigues.
Mac fl icked it off, ruffl ed the guy’s hair. But Pencil Neck was frozen to the seat.
Mac, Sawtell and a couple of Yank troopers went instead, slipping on the blood-covered decks of the listing pump-boat. They turned over bodies, Mac insisting that a semi-submerged corpse be brought to the surface.
Mac photographed faces, some of them torn off by gunfi re. One had lost an arm. He found it near the prow, fake gold Rolex glinting under the SWAGs’ spotties. They found a black backpack fl oating, black sunnies inside.
He remembered getting increasingly agitated. Mac had two corpses on the foredeck of the pump-boat, but neither of them was Abu Sabaya. They searched the area for an hour. Mac asked the SWAGs commander, Mig Arroy, to get a frogman down there. He sent down two with their marine spotlights. Sawtell wanted to know what they were looking for.
‘I told you – a body,’ said Mac.
‘We got ‘em, ain’t we?’
‘How many were we shooting at?’ asked Mac.
Sawtell called Arroy to his boat where they confabbed. Pencil Neck joined them.
Mac said, ‘I’ve got two bodies.’
‘There were fi ve on the pump-boat,’ said Sawtell.
‘I saw four,’ countered Arroy.
‘There’s a couple of bodies down there,’ said Sawtell. ‘They’re just not fl oaters. One of them’s Sabaya.’
‘You know this?’ asked Mac.
Sawtell nodded, unsure.
Arroy said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to retrieve all the bodies out here. No way.’
One of Sawtell’s guys leaned out of the pump-boat’s wheelhouse, waved a blood-splattered pizza box. ‘Mmm – Hawaiian Surprise. My favourite.’
Pencil Neck vomited again.
Mac leaned back in his seat as the 737 dipped slightly and headed into Makassar. He churned over the Abu Sabaya story. It had been the turning point of his career in more ways than one. He’d done more positive work in East Timor, but the Abu Sabaya thing had got him a name among the Americans and British as well as the Filipinos and Indons. It had given him an aura he hadn’t wanted, a reputation he’d never asked for. He hadn’t killed a major terrorist – he’d stood there and watched a bunch of soldiers cut a bunch of bandits to ribbons.
He wasn’t ashamed, but he wasn’t proud. To Mac’s mind, if you wanted to wage war on terror you had to stand for something a bit better.
It didn’t mean that Catholicism should win out, or that Islam should lose. His mother used to say that being Catholic didn’t mean you were always right – just that you’d always try to do the right thing.
The offi cial US-Philippines statement said Sabaya had been killed in a gunfi ght along with two others, and that four people had been captured. Actually, no one had been captured. It hadn’t been that kind of mission. It was the kind of rubbish intel people leaked into the media to make other terrorists nervous, to fl ush out traitorous types who might be ready to squeal before the supposed prisoners started to sing.
Mac was debriefed but not asked for a report. It wasn’t going to be logged, at least not as an assassination. Davidson phoned, congratulated him on the whole thing, laughing at the pizza delivery aspect. Then he’d asked Mac for an informal report.
Mac’s report was written on a piece of white printer paper, with a blue ballpoint. It had been pouched to Canberra. It was short. It said, We killed two Abu Sayyaf people. Abu Sabaya was not among them. He planted a black backpack containing a pair of sunglasses – he wanted me to fi nd it. His death is a hoax.
As the Lion Air fl ight descended, Mac wondered back to his paranoia about there being a mole in the Service. He mulled, making connections and wondering who else in the Service had seen that note.
The passengers from the Lion Air fl ight moved from the heat of the tarmac into the cool of the Hasanuddin terminal. Mac stayed mid pack, looking for eyes.
He passed through the terminal and out into the heat again. It was a minute past eight am and just another day in the Sulawesi steam bath. The cabs were lined up, about twenty of them. People milled, still no eyes.
Mac took the third cab. He gave an address in the south of the city.
Taking the seat directly behind the driver, Mac dug the cheapo cellular phone out of his pocket, hit redial and patched through to Camp Enduring Freedom in Zam. Asked for Captain John Sawtell. Sorry, said the bloke, he’s in the mess.
Military types never seemed to stop eating.
He sat back, thought about his day. He needed to know what was in the stolen container out of Manila, he needed to know what was in the MPS warehouse. Were they linked? He needed a gun. And he needed to know who was following him right at that minute.
In the driver’s rear-vision mirror Mac saw a red Subaru Liberty, staying back two cars. He had asked the driver to go south into the city rather than use the main westward route. The red Liberty was following.
They drove with traffi c along a two-way stretch of secondary road, dodging trucks and buses. The old Dutch-built bollards of the bridge loomed and they slowed. Mac turned and watched the Liberty, three cars back now, edging out, looking for a way to get closer.
They made it off the bridge and took a right at the next traffi c lights and drove north, the Liberty now only two cars away. They pulled up to an intersection which turned right into the major road into Makassar. It was rush hour in Makassar – eight-thirty and it was jammed up, everyone sounding their horns, trying to get onto that bridge.
Mac paid the bloke with rupiah, tipped big. ‘Thanks, champ. One more thing you can do for me.’
They got so they were almost at the front of the queue to get onto the main artery into Makassar. The lights changed to amber. They went red. Mac said ‘Now.’
They fl ew into the intersection, the driver veering to his left slightly to get in behind the last right-turning car. They made it as the main north-south traffi c started grinding through the intersection again. The red Liberty had pulled out too, into the wrong lane of the feeder road, but couldn’t get out into the inter section. The north-south traffi c started moving. Mac’s cab moved with it. He looked back, saw the driver of the Liberty with his arm across the back seat, having to reverse. The driver stopped, looked over at Mac’s cab. He was Ray-Bans – the thug in the silver Accord behind Minky’s. Mac knew that face from another time, too – but where?
There was another guy in the front seat with him. Turquoise shirt, Javanese.
The cab moved onto the bridge that would take them into Makassar and Mac asked the cabbie to get into the left lane heading north. Mac looked back and saw that the Liberty had thrown itself into traffi c to the sounds of even more horns. It was now eight cars back.
The line slowed again and stopped. Mac took a deep breath, controlled the fear, and slipped out the rear left door. He jogged along the bridge in a crouch as close beside the left of the stationary cars as he could. He was betting Ray-Bans had his car right on the centre line trying to see where the cab was. He wouldn’t trust his sidekick.
He’d be giving himself the eyes.
The bridge was three hundred metres long and Mac kept a solid pace. The only way Ray-Bans and his mate could catch him would be to get out and run, or hope the rush-hour traffi c abated. If that happened, Mac would slip back into the cab.
The traffi c stayed snarled and Mac made it onto ground again with what he reckoned was a forty-car lead on the Liberty.
The intersection on the other side of the bridge was snarled too.
So Mac ran straight across it, to the amazement of the locals who peered at him like he might be an escaped lunatic. In late November and early December, south Sulawesi had average temperatures not too different to Sydney. What was different was the humidity, and Mac could barely get air into his lungs. He got to the other side of the intersection, stopped, hands on hips, gasping, looking to the sky like he was searching for more air.
He heard a voice. Looked down. A cabbie was leaning through from his seat, smiling. ‘Hey boss. Where we going?’
Mac got into the cab. ‘Sedona, thanks, champ. Fast as you like.’
Mac wasn’t a fan of the Sedona. It was great for tourists and business people, but for someone always thinking about how to leave the place without being snatched or killed, it wasn’t so great. It was a high-rise hotel, for a start, meaning limited escape opportunities. And it fronted a major boulevard, which made it a lot easier for people to put surveillance teams in the area without being picked.
Mac was looking out over the sea and the historic Fort Rotterdam from his fourth-fl oor room at the Sedona for one reason: the Sedona didn’t always check or photocopy passports. So for now, he was Gary Penfold.
Mac turned to the paper bag on the room’s letter-writing table, emptying its contents: hair dye, nail polish remover, cotton buds and a bunch of recharge cards for the mobile. He picked up the Schwarzkopf 10N blonder – the most powerful you could get – and had a read of the instructions. Then he set to work on the mo: took his time stripping it with the nail polish remover. Next, he shook out the hair dye pack, mixed the two liquids in the bowl, got into the shower, wet his hair down, and then got out. Stood there in the bathroom painting the 10N onto his dark brown hair with the black brush, latex gloves on both hands. Dark brown, of the type he’d dyed himself with two days earlier, was about the darkest you could use and still reverse it with a chemist product. Anything darker and the only thing he could have used would be a peroxide. If he did that, he’d end up walking around Makassar with his hair all frizzy and screwed up, looking like a punk surfer.
He sat in a chair at the window, a shower cap on his head and a towel round his waist, watching the pinisi sailing boats coming and going from the old harbour between the new commercial ports. The pinisi boats were ancient working craft that still hauled sandalwood and cloves from the river systems and coastal towns down to Makassar.
The G-Shock sat on the table counting down twenty minutes. The phone was plugged in and charging. Mac picked it up and hit redial.
He got through to the switch bloke, who recognised Mac’s voice.
Bloke did a hissy sigh, so Mac wound him up, said, ‘Hi darling -
Another big sigh. A click and a clunk. Mac thought he might have to have a word in the shell-like, but then suddenly it was a voice he recognised. ‘Hello. Hello!’
‘G’day, champ. ‘Zit going?’ said Mac.
Sawtell laughed. ‘I knew it was you. We had Taylor running around worried about some psycho with an Aussie accent.’
‘I’ve been called worse.’
‘I bet you have.’
They had a bit of a chat. Mac wanted to follow through on Limo, wondering if he could contribute to the pension that traditionally accompanies a dead soldier. Sawtell said the envelope had already been sealed and went with Limo’s effects to his mum. But thanks anyway for the thought.
Then Mac tried to ease Sawtell into things. ‘That’s some shit you guys have got up in Manila, huh, John?’
‘Manila? Yeah, we’re on stand-by. SEALs are already up there.’
‘Pretty big, huh?’
‘It sounds it. Dunno what they have.’
‘It’s chemical or bio, isn’t it?’
Sawtell laughed. ‘You playing me, my man?’
Mac laughed too. He couldn’t play John Sawtell, as much as he’d like to.
‘Where are you, anyway?’
‘Lombok,’ said Mac.
‘She’s good. But still wasn’t talking when we got into Jakarta.’
‘How’s she now? She remember anything?’
‘Mate, it got taken out of my hands. Delivery boy. You know that movie.’
‘Sure do, my man. Sure do.’
‘Anyway, mate – I’ll let you go. Be careful up there though, eh?
They’ve shut down the whole port. Got DIA running the show, what I hear.’
‘Not for long.’
Mac said ‘No?’, trying to keep the curiosity out of his voice.
‘DIA are just securing the place,’ said Sawtell. ‘Doing the media and government control, what I hear. They’re waiting for the Twentieth to come in from Guam.’
Mac tried to remember. The Twentieth? What the fuck was the Twentieth?
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘The comms guys?’
Sawtell sniggered. ‘No, man. CBRNE. The big leagues. All that wacko scientist shit.’
Mac said, ‘Fuck!’ Couldn’t help himself.
‘That too. I’m on need-to-know – can’t tell my boys. You know how the guys get when they know they goin’ to be round that shit.’
Mac did know. CBRNE stood for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and enhanced Explosive. It was the skunk-works end of warfare and your average soldier would pull any sickie, come up with any kind of excuse, to stay away from anything that had CBRNE attached to it. Which was why people like Sawtell were given orders to stand-by on a need-to-know.
Mac’s heart was racing. CBRNE! He was getting a really bad feeling about the whole thing. The worst of it was who they were fl ying in – the Navy SEALs and Green Berets, hardly experts in chemical spills.
You didn’t pull in special forces to man road blocks and write press releases.
A trickle of Schwarzkopf 10N ran down his temple. ‘John – what have they lost up there?’
‘Don’t know,’ said Sawtell. ‘But Poppa Bear wants it back.’
Mac stepped out onto the waterfront drive of Somba Opu in front of the Sedona. Palms waved in the breeze that came off the Strait.
Makassar was one of the oldest ports on the planet. From a time when all trade was maritime, Makassar sat on the crossroads of the most heavily used shipping lanes: north through the Macassar Strait to the Philippines; south across the Java Sea to Lombok, Surabaya, Madura and Bali; west down the Java Sea to Singapore, Jakarta and Penang; east through the Banda to the Pacifi c. It was still strategic.
Mac wondered where Hannah’s expertise had fi tted with Garrison and Sabaya. Wondered what the MPS warehouse had in it.
Everything was coming back to maritime.
He was back in his well-fi tting khaki chinos and dark blue polo shirt. He looked at his refl ection in the hotel’s tinted windows and saw thin blond hair, short and pushed back from his face. He looked all right for someone who was exhausted, cut loose and scared to death.
He turned south, walked casually, some inoffensive Anglo waiting for his bird-watching tour bus to arrive.
If it was Mac doing the tail he’d only be looking at four or fi ve hotels, and the Sedona would be one of them. The Pantai Gapura would be another. So Mac wanted Ray-Bans to show himself.
The oldest trick in the military book also applied to being tailed.
If you’re smaller with less fi repower, don’t meet your larger adversary on the ground of his choosing. Be moving, be erratic, be nimble.
Mac knew his adversary was not going to do what he had to do in the street. He didn’t want to languish in a Sulawesi lock-up any more than Mac did. So Ray-Bans would set an ambush, do it the easy way.
And Mac would try to make the bloke show himself.
Mac ducked into a side street. One of the old Dutch lanes built in the 1700s. It was narrow, fi lled with tourists and local traders. It smelled of cloves, of incense and dirt. He found a fi sh shop, sat back in the shadows and watched American tourists around him.
