Twenty Six: Gun Cleaning, Beer and Bombs

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Same Evening, Friday

 

Spence pushed and latched the slide open on Mickey’s freshly cleaned and cherished Masaki 1911A-1 pistol.

Spence had broken it all the way down to its forty parts, cleaned every nook and cranny, lubed and then re-assembled the handgun. With the lingering Hoppes #9 and Winchester Gun Oil, Mickey’s small apartment smelled like a gunsmith’s workshop.

Now that it was back together, Mickey wanted to know how to field strip it without any tools.

Sitting on the couch in Mickey’s apartment, even though he’d just cleaned and assembled it, Spence still looked in the opened gap on the top right side of the slide and verified the chamber was empty. He also looked down through the grip to be sure no magazine was present. They’d intentionally placed the leftover ammunition on the floor all the way across the living room and well out of reach while they were cleaning the guns. It was nowhere near where they were working.

The gun was safe.

Spence put his left hand over the slide and gripped it against the frame. He pressed down on the slide stop and let the slide go forward until the cutout lined up with the tab of the slide stop. He pushed on its other end, from the right-hand side of the gun, until it poked out slightly on the left. Using his right thumb and forefinger, he withdrew the slide stop and set it on the towel Mickey had spread out on the coffee table. He then let the slide, pushed by the recoil spring, move forward slowly and completely off the rails. He set the two parts of the 1911, the upper slide with barrel, firing pin and recoil spring, and the frame with trigger, mainspring and hammer on the towel.

“Assembly is the reverse but with one little trick,” he said as Mickey looked on.

“Hold the slide upside down. Flip the barrel link to the back and cup your left hand around the slide, then push the recoil spring in like this,” Spence gingerly compressed the long, squirrelly spring guiding it into its plug and then seated the spring guide against the underside of the barrel.

Mickey was leaning over to watch.

“Keep your left hand clamped around the slide and over the spring to keep it from flying apart.”

“No kidding!” Mickey exclaimed. “First time I tried this, I didn’t know how to trap it and the spring got away from me. The guide ended up on the counter way over there behind the coffee.”

Spence nodded as he picked up the frame and held it, like the slide, upside down.

“Then, keeping your hand on the spring, you line up the rails and guide the frame into the slide. Once the frame passes the end of the spring guide, you peel away your left hand as the tunnel covers up the recoil spring.”

Again, Mickey leaned over to watch but kept himself out of the line of fire in case the recoil spring got away from Spence.

Spence grinned.

“Finally, you push the slide back as usual, line up the notch and thread the slide stop back in.”

Mickey nodded. “I sometimes use a small screwdriver to line up the hole in the link with the ones in the frame.”

“Me, too,” said Spence. “Or sometimes I can just jiggle it to get it close, and then the rounded end of the slide stop will push it into alignment.”

Spence aimed the re-assembled gun at the floor and pulled the trigger. There was a loud click. He cycled the slide again, pulled the trigger and was rewarded by another loud click.

“A couple of dry fire shots tell me everything is right.”

Mickey reached over and picked up the 1911, “Let me try it now.”

Spence supervised Mickey two times through.

“You’re a good student,” Spence congratulated Mickey when he finished and set the gun on the towel by the others.

“Thanks,” Mickey said. “It helps to have someone who can both explain the steps and actually do them at the same time.”

“If we’re done with guns, how about a drink?” Spence asked and then added, “I promise I’m not falling off the wagon.”

Mickey walked over to the kitchen side of his main living area.

“Beer? Scotch? Something fancier?”

“How about another bottle of that Orion from Okinawa?”

“What, you don’t like our Tiger beer?”

Spence grimaced.

“Okay,” Mickey took out two bottles from the refrigerator and opened them. “Hope a bottle is all right. The glasses are all dirty and my maid was at the gun range all day.”

Mickey handed a bottle to Spence and sat down with him on the couch. All the guns they’d cleaned were spread out on the towel on the coffee table in front of them.

