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By: Wayne Brown
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign signaling our initial descent into the Houston area. At this time please terminate the use of all battery-powered electrical equipment and store them safely in your carry-ons, the seat-pocket, or underneath the seat in front of you. We should arrive at the gate on time today. Once you depart the gate, if you are remaining in the Houston area, follow the signs for North Baggage Claim 4A. As always, we know you have a choice of airlines and we appreciate your choosing Gulf Air as your provider. We wish you a safe journey and hope to see again soon on Gulf Air, ” came the flight attendant’s spiel over the aircraft public address system. The flight was nearing its end at Houston International Airport.
Carlos Sanchez was seated in the first-class section in seat 4A. He swallowed the last drops of his scotch and set the glass on the seat center arm-rest for the flight attendant to pick up on her rounds. Carlos normally did not drink on the job but technically he was just enroute to work at the moment. As far as he was concerned, work did not officially start until he boarded his next mode of transportation in just over six hours.
Carlos was headed out on a cruise ship for a seven day tour in the islands of the Caribbean. The ship would set sail from Galveston and then dock back into Miami. This was a referred to as a “repositioning cruise” so the price had been attractive. While the price was good, the route plan was what attracted Carlos to the run. The operating scenario fitted perfectly with his plan for the cruise ship which he already knew would never arrive in Miami.
Carlos was a highly-skilled and trained contract worker of sorts. At least that is the way he looked at it. He had spent a number of years honing keen skills as a special operations soldier and also working in black ops with the British Royal Navy. In comparison, Carlos’ skill set could easily compare to that of a cross between American Special Forces and the U S Navy Seal Team. Carlos was an expert on land and water and could survive any form of wilderness with minimal supplies. To say that he was talented was an understatement.
Carlos had never gone looking for work. Work seemed to always find him. It was interesting and dangerous work but it paid really, really well. Of course it came with some level of unpleasantness as in the loss of innocent lives but, what the heck, all jobs had some drawbacks. For the kind of money Carlos was getting, he didn’t ask questions and he did not brood over spilling a little blood. In the case of this job, the whole purpose was to spill blood and create massive death in one small space. When assigned the task by his contractors, the target was simple to pick and it met the requirements in that it was a relatively easy target, not generally suspect, with a high potential casualty count, and many avenues for escape.
Carlos had already received one-third of his payment. Prior to boarding the cruise ship, he would be handed an additional third. When the job was complete to the satisfaction of his contractors, the remaining third would be electronically dropped into an offshore bank account for him. Once this job was done, Carlos could easily consider retiring to some faraway place if he chose to live a life of total luxury. He would have to wait and see in that he still enjoyed his work and those big paychecks.
The limo driver stood in the baggage claim area with a sign in his hands reading “Sanchez”. Carlos made his way through the turnstile doors and walked to the driver signaling with a nod that he was passenger Sanchez.
“How many bags do you have, sir” The driver inquired.
“There’s two”, Carlos quickly replied.
The driver nodded his understand. “Please point them out as they come down, sir, and I will get them loaded into the limo and we can be on our way,” added the driver.
The limo ride into Galveston had been pleasant. The driver kept to himself and left Carlos with his thoughts in the back. Carlos had poured a half-glass of single-malt scotch and sipped it slowly while gazing at the south Texas landscape. The scotch was good even if the view was rather dismal Carlos thought to himself.
There were two suitcases in the back of the limo. One was legitimate and contained a few pieces of wearing apparel and those toiletry items Carlos would need on the cruise. The other was a more sinister package disguised as a luggage. It contained the scuba suit Carlos would use in carrying out his assignment. There was also a spear gun made entirely of synthetic materials and not detectable with scanners. In the larger outer pockets of the bag, Carlos carried C-4 explosive materials.
He had taken care to roll out the C-4 into very thin sheets similar to the manner in which a cook would roll out cookie dough. Once he had it rolled to a paper thin thickness, he applied sheets of plastic wrap to each side. The C-4 was stacked in thin layers into the pockets with plastic separating each layer. The waterproof fusing material was sewn into the binding of both of his bags and also between the layers of the shoulder straps. Finally, in preparation for sniffer-dog inspections, he had saturated both bags with a mixture of baby powder and black pepper. This would confuse the noses of the dogs and also contaminate any swab samples taken from the bag for analysis. So far, the bags had passed muster with the airlines, now to get them past the cruise line for the final mission was the next step.
