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Authors: Michael Savage

Countdown to Mecca

BOOK: Countdown to Mecca


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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page


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Cast of Characters

Jack Hatfield:
fearless San Francisco freelance journalist, defrocked former host of the cable TV program
Truth Tellers

Doc Matson:
former soldier, current merc, trusted ally of Jack

Dover Griffith:
one-time Department of Naval Intelligence analyst, now FBI agent … and Jack's lover

Sammy Michaels:
Jack's younger half brother, former Marine, now a professional clown

Sol Minsky:
San Francisco–based gangster

Boaz Simonson:
Minsky's IT wizard

Minsky's driver and bodyguard

Carl Forsyth:
FBI field director, San Francisco

Pyotr Ansky/Peter Andrews:
Russian national, assassin

Thomas Brooks:
Three-Star General, U.S. Strategic Command

Montgomery Morton:
One-Star General, U.S. Strategic Command

Steven Reynolds:
Captain, U.S. military

Andrew Taylor:
Colonel, U.S. military

Anastasia Vincent:
Russian-born escort

Indian-born escort

Japanese-born escort

Daniel Jeffreys:
Captain, San Francisco Police Department

Helmut Schoenberg:
CEO of German multinational company Der Warheit Unternehmen

Bernie Peters:
eccentric physicist based in San Francisco



Saint Petersburg, Russia

Aeroport Pulkovo

Pyotr Ansky's pale eyes were dead as he walked through Terminal Two toward his flight. He saw everyone without empathy or interest. It had been that way since his first assignment years before.

Passing through the last of three security checkpoints, Ansky glanced uncaring at two middle-aged transportation officers, his face like that of any distracted, put-upon, thirty-something traveler. That was his disguise this day. Pulling on his shoes at the end of the security line, Pyotr imagined himself to be what his visa said he was: a computer contractor headed for a programming job in Jordan.

Pyotr made his way through security without incident. Rossiya Airlines was justly proud of its Aviation Security Program, which found no weapons or contraband on him, or in his backpack, during his third and final search prior to boarding.

He smiled as he found his seat at the rear of the cabin. Pyotr allowed himself a sliver of satisfaction as he appeared to stretch before sitting. He was not just an assassin. There were plenty of those on the international market. He was one of a unique breed: a professional chameleon doing a consummate infiltration.

There was no time to savor his successful boarding. Pyotr went to the lavatory where he reviewed the next scene of operations. The 737-500 had a cruising speed, 850 kilometers an hour. Maximum flight altitude was 12,300 meters. Seating capacity was 117. He mentally reviewed the layout, the exits, the cockpit configuration.

He emerged and looked around.

The flight was not full but Pyotr noted every face onboard: intense young businessmen, older businessmen drunk from the airport bar, a family with an eight-year-old, women in burkas accompanied by their husbands or brothers.

Pyotr did that for every single face of the ninety-four people onboard before deciding who the Russian security agent was. Pyotr had no doubt there would
a plainclothes undercover operative. This was, after all, a flight to Amman, Jordan. Islamic terrorism had long been considered a major threat to the security of Russia, both before and after the Soviet era.

Four things would mark him. He would have a sport coat to cover his weapon. He would possess a penetrating stare as he analyzed passengers for potential threats. He'd be middle-aged, retired from the military, but with enough bulk to suggest he'd once been athletic. And he would be a man: there was only one woman in the force, and Pyotr already knew she was assigned to flights originating to Moscow and New York.

Ahead, aisle seat. Row sixteen, aisle seat, economy class. Near the exit door. He saw the shadow of a shoulder holster as the agent leaned forward.

The man sat alone. That would make things easier.

Satisfied, Pyotr Ansky fell into his seat but did not relax after takeoff. As the aircraft started over the Black Sea one thousand miles from Pulkovo, the copilot emerged to use the bathroom. Pyotr knew that was coming: the man had used the lavatory when he boarded to put a full bottle of Putinka vodka in the trash. Many Russian pilots, also former military aviators, had a drinking problem. The agents who had taken this flight during the past fortnight reported where the copilot and first class flight attendant kept the key to get back in.