The owner approached and Mac pointed at the cook in his bolt-hole, saying, ‘I’ll have what he’s having.’
The woman bowed, smiled and yelled something at the bloke in the tiny open-sided kitchen. The bloke looked at Mac. Mac gave thumbs-up. The bloke smiled. Nodded.
Turning his eyes back to the street, he saw what he was looking for. A bloke in a bright turquoise trop shirt with a bulge under the right hip made two passes, looking sideways into the restaurant. The passenger from the red Liberty was late twenties, about fi ve-eight and ninety kilos with a strong upper body but maybe not athletic.
Mac thought he detected fl at feet. He had a cop haircut and fl at cheekbones.
The meal came quick. Swordfi sh chunks stir-fried in a coriander and chilli sauce, goreng and an assortment of vegies. He asked the woman for a cold Bintang and hooked into the sword.
The cook brought the Bintang out himself.
‘Thanks, champ. This is some great tucker,’ said Mac.
The cook was chuffed. He smiled and tried to get through the language barrier. ‘Merry Carn?’ he asked.
Mac shook his head. ‘Nah, champ. Skippy.’ Mac did his bush-roo impersonation, paws up under his chin.
The bloke laughed out loud, put his hand on Mac’s shoulder before making his way back to the woks and gas rings. Javanese social interaction had two speeds: serious appraisal verging on suspicion, and outright joyous laughter. Laughter got you closer to the gods, so if you could get a laugh out of a Javanese, they owed you.
Mac fi nished the meal and dawdled with his beer, turning it round and sipping at it. Something nagged at him – some chatter he’d picked up a couple of years ago when he was posted in Manila. His barber, Ramon, had been a National Police intelligence offi cer during the Marcos era. Ramon cut hair for all the Customs guys, cops and the Port Authority bulls. He was like a clearing house for all the good chatter, all the stuff you couldn’t get from an embassy cocktail party or a keyhole satellite feed.
Which was why Mac had got his hair cut there.
He tried to get his memory working. Ramon had once told him about a discovery at Clark, the old US Air Force base about twenty minutes’ drive north of Manila. Apparently, in their haste to decommission the joint in 1992, an entire cache of hush-hush materiel had been left behind by the Yanks. There were huge underground systems at Clark. You could drive all day around the base and never see daylight. Someone forgot about an underground storage garage, and ten years later the Philippines government had demanded that the Department of Defense come back and pick it up.
Mac had remembered the last part of the conversation because Ramon had said, ‘It’s going out to Johnston – all being handled by the spooks now.’
Mac had remembered the Johnston bit only because he was dating a Canadian girl called Bethany Johnstone at the time. She was Canadian Customs intel – gorgeous, but a little on the bossy side.
Mac had chuckled at the thought of a bunch of hush-hush hazardous materiel being shipped to Beth.
He’d never taken it further. Conspiracies weren’t his thing and in truth the Filipinos loved nothing more than tales of forgotten caches of precious stuff. The story of Yamashita’s gold was a classic example.
During the Pacifi c War, the Japanese military under General Yamashita had looted gold reserves from wherever they invaded throughout South-East Asia, and they had hidden the vast caches in secret caves around the Philippines and northern Indonesia. Filipinos had grown up on stories of where the Yamashita Gold might be hidden.
The reference to spooks at Clark linked it for Mac. He wondered if the US cache at Clark was the same stuff that had now gone missing in Manila Bay. He wanted to get on the phone to Jakarta and just ask Jen to look it up. He wanted to have a serious conversation with Garvs
– cut through the bullshit. But it wasn’t going to work that way. He wasn’t going to get Jen in the shit and he wasn’t going to give Garvs a chance to order him home.
He wolfed the beer, fl attened some rupiah and stood to go.
Suddenly he had a fl ash: when he’d brokered the logging deal with Sabaya’s business negotiators, one of the entourage had been a tallish Eurasian-looking Filipino with a huge chromed handgun. He’d never said a word, just sat in the background and stared.
Mindanao ‘02 – the guy was Ray-Bans.
Mac let himself out the back of the shop and walked to the end of the rear alley. He paused, poked his head out. Looked left and right down the cross street and couldn’t see a red Liberty or men sitting in cars.
He walked west with the other pedestrians, the streets buzzing with large tourist buses and Malaysians and Americans in tour groups.
There was no sign of Mr Turquoise. Mac assumed he was around the corner, waiting in the street the restaurant fronted on to. He slowed as he approached the corner where an old man sold newspapers and magazines. A monkey sat on the guy’s cart, chain attached to his collar. He walked wider, stopped, put his hand in his pocket, pointed at a Straits Times, came out with rupiah. The guy fl ipped the newspaper into four, held it out and cupped the same hand for some brass. Mac hit him with some dough, leaned over and around and clocked the street. Mr Turquoise had moved on from the restaurant. Mac took his change, tossed one of the 500 rupiah coins to the monkey, who caught it and put it in his little canvas pouch, gave Mac a wink.
Mac looked round the corner again and saw Mr Turquoise staring into a shop window. There was no sign of Ray-Bans.
Mac walked out from the corner, exposing his position to Mr Turquoise, who was forty metres away. Turquoise stood up, turned around slow, clocked the street. Clocked Mac. Did a double take. Mac pretended to see him for the fi rst time too and, feigning surprise, turned and moved away. He kept going back down the cross street, though not as fast as he could.
Turquoise followed Mac around the corner with his hand under his trop shirt; Mac kept moving away, down the cross street. Turquoise hesitated, probably warned to be careful. Then he came after Mac.
Mac knew that fl at-footed guys tired quickly, especially in the legs. That’s why regular army never took them. A fl at-foot who tried to join the Royal Marines, the paras or a diggers’ infantry outfi t would be carried out on a stretcher. Everything was speed marches, every day was a route. There were no stragglers, no excuses.
Mac assumed that if Ray-Bans wasn’t with Turquoise, he’d be covering the Pantai. So Mac was luring Turquoise north, away from his support, diluting the numerical advantage. If things turned out Mac’s way, he’d even up the fi repower equation.
Mac got to a pedestrian crossing and waited. Turquoise closed as the light went green – he was already puffi ng and Mac moved off again, through the strollers, keeping a distance of about fi fty metres, keeping it straight. He wanted the tail at his six o’clock, giving the guy confi dence. They crossed another street. Mac paused at the light, turned and had a look; Turquoise was purple in the face, shirt getting wet. Mac wondered if he smoked. They came to a street behind the Sedona.
Mac stopped, looked around as if he was confused. He wanted Turquoise to think he had the upper hand. Wanted him overeager to end it.
Mac turned left into a cross street and slowed. They weaved between other pedestrians, Turquoise closing, wheezing, and Mac pretending to be scared and tired. He let Turquoise get within fi fteen metres and then ducked into one of the alleys, stopped, dropped the newspaper, ran straight back the way he’d come. As he fl ew out of the alley, Turquoise looked up in surprise, his right hand under the shirt, on his right hip.
Mac slapped his left hand down on Turquoise’s gun wrist, at the same time throwing a heavy open-hand strike into the guy’s throat.
Right up high near the jawbone. He straightened his arm, drove up through his right leg and threw his right hip behind it. Turquoise’s feet left the pavement and he went down on his back, winded, his eyes wide with fear and surprise. Mac pulled the bloke’s gun hand away from the holster with a Korean wrist-lock, belted the guy in the temple with a right-hand punch. Turquoise went slack.
Mac’s wrist pulsed white-hot with the impact. Agony.
He looked around. A couple of people had watched, but now quickly turned away. Mac shook his hand but it made his wrist hurt even more. He dragged Turquoise behind a pile of garbage in the stinking alley and pulled the handgun out of the holster – a Browning.
He stuffed it in his belt in the small of his back. He checked the guy’s two breast pockets in the trop shirt: nothing. Had a feel in his pants, came out with a laundry slip from the Golden Hotel. What was it with Javanese men and their goddamned pants? He looked closer and saw Turquoise’s room number on the docket. It was 414 – level four, harbour-facing.
There was something else: a scrap of paper with a series of numbers written on it in ballpoint. He trousered the scrap, checked the other pocket and laughed as he came up with a red plastic rectangle with the gold stamp of 414 on it.
He put the key and the laundry docket back, then input the eleven-digit number into his phone. A bank account? He put the scrap back too.
Turquoise mumbled something, came to, looked at Mac, and panicked. Mac slapped him with the Browning. Turquoise slumped again. Picking up the Straits Times, Mac opened it and spread it over him. Just another drunk sleeping it off. Then he took off.
Mac’s instinct was to go straight to the Golden, enlist his way into Turquoise’s room and have a good old nosey-poke. Messing around in other folks’ lives was what Mac had been trained for. But he wasn’t going to do it. He remembered Ray-Bans’ presence and general demeanour from the Mindanao Forest Products infi ltration, and he hadn’t seemed stupid. In fact, as Mac ran it through his memory, it could well have been Ray-Bans who’d engineered the doubling of Tony Kleinwitz.
So Mac wasn’t going to go stumbling into a hotel room which could be an ambush. The hotel key in the pocket? If Ray-Bans was smart enough to double Kleinwitz right under Mac’s nose, he was smart enough to plant that key knowing that Turquoise might not be up to the job.
Mac walked north, his wrist aching, sore as. He moaned softly to himself as he tried to get his wrist comfortable. It just got worse. He’d have to attend to it.
Ducking into a convenience shop, he bought arnica ointment and crepe. Continuing on, he came back to the rear of the Sedona, checking for eyes and cars. He walked in the rear loading bay, passing waiters having a smoke and laundry girls fl irting with the guys having a smoke. Pushing through saloon doors into the lobby, he checked for eyes before going through to the bar, asking for a bucket of ice to be brought poolside.
Then Mac raced up the fi re stairs, made two passes of his room door, and paused outside it: the DO NOT DISTURB was still in place and the soap-scum he’d laid across the underside of the doorknob was still set in one glob, right where he’d put it. He bent down, sniffed the door knob – no solvent smell. You could remove soap scum with solvent and then put your own scum back on. But the solvent smell would linger.
He entered the room, nervous as hell, dumped everything into the black backpack, then swung around and left.
Mac sat by the Sedona pool, in the shadows of the palms and poured the contents of the ice bucket into the plastic mail centre bag from the pack. Screwing the top of the bag closed, he laid it on his wrist.
Gasped. Sore as!
Mac leaned back, trying to let the stress go, trying to breathe out the pain.
After twenty minutes he rubbed as much of the arnica in as he could without yelling aloud and bandaged the wrist as tight as possible. Stars fl ashed in his eyes, darkness closing in from his peripheral vision. He was almost in tears as he pulled the last of the bandage around behind his thumb, held it there with his teeth and fastened it with the bandage claws.
Mac’s blue Commodore rolled up to the big security gates of the Port of Makassar. He’d hired a private car and a driver called Sami to give him a better image.
Mac got out, walked to the glass security cage, showed the MPS key. The Port Authority guy looked him up and down, put his hand out. Mac turned over the Richard Davis passport. Please don’t scan it; please don’t scan it.
The bloke could have run it through his database, the same as Indonesian Customs. But instead he wrote the passport number and Commodore rego onto his log sheet, gave the passport back and fl ipped his head slightly. By the time Mac got back to the Commodore, the boom gate was up.
They drove onto Hatta Quay, one of the huge container aprons on either side of the traditional pinisi wharves. Sami said he knew where the non-bond stores were and they drove north to a set of buildings.
Mac left Sami at the security gate for MPS and strode across a concrete courtyard until he stood in front of a shed with the number 46 painted in huge gold letters on a black industrial roller door. It was the same as a whole group of the same doors fronting four large buildings. The warehouses were subdivisions.
There was a single pedestrian door in the main one, and Mac put the key into the welded padlock and turned it. The door swung inwards. Mac pulled out the Browning behind him, turned back and went into the warehouse.
It was about thirty metres long and twenty metres wide, with natural light coming down from glass panels in the gabled ceiling.
Mac guessed it was eight, maybe ten years old.
He walked around the edges, the Browning in his left hand. He felt stupid. Confused. He’d gambled everything to get back to Makassar and here he was strolling round in circles in an empty warehouse.
Nothing but the sound of scuffs on a concrete fl oor.
He put the Browning back in his belt, breathing deep, and rubbed his temples and eyes. He was so tired; fatigued like he used to get in the Marines. Rooted.
He went through the options. He could go back to the gatehouse, try to either enlist or terrify the locals, fi nd out what the fuck was going on. But he didn’t see that as productive. He already knew they were scared of someone and he had a good idea who. He’d have to hurt someone and he’d only end up with intel along the lines of, Some guys turned up in a truck, they paid in cash, they unloaded the stuff, then they picked the stuff up, then they fucked off. And if he didn’t kill them, he’d be caught by the cops or the Port Authority bulls and charged with terrorist activities or economic sabotage. They’d think of something.
His biggest problem wasn’t Ray-Bans or Garrison or Sabaya or the Service, but allowing too many hours to go past without telling Cookie that he was back in Makassar.
He locked the door as he left, then went for a walk to get some air. Finding a path across the concrete apron and the rail tracks, he walked to the water’s edge. It was an area where standard loose cargo was stevedored – cargo that wasn’t in containers. A lot of Indonesia’s trade saw feeder ships bringing goods from secondary regional ports to the larger ports, where freight forwarders and merchants would aggregate the stuff into containers for on-shipping. That’s what MPS was for. To his left were the huge cranes of the Hatta container terminal. To his right was a breakwater made of large concrete blocks.
Two boys stood on the blocks, casting lines.
The sight of the boys put a smile on his face. They reminded him of growing up in Rockie.
He wandered over. The boys were nine, maybe ten. Skinny, cocky, big smiles. No fi sh.