Ken Hanks watched his crew work the dogs through the baggage prior to it being loaded on to the Sea Princess for the cruise to St. Thomas. Security had become a monumental task after 9-11. The problems associated with it reared their ugly heads day in and day out. This was especially true with the baggage on the cruise vessels. It was just not possible to physically check each bag manually. All who worked the security side of the business knew the opportunities were there but so far there had been no attempts or any plots discovered. That part mattered little to Ken. He and his team were assigned the task of making sure the people who boarded these cruise ships were in as safe an environment as was humanly possible. He had every intention of delivering that expectation.
Carlos Sanchez had completed all the paperwork and checked his bags. It was time to proceed to the ship and settle into his cabin. At that point, he would review the plan in detail once again and begin to work on the set up of the explosive materials. He would rest a bit easier once those bags were back in his possession in the room. This whole thing could blow up in his face if the bags did not make it through the inspection process. In that case, he would have to implement his emergency escape plan, an idea he did not relish.
The baggage area security supervisor walked over to where Ken Hanks stood watching the inspection process.“Got anything, Joe” Ken asked Joe Smithers as he approached.
“No, not really, Ken. The dogs seem to be acting a little odd but we can’t get a handle on it right now. It may be nothing, you know, just the mood of the dogs today. It seems like they are picking up on something but then they just trail off and focus in another spot, you know, kind of like they lost the scent,” Joe replied.
“Okay, Joe. Look, I know there are a lot of bags down there but we have to be sure. Get a forklift in there and shift things around, open up the stacks a bit so the dogs can get at it from a different direction and let’s see what happens,” Ken instructed.
“Sure, boss, I understand. We cannot afford to take any chances,” Joe shot back.
“Oh, and Joe,” Ken added, “Do it quickly. Old Blood n' Guts up there in the pilot house will raise holy hell if this boat is delayed on departure.” Joe nodded. Ken gave him a smile and headed off to find old blood and guts himself.
Ship Captain Walter Grant was moving about the pilot house on the Sea Princess checking weather, consulting with his navigator on course selection, and generally involving himself in every aspect of readying the ship to get under way on time. Grant was a stickler for timely performance. If he was going to be late or suffer a delay, it better be for a damn good reason or somebody’s ass was going to suffer. The captain held people accountable and he was known for his propensity to fire anyone on his staff on short notice if things were not up to his standard. He held the crew to a very high standard and held himself to it as well. Everyone called him “Old Blood & Guts, the General Patton of The Cruise Line”. The name was offered up in a joking manner but everyone who knew Grant knew that he was damn serious about the business of running a cruise ship.
Ken Hanks entered the pilot house from the port side stairwell. Glancing about the large cabin, his eyes finally located Grant bent over the chart table. Ken walked quickly to the table.
“Good morning, Captain Grant, I trust your day is off to a good start, sir,” Ken began as he stepped up to the front of the chart table.
Grant glanced up at Ken and said, “My day’s off to a damn fine start, Mr. Hanks, primarily because I deemed that it do so when I arose from my sleep this morning. Now, I hope you are not here with anything that might tarnish that possibility, Mr. Hanks.”
“I just wanted to update you on security checks, sir. We are running a bit slow on the baggage check for this one. Seems the dogs are acting up on the sniff-check. I had them spread the stacks and run them through again to be sure.”
“Damn it, Ken, you and that bunch of tin horn constables better not delay the departure of this damn boat. We sail at high noon and By God, I intend for this ship to be pushing off the dock when the clock strikes the hour. Do I make myself clear?” Grant said with a stern look back at the Chief of Security.
“Oh, yes sir, I understand your desires fully and I will do my dead-level best to make all your demands come true as will my ‘tin-horn constables’ as you so lovingly refer to them. But let’s be clear, Captain, as long as I am chief-of-security and as long as I don’t report directly to you for my marching orders, I intend to allow this ship to set to sea only when we are convinced that the passengers on board this ship are safe. Now you go ahead and raise all the hell that you want but that is my charge and my plan,” Ken responded.
“Get the hell out of my sight, Mr. Hanks. I’ve got a ship to get in order,” Grant shot back and turned to busy himself with other matters.
Ken headed back down the stairwell to the security area to check on the progress of the baggage check. Grant could be a first-class sons-a-bitch when it came to wanting things his way. Ken had dealt with him for years and stood his ground when the situation called for it. Grant might buffalo a lot of folks into cow-towing to his demanding tirades but Ken did not plan on getting sucked into that void. He would resign his duties before it came to that. Security and safety were his responsibility and for that matter Grant’s as well. Grant could shrug it off and assign it a lower priority on his list but none of that mattered to Hanks. He had a job to do and it was going to get done and done properly before this boat untied one rope.