“That’s quite an arsenal,” Spence said. “There are a lot of Bullseye shooters that would envy your collection.”

“Thanks,” Mickey said after taking a long draw of his beer. “Precision ammo is the hard part for us. Reloading your own is not possible in Singapore. While you can buy the equipment— I had my eye on a Dillon 650 with all the bells and whistles for a while— the government absolutely will not let you buy propellant. Clays, Bullseye, Vihtavuori are all utterly out of the question. They make some propellants just over in Sibolga— that’s across the Malacca Strait to our west and up in North Sumatra, in Indonesia— along with primers, Dynamite, C-4, all sorts of other explosives. But after a year, I gave up trying to get permission. I hadn’t even started to pursue primers which are even more forbidden, if that’s possible. Brass and raw bullets are OK but, without those other ingredients, you can’t do anything with them.”

“So,” Spence asked, “you just shoot jacketed ball ammo all the time?”

Mickey nodded, “Yep. As you know, it’s just not as accurate as a load that’s tuned for a particular handgun. In Bullseye, that puts us at a distinct disadvantage.”

Spence nodded and took a swallow of beer.

“All your ammo comes from your department, then?”

Mickey nodded.

“And it’s all free?” Spence looked sideways at Mickey.

“Yep,” Mickey grinned.

Spence shook his head.

“Ammo is my biggest single expense, second only to the mortgage payment on my house. And I have to reload to be able to afford even that.

“My reloader is set up in the garage. I have the 650 you mentioned and it’s a fabulous machine. I reload in the six months when it’s not blazing hot in Arizona. I keep a minimum of 5,000 rounds of 45 ACP on hand. That’s what I’ll shoot through the hot part of the year. And then I make at least another 5,000 while I’m shooting that up the rest of the year.”

Mickey’s eyes widened, “That’s a lot!”

Spence agreed, “Two 2700s a month at 270 to 300 rounds each plus a 900 every Tuesday evening with about 100 more rounds. Then in the spring, we start practicing for Camp Perry and shoot a practice 2700 almost every weekend. With Tuesday nights, that’s a minimum of 1600 rounds a month during the ramp up, more if you do solo practice which is pretty much required to get better. I’m sure most people would be shocked that I go through close to 20,000 rounds in a year. If you want to get to Master or High Master, that’s what it takes.

“My ex tallied the actual cost, $7,000 in the year before our divorce. She had all our finances in a spreadsheet. It didn’t help when I told her if I’d bought all that ammo instead of making it, I would’ve spent three times as much.”

Spence stopped. The memories of the squabbles and accusations that ended his marriage were still painful.

He went back to the subject of shooting to help re-bury the memories.

“What about you, Mickey? How much will you shoot in a year, counting practice, qualification testing for your badge, Bullseye and,” Spence grinned at him, “killing bad guys?”

Mickey laughed.

“Almost none for the latter. Criminals with guns in Singapore are the exception. Usually it’s knives, clubs and fists. And even when someone does have an illegal firearm, actual fire fights are rare. This is not like Chicago or Detroit.

“But we do have special forces units, both in the Police and in our military. You met some of them today. They deal mostly with terrorists. So far as the public knows, those have been few and far between.”

“So,” Spence said as he crossed to the refrigerator for another bottle and then brought two when Mickey nodded for another, “you’re not out on the street shooting bad guys all day. Then, what do you do?”

Mickey finished his first and nodded as Spence handed him a fresh one.

“Field work is rare,” Mickey explained. “Most of my time is behind a desk reading reports and sending notes to other departments. I know most of what’s happening so my job is more putting the pieces together than actual law enforcement. That’s why they call me an Investigator. More often than not, it’s pretty boring. I miss the old days of driving a route and stopping to talk to people so they’d know we’re there. I felt more important then.”

