Thirty One: Six Pillars of Disaster


11:54 AM

The ruckus with Lili’s American had consumed valuable minutes from his plan. But when they reached the lobby and Sartaq saw the clock, he sighed in relief. He still had more than enough time to get into position, place his bomb, start the ten second delay to the explosives, escape by the Emergency exit and be out of the lobby two minutes before his associates expected their bombs to detonate.

Just like Wuhan, he’d escape the blast. Only his expendable recruits would die.

And thousands of others, he gloated.

Sartaq’s hands and arms were full. The Eco bag with its remote receiver and bomb were slung on his left arm like an old lady’s purse. In that hand, he gripped Lili’s arm holding her close and his right hand was inside the front pocket hidden from view and grasping the revolver.

The transmitter was in his left pocket.

He’d have to momentarily release Lili to get it out but, fortunately, after the scuffle and shots in the hotel room, she was no longer resisting. She seemed to have given up. Letting her go long enough to retrieve and activate the transmitter shouldn’t be a problem.

He turned her to look toward the Check-In desk.

“See that grey emergency exit back there?” He whispered. “That’s how we will escape. When I tell you, move fast and go through. Everything will fall in the opposite direction.”

Lili moaned, “I don’t want to run, Taq. I don’t want … I don’t …”

She shook her head as if trying to clear it.

In a stronger voice she continued, “I don’t know what I want, Taq, but this isn’t it. Killing just gets more killing. Revenge escalates. Nobody ever gets even. Violence doesn’t solve anything.”

Sartaq made a quick visual pass through the lobby before answering. All five of his associates were in sight with their bombs. Each was close to his assigned support column. The bomb in his own bag would take out the last on the west side and, that side unsupported, the fifty seven story hotel would topple over.

His words accelerated as he whispered in her ear, “Sure it does. That’s why wars stop. One side gets tired of being killed and they give up. The winner is the one that destroys the most, kills more, is the most gruesome, vicious and relentless. War ends when the enemy says, ‘No more. We give up.’ That’s how my war will end!”

Sartaq caught several in the lobby looking away when his eyes met theirs.

His eyes narrowed, “I don’t remember this place being so busy.”

Lili mumbled, “Maybe there’s a wedding or something.”

Sartaq nodded as he checked the clock.


His five bombers were moving into position.

“We’re going over to that column now,” Sartaq nodded toward the one directly across from the Check-In desk.

Time to activate the transmitter, he thought.

Sartaq released the revolver in his pocket and grasped Lili with his right hand. He let the Eco bag’s handle slide down his left arm and set it on the floor touching his column.

Reaching in his left pocket, he withdrew the transmitter, its three LEDs all dark.

Final check, he thought as he turned his head to sweep the lobby. All five of his associates were at their assigned columns. Thousands, not just hundreds as in Wuhan, were about to be crushed.

What a glorious sight!

Sartaq checked the lobby clock. The second hand twitched to twelve. It was precisely 11:58, two minutes before his associates expected to blow themselves up.

Sartaq smiled at their naiveté as he flipped on the transmitter’s power switch. Its green LED blinked on.

He waited for the yellow LED that would signify the six bombs, one per Eco bag, were receiving his signal and had synchronized their internal clocks.

But the yellow LED stayed dark.

Sartaq shifted his weight, his eyes on the transmitter.

What’s taking so long? I was much farther away in Wuhan but it synchronized in just a second or two.

He waited.

Still nothing.

Maybe something didn’t start?

He toggled the transmitter’s power switch off and then back on.

Green LED but, after several seconds, still no yellow.

Sartaq glanced over at Guo Manchu at the next column. His Eco bag rested on the floor beside him right next to his column. Through the loose weave of his Eco bag, Sartaq clearly saw the steady green glow of the power LED on his receiver but not the yellow one.

Why don’t they see my transmitter?

The clock said 11:59.

In one minute, his five associates would try to manually trigger their explosives only to discover their hand controls did nothing.

The only way to trigger the bombs was by the remote controls.

Do LEDs burn out? He wondered.

Sartaq mashed the GO button to start the ten second delay.

Nothing happened. No red LED. No yellow LED.

As he held the button down and looked at the unresponsive transmitter, yelling and commotion broke out all across the lobby.

Men in business suits throughout the lobby had suddenly produced short rifles and handguns.

They were yelling commands in multiple languages at his associates.

Sartaq heard, “Set the bag down,” “Put your hands over your head,” and “Lie face down on the floor.”

Sartaq glanced at Guo Manchu again. The young man’s eyes were as big as chicken eggs. He had pulled out the manual plunger and his thumb was pressing the button. Guo was staring at the ineffective button. Sartaq watched as he released his thumb and then pushed it again and again. Guo turned his eyes to Sartaq and his mouth opened as if to ask a question.

But he was bowled over by one of the men in business suits. Two stood over him, their rifles directed at his face. A fourth man was squatted down at Guo’s bag. His hand came out with the silver detonator, wires trailing back inside the bag. He quickly secured the detonator inside a tightly woven bag at his side, closed its lid and pressed wide Velcro straps to hold it shut.

Two men were shouting at Sartaq, their rifles aimed at his face as they walked quickly toward him.

“Drop the box.”

“Release the girl.”

“Lie down.”

“Put your arms on your head.”

Sartaq reacted automatically.

He stuffed the apparently defunct transmitter in his left pocket, swooped down and passed that hand through his Eco bag’s handle lifting it from the floor, wrapped that arm around Lili pulling her tight and withdrew the revolver from his right to press it against her head again.

“Stay back,” he shouted as he pushed Lili across the narrow lobby to the Emergency exit door.

“Don’t worry,” Sartaq whispered in her ear, “You’re safe with me.”

Turning at the last moment, he backed into the push bar on the Emergency exit and pushed.

But the latch did not release.

Instead, an alarm started screeching and, overhead, a light flashed on and began rotating its red beam across the lobby.

He shoved harder against the door.

No go.

“Fifteen second delay,” Lili said.


“It’s an Emergency door. It won’t open for fifteen seconds.”

The two men with rifles closing on Sartaq began stepping sideways, one to each side.

They’re going to try and shoot around Lili!

Sartaq’s eyes flashed about for an escape, any escape.

A chime sounded.

An elevator is arriving!

Shoving Lili ahead and turning to keep her between the shooters and himself, they crossed the lobby and, just as the elevator’s doors opened, Sartaq dragged her in backwards. When his back hit the rear wall, he slid to the right pulling Lili and shielding behind her.

He noticed there was someone already in the elevator.

Looking over to the back left corner, a man stood there, his left arm hanging limp and covered in dark blood. In his right and pointed down toward the floor, he had a gun.

It was the American!

Sartaq pulled Lili to the right front corner, opposite the American.

“Push a floor,” he hissed to Lili, cocking the hammer of the revolver pressed against her head.

“Which floor?” She said in a tired voice.

“I don’t …,” Sartaq began but then finished, his eyes on the American who stared back, their eyes locked, “Something low. We’ll get off and use the stairs to escape!”

Lili pushed a button.

After a brief pause, the double doors glided shut.

Sartaq glanced down.

The button for the seventh floor glowed.

Sartaq grinned across at the American as the elevator began to rise with just the three of them.


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