Carlos navigated his way through the line of Sea Princess staff assigned to welcome passengers on board the ship for the cruise. He had no interest in pleasantries and hand-shakes. All he wanted to do was get to his suite and get his hands on those bags. Then he could begin to put the wheels of this task into motion. He checked his paperwork once more. He had reserved a balcony suite at the rear of the ship on the upper deck. The diagram provided with his boarding information showed it to be a corner unit at the juncture of the starboard side and the rear of the ship, Suite 4-1016. Carlos located the elevators off the grand entry area and proceed to his assigned quarters to await the baggage.
“What you got for me, Joe?” Ken Hanks inquired of his supervisor upon arrival in the baggage security area.
“Well, we did rearrange things and spread out the stacks like you said. It seemed to help some and the dogs did focus in better. I still don’t have anything concrete. I’ve just been around these dogs long enough to know when they get a whiff of something that doesn’t seem right, and that’s what I see here right now. Are we going to hold up the boat for search, Ken?" Joe Smithers asked.
“I don’t know yet. It’s going to be very difficult to convince Grant to give us any latitude for a delay based on just a long-shot hunch that we have. He’s going to be making some phone calls, you can bet on it.” Ken said as he watched the dogs work around the piles of luggage.
Carlos was getting nervous. The time to sail was drawing near and he had not yet received the luggage. Surely he had covered his work well enough to get through security. After all, he had already made it through successfully with the airline. Since when did cruise ships have better security than the airline he wondered. The bags were tied directly to his presence on the ship so he could not delay if he was discovered. He decided it was time to move around a bit and see if he could detect anything that seemed suspicious. He opened the suite door and headed out on to the main deck of the ship for a look around.
Ken Hanks sat in his office scanning the messages on his desk. He had placed the call the Captain Grant and request a delay for additional checks of the baggage. Grant had exploded as he had thought he would. In the end, he had held his ground but he was sure that he had not heard the last of it. The phone on the desk rang at just that moment.
“Ken Hanks, how can I help you,” Ken spoke into the telephone receiver as he placed it against his left ear.
“Ken, Jack Kelly, Operations, here. How are you?” said the voice on the other end of the call.
“Good, Jack, got a few problems, but overall, I’m good.” Ken replied.
“Look, Ken, I got a call from Captain Grant. He is really hot and bothered about your delay request. He is pushing hard to get that ship out of here on time. I wrangled back and forth with him but he won’t give it up. I did convince him to give you one hour. He is willing to do that. But, listen Ken, I know you got a job to do but this old boy has been around a long time, he knows a lot of people in high places and he runs a damn fine ship, probably the best on the ocean. I don’t think I have tell you that he could cause you a lot of trouble if you keep rubbing against him.” Jack Kelly cautioned.
“I hear you, Jack. You are my boss and I will do whatever you think is best. But I told you when I took this job that I was not here to be a symbolic representation of our intent to make these passengers feel safe. I have a job to do. I take that job seriously and I intend to do it, Grant or no Grant.” Ken stated.
“Okay, I hear ya, Ken. But let’s see if we can get that ship off the dock by one o’clock, please,” Kelly added. “You got it, sir” Ken replied.
Ken was out of his office in a run and back down the stairs to the baggage check area. He located Joe Smithers and said, “Okay, Joe, we bought ourselves an hour. We’ve got one hour to get to the bottom of this and then I run out of power. Is there anything we can do to tighten up this process and narrow down our search?”
“Yeah, there is Ken,” Joe replied, “The dogs seem to be having their problems back over in that one stack. They are not alerting on any thing but they are breaking off the search as if they want to get away from that group of baggage. I think we can release the other bags to be delivered to the passengers. That will speed things up while we focus on that one group,” said Joe pointing to the pallet with the suspected bags.
Ken nodded his head in agreement, “Okay, Joe let’s get moving on that and let’s break down that one pallet and do a search on those bags. Let’s get moving!” Ken responded then headed off to help with the baggage search.
Carlos moved down the long hallway to the elevator and then rode it up to the main deck. He exited the main foyer and proceed to the outside deck. Following along the deck railing he gazed back toward the docks at a large warehouse structure the size of an aircraft hanger. Through the large open door he could see the pallet of bags waiting to be loaded on the ship. He noticed a forklift moving into position to grasp a pallet of bags. The forklift then turned in the direction of the ship and proceeded to the ship’s loading area.