Mac asked how they were doing. Their English wasn’t great, but fi shing is the same in any language. They shrugged. Mac noticed one of them had a Brazil soccer shirt. He pointed, said, ‘Ronaldo, Ronaldinho.’ Said it sagely.
The boy burst into a smile, forgot about his fi shing line and jabbered something at his mate, who was getting shitty. Brazil pointed at his friend and said, ‘Enger Land.’ He made a face.
Mac said, ‘Beckham? Rooney?’
That triggered off an excited exchange between the two boys.
Mac was amazed at the global reach of soccer. The passion was just as strong in Makassar as in Rio or Liverpool. Mac asked when Indonesia was going to a World Cup fi nal and Brazil shook his head slowly.
‘No good. No good.’
Mac turned to go. Saw the MPS warehouses had a gantry along the roof line. Realised those glass panels in the roof were hinged. He’d been ten once and he’d poked around where he shouldn’t. With half a hunch he turned to Brazil and asked if he had the courage to climb the building. Mac pointed. ‘Too high?’
The boys arced up, ten-year-old egos worn on their sleeves. Mac tried to get them going. They smiled secretly at one another. Mac pulled out some rupiah. ‘How much is one of those World Cup footballs
– you know: the Adidas ones. Silver, aren’t they?’
Brazil looked at the rupiah with eyes that said, The whole lot should cover it.
Mac folded it, handed it over. ‘We go all time. All time,’ Brazil said, swinging his hand outward, like it was no big deal.
‘Yesterday?’ asked Mac.
Brazil shrugged. ‘Sure.’
‘Must see interesting things?’
Brazil shrugged, said, ‘Sure.’
Mac looked over at MPS. Noticed a yellow tractor unit parked beside the back of warehouse 46. He pointed at the tractor. ‘Interesting things in that one?’
The boys got coy, looked at each other like, You tell. No, you tell.
Mac smiled. ‘You climbed in?’
Mac put his hands on his hips and did the disbelief-at-their-bravery tone. ‘Get some?’
Brazil nodded frantically. ‘Sure. Had lots. Much.’
Mac went for goal. ‘Show me.’
Brazil led them across the concrete boulders of the breakwater, England smiling at Mac. You’ll see how cool we are.
They got to a point where the huge boulders didn’t meet along their fl at planes, revealing a gap that made a sort of cave. Well, cave enough for a ten-year-old boy. Brazil went into his cubby-house, England smiled at Mac. You’ll see!
Brazil came out with his haul.
The blood drained from Mac’s face and he gestured urgently for Brazil to put the fucking thing down. Slow!
Brazil’s eyes went wide with fear and he lowered it, staring at Mac.
Scared. Mac called the boys to him. They were shitting themselves.
Mac could have done with the rubber undies himself. His heart jumped as they reached him. In a few years’ time they’d be fi nding human teeth on the moon, he thought.
Sitting on the concrete boulder in the early afternoon was a yellow plastic box with a built-in handle. It looked like a tradesman’s drill case, with a bit more grunt. CL-20: the planet’s most powerful and unstable non-nuclear explosive. Enough to vaporise the three of them.
Mac walked the boys back up to the MPS sheds, still panicking.
There were two ultra-high-yield explosives Mac was aware of: CL-20 and Octanitrocubane. Both of them had about twice the expansion rate of Semtex and C4, which in turn had about three times the power of TNT.
He tried to remember back to one of his specialist rotations with the Americans. They’d been shown CL-20 and Octanitrocubane and the difference between them had been explained. One of the super-explosives was highly stable and could be burned without exploding.
They used it to detonate thermonuclear warheads. The other was lighter and odourless but was highly unstable. Mac was stuffed if he could remember which one was which, but the skull-and-crossbones on the CL-20 box was enough for him.
As they walked up to the guardhouse, he kept the conversation going. Diffi cult when a couple of young boys think they’re in trouble.
He wanted to know who they’d seen around the warehouse.
Brazil managed to describe a tall Anglo man with dark hair.
England perfectly described Abu Sabaya: the teeth, the hair, the general aura. Abu Sabaya, here, in Makassar!
Mac tried to stay calm. He didn’t want to spook the boys into silence. They were almost at the guardhouse. He stopped, asked Brazil, who had better English: ‘When were these people here? One day?’ He held up one fi nger. Then two. Then three.
Brazil thought about it, rolled his eyes like he was looking for the word.
‘Morning!’ He was proud of getting it out.
‘Morning? Which morning?’
‘Today morning, today,’ said Brazil.
Mac just stared, horrifi ed, both boys recoiling from his look.
He looked Brazil in the eye, pointed both index fi ngers at the ground. ‘This morning? Today morning?’
Brazil nodded furiously, scared.
‘Two men?’ Mac held up the two fi ngers again.
Brazil nodded. Held up one fi nger and said, ‘Lay.’
Mac shook his head.
Brazil used both hands to make the international sign of the female fi gure.
‘Lady?’ Mac asked.
Mac asked what she looked like but Brazil looked confused.
‘Mama? Mak?’ asked Mac.
Brazil and England laughed at each other. Giggled.
So she didn’t look like anyone’s mother.
Brazil did his hourglass signal.
So there were three of them. He wondered where the bird fi tted in. With Judith Hannah safely back in Jakkers, he wondered who it could be. Maybe just a gangster’s moll. Some girls would put up with anything to get some excitement in their lives.
Mac thanked the boys. Pulled out some dough, but he was all out of rupiah. He showed them each a twenty-dollar greenback.
They grabbed for the dough. Mac pulled it back. Twenty dollars US in Makassar was like having a thousand dollars in Sydney.
‘You promise – give to Mak, right? To Ma,’ said Mac.
The boys rolled their eyes, looked at each other. So Mac pulled the money back, pretended to put it back where it came from. They chorused that yes, the money would be going to their mothers.
After doling it out, Mac shook their hands and then shooed them away. He wanted them off the docks as quickly as possible.
Mac got to the guardhouse, got in the Commodore and asked for the Pantai Gapura.
Mac waited until they’d driven away from the port area before he fi shed out the mobile phone and made a call. From his recollection, sensitive explosives could be triggered by something that disturbed the atmosphere. Cellular systems ran on microwaves which did plenty of atmospheric disturbing.
He patched through to Cookie’s compound in the foothills of Mount Malino. A local took the call, patching him on, probably to Cookie’s sat phone. Cookie came on the line. Clear, but with noise in the background. A helo or a logging site.
‘Mr B – it’s Mac. Alan McQueen.’ He still didn’t have the ticker to call him Cookie.
‘Ah, Mr Mac. How’s it going?’
‘Yeah, good mate,’ he lied, his wrist throbbing and his eyelids heavy with exhaustion.
‘So you’re in town?’ asked Cookie.
‘Um, yeah, arrived yesterday, Makassar. Been busy.’ Mac tried to work out how much of a lie he could tell. He was cut off from the Service, chasing a CIA bloke and the former number one terrorist in South-East Asia. Or were they chasing him? He needed the reach that Cookie could bring.
Cookie laughed, loud, like a pirate. ‘Just checking, Mr Mac. Knew you wouldn’t lie to me.’
Mac expelled a lungful of air. He needed someone on his side, couldn’t do this by himself.
‘Mr B, I need to talk.’
‘Don’t we all.’
‘Remember that hocus-pocus a couple of years ago? The story about the cache of hazardous materiel found in a secret bunker at Clark? You remember that bullshit?’
There was a pause, then Cookie said, ‘Was that bullshit?’
‘Wasn’t it?’ asked Mac.
‘It might not have been,’ said Cookie.
Which in the intel world was code for We were infi ltrated – we had eyes.
Mac wanted him to spill, but couldn’t sound too eager. ‘Oh well, I guess a bit of Agent Orange never hurt anyone, huh?’
Cookie scoffed. Too smart. He’d written the book on that ploy.
‘Mate, while I’m digging into my memory, tell me what’s going on with this Garrison prick,’ said Cookie.
‘For a start, it’s not just Garrison anymore. I think I have enough to say he’s now operating with Abu Sabaya. They’re a team.’
Mac winced, held his breath. Waited for the laughter or the scoffi ng.
‘That could make sense,’ said Cookie.
‘Sure. I never thought the guy was dead. They never found the body, never even ID’d him on the boat. I mean, did you see him that night?’
Mac didn’t respond – Cookie already knew the answer.
Cookie seemed to be thinking something through. ‘You know, if Sabaya’s part of this, then it’s big, right?’
‘That’s my guess,’ said Mac.
‘So where are they?’
‘They were here this morning. In Makassar. Don’t know where they are now.’
‘Hatta container terminal. They cleaned out a warehouse and took off.’
‘Which way?’ asked Cookie.
‘Which way did he go? Garrison?’
Mac was lost. ‘You mean, which road?’
‘No, I mean he’s standing on a dock. How did he leave? Land, sea or air?’
Mac felt like a dickhead. He’d become so exhausted, was following so many pieces of the puzzle, that he’d missed the obvious issue.
‘I – I don’t know,’ he said, wondering if he could double back, ask those boys how Garrison and Sabaya had left the dock.
The Commodore stopped at lights. There was a thud, and a thunk, and Mac was suddenly looking down the barrel of a Glock 9 mm.
He looked up into Samoan eyes. Steady Samoan eyes.
From the other side of the car, a door slammed and the phone was ripped out of Mac’s hand. Mac turned away from the Glock to a big, big smile from a big, big man. The bloke hit the disconnect button on the phone, tossed it over his shoulder. It landed on the back dash.
‘G’day, Macca,’ the big man said with forced friendliness.
”Zit going, Boo?’ said Mac, his smile icy.
Mac had inadvertently given Boo his nickname, and Boo had hated him for it ever since. It was during a Christmas party at the Jakarta embassy compound a few years back. Those who weren’t going home fi red up the barbie, cranked up the AC/DC and Helen Reddy and hooked into the piss, big time. Christmas in Aussie embassies meant the spooks, the law enforcement, the diplomats and the trade people all mushing in together. Drinking, dancing, pashing.
And it all stayed on the fi eld.
It also meant socialising with a section of Australian Protective Service known as the I-team. The I-team removed Commonwealth people abroad who’d developed drug habits or were going to paedophile brothels. That sort of thing. Their leader was a hulking ex-navy Military Policeman called Barry Bray.
Barry had annoyed some of the women at the Jakarta embassy because of his forced removal of a young woman who’d got hooked on the then-new drug that Japanese teenagers were calling ice. The woman had had the full psychotic episodes and, because the situation wasn’t entirely medical, Bray was called in.
The thing that got the women going was Barry’s use of a straitjacket before he put her on a Qantas fl ight. It was the fi rst time Mac had really noticed Jenny Toohey. The womenfolk had been going off like a bunch of hens but it was Jen who stepped up to Barry, told him to cut it out and let her and another female AFP offi cer do the escort. She’d stood there in front of Barry, poking him in the chest, giving him the old what’s what. Barry brushed her aside. Jen complained to the Ambassador, complained to the Jakarta AFP station chief. She was a piece of work, all right.
Not long after, the I-team was back in Jakarta for Christmas and wanting to party like nothing had happened. The ladies were bristling but were standing off. Barry was a large, arrogant man with a reputation for violence.
Mac had got a bit boozed, noticed that Barry had the dirtiest teeth he’d ever seen. He’d said to the Customs bird he was cracking on to,
‘He looks like Fu Manchu with a mouthful of bamboo.’
The Customs girl loved that, and the next day Jenny Toohey was calling Barry ‘Bamboo’. Saying it with a wink and a giddy-up. The girls soon shortened it to Boo. Female revenge, served with laughter.
Boo stuck. Barry tracked it back. Never forgave Mac.
Now Mac, Boo and his sidekick, Marlon, sat in a suite at the Pantai Gapura, waiting for the evening fl ight out of Hasanuddin to Soekarno-Hatta. Boo had rightly surmised that the crowded concourse of a major airport might be a better place for Mac to stage a getaway than facing off in a hotel room. So they were waiting.
Boo turned his chair around, sat down like he wanted to have sex with it. Marlon stayed on his feet. He was heavy-set in the chest and arms, about fi ve-eleven, one hundred and ten kilos and carried a handgun in a shoulder rig under a blue blazer.
‘So, Macca, what’s been up, mate?’ asked Bray.
‘Oh, you know,’ said Mac. ‘Just enjoying the weather. Sulawesi’s beautiful this time of year.’
‘Temperate climate. That’s what it is…’
Mac chuckled. He could do this all day – a former Navy MP would get the shits before he did. But he didn’t want to sit there all day. He had a call to make to Sawtell and a call to Cookie to fi nish. He was either going to talk his way out, or fi ght his way out. His wrist was begging him to do it with charm.
‘You know something, Boo?’
Bray raised an eyebrow.
‘It wouldn’t hurt you guys to just get me my phone, let me cover-off, huh?’
‘Oh really?’ Bray smiled over at Marlon.
‘There’s things happening around here that you could be helping with, rather than screwing up,’ said Mac.
‘Shit, really? You hear that Marlon?’ Bray sniggered. ‘There’s things happening round here, mate! Chrissakes, Macca. Sounds like The X-Files comes to Makassar!’
Marlon laughed and Mac winked at him. He liked that the bloke had a shoulder rig. They were about three times slower than drawing from the hip and they had the added problem of leaving the right arm straddled across the chest. That was a bonus for Mac and potential disaster for Marlon.
Boo was another story. He was getting on in years – maybe forty-seven, forty-eight – but he kept his Glock in a standard hip rig and at six-three he was still a handful on the blueing side of things. Mac had played footy with him in the ANZAC Day Aussie versus Kiwi rugby games in Jakkers. They were supposed to be special sporting events on the embassy calendar but Boo always managed to turn them into something much more. He had no problems scrapping with blokes half his age. He liked it.