As soon as the cockpit door opened, Pyotr rose and removed his wallet. He grabbed a blanket from the overhead bin, slung it over his shoulder, and slipped the Nalchik Bank ATM card from its pocket. He walked forward nonchalantly as if to be next in line for the lavatory. As he reached the aisle seat where the Russian security agent was sitting Pyotr appeared to stumble. He leaned on the back of the agent's seat, extended his right arm, and sliced the sharpened edge of his credit card deep across the agent's neck, from ear to ear. His body shielded the view of the young woman across the aisle. The wound gurgled as the man drew breath, the air rushing into the wound, not his mouth. Pyotr dropped the credit card and gripped the MP-443 Grach semiautomatic in the dying, gurgling man's holster. Pyotr quickly spread the blanket across the doomed operative, who was busy drowning quietly in his own blood. He moved swiftly now toward the front of the plane.

He held the agent's sidearm low and in front of his leg. It was not so unobtrusive that it couldn't be seen, but he passed smoothly and a gun was the last thing anyone expected to see—especially since Pyotr's face displayed no sense of the power or arrogance that often comes with a gun.

A male flight attendant finally took notice of Pyotr as he neared the cockpit door. The man seemed about to protest when the passenger failed to stop at the lavatory door. He never got the words out. Pyotr pressed the gun into his chest and pulled the trigger, angling down to keep the bullet inside the body. Decompression, now, would not be good for the mission. Pyotr took the key from a chain around the man's neck.

The rest happened quickly. Though muffled, the noise alerted about a dozen people in the front of the plane but it also froze them for the moment Pyotr needed. He unlocked the door, pushed into the cockpit, and locked the panel behind him.

The pilot heard the commotion as the door opened and he began to turn. Pyotr pushed him down, pressed the gun barrel into the crown of his skull, then pulled the trigger. The 9mm bullet went through the man's brain and most of his body before lodging in his coccyx.

Not bothering to move the pilot, Pyotr slipped into the copilot's vacant seat, buckled up, turned off the transponder that broadcast the plane's identity and position, then shifted the course southeast. Someone, probably the copilot, shouted from behind the door, then began pounding. Pyotr ignored it. With the partition's reinforced bolts, no one would be getting in.

Pyotr also ignored the radio, whose questions were becoming more strident. Instead, he appreciated how smoothly he transitioned from flight simulator lessons to airline control. In reality, once he'd reprogrammed the course, the autopilot did ninety percent of the work. The only tricky part would be to get down.

He began his descent into the sunset.

The pounding got louder but Pyotr concentrated on the plane's descent. By then, the airport was starting to announce that if he didn't acknowledge at once the air force would shoot the 737 down.

The threat was certainly real, but Pyotr knew the nearest Russian command was more than forty-five minutes away. Even if they had a plane in the air—they rarely did—his assignment would be completed before any could intercept him.

Checking his position, he adjusted his course slightly so that he was over the center of the 143,000-square-mile sea—far enough from the shore and the oil platforms to avoid being seen. Finally parallel to the Azerbaijan coastline, he steepened his descent by two degrees, lining precisely into the glide slope he had memorized during flight training.

There was a loud crash at the cockpit door. The passengers and crew had decided to use a service cart as a ramrod. A decade and a half before, that tactic had saved America's Capitol Building, as a group of brave Americans stormed the cockpit of Flight 93 over Pennsylvania and managed to take the plane down.

But that was before cockpit doors and bulkheads had been uniformly reinforced. A service cart would no longer cut it.

Pyotr pressed the
button that closed the outflow, extract, and flow control valves, as well as the air and avionics inlets. In theory, a water landing wasn't much different from a runway landing. An American pilot had done it on a river in 2009; in June 2011 a South African aircraft belly-flopped in the Atlantic. In both cases, all aboard survived.

With the exception of himself, Pyotr didn't care who lived or died on this water landing. Like the people he'd seen in the airport, they were inconsequential. Nothing mattered except the mission.

He steered the plane into the wind to slow it down, watching as his airspeed slipped toward one hundred knots. He needed to slow down, but not too slow. If the plane stalled it would nosedive into the water. If it went too fast it would literally shatter on impact.

At fifty meters above the waves, the left wing jerked up suddenly from a rogue current of air spitting off the Caspian. Pyotr resisted the urge to overcorrect as he'd done in the simulator. Coolly, he got the wings parallel to the dark shadow of the water and kept the wings exactly parallel, nose up, tail drooping as if for a normal landing.

There was a jolt followed by a loud, metallic clang as the rear of the plane struck the water. The plane jerked, shuddered, but it did not come apart. His hands remained firm. The plane coursed through the water like a bullet through gelatin, the cabin bucking, twisting, and screeching, but the old Russian bird held. The Caspian waves pounded against the fuselage. He heard the shrieks of passengers still in their seats, the cries of those who fell. They seemed to get louder as the engines shut down. Now, there were only the screams and the slosh of sea water.

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