Carlos breathed a sigh of relief. The bags were finally being loaded. He looked back toward the warehouse and the baggage area and noticed dogs still being directed to one group of bags. Men in uniforms were removing bags from this particular pallet and beginning to open them up for a search. Carlos had no idea where his bags were but he knew that he could not take the chance that they were not in that group. There had to be a good reason for a search and his bags could be that reason. It was time to execute an escape plan before things were discovered. He took a few steps toward the catwalk leading back to the main dock then realized that he had left his briefcase with all the plans and his synthetic 9mm pistol in the suite. He had to head back for the briefcase. There was too much information there that would prevent him from carrying out this plan at a later date. He quickly rushed back in the direction of the suite.
“Ken! Ken!! Over here! Shouted Joe Smithers who was searching some bags down at the end of the long table positioned in the warehouse for this type of examination.
Ken Hanks rushed quickly to Joe’s side and looked at the bag that he was inspecting.
“Look, Ken, it’s a wet-suit, scuba gear, and what appears to be a spear-gun made of some type of plastic material,” Smithers said pointing to the bag.
“Interesting, but not a bomb, Joe” Ken replied.
“Yes, but look at this,” Joe added unzipping the bag beside it and exposing the thin wafer-like layers of material separated by wax-paper. I’m not sure but this looks like it could be C-4 explosive, Ken” Smithers said excitedly.
Ken looked closely at the material. “I tend to agree with you, Joe,” Ken said. "Check the manifest and see who this bag belongs to on the passenger list."
Smithers grabbed a clipboard with the thick passenger list clipped to it. He checked the numbers tagged on the bags against the list and finally located the passenger. “Here” He says, “Sanchez, Level 4, Suite 1016”.
“Come on” Ken yelled, “Joe, Jenkins, and Hal Thomas. Let’s get up there and corner this guy before he decides to hurt someone.” The four of them took off in a run toward the main gang-walk to ship.
Back in his suite, Carlos quickly opened his briefcase and removed all the parts to assemble his synthetic 9-mm. The gun had no metal parts and was made up of many pieces that when disassembled bore no resemblance to a pistol. He even had synthetic ammunition for the pistol that was stored in a prescription medical bottle to disguise their shape when scanned. He had practiced assembling the pistol to the point that he could do it totally blindfolded in a matter of minutes. His plan was to depart quietly but if he had to shoot his way out, so be it. With the pistol assembled, Carlos picked up the briefcase, took one last look around the room, and stepped carefully through the door to head down the hall way to the elevator.
“Freeze” screamed Joe Smithers from the end of the hallway behind Sanchez. “Drop that case and get down on the floor!” Joe continued as he began to slowly walk in Carlos’ direction from behind.
Carlos dropped the case as order then quickly spun and fired the 9-mm. The round hit Smithers in the right shoulder twisting him around and into the wall and then down onto the hallway floor. Carlos ran for the other end of the hall where the elevators and stairwells awaited just around the corner.
As Carlos came to the corner, he was in an all out run and looking down the hallway behind him. As he turned the corner, Ken Hanks stepped from his cover and delivered a blow to Carlos’ throat that sent him to the floor in an agonizing scream,wheezing for air. Ken looked down at the end of the hall and saw that Jenkins was bent over Joe Smithers. Jenkins gave him the okay sign indicating that Joe was just wounded. Ken signaled for Thomas to go and help Jenkins. He then dropped a knee in Sanchez’s back and brushed the 9-mm out of his reach. He heard the air once again exit Sanchez’s lungs.
Just as Ken Hanks lifted the dazed and air-deprived Sanchez from the floor and slammed him face-first into the wall, the doors of the elevator slide open and out stepped Ship Captain Grant with two of his stewards to survey the situation.
“What’s going on here, Mr. Hanks” The Captain inquired.
“I am about to remove the troublesome passenger who has caused your delays, Captain” Ken shot back. He slammed Sanchez against the wall once again and began the process of putting hand-cuffs on him.
“Captain, you seem to have a talent for making quick phone calls. Can you please call the proper personnel to get my man down there some medical attention and clean up this mess while I get this scumbag out of here,” Ken asked holding out his cell phone to the Captain.
Grant said nothing and turned back toward the elevators.
“Oh, and Captain Grant,” Ken added tucking his cell phone back into his belt, “I’d advise you to get to the bridge so this boat can sail. It’s almost one o’clock and we don’t want to be late.
Grant paused briefly at the elevator door and then looked back toward Hanks with a smile. “No, we would not, Mr. Hanks, we would not.”
©Copyright WBrown2010. All Rights Reserved.
14 May 2010