Mac looked back. Dropped the funny stuff. ‘Boo, I need to make a phone call to US Army Special Forces in Zam. It’s urgent.’
‘I’ll tell you the number. You call,’ Mac pushed.
Boo stood, walked around the table, sat on it so he was looking down on Mac. He wore grimy off-white chinos, grey plastic shoes with a zip up either side and a lemon polo shirt with the penguin on it.
‘Urgent, huh?’ said Bray. ‘Only urgent thing I’ve heard about lately is Alan McQueen, on a plane, into Canberra for a little word in the shell-like.’
Mac breathed out. ‘Mate, just get me the phone. You can sit here, listen to me. What’s the problem?’
Boo and Marlon both laughed. Then Boo pointed at Mac’s wrist and said, ‘Got a boyfriend for that?’
Mac laughed and pointed at Boo’s mossy fangs. ‘Got some Steradent for that?’
Boo iced over while Marlon pissed himself.
Mac opened his hands. ‘I mean, you do fl oss, right?’
Marlon put his hand to his mouth, trying to stop the laughter.
Boo’s big forearms fl exed. It wasn’t going to be fun getting a slap from Boo, but it might be worth it in the medium term.
Mac edged forward on his chair, getting his weight onto his right thigh. Tensed. ‘You know, Boo – it’s probably one of those tropical things, like, um, moss river fever.’
Marlon spluttered. Boo’s eyes fl ashed and he threw a right-hand punch. Mac slipped under it and let loose the perfect right-hand uppercut, collecting Boo on the tip of the chin and snapping his head back. Boo fell back onto the table like Mac had just felled a tree.
Mac’s wrist screamed for respite but he turned for Marlon, taking two paces to get to him. He watched Marlon reach across his body and under his left armpit for the shoulder rig. Mac planted his left foot as he watched Marlon prepare to draw, then lashed out with a right-foot snap-kick aimed at Marlon’s right elbow, right on the point that would either break the elbow or dislocate the shoulder. His snap kick connected, one hundred and six kilos of accelerating mass behind it.
The elbow snapped back against Marlon’s chest, busting the joint, his right shoulder popping out in an anterior dislocation. Marlon’s eyes went wide with fear as he cannoned backwards into the hotel room wall, air sucking straight out of him with the pain and shock. He was unconscious before he hit the fl oor, his arm mangled and twisted into a shape it shouldn’t have been in.
Mac reached into Marlon’s shoulder rig, pulled out the Glock and stood. Boo was mumbling, trying to raise his head, his hand fumbling around for the Glock on his hip. Mac stepped over, brought his Glock down hard on Boo’s right wrist, breaking something. Boo screamed and pulled his hand to his chest. ‘ Faaarrrkkk! ‘
Mac left Boo’s gun. No time. Sweeping the room, he saw a phone, couldn’t remember the numbers. He raced to Boo’s black briefcase, riffl ed through it and found his cheapo mobile phone. Shoving the Glock into the belt of his chinos, he pulled his shirt over it, put the phone in his pocket and made for the door. Bursting through it, he came face to face with another Glock 9 mm, behind it a person he knew as Sami. The driver of the blue Commodore.
‘Fuck!’ said Mac. ‘You too?’
Sami shrugged. ‘It’s a living.’
Mac put his hands up, shook his head. Behind him Marlon was moaning, Boo was gasping.
‘Mate, I need to make a call,’ said Mac, going for his pocket.
Sami started to say something.
Then his head shifted sideways so fast his hair stayed put for a split second. It looked like a Buster Keaton gag. In place of his face was a large fi st and forearm.
A bloke in a set of grey ovies stepped in front of Mac and brought his right foot down hard on Sami’s gun wrist. Sami shrieked, moaned then passed out. The Maori turned back to Mac, raised his chin and widened his eyes.
Boo and Sami sat on the wicker-sided sofa, right forearms cradled in left hands, ashen-faced, tons of pain, no fi ght left. Marlon lay on the fl oor, in la-la land.
When Billy arrived with his medic’s backpack he set it down on the table, looked around and said, ‘Shit, guys, didn’t leave much of them.’
Billy unzipped the medic pack, went to Marlon who’d been vomiting, passing in and out of consciousness. Didn’t matter how big and tough you were, a dislocated shoulder was more trauma than the human body could handle. Billy gave Marlon a green stick of laughing gas, told him to breathe deep on it. Then he got him upright and tried to get his jacket off. Marlon screamed and passed out again.
Sonny spoke in a low voice with Hemi at the table, which had a pile of Glocks sitting on it, then he picked up his sat phone, hit a speed-dial and wandered out to the terrace. Hemi got up to help Billy.
Mac put his hand in his pocket, grabbed his mobile.
Boo looked up and said, ‘Gotcha phone, eh Macca? Hope it was worth it.’
Mac looked at him, thought about the situation. If he ever got out of this there’d be a lot of explaining to do to a lot of offi ce guys. ‘What can I say, Boo? I told you I just wanted the phone. It was urgent.’
Boo shook his head. ‘What is it with spooks? Think you’re above the law?’
‘What is it with I-team and straitjackets?’ said Mac, though his heart wasn’t in it. Wished he hadn’t said that.
‘Mate, ever seen what a girl looks like on ice? Scary, mate. That jacket was for her protection,’ said Boo.
Boo shook his head. ‘And don’t give me that shit, neither. I didn’t ask her to take that junk.’
Mac weighed the phone, watching Hemi get the blazer off Marlon, dribble coming out of the Samoan’s pale lips, his head lolling. Mac looked back at Boo and his broken wing.
Mac breathed out, said, ‘Sorry ‘bout the arm, Boo.’
Boo laughed. Big, bamboo-toothed laugh. ‘Missus won’t be happy, I can tell you.’ He let his mouth fall open in a big leer. ‘Might have to play nursie to poor old Barry. Know what I mean?’
Mac shut the bathroom door, sat on the toilet lid and fi red up the phone with his left hand. His right was so far gone he couldn’t even make a fi st with it. He scrolled down ‘dialled calls’ and hit the one starting with 63.
The switchboard bloke came on and Mac asked for Captain John Sawtell. Mr Switchboard said, ‘No can do,’ like he was relishing it.
When Mac asked why not, the bloke said, ‘He’s operational.’
Mac thought back to their last conversation. Sawtell had said he was on stand-by to go into Manila. Now the CBNRE boys needed more special forces? It must have turned weird.
‘Can you patch me through?’ asked Mac. ‘It’s urgent.’
‘Sorry, sir. Can’t do that from a civilian line.’
Mac knew the rules and why they existed. If you had the right gear and a bit of luck you could pinpoint a military handset from a civilian-originated call. Not something most people would think about, but a handy tool for terrorists and spies.
‘Can I get a message to him?’ Mac pushed.
‘I can try, sir, but no guarantees.’
Mac gave him a mobile number and the Indonesian country code.
He didn’t want to do it that way, but since the I-team had found him he fi gured there wasn’t much cover left to blow.
‘Tell him I’ve got something down here that the Twentieth are going to be very interested in, okay?’
Sonny wanted to move out. He gestured at Mac. ‘Let’s go, Chalks – got something you might want to see.’
Sonny, Hemi and Billy stowed real quick and made for the door.
In their grey ovies they looked like the Beagle Boys.
Mac lingered, wanting to ask more questions. Sonny stood at the door with a Glock behind his back and fl icked his head at Mac.
Mac held his hand up and, turning back to Boo, asked, ‘Mate, how did you track me to Makassar?’
Boo shrugged. ‘Didn’t.’
Mac looked at Sonny, and Boo got the picture quick-smart.
‘You know, Macca, let the mountain come to Mohammad,’ said Boo.
‘What the fuck’s he talking about?’ Sonny demanded.
Mac said nothing.
‘We didn’t have to chase you, mate,’ said Boo. ‘Just sit back and wait for you to come to Garrison.’
Sonny let the door spring shut, came straight over, got in Boo’s face, fi st clenched. ‘Garrison?! What the fuck you know about Garrison, huh Chalks?’
Mac put his hand out to pull Sonny back, said, ‘Boo, why were you tailing Garrison?’
Boo shrugged. He was into territory that was now confusing him too. ‘We came in from Tokyo couple of nights ago. Jakarta put us on you; briefed us on Garrison.’
Mac still didn’t get it. ‘Yeah?’
‘The theory was since you were associated with Garrison, if we could fi nd him then you’d be around the shop somewhere.’
Mac was incredulous. ‘ What? I’m not associated with Garrison.
They sent me out here to kill him fi ve days ago! Jesus Christ!’
Boo shrugged. Sorry.
Mac pulled his temper back a notch. ‘Who briefed you, Boo?
‘Nah. Internal, APS.’
‘Steinhardt and that sheila with the bloke’s haircut.’
‘No one from the Service?’
Boo shook his head. ‘They met us as at the airport, wanted us into Makassar quick-smart.’
Mac breathed out. He’d been set up. Getting briefed at the airport or a bar was how it worked when someone didn’t want the order taped and logged. It was like a briefi ng that had never happened, a
‘tasking’ that never existed. He’d bet the Australian Protective Service had no record of Boo’s assignment and no paper trail linking it to ASIS. All that would remain was a verbal connection between Mac and Garrison. It was as good as saying that Alan McQueen was rogue.
Mac rubbed his temples with his left hand. He had to think, had to think.
Sonny stepped in, menacing, gave Boo that look, said, ‘Where’s Garrison? Where is he right now?’
Sonny prepped a straight right and Mac leapt in.
‘Mate, give me a chance,’ said Boo, holding his good hand in front of his face. ‘Last I saw of Garrison, he was getting on a speedboat down at Hatta.’
‘When?’ said Sonny.
‘This morning, ‘bout ten to eight.’
‘Yeah?’ said Sonny, his nostrils fl aring.
Mac saw fear in Boo’s eyes. ‘Listen, Boo, you and I – we’ve been set up against each other. Right? Me and Sonny, we’ve been chasing Garrison. We’re not with him, right? Had a gunfi ght with his boys three nights ago,’ said Mac.
‘So Sonny isn’t going to kill you, right?’ said Mac, turning to Sonny for assurance.
Sonny said, ‘Not if someone tells me what the fuck’s goin’ on,’ said Sonny.
‘Okay, we watched them load up the speedboat – about a forty footer – with six large gear bags. An Asian bloke seemed to be running the show. There was a girl…’
Mac was getting impatient. ‘What happened then?’
‘They got in the boat, three of them, and took off west.’
‘Out to sea?’
‘Like there was no tomorrow.’
Mac could feel Sonny getting restless. Cookie didn’t pay him to try hard, he paid him for results. The way it sounded, Garrison – the walking payday for Cookie – had just sailed off into nowhere. Mac thought about the missing piece of it all. ‘Boo, what puts Garrison together with me? Where did that come from?’ he said.
‘He’s been porking your missus – didn’t you know?’
Mac’s jaw dropped.
‘She was the one on the boat,’ continued Boo. ‘I was coming to that. On the boat with Garrison. Tall, blonde. Big sheila.’
Mac had only been gulled by a female once in his career and that was early days, in China. Part of his early training with ASIS had seen him infi ltrating the Chinese Cultural Exchange Program, which was still a big tool for the People’s Republic into the 1990s.
The cultural exchanges and scholarships had become a joke. The Commies would announce that some academic, teacher, political researcher or journalist from a Western country had won one of their friendship junkets and then bring them over to China for a couple of weeks of offi cial wining and dining. They would tour them around the countryside, get them drinking at all opportunities, and wear them down with isolation, fatigue and fl attery. Then they’d lure them into compromising situations and record the whole thing, and when those people were settled back in Melbourne or San Francisco or Auckland, contact them and have a quiet word. The Chinese liked it best when their leftie was closet gay, liked children or had a money problem, gambling debts or a secret heroin habit. Strangely, a sense of being underappreciated was often the best lever for creating an agent.
The cultural exchange program was an old Soviet trick that had already been overdone by the KGB in the 1960s and 1970s, producing a stream of Marxists in culturally infl uential positions. But the MSS was still having fun with it when Mac joined up.
In the fi rst couple of years in an intelligence organisation, the brass would let the recruits have a shot at different things, to see where their aptitude lay, and also detect weaknesses. When Mac asked if he could infi ltrate the MSS exchange programs, his regional director said, ‘Go for your life.’
He posed as a freelance journalist, writing socially important articles for the Courier-Mail and the Age under the name of Andrew Stevens. He picked on subjects that the Commies loved: wealth distribution being appalling in the West; the education system not working for those with no money; women living in Melbourne’s suburb of Broadmeadows having fewer rights than females living in northern Pakistan; Australians and Americans were richer, but Cubans and Vietnamese were happier. All the classics.
Mac was amazed how easy the stories were to write. Academics spouted forth to him, statistics could be pulled out and twisted to mean what he wanted and social workers would say anything to get in print. He even won an award from a Sydney ‘peace institute’ that had been set up as a KGB front in the 1960s and had somehow become self-perpetuating after the Soviet Union imploded.
One day the letter from the People’s Republic of China arrived, containing the kind of fl attery and enlisting techniques that Mac knew well. It even quoted lines of his stories back at him. Mac got into character with a shabby suit and a bad haircut, developing a dreamy yet self-righteous manner that he remembered from the socialists at UQ. The Chinese interviewers saw a bloke who started every second sentence with, ‘I feel it’s so important that…’ and appended anti-capitalist remarks with ‘not that I’m really an average Australian’. The panel were impressed, looking at each other and nodding at each other as if to say, He’ll do.