The beer was obviously making Mickey morose. If this kept up, they’d both be on the hard stuff and Spence knew he couldn’t go there again. Megyn needed him tomorrow.

He decided to try and cheer up Mickey.

“Oh, come on,” Spence said, “you must get some excitement. Singapore is, after all, one of the major crossroads of the world.”

“Sometimes, yeah,” Mickey agreed.

“Well, give me an example,” Spence prodded. “Tell me what’s going on right now? Anything strange or mysterious?”

“Sort of. Maybe. Sometimes it’s hard to tell,” Mickey stopped to look at his bottle.

“Usually it’s just boring stuff,” he stopped.

After a moment, he shrugged and said, “Well, there’s some credit card fraud about three weeks ago that looks weird.”

Spence asked, “Like a stolen credit card ring? I’ve had my numbers stolen more than once. I was almost stranded in Sao Jose dos Campos in Brazil once when that happened. They cancelled the card in the middle of my trip and, when it came time to leave, I couldn’t pay my hotel bill. They sure didn’t want me to leave the country. That took hours and hours to straighten out.”

Mickey shook his head, “No, this just looks like one guy, and the charges are strange, just a couple of nights and meals. Usually they do a couple of small charges to test the card, then rack up enormous purchases before liquidate the goods for ten cents on the dollar.

“This one is different.”

Spence drank his beer waiting for Mickey to continue.

“The hotel alerted us when his credit card bounced. Then we discovered the Afghanistan passport he’d used at check-in was for a man who had disappeared weeks earlier. The Afghanistan government is really bad about reporting such things.

“The hotel said the guy skipped out after only one night but tried to make it look like he stayed two. He messed up the bed and threw all the towels on the floor.”

Spence asked, “So, how did they know he stayed only one night?”

“The room has a sensor that turns the air conditioning on when a guest is in the room. It logs that in a computer so the hotel can monitor their energy usage. For his room, however, there’s nothing in the log for the second night.”

“Maybe the guy got lucky somewhere,” Spence offered.

Mickey shrugged and set his second empty bottle on the table and leaned back on the couch.

“Could be but my gut tells me there’s more to this. He might be an advance scout or something.

“The hotel has video of the guy checking in; they tape everyone and the computer time stamps the check-ins so we can put the two together. We know what he looks like. And then later the first day, there’s footage of someone walking the lobby and stopping periodically. It could be the same guy. I think he’s methodically studying the lobby. Tourists don’t do that.”

Spence was intrigued.

“Can you show me the video? It’s from a public place, right?”

Mickey thought for a moment and said, “Yeah, sure. I think that’d be all right.”

Mickey went to his bedroom and came back with his laptop computer. He had it open, booted and connected to the apartment’s wireless network in a few seconds. Mickey double-clicked an icon at the bottom of the display that looked like a small padlock.

“Is that a VPN?” Spence asked.

Mickey nodded. “Yes. It gives me a secure connection to the state systems.”

A window opened on the display and Mickey said, “Secret numbers, sorry.”

Spence understood and looked away as Mickey typed in some memorized numbers.

Out of the corner of his eye, Spence noticed Mickey took a plastic fob from his pocket and examined it. He then typed six numbers into the computer and put the fob back in his pocket.

“You can look now,” Mickey said, pressing the <Enter> key.

The VPN icon on his screen blinked, “Connected.”

Mickey launched Firefox.

Looking over his shoulder, Spence read his home link at the top of the screen: https://internal.police.gov.sg/

Mickey quickly typed his username and password, and then clicked through a series of three links and screens before clicking a triangular “Play” button that appeared in the middle of the final screen.

The computer showed a fish-eye view of the inside of a building. The ceiling curved as it spanned the screen as did the floor in the opposite direction. All the figures were tiny in the 180 degree view.

Mickey pointed to one side.

“Watch that guy in the green.”

As the video played, the tiny figure went to a floor-to-ceiling column far away from the camera and leaned up against it.

