Twenty Seven: Police Preparations and Then Some

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Early Saturday, Last Day

 

After several phone calls, Mickey said they should get some rest.

“I’ll wake you at 3:30 so we can roll at 3:45. That’ll put us at the hotel at 4:00 AM.”

Fifteen minutes later, the apartment was dark and, soon after, Mickey was snoring in his room.

Spence got up from the guest room and carefully padded across to the table where they’d been cleaning guns.

He picked up the Masaki 1911, crept over to the ammunition on the floor and gingerly picked up two magazines. Dressed only in his undershorts, he stole his way back to the guest room, put the gun and magazines, one at a time, on his bedcover, and padded across the living area again to the ammo. Picking one round at a time from the box, he divided fifteen rounds of 45 ACP ball ammo across his two hands.

Back in the guest room, he quietly filled each magazine with seven rounds. Both magazines were full. One more round lay on the bedcover.

He picked up the 1911 and pressed in the magazine release with his thumb. Holding it in, he quietly slid one of the magazines into place and took his thumb away, locking the magazine in place. He eased the slide forward slowly. As it rode forward, it stripped the top round from the magazine and loaded it into the firing chamber. He then removed that magazine, added the one round from the bedcover so it again held seven rounds and then silently re-inserted the magazine.

He pushed the Safety up.

It clicked.

He froze and listened.

In the other bedroom, Mickey continued to snore.

Spence turned the loaded 1911 over in his hand.

Condition One, he said to himself, cocked and locked.

He picked up his pants from the chair beside the bed and slid the gun into the right front pocket. He put the second loaded magazine in the left front pocket so the two would not clank against each other as he walked.

He had no intention of telling Mickey.

Spence lay back in the bed, his mind chewing the gristle of all the things that might happen tomorrow.

#

In the car, the dashboard digital clock said 4:03AM.

Mickey sketched out the preparations.

“The STAR team, Special Tactics and Rescue, has been activated. They will be in position now. You probably won’t see them or know who they are.

“Surveillance should also be up. You’ll be in the van outside watching the monitors.”

Spence saw Mickey glance over at him.

“Stay in the van, Spence. We don’t want you being recognized. If they stick to their timeline, things will be a lot less complicated.

“Your job,” he continued, “is to spot the terrorists. That’s all. You’ll be wired just in case you have to leave the van but, I repeat, you shouldn’t have to. Once you spot the terrorists and point them out, you are to stay put in the van.”

They stopped at a red light with no cross traffic.

Mickey looked over again.

“Did you hear all that, Spence?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Spot the bad guys and stay in the van.”

“Good. In the public areas, you won’t see any uniforms so you won’t know who’s who,” Mickey continued.

“The hotel manager and his key staff think we’re doing another practice run but most of the employees don’t know anything. None of them know this is for real. We can’t afford to have any of them getting jittery and alerting the bad guys.”

“Got it,” Spence said, looking ahead. The were coming in from the North on city streets after exiting the expressway.

On the right side of the road, Mickey had explained, were a movie theater, the casino and then the convention center. There was a large parking structure after that.

But Spence’s gaze as he leaned forward was on the hotel on the left side of the road.

It looked like three hotels, not one.

Three glass-faced, rectangular towers were lined up, narrow side on, in a smooth arc that tracked the slightly curved road to the right. Each of the buildings narrowed as it rose suggesting a lobby atrium that would extend up several stories. The narrow end of the nearest tower looked to be concrete. The broad side facing west, however, was all glass. It glittered in the reflected city lights as they drove nearer.

Leaning forward and craning his neck upward, Spence looked to the top of the fifty seven story towers but all he could make out was a dark shadow that blocked light from the low-hanging clouds lit by the city’s lights. The shape was like the bottom of a gigantic, curved surfboard that spanned all three towers. The nose of the surfboard jutted out precariously toward their approaching car.

Up there, Mickey said, was a restaurant and a swimming pool with an invisible edge. On this end, he added, the cantilevered deck was frequently booked for weddings and was strong enough to support several hundred people.

Spence shuddered at the thought of all that weight sticking way out like that.

But pools with invisible edges he knew. His neighbor back in Arizona had one on the spa that splashed over into his swimming pool. When you sank down in the spa to your chin, the water spilled over one perfectly horizontal edge in a continuous, wide sheet. To the eye, the edge of the spa was invisible. It looked like the surface of the water just suddenly ended in space with nothing beyond.

Mickey slowed and turned left at the near edge of the first tower.

On their right, the main lobby entrance ran across the narrow end of the hotel. A man in a hotel uniform stood at a desk outside the door watching as they neared but then kept going another fifty feet.