In hindsight, the MSS probably knew who he really worked for before he landed. And wouldn’t you know it, Mac was bedridden with gastro four days into the junket and was assigned a woman to keep him company while the main junket pack moved on into the interior to look at hydro dams and tyre factories. So Mac lived in Beijing’s Palace Hotel for a week with a woman whose fi rst name contained a jumble of x s and vowels, but who was known in intel circles as Daisy Dau.
Daisy’s basic approach was to have lots of sex, drink lots of wine and fl atter a man or woman into incriminating confessions. The Palace was part-owned by the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, and it was wired like a recording studio.
When Mac got back to Canberra and debriefed, the older guys got a laugh out of that for a while. Every young Westerner got pounced on by Daisy Dau. She was beautiful, smart and sexy and renowned for comparing her male companions to Kevin Costner. Ooo, you such strong man, you so handsome, like Krevin Cottner.
Those had been early days. The Service wasn’t trying to trip him up. He was allowed to call it a learning experience. He didn’t know much and wasn’t a great pillow-talker anyway. He joked with the guys that the MSS listening post had a stack of tapes of an Aussie bloke growling energetically for about thirty seconds, followed by hours of snoring.
This Diane thing was in a totally different league. It had completely blind-sided him. Through her he had glimpsed a new life, a new way to be in the world. It wasn’t just her sexiness. She was the kind of woman you could have a laugh with and be serious with inside the space of fi ve minutes. She had an appetite and loved a drink, she was shallow and deep. When Mac was a teenager he used to fl ip through Virginia’s magazines, the ones with the sealed sections. He remembered the fresh-faced girls with their clean lines, tans and their fl ashy, confi dent smiles. He’d thought girls like that didn’t actually exist in his world, and even if they did, a boofhead from Rockie wasn’t allowed to meet them. Diane was one of those girls, and he hadn’t had to change a thing about himself.
She was the only woman in Mac’s adult life who had got him up for a dance. Even though she’d regretted it.
He’d wanted to go civvie for her.
He’d bought her a ring.
And she was screwing a rogue CIA agent.
Looking back now, there’d been lots of small clues, of course.
There were the subtle defl ections from Mac meeting Diane’s father which, in retrospect, shouldn’t have been a big deal. There were smaller things he could have picked. The fact she thought the ‘A’ in ADSL referred to ‘advanced’. Or the time he’d made a joke about IUDs – the contraceptives – and Diane, a bit drunk, continued what she thought was the joke, but punchlined with something about using Nokia phones for detonation. Mac had been confused until it clicked: she must have thought he’d said ‘IEDs’. There were only three types of people who really spoke in terms of IEDs: cops, military and spooks. Certainly, you’d have to be one of those to refl exively translate IUD to IED. You must have it in your head, on your brain, recently been at a symposium or rotated through one of the Israelis’ excellent specialist courses. The ones where they make you dress like a terrorist, show you your raw materials and then get you to make your own Improvised Explosive Device, just like they would in Syria or Malaysia.
The thing that Mac should never have overlooked with Diane was the occasion when he knew she was at a big IT trade show down at the Jakarta Convention Centre. He’d found her at the Atlas Network Security stand and surprised her. Atlas was in the same area as the stand for a computer security organisation called ASIS.
Mac had looked across, seen the ASIS – ADVANCING SECURITY
WORLDWIDE signage and quipped that the name certainly had a ring to it. Diane had touched her nose, eyes darting to the left and back again. Now why would a Pommie IT maven have even a clue what Mac had been smiling about, let alone react to it like that?
It was amazing how much information a bit of love could gloss over. But it sat there in your subconscious, waiting for the moment when you were ready. And suddenly there was the information, clear as day. A warning light you’d never miss if the agent was a hairy fella with bad breath.
It reeked of the old squirrel-grip. That and Chanel No. 5.
Sonny leaned around from his position in the front passenger seat of the LandCruiser. ‘Any big ideas, Chalks?’
Mac shook his head, ‘I’m waiting for a call from Zam. I don’t know what’s going on.’
‘That doesn’t help me, does it?’ said Sonny.
Mac shrugged, overcome with exhaustion, suffering excru ciating pain in his wrist and still in shock at the news about Diane. He was rooted.
‘Let me say that another way,’ said Sonny, getting annoyed. ‘It doesn’t help us much, right?’
‘I’ll talk to Cookie if you want, say it’s my fault,’ said Mac, looking out the window at the passing scenery.
They were on their way to Hasanuddin Air Base, the military facility that fringed the commercial airport outside of Makassar.
They’d opted for the scenic route to the Eurocopter because of certain cargo in the luggage compartment – a bound and gagged bloke Mac knew as Ray-Bans.
Sonny ignored Mac’s offer. ‘You get something out of that cunt back there and no one will have to take the blame for anything.
I mean, you’re the spook, right Chalks?’
This was the time that the military guy looked at the intel guy and said, Okay smartarse, do your thing.
But Mac had no answers. He wasn’t a torturer, didn’t get off on that kind of interaction. Hemi and Sonny had already beaten their captive to a bleeding pulp and it was amazing the bloke was still alive, let alone conscious. Mac had no insights into what the guy might know or not know. Garrison was Agency and Sabaya’s techniques were notoriously cellular, so they’d both be secretive. And Diane was starting to look like a very smart operator who would not be giving much away to the hired help. If Ray-Bans said he didn’t know what was going on then Mac was inclined to give him a fi fty per cent assumption of honesty. He didn’t think the bloke knew anything.
He was a Sabaya henchman, hired to get Mac out of the way.
‘The answer is in the Macassar Strait. Garrison and Sabaya are out there, you can bet on it,’ said Mac.
‘I don’t want to bet on anything, McQueen. Understand?’ Sonny fi red back.
Mac could see why Cookie used him.
Sonny and his team were being called back by Cookie for a mining situation – something that required a little more pressure than the local cops could exert. They’d want to know that they’d taken care of their excess baggage problems before they left.
Mac had got Boo and his boys spared on the basis that they weren’t so unlike Sonny and his boys. Mac had had to work on that, emphasising that dead APS blokes would bring POLRI’s Criminal Investigation detectives in from Jakkers. But he didn’t know about the bloke in the luggage compartment.
They drove past the turn-off to a popular family swimming hole where the waterfall emptied straight into a big pool. Mac’s mind worked overtime, struggling to work out what Garrison and Sabaya were doing, what the missing container in Manila contained and why Garrison had Diane working as a double agent months before this thing had gone down. He had to stay clear on that without the feeling of betrayal muddying everything.
His immediate goal was to create a scenario where the guy in the back didn’t have to die.
Mac leaned forward, whispered in Sonny’s ear, ‘I reckon I can get something out of this bloke if we’re alone. You guys go on, leave him with me. Whaddya reckon?’
‘I don’t care if you want to fuck him, make him your missus. All I want is something I can take to Mr B. Got that?’
Sonny’s sat phone trilled and he took the call before passing it back to Mac.
‘Hello,’ Mac rasped.
Cookie Banderjong wanted Mac to stay in touch. Reckoned there was still life in the Garrison-Sabaya thing. Said, ‘Don’t be a stranger, mate. Remember your friends.’
Cookie was really saying, The trail’s dead for now but if you come back to this island, you’re dealing with me.
Mac’s head spun and he struggled to breathe properly.
As Cookie was signing off Mac had a sudden thought. ‘Mr B, if the US military is shipping something to Johnston, what are they doing?’ he said.
Cookie chuckled. ‘They’re burying their mistakes, mate.’
Mac said nothing; he was beyond riddles.
‘Johnston Atoll is a US Army base about two hundred miles south of Hawaii. It’s a huge incinerator plant out there in the Pacifi c. Hush-hush, run by DIA,’ said Cookie.
‘What do they burn?’ asked Mac.
‘All their CBNRE stuff – diseases that don’t work, explosives that don’t meet stability specs, dogs with two heads. All that scientist shit.’
Mac was totally awake again, his heart thumping.
Behind him, someone groaned. A long, animal-like exhalation of pain.
‘Mr B, the secret cache at Clark – what was it?’ demanded Mac.
‘Oh that. About four thousand tons of VX gas,’ said Cookie. ‘Nerve agent. Nasty shit.’
Mac tore the grey duct tape off Ray-Bans’ mouth, sliced the white fl exi cuffs from his wrists, and watched him slump to the carpeted fl oor of the HiAce van. It was late afternoon, the temperature was low thirties, and dust seemed to fl oat on the heat. Wafts of kerosene and scorched rubber came from the helos and military air-lifters around Hasanuddin Air Base and the F-111s from the Indonesian Air Force’s Eastern Command screamed as they took off.
The HiAce sat beside Cookie’s LandCruiser in a private hangar that looked over the whole spread of Hasanuddin Air Base and the airport.
A security bloke strolled with a German shepherd about eighty metres away near the huge sliding doors.
Mac put a bottle of water in front of Ray-Bans. Watched the guy squirm and wriggle to get comfortable. Blood was smeared down his dark red polo shirt and across the thighs of his cream chinos, and his right eye was puffed, dark purple and about to get a nice yellow yolk in the middle. Struggling onto his right elbow, he pushed himself up against the wall of the HiAce with his boat shoes. He put his hand out for the water, revealing a heavily muscled arm. Couldn’t reach it, so Mac opened the top and gave it to him.
Mac stayed at arm’s length. The guy was an athlete and Mac was in no shape to go close-range with him.
Ray-Bans drank, convulsed slightly, then wiped his mouth and spat. A tooth bounced on the black nylon carpet.
‘This when I die?’ he asked, in a London accent.
‘That depends on both of us,’ said Mac.
Mac had developed paranoid ideas about Ray-Bans for the last couple of days. It wasn’t just that the bloke was put together and looked like he knew what he was doing. It wasn’t just that from Minky’s place and all the way up Sulawesi and into the highlands the two had been playing cat and mouse. It wasn’t even that Mac had fi nally clicked and realised that the bloke was part of the Sabaya retinue during the Mindanao Forest Products infi ltration. The big thing Mac had been overlooking, and which hadn’t occurred to him during this totally out-of-control mission, was that Ray-Bans might be a lot more like him than he was comfortable with. He had the same aura Mac drew around himself in the fi eld: the unknown quantity, the person who could be from anywhere, doing anything. About the only people who noticed the kind of blandness Mac affected were other spooks.
‘Smoke?’ asked Mac.
‘Bad luck, I don’t,’ said Mac.
They both laughed, Ray-Bans through a busted-up mouth. He stopped himself quick.
‘What’s your name?’ asked Mac.
‘Call me Paul. Yours?’
‘Then I’d have to kill ya,’ said Mac.
Paul snorted, looked out the HiAce window, still casing his surrounds. He was a good-looking man up close, even with the facial he’d got from Hemi. He could have starred in General Hospital, sort of an Asian Rick Springfi eld.
‘You knew during the Mindanao Forest thing that I wasn’t a forestry consultant,’ said Mac.
Paul looked at the fl oor. ‘Didn’t know what the fuck you were, tell the truth. You were a pretty good deal-maker for an impostor.’
‘You liked that?’
Paul looked at him with one eye, nodded. ‘Chinese liked it too.’
Paul grinned, looked away. ‘Embarrassed him, getting a pale-eye to broker something between a Filipino and the Chinese. Didn’t really live up to some of his ethnic ideas…’
‘But you let it go.’
Paul shrugged, slugged at the water, winced slightly.
‘You NICA, one of Garcia’s boys?’ asked Mac, referring to Philippines intel.
Mac waved the Browning. ‘I’m the one with the gun. In the movies, that’s good for me, bad for you.’
Paul smiled, looked Mac in the eye. ‘I’m not NICA.’
Paul shook his head.
The van was getting stuffy and Mac got up, pulled the sliding side window back. Let some air in, sat down.
‘Paul, there’s something worth knowing. I’m really tired, really stressed. I’m even a bit emotional,’ he said, looking down at the Browning on his lap. ‘I’m not going to sit here all day asking questions like I’m on a date with a diffi cult bird. I’m sure you’d like to get on your bike too, huh?’
Paul nodded, said, ‘Mate, I’m Old School.’
Mac looked at him. Old School was intel-speak for MI6 – the oldest intelligence organisation in the Western world and the one that most others were in some way modelled on. ASIS, the CIA, Mossad and the Canadian SIS had all turned to MI6 for guidance during their set-up phase.
‘SAS, paras?’ asked Mac.
‘The looks and the accent…’
Paul shrugged. ‘Mexican father, Filipina mother. Grew up in Manila, high school in London. Usual shit.’
‘Spanish, Tagalog, good Yankee accent?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘The expendable ones usually are.’
‘Tell me about Garrison,’ asked Mac.
‘Don’t know much. He’s apparently Agency but a bit unortho dox.
‘Weren’t briefed on Garrison?’
‘Basic fi le. I know he was in Burma doing stuff with the junta and the Chinese. But my entry point was Sabaya. He’d been off the map since you fi nished him.’
‘That’s not what they say.’
‘What do they say?’ said Mac.
‘Then I’d have to kill you.’
They looked at each other for two seconds.
‘Sabaya came back on the map again in ‘05,’ said Paul. ‘He’d been lying low down in Sulu for a couple of years. Been into Burma, somehow hooked up with Garrison. But Garrison was never my end.
Sabaya was my end.’
‘Where does the girl, Judith Hannah, fi t in?’
‘We met them at the airport ten days ago,’ said Paul, pointing out the window. ‘Garrison was shooting her up with something, so I hear.
He wanted something from her.’
‘What were they using?’
‘Don’t know – scopolamine, I guess. That’s the Agency thing, isn’t it? But I wasn’t around. I was chasing you round the manor, remember that?’
‘What did they want from her?’
‘Don’t know. I never got to Sabaya’s inner circle. He thought I was a mercenary, hired muscle.’