Spence could tell he was tapping or knocking on the column.

Then, the man casually walked to the next column nearer the camera. This time he stood close but didn’t touch it. Instead, he looked around the lobby as if trying to see how visible he was.

“He’s not trying to hide,” Spence said as he watched.

“No, he’s not.”

When the tiny green figure moved to the third column and closest to the camera, Spence leaned forward to see him better. But the wide camera angle just made him too small. Spence could tell he had short black hair but that was all.

The figure passed in front of the camera but his face was turned away as he continued through the lobby. He got smaller and smaller as he went and variously stood next to, sat or leaned on the next three columns.

“That’s it,” Mickey said when the video stopped.

Spence nodded, “Going post to post like that does seem odd. But he’s so small in the picture, are you sure he’s the same guy that used the bogus credit card and passport?”

“We’re not sure. Let me show you his check-in photograph and you can tell me what you think,” Mickey started clicking links on his computer.

It was a still photograph. Spence guessed it was a single from snapped from a video.

The vantage point was high up and looking down from behind what was clearly a hotel check-in desk. The top and back of the clerk’s head could be seen.

Facing him was a man in green clothing the same shade as the one in the video. But in the check-in image, the resolution was much better. His face was turned upward and looking slightly to his right.

Spence could see his face and a good portion of the left side of the man’s head.

He was about 50 years old with wide-set eyes, definitely Asian but, in the color image, his skin was darker than most Chinese. Spence thought it more like a Malay or middle Eastern complexion. He had close cropped black hair.

Spence felt his throat tighten.

After a moment, he leaned close and pointed to the side of the man’s head.

“Can you enlarge that?”

Mickey rubber-banded that part of the screen, pulled down the View menu and clicked “Zoom to Selection.”

The top and side of the man’s head, heavily pixellated, filled the screen.

The top was an array of tiny, mostly black squares that, where his hairline would be, turned into small brown squares. Running down through the black and into the brown was a jagged line of much lighter, almost white, zig-zag of squares.

It was a scar.

Spence inhaled involuntarily. His temples throbbed and his face felt warm.

“When was this?” Spence asked in a rush. He could hear his heart beating in his ears.

Mickey was staring at Spence but he answered, “About three weeks, like I said. Twenty days to be precise. Why?”

Spence looked down at his fingers and worked his calendar backwards. This would’ve been the day after he’d witnessed the beheading in the forest, the day they’d gone to the museum. He remembered how he’d been looking over his shoulder watching for the killer but had never seen him. At the concert with the bells and musicians, he’s insisted they sit in the back so he could watch the entrances in case the killer tried to sneak in. But the killer had never shown up.

That’s because he was in Singapore! Spence grinned.

Too late, he saw that Mickey was watching him.

“You know this man,” Mickey stated. It was not a question.

Spence tried not to move.

Yes, he said to himself, I know him.

I saw him on the ridge atop Mount Luojia.

I saw him when he kidnapped Megyn and held a gun to her head.

Sartaq.

He almost said the name aloud.

And now he was coming back to Singapore.

And he’d insisted Spence be in the hotel lobby at Noon tomorrow, the lobby he had scouted twenty days ago.

The hotel must be his target.

Spence asked, “How big is that place, the hotel?”

Spence saw Mickey’s eyes studying his face.

Mickey answered the question, “Fifty seven stories with three towers arranged in a long arc. There’s a curved pool that spans the top. On a busy weekend, they’ll have 5,000 guests, possibly more. Most of them are from China and come to gamble in the casino next to the hotel.

“Spence,” Mickey then insisted, “you obviously know this man. I think you’d better tell me what you know.”

Spence was trapped.

He could try denying it but he was a lousy liar and Mickey, a trained Police Investigator, would know.

Drawing a deep breath, Spence gave in. “Mickey, I need to tell you some things. And then, if I’m right, God help us all.”

The main points tumbled out of Spence in two minutes.