Mickey pulled up on the wrong side of the road and double-parked next to a large, brown “Mr. Sparky Electrical Services” truck.

“Come on,” he said getting out, “this is where you’ll be.”

Knocking on the back, someone inside opened the door slightly. Mickey held up his badge in the light that streamed out and the door opened a foot.

“In here,” Mickey said climbing in. “Shut the door after you.”

Inside, it looked like a television production studio.

TV monitors covered most of the wall on the right side. Three uniformed Police officers sat in rolling chairs. A narrow table top ran the width of the monitors from front to back. On it were keyboards, track balls, three microphones on desk stands with red Push-To-Talk buttons, pencils, coffee cups and half eaten sandwiches. The left wall of the van was a maze of electronics with glowing and blinking LEDs and dozens of cables.

One of the officers stood.

“Take off your shirt,” he said to Spence.

Mickey turned to leave.

“I’ll leave you here. Remember, your job is to spot the terrorists, nothing else. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Two minutes later, Spence had a soft earpiece firmly wriggled into place in his left ear. Still deaf on the right from the library explosion, when anyone in the van spoke, they sounded muffled. A flesh-toned cord arced over the top and down the back of his shirt.

The officer said something into his right ear but Spence shook his head and pointed to the left.

“I said the earpiece has a bone conduction microphone,” the officer said loudly toward Spence’s left ear.

“I’ll leave the VOX off for now but if you put your hand around here,” the officer patted the radio pack in the small of Spence’s back that was attached to the strap around his stomach, “you’ll feel a slide switch.”

Spence did so and nodded.

“To enable the VOX,” he continued, “that’s Voice Operated Transmit, to turn that on, slide the switch toward your right side. Just remember right is good, left is bad. Do you understand?”

“Thank you,” Spence shouted, forgetting it was only he who was half-deaf.

The officer pointed to an empty chair at the forward end of the van. Spence took two steps, pulled the chair back and squeezed in. When he scooted forward, his arm rests were in contact with the forward bulkhead on his left and the arm of the chair to his right.

The officer turned her head and smiled, “Hi, I’m Dian, D-I-A-N. Glad to meet you Spence.”

Without waiting or offering her hand, she pointed up at the four  TV monitors arranged vertically in front of them.

“These cover the lobby from north to south,” she swept her hand top to bottom. “North on top— that’s column One,” she pointed toward the right side of the top screen, and then gestured to the bottom one and its left side. “South and column Six are down here.”

Spence nodded, thankful for the small paper note beneath each screen with the camera’s view noted in both English and Chinese.

“We can monitor what’s happening at all six columns right here.

“In the next bay,” she said leaning back slightly so he could see, “are Check-In, Check-Out, Concierge and Bellman desks, top to bottom.

“The third bay,” Spence could only see the top two, the bottom ones hidden behind the next officer, “you can see the outside of the elevator doors in the lobby.”

Spence was starting to be impressed.

“Next,” she continued, “are the hotel entrances, one from each side of the North main doors, and one from each side at the South.”

“After that,” she waved her hand toward the last two vertical stacks of TV screens, “are various places inside and out. You shouldn’t need to use those. We want your attention inside the lobby,” she pointed back to the screens right in front of him.

“This is really good,” Spence said as he looked over the bright array showing two dozen vantage points. “How long does it take to set this up?”

Dian said, “Ten, fifteen minutes tops. This is one of our regular practice locations. It’s a likely target. The cameras are all on and transmitting before we leave the station and, with a dozen officers, it goes fast. The administrative overhead of getting into the elevator monitor room depends on who’s available at the hotel. Today, we hit them by surprise so it took a couple of minutes to get the key.”

“By the way,” she added, “If you’re hungry, there’s sandwiches and drinks in the mini-fridge,” she pointed to the forward left corner immediately behind Spence’s chair. “Coffee and tea are on top. Milk’s inside if you need it.”

The digital clock at the top of the wall above the monitors said it was 4:27.

Noon was a long way off.

Spence found a ham and cheese on white and fixed himself a coffee.

#

“They’re opening the pool,” the officer farthest from Spence said into the microphone in front of him. Spence heard his voice in his earpiece a fraction of a second after his muffled but live voice inside the van.

He’d have no trouble hearing what went over the radio.

Must be digital, like cell phones, Spence mused as he turned to look at the array of electronics on the side of the van behind them.

He presumed each of their individual radio sets would have a unique number, an ID, that went out with each digital packet transmission. With a central computer handling all the packets of audio, it would be easy to program it into different channels so they could control who would hear which transmissions.

Cool.

The digital clock said 6:59.

Spence stood up and walked to the back of the van and stood behind the officer seated and watching those monitors.