Mac suspected the guy was stonewalling, but he pushed on. ‘What about the other girl?’
‘I tried to stop that, believe me. I’m Army, mate – got a policy about kids.’
‘No, not Minky’s girl. Adult, blonde, English. Calls herself Diane.’
Paul shrugged. ‘Who’s she with?’
‘Garrison, as far as I know.’
Paul made a face. ‘Just ‘cos she sounds English, mate, doesn’t mean she works for the English. Know what I mean?’
‘Sorry, mate. Don’t know about an English girl.’
Mac thought about it. ‘So what are these blokes up to?’
‘You can’t ask that in the Sabaya camp,’ said Paul. ‘They’ll drop you for that.’
‘What’s in that old mine?’
‘Nothing. Fucking beats me.’
‘I had a quick look a week ago – empty. They’ve laid track in there, but there’s nothing in it.’
Mac was exhausted, close to passing out. He stood to a crouch, pulled the sliding side door back, got out backwards and gestured for Paul to follow.
They walked to the hangar door. Mac reached into his chino pockets, came out with about four hundred US dollars. Handed it over.
Paul took it, turned to go, said, ‘I owe ya.’
‘No worries, champ.’
Paul looked down at Mac’s wrist and nodded. ‘Got a girlfriend for that?’
‘Go on,’ said Mac, gesturing with the Browning. ‘Fuck off.’
Defi nitely paras.
Mac headed through the military checkpoint of Hasanuddin in the HiAce and drove into the hinterlands behind the airport thinking back to his conversation with Cookie. Cookie had called VX nasty shit. But it was way beyond nasty. A substance that attacked the central nervous system, VX was something the most depraved scientists had concocted and yet even the most psycho generals and politicians could never fi nd an excuse to deploy. Death started with a runny nose and a headache. Before you knew it, your bladder and bowels were doing their own thing. Then your lungs wouldn’t work. If you inhaled it, you died in about fi fteen minutes. If it landed on your skin in very small doses, you’d die in four to ten hours. If you ingested it by way of drinking or eating, you might have two or three days up your sleeve.
The scientists had a measurement called a Threshold Limit Value for how much an average adult man could be in contact with the agent for an eight-hour day in a forty-hour week. The TLV of VX nerve agent was 0.00001 milligrams per cubic metre of water, an infi nitesimal amount – essentially a bit of vapour in the air. It was odourless and colourless.
VX had been developed to do one thing: wipe out entire urban populations while leaving the buildings and other infrastructure in place.
The big weakness of VX was the way it had to be used. If Mac remembered correctly, the optimum usage of VX entailed it being turned into trillions of microbe-sized droplets so it was suspended in the air which then had to drift with air currents over the unlucky populations. To make VX as deadly as it could be, you needed it to be sprayed like fertiliser. The technical term for this state was an aerosol.
Aerosol was easy to say, diffi cult to achieve. Perhaps not so hard with a container of VX wrapped in CL-20.
He found a lay-by and parked by a river under the trees, out of the heat of the afternoon. Then he got in the back of the van, laid his head on his backpack and felt himself going under.
Mac awoke with a start, panicked by the ring-tone of his Nokia. It was dark and hot, he was drenched in sweat and his right arm was useless from pins and needles. An eerie yellowish light illuminated the HiAce. He fumbled, got the glowing phone, croaked, ‘Yep.’
‘McQueen. Sawtell. You called.’
Mac tried to clear his head. What’s the time? Where am I?
‘Ah, yeah John. ‘Zit going?’ said Mac, trying to push his hair back with his bad hand. He couldn’t make a comb.
‘Good, my man. Uh, you okay?’
Mac could have cried. It seemed like forever since anyone had asked him that. ‘Mate, I’m all over the shop. I need… I mean…
Look, where are you?’
‘Come on, McQueen.’
‘Okay, if there’s a guy from the Twentieth nearby, tell him this. Tell him Abu Sabaya is on a ship with a container of VX and twenty cases of CL-20.’
‘Sabaya? Alive?! ‘ said Sawtell.
‘What I said,’ replied Mac.
‘Well, how? When? Um, I…’ Sawtell paused.
‘Do this for me, champ, and I won’t bother you again. Swear to God,’ said Mac, his head clearing.
Mac heard Sawtell exhale. Probably tired too. Mac looked at his G-Shock: 1.07 am. There was background noise behind Sawtell. Mac bet he was in a situation room with the Twentieth, DIA, the SEALs and Green Berets, and nowhere to deploy.
‘Shit, McQueen. Sabaya?! ‘ said Sawtell, still reeling from the revelation.
‘He’s with Garrison,’ said Mac. ‘They left Makassar this morning with a bunch of cases of CL-20. I reckon they’ll RV with a container ship carrying some lost goods from the US Army.’
Sawtell’s breath hissed over his teeth. ‘Gimme a second, okay?’
Mac heard a raised voice. A big pause. Some murmured questions.
Bigger pause, then a Southerner’s voice came on the line: ‘Hatfi eld.
Twentieth support command. Who’s this?’
‘Call me Mac.’
‘Don’t jerk me around, son, I said who is this?’
‘Ask Sawtell.’ Mac wasn’t going to get into a game of proving who he was. He’d let Sawtell vouch for him.
Hatfi eld turned away from the receiver and Mac could tell from the bloke’s tone that Sawtell was giving a decent rendition of who Mac was.
Just as well Sawtell had no idea what the Commonwealth of Australia thought about Alan McQueen at that minute.
Mac heard Hatfi eld say, ‘This is it, last chance, Captain. You quite sure?’
Pause. Mac could envisage a bunch of special forces jocks, CBNRE propeller heads and a team of poker-faced DIA spooks all looking at Captain John Sawtell, thinking: There goes the oak leaves.
Hatfi eld came back on the line. ‘Okay, tell me, Mr McQueen. What have we got?’
Mac told him about Abu Sabaya being alive. ‘You remember the Sabaya slaying in ‘02?’
‘Yes, saw the news,’ said Hatfi eld.
‘Captain Sawtell was there.’
‘That’s not important,’ said Mac. ‘Thing is, sir, I developed a lot of the HumInt on Sabaya. I met him once, brokered deals with him.’
‘He always had a much bigger commercial operation than he did a terrorist one. Terrorism was his calling card, but everything he did, he did for money.’
‘Ransoms, wasn’t it?’
‘Sure, and protection rackets for the miners, oil companies, what have you. But his biggest moneymaker was piracy, though not piracy of the bluewater kind. What he did was much smarter. He infi ltrated the stevedores and freight forwarders and had some Philippine Customs people on his side too. He’d switch containers before they even got on a ship.’
‘Yeah. So there’d be a container of DVD players shipping out of MICT for Long Beach -‘
‘MICT, sir. Manila International Container Terminal.’
‘So the container would ship, and it would be a legitimate box with the right weights and scans. But it would be fi lled with logs or old TV sets. The freight forwarders and importers wouldn’t know they’d been robbed until the containers were opened in Anaheim.
Sabaya wouldn’t even touch the containers. They’d be on another boat, shipping for Singapore or Brisbane, the consignment sold already.’
‘Very smart. His best trick is the microdot tracking. I bet you can’t get a signal, right?’
‘Sabaya worked out early how to nullify that whole microdot thing. I think he did it by degaussing the containers with a cheap electromagnet. That make sense?’
Mac heard a sigh of annoyance. ‘Yes, Mr McQueen. That makes sense.’
‘If it’s any consolation, sir, MICT is one of the most secure dock facilities in the world. Can’t take anything in or out without it being weighed, photographed, scanned and logged.’
‘I know. That’s why it was cleared to ship our stuff.’
‘Sir, Sabaya’s the best. He knows he can’t get the containers through the security gates so he fi nds what he wants on the docks and onships them instead.’
Hatfi eld was enlisted. Mac could feel it. He’d fl own in from Guam to fi nd a lost load of VX and fi nally someone was telling him something he didn’t know. The Twentieth support command had enormous powers in the United States and beyond. Hatfi eld could shut down ports, impound 747s, close down entire trucking hubs if he had reasonable grounds. But right now he had nothing. Mac wanted Hatfi eld to need him on one of those Army helos.
‘So where’s my container?’ said Hatfi eld.
Bingo! thought Mac. ‘My guess is it was on a ship in the Macassar Strait this morning. It was met by Sabaya and Garrison.’
Mac sensed eyes, looked up: saw a face peering in the van window.
He freaked, grabbed the Browning, loosed three rounds. The glass imploded and the noise woke the forest. Mac rose, Browning in a cup-and-saucer, his wrist aching from making a grip. He opened the side door and switched off the interior light. It was pitch-black outside and, changing the Browning to his left hand, he dropped to the ground. He walked a few paces away from the van, ears rushing, heart palpitating and unable to see a thing. Then he tripped on something.
Looking down he saw it and let his gun arm drop. It was a macaque, minus a head and right arm.
‘Sorry, champ. Not your night.’
He’d always liked the macaque for its intelligence and soulfulness and the way it could wink. It saddened him to know that the animal was the preferred test-bed for the type of people who had created VX nerve agent. Didn’t seem right: bunch of psychos in lab coats standing around, seeing how fast one of the magnifi cent animals lost bowel control. His sister Virginia had always teased him about liking animals more than people. Didn’t seem so strange to Mac.
He wandered back to the van, sat down and heard the phone going haywire. Grabbed it, said, ‘Yep?’
‘That you, McQueen?’
‘Holy shit, son, you okay?’
Mac tried to say something, but it wouldn’t come. ‘Umm, yeah,’ he said eventually.
‘Talk to me, son,’ said Hatfi eld.
‘Yeah. Fuck. Just killed a monkey.’ There was something in the air choking him up. Fucking pollen.
Hatfi eld talked him back into the game, talking about long nights, tough missions and the need to focus to overcome disappointment.
‘Gotcha. I’m good. Yep, good to go,’ said Mac.
Hatfi eld had more questions. ‘Captain Sawtell said something about CL-20?’
‘They have about twenty cases of the stuff,’ said Mac.
‘That’s a lot of ordnance for something that was supposed to be experimental.’
‘That’s Sabaya for you. He’s a piece of work.’
Mac thought about it. Didn’t want to throw up a false alarm. ‘If I had to bet on it, I’d say they were heading south, across the Java Sea.
For Surabaya, maybe Fremantle.’
‘You know what that much CL-20 would do to a container load of VX?’ said Hatfi eld, almost whispering.
‘Damned right, son. Damned right.’
Mac made good time to the Pantai, then drove up and down the road on the main entrance, looking for cars and eyes. There was a white Commodore with two men in it. Australian by the look of it.
He parked at the front doors on the far side of the drop-off area, positioning the HiAce side on to give him some cover when he got out. Leaving the motor running, he went in through the front lobby, hoping it would look like a trade delivery. He slapped down his Richard Davis passport at the front desk. The girl behind the desk was reading Vanity Fair. She got up in a hurry, smoothed her skirt.
Mac winked. ‘About that story on me – don’t believe a word of it.’
The girl rolled her eyes and Mac showed his deposit box key. ‘Like to make this fast. Got a plane to catch.’
They made their way down into the security basement and Mac walked up to the box behind the desk girl. They opened it and Mac simply piled everything from the box into his backpack, zipped it up, shut the deposit box and left the basement.
He got to the van and pulled out into the street, keeping an eye on the white Commodore in his mirror. It pulled out, followed.
Mac had choices: lose them or confront them.
He sped up, slowed down, waiting to see if they’d make a move.
It was two am in Makassar and the two cars had the roads largely to themselves. He sped up and slowed down, ran a red light and made the tail come with him. There was a line of taxis outside the Kios Semarang, an upstairs nightclub haunt of the expat community.
Across the road from it was a narrow Dutch-built alley.
He drove around the block again and, fi nding the other end of the alley, pulled in beside it so the HiAce blocked it lengthwise. He leapt from the van and took off down the alley. The Commodore pulled up behind him and he could hear a door open and a bloke say ‘Fuck it’ in an Aussie accent as he realised he couldn’t get by the van to get into the alley. The door shut again and Mac heard the V6 scream off round the block.
Mac stopped and sprinted straight back to the HiAce, leapt in and swung around, making a dogleg exit from Makassar with as many illogical turns as he could. He drove conservatively, not wanting POLRI asking questions about the monkey window. On the outskirts of the city it was dark with no street lighting. Mac swung onto the road to Hasanuddin and fl oored it.
He had a fl ight to catch.
Mac waited under the trees over the road from the fl oodlit security gate at Hasanuddin Air Base. He’d left the joint hours ago with no worries because Cookie had arranged it. But he wasn’t game to stand there at two-thirty am and tell some MP and his dog that he should be allowed back in. He didn’t want to test his luck in the early hours.
He was back in his blue overalls, the Walther. 38 in a hip rig beneath the ovies. He wore his black Adidas cap. Everything else he might need was in the pack.
Lying down, he looked at the stars. Conserving his energy, he tried to map out exactly what he was doing. Boo and his boys had obviously escaped from the Pantai, where Mac had left them in their fl exi cuffs. The spook who called himself Paul and claimed to be MI6 seemed to have slipped out without anyone noticing and the four hundred dollars would get him from Hasanuddin to Manila. Maybe.
Where Mac went from here was a bit of a guess. He was as surprised as Hatfi eld when he came up with his Surabaya scenario.
He hadn’t been planning to say it. Didn’t want to sound like a nutter, but that’s what it had sounded like: a container ship carrying what amounted to a VX bomb would sail into a major South-East Asian port and detonate.