Mickey said one word.

“Damn!”

Mickey walked to his bedroom and returned with a notepad and pen.

He sat down on the couch next to Spence, pushed back the towel, guns and four empty beer bottles on the coffee table and set down the notepad.

Leaning forward and ready to write, he shook his head.

“God help you, Spence, but you’re in a lot of trouble. You need to tell me everything. Don’t make it worse by holding anything back. Everything, do you understand? Everything!”

As Spence unrolled his story, Mickey wrote, flipped to the next page and wrote some more.

Two hours later, Spence was exhausted and Mickey’s notepad more than half full.

Spence repeated for the umpteenth time, “I told you his name is Sartaq. I think he lives in Wuhan. Megyn said he was her half-brother. I don’t know if he uses her surname, Zhang, or something else.”

Mickey went over some of the details again.

“Does he live near the campus?”

“I don’t know.”

“The people at the forest execution, you thought they were students?”

“Yes, they were about 20 years old, two boys and a girl. They were all wearing new clothes just like the students in class.”

“Did you see this Sartaq when the library blew up?”

“No. We were too busy taking care of the wounded.” Spence reached up and touched his right ear.

“At the kidnapping, there were five in the van?”

“Yes, five of them, plus Sartaq and Megyn.”

“Would you recognize any of the five?”

“Maybe. I saw the one in the front seat on the passenger side. He was looking out the open window at me. I also saw the three in the back for several seconds while Sartaq was yelling. But I didn’t see the driver.”

“And he said the Marina Bay Sands hotel, you’re sure of that?”

“Yes.”

“The one here in Singapore?”

“Yes.”

“At Noon tomorrow.”

“Yes, dammit,” Spence repeated the answer he’d given Mickey several times already.

They sat quietly for several minutes. Mickey studied the notes he’d made, flicking the pages back and forth, harder and harder.

Spence sank deeper and deeper into the couch. He felt like his world had just ended and there was nothing but horror ahead.

Mickey’s voice was angry when he finally spoke.

“You should’ve told me this when you first got here, you know?”

He flicked more pages.

“Jesus!” Mickey shook his head as he re-read his notes.

Spence said nothing.

“You realize I’ve got to turn this in,” Mickey said. “This guy is a terrorist. He’s got a hostage, five accomplices from what you saw, and he’s coming here. We don’t know for sure if he did the library bombing back in China— that was sixteen days ago— but that’s a pretty good bet. That means he knows how to use high explosives. He cased the hotel on his previous visit here— that’s what his little walk was around the lobby. And he’s going to be there again tomorrow at Noon.

Mickey sighed and Spence said, “That’s when he’s going to attack, isn’t he? He’s going to blow the place up.”

Mickey nodded.

“Spence, you’ve got to realize he has no intention of releasing his hostage. They never do. And in this case, he’s got even more incentive to keep her. She’s his sister, for Christ’s sake and she knows him and everything about him. He’s had her for … when was she kidnapped?”

Spence said, “Thirteen days. Two weeks tomorrow.”

Mickey continued, “So she’s probably figured out he’s keeping her alive just to keep you from talking.”

Spence already wanted to die.

By telling Mickey, he had signed Megyn’s death warrant. As soon as Sartaq figured out the Police were on to his plan, he’d know Spence had talked. From that moment on, Megyn was a liability. She could only hurt his plan.

He’d kill her.

Spence looked at the guns on the coffee table. If there’d been ammo sitting there, he half-imagined he would’ve loaded one and blown his brains out right on the spot.

Everything he’d done, every secret he’d kept, had just made things worse and worse.

Spence wanted to scream, to cry, to rage but all he could do was sit there, his fists balled into hard knots as he ground his teeth.

Mickey must’ve guessed the turmoil going on inside Spence’s mind.

He leaned over and spoke gently.

“Spence, I’ve shot Bullseye with you, shared a lot of meals and talked half the night. I know you’re an honest man, an honorable man.