On the bottom screen, light came in horizontally from directly behind the camera. Long bright columns and dark shadows led straight out and across the view.

Spence thought, It’s dawn. Sun’s in the East so, from the shadows, we’re looking West.

The view included the middle of the pool area with plastic chairs and tables first, lounge chairs further out, the motionless surface of the pool next and, in the distance, the hazy early morning Singapore skyline.

Two early morning bathers, men in swimming briefs, had their backs to the camera and were spreading towels on lounge chairs. One of them tested the water with his foot before slipping in. He started slow breast strokes and swam to the right, his head bobbing up and down with the rhythm.

The other bather did a shallow dive angling out to the left. Spence though it disconcerting not to hear the splash but then realized twenty-four open microphones, one from each camera, would be unworkable.

The diver immediately surfaced and, standing up waist deep, faced the camera. The officer controlling those monitors zoomed in on his face as he brushed the water up his forehead and then over his bald head. Turning his back, he walked slowly through the water to the right. The camera operator track right and mostly kept the man near the center of the display. After a few moments, the camera zoomed back to full width.

Three more early morning bathers entered with their backs to the camera. Two of them, their bodies bordering on lanky, were obviously much younger than the old men already in the pool. Both wore colorful, loose fitting suits that reached down to just above the knee.

They dove in and began stroking rapidly away to the right.

The third member of the group wore shirt and pants. He stopped at one of the lounge chairs in a bright shaft of morning light and turned the chair to face to the camera’s left. Raising his hand nearest the camera, he shielded the side of his face from the bright morning sun and sat down. He put his hand down only after turning his head toward the pool, away from the sun. Only the back and a little of the left side of the his head were visible in the monitor inside the van.

Spence leaned down and squinted at the screen.

“Zoom in on him,” Spence reached over and touched the screen, “the guy in the lounge chair. Just his head.”

In a moment, it filled the screen.

“There,” Spence exclaimed, jabbing the screen, “Is that a scar?”

All three officers twisted around and leaned over to look.

There was something light on the edge of his head, but it was right where the head stopped and the haze of Singapore beyond started.

Dian keyed a microphone on the console.

“Seventeen, make the guy in the lounge chair turn his head to the left. We want his face.”

A few seconds later the speaker in the van crackled and a voice said, “Sir, may I get you something to drink?”

The man in the monitor bolted upright and out of view.

The operator zoomed back and left to find him.

An angry, muffled voice came through the speaker in Cantonese as the man, again visible in the camera but from far back, shook his head.

The voices continued in Cantonese as the camera zoomed in again. The man waved his arms as he spoke, leaning toward a man wearing a hotel uniform, presumably officer seventeen, backed away making apologetic noises.

The man continued to gesture, his face now filling the monitor but Spence had known him the instant the camera reacquired him. The shape of his head, the bright white scar on his left side bathed in the bright dawn light, and his wide set eyes were unmistakable.

“That’s him! That’s Sartaq! He’s the leader!”

Looking in the monitor, Dian asked, “Are you sure?”

Spence nodded continuously, “Yes, yes, that’s him!”

Dian keyed her console microphone. “Attention! Attention! The leader is at the roof pool. Positive identification. He was in the second group to arrive.”

Spence heard Mickey’s voice in his ear, “Elevator monitor, what floor did the rooftop elevator come from?”

Who cares? Spence almost jumped, that’s Sartaq. They could grab him now and be done with it.

“That’s him, I said,” he exclaimed again. “Grab him!”

A different voice crackled in the van’s overhead speaker, “That was car three, middle tower, Sir. It’s on its way up from forty-six now. The previous trip was from fifty. Before that was thirty-two with a stop at fifty-one. Nothing before that for nine minutes.”

Mickey’s voice asked on the radio, “The trip from fifty, did you get any faces?”

“Dammit,” Spence’s voice rose in pitch and volume, “Why don’t you take him? Take him now!”

He remembered his VOX was off. Only the three officers in the van could hear him and they were intensely busy now.

The officer in front of Spence pressed a button and spoke into the console microphone, “Time stamp, please?”

“7:02” the elevator monitor’s voice said.

In the van, the officer sitting to the far right jiggled controls. Spence stood so he could watch. The inside of an elevator appeared on his top monitor. The officer put his finger into a small depression on the top of a knob and spun it clockwise. In the monitor, the time code quickly counted up. He slowed when it reached 7:01:50 but continued winding forward as he watched the monitor showing the closed elevator door.

“Why are you wasting time?” Spence shouted.

On the monitor, the elevator doors opened and three men started in. The operator stopped and then slowly rotated the knob back a couple of seconds until the door shut again.

Finally, he pressed a green “Play” button.