The impact would be incredible. If you could get the right winds behind you, and get the VX to erupt far enough into the atmosphere, the body count could be huge. Mac had said Surabaya because he was thinking about a ship sailing south-bound from Manila down the Macassar Strait. Where was the biggest city? Across the Java Sea in Surabaya, where the city of three million people was totally built around the ports and most of the citizens lived in densely populated shanty towns. Surabaya was also built at sea level – low enough to have fl ooding problems. A nerve gas vapour would have no problems descending to where lungs were inhaling.
Mac had no idea what Hatfi eld and his CBNRE team were going to do. They had the weight of the White House and Pentagon behind them. But how would you search every ship? And if the ship was already in port, wouldn’t an interdiction by the US Army just get the bomb detonated?
The Madura Strait that passed by Surabaya was a busy shipping lane – one of the world’s busiest for oil supertankers. And Surabaya’s port was as busy as Jakarta’s. The shipping world measured container movements by the shortest containers – the twenty-footers – even though many of the containers were thirty and forty feet. So all movements were listed as TEUs, or Twenty-foot Equivalent Units.
Surabaya’s major port, Tanjung Perak, had a throughput of about seven thousand TEUs every day. The three hundred ships that went through Surabaya each month had a pre-paid schedule for berthing and loading/offl oading. The commercial disincentive for the port master to shut down the port and allow the docked vessels and those standing off to be searched was substantial. If the request came from a Yankee and the substance they were searching for was odourless and colourless, Mac couldn’t see how that was going to work. Indonesia’s path to full economic development would be predicated on its maritime importance and it could not afford to be seen as a dangerous or money-losing shipping destination. A container ship had to carry a stowage plan showing exactly which container was in which bay, row and pier. They were all numbered, sure, but when you had a ship with eight thousand containers on board you’d be looking at three or four days to search it. And what if the ship with the VX wasn’t going to Surabaya? What if it was bound for Lombok or Denpasar? That was turning into a shitload of containers to be searched – and when?
Tonight? Dawn? All at once?
His other concern was that last sighting in Makassar. Just because Sabaya, Garrison and Diane were seen speeding westward from the dock, it didn’t mean they intended to board the ship with the VX on it. They could have been planning something totally different. Sabaya’s chosen MO had always been to travel separately from any heisted cargo.
The VX could be going in the opposite direction, up to Shanghai or Yokohama, or across the Pacifi c to Oakland or Long Beach. Garrison might have spotted a tail, decided to put everyone off the track.
That’s what Mac would do.
Intelligence people didn’t work on ‘cases’ like cops. Spooks built a picture, synthesised information, had an area of specialty. The only reason Mac’s specialty had any currency with the US Army’s Twentieth was that his covert work had a regular overlap with Special Forces.
He couldn’t afford to screw this up. He needed some shuteye to deal with it properly. Lying down and using all the meditation tricks he’d been taught in the Royal Marines – as well as being chosen for their ability to deal with extreme pressure they’d been shown a trick or two – he slipped into a restless sleep.
Mac awoke to his phone vibrating in his breast pocket.
‘McQueen, Hatfi eld. Twentieth. How you doing, son?’
Mac croaked something out. He still felt rooted. Could have slept for another day.
‘We’ll touch down in about fi ve. Refuel. I’ll send someone over to the main gate. Still up for this?’
‘Sure am, sir.’
There were a few mis-cues between the men. Mac made to start a sentence a couple of times and then stopped.
‘Everything okay, son?’
‘I was just wondering what Jakarta had to say, sir. About me, I mean.’
‘I have a request in for a secondment of Alan McQueen, aiding the United States Army in a crucial CT operation,’ said Hatfi eld.
‘Well I had to go through the proper channels, Mr McQueen.
Through CINCPAC. Which means I haven’t heard back yet.’
‘Gotta love those offi ce guys.’
‘Pride of the Pentagon,’ Hatfi eld chuckled. ‘By the way, McQueen, I don’t have to lecture you on Army SOPs, do I? Helos, comms, appropriate behaviour – that sort of thing?’
‘Right as rain, sir.’
Six minutes later an Indonesian Air Force MP came out of the bullet-proof glass cage and signalled with a fl ashlight into the trees, calling, ‘Queen, queen!’
Mac presented himself for the search and the wand. Another MP stood back with the German shepherd. Mac declared the Walther. The bloke put his hand out and Mac handed it over.
They were halfway across the sprawling area of Hasanuddin in a black LandCruiser Prado when Mac had a sudden pang about Diane.
He’d been dumped before. He’d been told off, passed over and left behind for better things. But he’d never felt such a cold touch. He wondered if she’d known who he was. Odds on. Wondered if she fully knew the reputations of Garrison and Sabaya. His mind circled the past. How far back? That trade fair in Jakarta in May? Was she a plant? Had she just seen me as a target of opportunity? All that bullshit he’d told her about what he did for a living? Was she part of the ‘Paul’ set-up?
There was another feeling, even stronger than his embarrassment.
Diane and Garrison had made a fool of him, but his real instincts were protective. He prayed to God he hadn’t left them a trail to Jenny.
The US Army contingent milled in front of an unmarked hangar at the northern edges of Hasanuddin, the whole place lit up like a Vegas showroom. There was refuelling going on and the air was thick with fumes, humidity and dust. Mac clocked two Chinook CH-57D tandem-rotor helos, four Black Hawks and lots of US military types with their bad haircuts and drab T-shirts.
The MP stopped the Prado, walked Mac over to a group of soldiers and asked for Hatfi eld. One of the soldiers peeled off, escorting them to the second Chinook. The soldier walked up the fold-down stairs, stuck his head in. Came back down. They waited. A middle-aged man in tropical battle dress uniform stuck his head out, full head of white hair. ‘McQueen?’
‘That’s me, sir.’
Hatfi eld came down the stairs, shook Mac’s hand with a soft grip.
‘Pleased to meet you, son. Sorry about all this fuss.’
Mac liked him immediately. In a huge military outfi t like the US
Army, there was a lot of discretion about how much plumage the brass could wear. Hatfi eld wore BDUs of the same pattern and cut as his men. His only identifi er was the word HATFIELD on standard tape over the right breast pocket. His aide sidled up while Mac was being introduced to Hatfi eld’s offsiders. Mac noticed that he and the retinue called him ‘General’. Mac liked that too – they could have said ‘sir’.
Mac sensed an outfi t where there weren’t too many offi ce guys round the shop. He might just fi t in. It was unusual for US Army generals to fl y around in Chinooks. Earning that rank gave you the right to sit in leather armchairs in DC and go to fi ve-star lunches in Manila. Mac only knew of two other generals who fl ew around the world in helos, commanding directly some of the brightest people in any military organisation. They did so because of the decisions that had to be made on the ground in real time. They weren’t the kind of judgements that could be phoned in and they couldn’t be made by a less experienced or qualifi ed person.
The MP handed Mac’s Walther back to him. The seven-shot. 38 felt like a pea-shooter among the special forces gear.
‘Thanks, champ,’ said Mac.
He looked across the US Annex apron, saw Sawtell and his boys stowing extra bags from the back of a Toyota pick-up truck, saw what looked like Navy SEALs in black Nomex doing the same thing at their Black Hawks. The Army Special Forces boys were eyeing off the SEALs, Spikey sneering at one in his biker bandana. The Green Berets might be the hard men of the special forces world, but the SEALs were certainly the rock stars.
Hatfi eld motioned the team, including Mac, into his Chinook.
Four of them fi led in and Hatfi eld waited at the top of the fold-down steps. He shepherd-whistled at Sawtell, waved him inside.
The Chinook was large. Shorter than a 737 but wider. There was a situation room near the front, just behind the cockpit stairs. It consisted of a round map table bolted to the fl oor and fi ve padded swivel stools also bolted down. There was a bank of three computer terminals along the side of the aircraft. One of them was a black SGI screen, the hardware behind the Powerscreen systems that allowed the Americans to take satellite imagery and computer-model them into 3-D, moving images.
Further aft of the situation room, there were eight airline-styled seats with what looked like pillows and blankets on them. Mac felt his eyelids drooping just looking at them.
Two men looked over the table at him, one in Army BDUs with no name tape, the other in grey ovies. Hatfi eld introduced them as DIA and referred to Mac as Australian intelligence. ‘This is Alan. The guy who put that pizza box thing together with Abu Sabaya. Remember that?’
The DIA spooks showed no enthusiasm as they shook hands with Mac. The senior one, in the ovies, called himself Don. He got straight to the point.
‘You know where the shipment is?’
Mac shook his head. ‘Do you?’
‘It’s serious, Mr McQueen,’ said Don.
‘Sure, so why’d you lose it?’
Don narrowed his eyes at Mac, who looked back, unblinking.
The bloke had got all cute with knowing his last name. It was a no-no in the intel world, unless you were desperately trying to prove something.
‘For what it’s worth,’ said Mac, ‘Sabaya’s like a black belt in this stuff. He wrote the manual on it. He’d have had one person, maybe two, in the security annexe – what’s it called?’
‘Hazardous Cargo Control area.’
‘That’s the one, HCC. I’d say the VX will be in the same container your Technical Escort guys loaded it into. It’ll just have new, non-military markings and it may have been painted.’
‘I don’t follow how Sabaya could defeat the microdot tracking,’ said Don. ‘What’s this about degaussing?’
Mac wasn’t much of a scientist, but he could give the basics.
‘Well, every steel structure has an electromagnetic current running through it, and it runs in one direction which creates what they call a signature.’
‘Like a ship?’ asked Don.
‘Yeah. And you can change the current and therefore the signature by introducing electromagnets and strategic copper coils. Navies do it to defeat signals intelligence on their ships and subs.’
‘So the container pirates in this part of the world use degaussing on containers, and if they get it right it defeats the microdots. You can’t track them.’
Don and Hatfi eld glared at one another.
‘So the agent is still in the same box?’ asked Hatfi eld.
‘That’s the Sabaya MO, sir. There’s about twenty million containers in circulation around the globe with an annual theft rate of four per cent. This is happening all the time.’
Don couldn’t grasp it. ‘Why wouldn’t they take the material out of the container and put it somewhere else?’
‘Because Sabaya isn’t a terrorist in the traditional sense,’ said Mac.
‘He’s not on a suicide mission, he wants to make money. So he makes it easy for himself and pulls a sort of three-card trick. You know those guys on the corner?’
‘Yep, sure do,’ smiled Don.
‘That’s what Sabaya does. The container doesn’t get opened. Who’d want to try and open a container full of nerve agent?’
The group nodded.
‘The container just gets put somewhere else. It’s just another container box, going onto a ship, coming off a ship, being stacked.
It’s just that they think it’s something else.’
‘So where does it go?’
‘It goes on to a different ship at Manila, but with a new RFID tag on it. A legit RFID tag. A tag that the stevedores can tick off as belonging on the ship they are loading.’
The RFID tags sealed most containers going between major ports.
They identifi ed the container and included an electronic manifest which could be checked by scanning. They were ‘sealed’ onto the container doors so an RFID tag meant that the shipping company and freight forwarders certifi ed what was inside. The US Department of Defense sealed all its containers with proprietary RFIDs. Mac knew you couldn’t ship a container through MICT without such a tag.
‘The DoD container with the new tag is shipped to another port where it comes off as a legitimate container and can be moved to a warehouse somewhere. You let the shipping system work for you. That’s how most heists now work across South-East Asia.’
‘That easy? Can’t be that easy,’ said Don, sceptical.
Mac gave them the example of a car with a tollway e-tag on the windscreen. The tag is registered to the car. But if someone took the e-tag off that car and put it on another, the electronic scanners would record that the original car had gone through the toll gates. It was the same with RFID tags on containers.
‘There is a catch,’ said Mac.
‘What’s that?’ asked Hatfi eld.
‘Catch is, General, that I need two things to do this properly. I need someone on the inside, down at MICT, to do the actual switcheroo.
It should take fi ve, ten minutes. Second, I need to have another RFID tag to seal that box. And it will have to match with what the Customs guys at Surabaya are expecting. This only works if I have a mimic of what the next port is expecting. So I need to fi nd a real container with a real RFID tag going to a real location. And then steal it.’
‘Actually,’ said Don, ‘we’ve been using smart boxes on those shipments. We’d get a tip-off if they were being tampered with.’
Mac nibbled on his bottom lip. Looked at Sawtell as if to say sorry.
The smart boxes were an American attempt to stop container heists and terrorist infi ltrations via container. They combined RFID tags and seals, GPS location beacons, and anti-tamper sensors, all built into a single anti-tamper box bolted to the container. They were the new wave in maritime security.
But they had a simple weakness.
‘I’m here without prejudice, right?’ said Mac to Hatfi eld.
‘My personal guarantee.’
Don turned his hands up, looking to the other Yanks for help. His look said, Who is this guy?
‘Well, smart boxes are driven by a boxful of C-size batteries,’ said Mac.
‘Are they?’ said Hatfi eld.
‘Um, yeah, and it doesn’t take much to shut down a bunch of C-size batteries. Decent magnet will do it.’
Hatfi eld looked at Don, aghast. ‘That could be why we’ve lost Box 138 off the screens, hey fellas?’
Sawtell gave Mac a look. Mac shrugged. Yanks might as well know this stuff.
The group tore south out of the Macassar Strait and into the stretch of ocean separating Java from Borneo. If you were ever going to be accosted on the high seas by smiling looters with sarungs and AK-47s, the scimitar-shaped body of water where the Macassar Strait turned west into the Java Sea was where it was most likely to happen.
The CH-47D Chinooks fl ew line astern; the four Black Hawks fl ying abreast in a stagger, creating an arrow-head effect. The sea was only fi fty feet below the Chinook Mac was in, pitch-black except for the intermittent fl ash of red aviation lights. The Chinook thromped, its turbine exhausts whining. Mac sat around the situation table with Don and Hatfi eld, having briefed them on the CL-20. They were still amazed that so much of the stuff was in one place, astonished it was being hauled around in gear bags in a speedboat.