“But, dammit,” his voice rose in exasperation, “you’re caught up in something huge, something much bigger than you can possibly deal with.

Mickey shook his head, “If you’d told me earlier, we might’ve been able to stop them sooner. But at this point, they are almost certainly back in Singapore somewhere.”

Mickey looked away before continuing.

“Spence, I know you’re concerned about the woman …” he looked at his notes, “about Megyn. But I hope you understand I’ve got to take in the whole picture. There are thousands of lives at risk. I’ll do everything I can to rescue her but, I’m sure you know, our priority has to be stopping the bombs.”

Spence’s nod was almost imperceptible.

“Yes, I hear you,” Spence said, his voice almost a whisper. “You’ve got to stop this madman.”

Spence turned to look at Mickey, his voice getting stronger, “But he’s got Megyn and when he finds out what I’ve done, he’ll kill her on the spot. I’m sure of it. I watched him run that knife, back and forth, five times to cut off that poor kid’s head. And God help me but at the end I think he …”

Spence stopped as he remembered Sartaq’s back arching and his eyes rolling back in his head as the blade cut through.

“God, what a sick bastard!” Spence muttered.

Mickey sat quiet for a moment.

“Spence,” he said, putting his notepad down, “I’m going to tell you something we learned. We can’t make anything of it. Maybe you’ll know what it means.”

Spence nodded half-heartedly as Mickey continued.

“After the explosion in the library, the Chinese Ministry of State Security said they found remnants of electronic circuit boards. From the identification on one of them, they think it might be from something called a Raspberry Pi. That’s a low-cost computer …”

Spence interrupted, “… that is used by students and hobbyists. It runs Linux and can be custom programmed to do just about anything.”

Spence paused as his mind put things together.

His eyes flared when the solution popped up to consciousness.

“I know how they’re detonating the bombs!” He blurted out.

He went on in a rush.

“A student in my class— his name was Alex, he was killed in the blast— showed us some remote controls he’d built using those computers. He said they’d worked carefully on the software so one transmitter could command many receivers. They would all trigger whatever they were connected to within a couple thousandths of a second of each other. They use Wi-Fi,” Spence pointed to Mickey’s notebook sitting open next to the guns, “like your computer.”

Mickey perked up, “Are you sure about that?”

“About what, which part?” Spence asked, his mind racing ahead.

“That it uses Wi-Fi to trigger the explosions?”

“Yes, yes.”

Spence remembered how the receiver in Alex’s hand had apparently come alive of its own accord just before the library explosion. Spence realized Sartaq must’ve had a transmitter and, when he turned it on before detonating the library explosives, the one Alex was holding in the classroom had synchronized to it. When Sartaq pushed the “Go” button on his transmitter, Alex’s receiver saw that message at the same time as the ones in the library, the ones connected to the explosives. That’s why the library had blown up precisely ten seconds after the red light flashed on the receiver Alex’s hand.

Mickey’s eyes squinted and his brow furrowed as he spoke.

“We just might have a way to stop this,” he said, tapping the notepad with one finger. “We have a jammer that blocks Wi-Fi as well as several other frequencies but leaves our Police communications intact. If they really are planning the attack for exactly Noon, we can be there when they enter the lobby, turn on the jammer to block the remote controls and then capture them all!

“And Spence,” Mickey grinned at Spence, “You know what several of them look like. Even if this Sartaq fellow stays out of sight, you may be able to alert us when they start arriving.

“Spence, if this works, you will be saving thousands of lives.”

Spence nodded but then raised both his hands, palms up and insisted, “But what about Megyn, Mickey? Sartaq’s got a gun and when their bombs don’t work, he’ll figure out I’ve talked. He’ll kill her!”

Mickey patted Spence’s hand, “I understand, Spence. We’ll do the very best we can, I promise.”

Spence knew when he was being patronized.

 

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