At normal speed, three men with their heads slightly down entered the elevator, turned and faced the front of the cabin and away from the camera. The one on the left reached forward and pressed the top button. The doors closed and they stood waiting.

A chime sounded in the van’s speaker and Spence heard Sartaq’s voice in the elevator say something. The elevator door opened and they stepped out.

“No faces,” the video operator reported into his microphone.

Spence grabbed the man’s shoulder and demanded, “What did he say?”

The man shrugged Spence’s hand off his shoulder. Looking angrily at Spence he said, “It was Cantonese. He said, ‘One hour, no more. Gift shop when they open at ten.’”

Spence reached around his back and, feeling his way, found the switch that enabled his VOX transmitter. He pushed it to his right.

“Mickey, this is Spence,” he broadcast. “Take him now. He doesn’t have the explosives. Shoot him, for God’s sake!”

Mickey’s voice was urgent and commanding.

“Stay off the radio, Spence. We know what we’re doing. I don’t have time to explain. Just do what we talked about.”

Mickey’s voice continued in the van’s speaker, “Seventeen, when those two in the pool get out, make sure they look toward the towel stand so we get their faces.”

“Roger.”

Spence pressed his lips together and shook his head.

Dian started to reach around behind Spence, “I’ll turn that off for you?”

Spence almost slapped her hand away but, grinding his teeth, nodded and let her do it.

She explained.

“It’s very unlikely they’ll leave the hostage alone. Where ever they’re holding her, that’s probably where the explosives are. We don’t know where that is yet. And even if we do find out, storming a room is extremely dangerous. It’s single-file through the door. Even if we pile in as fast as possible, it’s unlikely we can immobilize all of them immediately. With that many of them, if one sets off even a single stick of Dynamite, it would kill everyone in half a dozen rooms. The plan is to wait until they’re in an open space. That way we apply a dozen resources at the same instant.”

Spence shook his head, “But Megyn isn’t one of the bad guys. She’s no threat. They’re going to kill her if we wait too long!”

“Is that her name, Megyn?” Dian smiled sympathetically. She motioned for him to sit down in his chair.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ve practiced for this. We know the best way to handle it. Once they’re disarmed, we can sort out who’s who. Don’t worry.”

Dian turned back to her stack of monitors, the empty chair admonishing him to sit down and watch without doing anything.

‘Don’t worry,’ Dian had just said.

Spence remembered that was what Megyn had said on the train. And that’s what she’d said at the train station. And he’d done that instead of taking action. And now he was here, Megyn was a prisoner and there were six terrorists getting ready to blow up the hotel.

Yeah, that’s working all right.

Spence surveyed the thirty-six video screens in the van showing every public area of the hotel. He knew there were dozens of unseen and unrecognized plain clothes officers in place around the hotel. Some of them would be sharpshooters, their short barrel rifles concealed under jackets or in bags. They were concentrated in the lobby and waiting for the Noon attack.

But right now, all they were doing was watching.

Spence knew he couldn’t stop six bombers. Once Sartaq pressed the red button on his transmitter, everyone would die in ten seconds.

He’d told them how it worked and, if they had the Wi-Fi jammer turned on before Sartaq pushed that button, it would block the “GO” signal.

But Mickey said the jammer was still off. They didn’t want to raise suspicions.

Damn!

Spence remembered what Yong had said. The sharpshooters would try for DRT shots, Dead Right There. Shot through the neck to “cut through” the spinal column, the bombers would, literally, be instantly neutralized.

But Spence knew bullets don’t stop. To completely sever the spinal column, the bullets had to go all the way through. And then what? What was on the other side?

Megyn?

Would they hold their fire until she got out of the way, or would they go ahead and shoot to stop mad bombers from killing thousands of people?

Well, duh!

Megyn was not their priority. The bomber’s were. They had to do it that way. He understood that.

But Megyn was his priority.

He didn’t have to wait around for everything to come to a head.

He could do something.

And he could do it now.

Spence took a deep breath and, as the air filled his lungs, he straightened his back and stretched himself upright.

Standing behind the three officers and thirty six video monitors in the van, he quietly put his right hand in his pocket to feel the 1911.

He slid his hand around it and the gun seated perfectly into his grip. He’d done this thousands of times. He kept his trigger finger straight along the side of the gun but could feel the trigger guard on the pad of his index finger. He knew exactly where the trigger would be. Sliding his left thumb up, he felt for the safety. It was on but would be trivial to flick down and off when it came time to draw.

Megyn was his responsibility.

He didn’t know how he’d get her away but, even if Sartaq shot him, Spence knew he’d put so many shot into the man’s face that no one would ever recognize him again.

Spence took a deep breath.

“I need to poop. Where’s the toilet?”

 

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