‘I’d love to know where all that CL-20 came from,’ said Don as if Mac might have the answer, just like he knew how to kill battery power in the smart boxes. Mac wasn’t going to hurt Don’s image even more by admitting that most of his shipping knowledge came from a female Aussie cop.
Behind them, the guy called Brown was working on screens and liaising with Manila over his headset. Brown’s subordinate had a big real-time screen with a bunch of white cigars on it. The major shipping companies had GPS locators on them and each of the white cigars had a small legend beside it which identifi ed the vessel with a series of letters and numbers.
Mac had suggested they work back, get Manila International to fi nd the orphan container left somewhere on the docks, the one with no RFID tag. Maybe also stripped of markings, maybe not. Then see what ship it was supposed to be on. It wouldn’t be able to leave the MICT apron because the security gate would impound a container that was supposed to have an RFID tag, but didn’t.
It was going to be a long search. MICT turned over about four thousand containers each day. The unions and management were on performance markers for their pay and, given that Manila had already had their hassles with the Americans, they were probably not going to drop everything and go looking for one untagged container in a seventy-fi ve-hectare storage area. Not when it was the Americans’ own fault. Mac reckoned if Sabaya’s team had done their job, it would take a week to fi nd that container, which was an unmarked red forty-footer. Just about the most common sight you’d see on a dock or container ship.
The guys on Hatfi eld’s Chinook worked forwards too. Hatfi eld and Don had the sailing schedules of eight ships that had left Manila in the last eighteen hours, south-bound through the Sulu Sea to Surabaya or Lombok. There was a list of the vessels sitting in front of Hatfi eld. Mac was still betting it would be Surabaya. Lombok was busy but it still largely serviced ‘feeder’ container ships which also carried loose freight. Surabaya was more likely to service a large container ship from MICT.
Hatfi eld worked the main phone on the situation table. He was not in good shape. People from DC to Honolulu to Manila and Jakarta had questions. And Hatfi eld ate crow, said things like, ‘We’re working on it, sir. I have no idea, sir, but we’re getting there, sir.’
From the odd cold stare Hatfi eld gave him, Don must have been silently churning with fear. Though the Twentieth’s Technical Escort people had arranged the transportation of the VX to Johnston Atoll, Mac suspected the command responsibility had been DIA’s. Another one of those soldier versus spook things. Intelligence people were not supposed to make mistakes. Ever.
Brown kept turning back from his heated conversations with MICT and Surabaya, cursing to himself, getting ratty. ‘I can’t believe this.’
While intra-Asian trade was the busiest in the world, they hadn’t developed an advance-manifest system of the type used by the West.
In the US, Canada and Australia each ship had to forward its electronic manifest – collected from all the RFID tags – to the destination port authority twenty-four hours before berthing. But in most of the Asian ports, the only way the port authority knew what was coming in was through the freight forwarders and shipping companies.
Mac knew from Jenny Toohey that fi nding the containers criminals didn’t want you to fi nd was uniquely frustrating, especially when, like Jen, you were looking for container loads of women and children. She could spend two or three days without sleep, going out of her mind, while port security, customs and operations managers at the terminals shrugged, said things like, ‘Show me the box, I’ll get someone to open it.’ Jen always took that personally. It was probably why she was so good at it.
Hatfi eld was waiting for a confi rmation from CINCPAC in Manila that he was going to get cooperation from the Indonesian Navy. These were Indonesian waters and its navy was overworked and under-resourced for a military force expected to cover seventeen thousand islands. Back in the late 1990s, when Western powers wanted Indonesia to get tough on Malacca pirates, their navy had only twenty operable vessels.
Hatfi eld was starting to get cranky, acutely aware that time was ticking away. The atmosphere at the Chinook’s situation table was becoming smelly with fear and stress. The cigars on the screen were getting closer to the landmass of eastern Java. Mac couldn’t add anything more.
Hatfi eld looked at his G-Shock. Pushed his hand through his white hair. The Chinook they were on had a direct patch to the most powerful comms and signals-intelligence apparatus ever developed.
The Americans had keyhole satellites that could take images of a ten-inch object from one hundred and fi fty miles aloft. If it was cloudy or dark, they’d use their Onyx satellites, which could only distinguish objects of ten feet and over. They could point a directional mic from space and listen to conversations, pick up keystrokes on a keyboard or hear a number being dialled on a mobile phone. The United States had the computing capacity to simultaneously intercept thousands of emails and mobile phone calls and have those communications translated and logged in real time.
All of this infrastructure was buzzing and whirring in the background. Brown and his sidekick brought up screens, ran numbers, yelled at Manila, yelled at Surabaya, yelled at CINCPAC and pleaded with the propeller heads at the satellite imaging agency called NIMA.
But nothing. A cagey terrorist from Mindanao and his CIA mate had managed to have a US Army shipment of the second-most toxic substance known to science simply disappear off the screens.
Hatfi eld breathed out. Looked away from the table. Composed himself, then asked Don for options.
‘Pick the most likely ship on our list,’ said Don. ‘The one with the closest time-correlation to the VX going missing, and board her.’ He cleared his throat. ‘General.’
Hatfi eld looked at Mac, who said, ‘I agree. We have to stop one of these ships and have a look. Otherwise we’re going to have to shut down the whole shipping lane and I don’t know if the Indons will buy that. If we get into that discussion we could spend more time arguing than searching.’
After a silence, Hatfi eld breathed out, said, ‘Okay, let’s hear it.’
Mac grabbed the list of south-bound container ships from MICT.
Put it in front of Don. ‘We can strike out Golden Ram and Star of Bengal because one’s stopping in Cebu and the other is in Makassar as we speak, right? We know Sabaya and Garrison were motoring out into the Strait around eight o’clock yesterday morning, so we’re looking for a ship that left MICT around ten pm the night before.’
‘Which is a rough overlap with the time we realised the material was missing,’ said Don.
Don ran his pen through a group of names: the ones on the top, too early. The ones on the bottom, too late.
Of the eight vessels, two were left: the RSL Puget Sound and the Hokkaido Spirit. Mac ticked two names, turned the list, slid it over to Hatfi eld.
Mac and Don held their breaths.
‘Which one, boys? And make it quick,’ snapped Hatfi eld.
Mac looked at Don, who wasn’t game to say it.
Mac turned back. ‘Both, General.’
Hatfi eld chuckled, almost laughed, until he realised Mac was serious. It was four in the morning and he was looking for a container of VX somewhere on the Java Sea. He had the most powerful military machine at his fi ngertips. And no one knew what the fuck was going on.
He shook his head, eyes looking tired, mumbled, ‘Fuck me sideways.’
Then he picked up the phone with a grunt, hit a speed dial.
‘Admiral? Hatfi eld. Twentieth. We have a target.’
Mac watched the boys from the Twentieth suit-up in their OSHA Level-A bio-hazard uniform, the only suit you could wear around nerve gas spills and what they called ‘unknowns’.
The soldiers on the Chinook were all sergeants and above. Working with CBNRE was a delicate and exact business and you couldn’t have some young dickhead wandering around deciding he knew best, especially when you were going to try to board a vessel at sea.
Mac watched the preparations. As machines were pulled out from the cargo area behind the airline seats, he recognised the percussion disrupter, an angular device that used shotgun blanks to stun detonation devices out of commission. He thought he saw a portable X-ray machine too.
Gantries were swung into place as Hatfi eld briefed a captain who was getting into his Level-A. Unlike the general-issue JSLIST suits that the world had seen on television during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Level-A didn’t have a canister that cleaned air from the outside. Level-As had their own forty-fi ve-minute supply.
Brown yelled over his shoulder, ‘General. CINCPAC on two.’
Hatfi eld picked up the receiver, hit a button. ‘Hatfi eld. Twentieth…
Got that, Admiral… Good to go, sir.’
The general put down the phone. ‘Brown! Sawtell takes Hokkaido and Myers takes Puget Sound. Tell ‘em stand-by for ten minutes and counting.’
Hatfi eld raised his G-Shock, squeezed two buttons and pushed another fi ve or six times. Others around him did the same. He picked up the phone again, hit a button, waited. ‘General Hatfi eld, Twentieth Support Command, United States Army. I’m -‘
He was interrupted. He waited, tapping a pen on the situation table, sweat marks under his armpits. He nodded, dragged a hand across his brow. Scratched it. The rest of them looked on. Big tension.
Hatfi eld blinked long, said, ‘Thank you, Commander. Appreciate your cooperation. Hope we can meet some time under better circumstances.’
‘Gentlemen, The Hokkaido Spirit and Puget Sound have been ordered by the Indonesian Navy to shut down power and stand-by to be searched. They’re giving us an hour. Let’s go,’ said Hatfi eld, clapping his hands.
The soldiers leapt to it. Through the gap behind the airliner seats, the guys in their Level-A kit were having what looked like white, plastic car-vacuum cleaners slung over their shoulders. Mac knew they weren’t vacuum cleaners. He’d spent enough time on the docks with customs guys to know he was looking at explosives detectors.
Mac thought he’d make a small point to Hatfi eld.
‘General, I thought the point of CL-20 was that it’s very hard to detect. Could be impossible through a steel container wall.’
Hatfi eld had the phone to his ear again and was distracted. ‘Didn’t I tell you, son?’
Don could sense something awry and he cleared his throat too loud.
Hatfi eld ploughed on. ‘We’ll be detecting the VX shipment.’
Looking away, he mumbled ‘Thank you’ into the phone.
Don was now a little pained, trying to physically get between Mac and Hatfi eld.
‘But, General, VX is odourless. We can’t detect it,’ said Mac.
‘I know,’ said Hatfi eld with a smile as he looked back from the handset. ‘But the bomb casements they’re in have a nice big signature, believe me.’
Hokkaido Spirit was a ten-year-old container ship with a capacity of four thousand containers. A mid-sized carrier working a line from Yokohama to Kaohsiung, to Manila, Surabaya and Fremantle, and then back again, once a week.
Sawtell’s Black Hawk hovered over the starboard side of the ship while men in bio-hazard suits roped to the decks.
In the Chinook, the soldiers fi nished zipping Mac into a white OSHA Level-A, velcroed the collars and the ankle-ties and handed him a hard hat. Underneath he wore long woollen underwear, chemical-resistant overalls and a supplied-air NIOSH respirator with a full-face glass breathing mask. He felt totally uncomfortable and tried again to get Hatfi eld to see it his way.
‘Know what, General, I could be more use up here in the helo.
More of an advisory role,’ he said.
Hatfi eld laughed. ‘You’re in good hands, son. Captain Alden here will walk you through it. Just no sudden movements, okay?’
The loadmaster threw back the large sliding doors on the side of the Chinook, and Alden and Mac stepped up.
Mac came down the winch lift onto the fo’c’sle deck, the Chinook’s downwash so strong that the men could barely stand up under the pressure.
Brine smashed into the bow of the ship fi ve storeys below, and the ship slopped around, swayed side to side. Sawtell’s boys met him, unhitched him, told Alden to come on down. They were wired but the din of the Chinook’s tandem rotors was so loud that communication was done with hand signals.
Alden landed and the Chinook moved away. They joined the fi ve Special Forces troopers and Mac saw Sawtell smiling behind his mask.
‘Let’s go to work,’ said Alden into the radio system.
Mac’s breath rasped and wheezed into the respirator. The entire Level-A suit added ten degrees of temperature and about fi fteen kilos of weight. The boots alone – chemical-resistant, steel-toe jobs – must have weighed as much as a medium-sized dog.
Alden asked Mac to join him to question the skipper, and then ordered Sawtell’s boys to fan out.
‘Mate, if they’re on this ship, then at least some of the crew is on their side. See what I mean? This is Abu Sabaya we’re talking about.
Major league terrorist,’ said Mac.
‘Any ideas?’ asked the captain.
Mac suggested the Green Berets and Mac go to the bridge, search the quarters and communal areas for people and make their move on any VX nerve agent from there. ‘If the captain’s not kosher, we’ll know pretty quick.’
He recommended that Alden get moving on the detection systems with his guys. Hatfi eld had been ahead of Mac on that one.
Had already determined that since you couldn’t remotely detect for VX agent, they’d have to test for high explosive.
Mac had assumed the VX was in forty-gallon drums or sealed canisters. But they had to store the stuff in warheads bolted to the front of one-hundred-pound bombs. The whole thing clicked into place: the secrecy when the stuff was discovered at Clark, the involvement of DIA, Don’s shit-scared paranoia, the sight of an experienced army general gulping down the stress.
Sabaya had picked well. Those VX devices had been designed in the 1960s to spread the VX nerve agent as far as possible and the CL-20 was going to give that a boost. The scenario had got even uglier.
He forced himself to stay calm and focused. The captain had his blokes with their explosive detectors. Problem was you had to be virtually on top of the stuff to get a signal. Through the high-tensile steel of a shipping container, it could be pushing shit uphill. And looking up at the mountain of containers rising fi fty feet in the air like a multicoloured Mayan temple, it seemed ridiculous.
The party split. Four went with Sawtell and Mac down the starboard inspection gantry. The captain and two guys from the Twentieth went down the port side.
They got to the deckhouse. It was the high-rise of the container ship that had the engine room at its base, the accommodation quarters and communal areas in the middle levels, and the bridge and comms rooms at the top.
A Japanese man called Tokada met them. He wore a white shirt with merchant marine pips on the shoulder. He greeted Sawtell in good English and then took a look at the rest of the suited-up crew.
Got green around the gills, wide-eyed, like Holy shit!
His look of fright, complete lack of comprehension, told Mac this guy wasn’t part of anything.
Mac and Sawtell got into the elevator with Tokada; all that could fi t.