Jack Mars is the USA Today bestselling author of the LUKE STONE thriller series, which include the suspense thrillers ANY MEANS NECESSARY (book #1), OATH OF OFFICE (book #2), SITUATION ROOM (book #3), OPPOSE ANY FOE (book #4), PRESIDENT ELECT (book #5), OUR SACRED HONOR (book #6), and HOUSE DIVIDED (book #7).
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Copyright © 2018 by Jack Mars. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright evantravels, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
“…a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
11:05 a.m. Sinai Time (4:05 a.m. Eastern Standard Time)
Near Sharm El Sheikh International Airport
“It’s coming,” the young spotter said, his voice edged with a hint of worry. “The plane is coming.”
A few feet away, Hashan al Malik sat cross-legged on the rugged ground, smoking the last of a Turkish cigarette. His long fingers were thin and dark, dirt embedded so deeply into them that they might never come clean. His face was leather. His thick beard was white, with a few streaks of black remaining, but his eyes were sharp and alive. His gaze was piercing. He had been alive a long time, and it was not an accident.
In the world of itinerant fighters for Allah – the martyrs, the mujahideen – he was often known as Alshaykh, the Arabic word for “the Old Man.” Today, he felt every minute of his years. He was certainly too old for this. His hands were cold – almost like ice – and his body was not much better. It was freezing up here.
He glanced at the spotter, a dark-skinned Bedouin in a light blue turban, who had spent his entire short life traversing these dry, barren mountains. The boy wore sandals on his bare feet. His cheeks were soft and clear – he could not grow a beard if Allah himself demanded it. He stood, gazing into the distance, his high-powered binoculars trained far to the north and west.
“Can you read the markings?” Hashan said.
The boy hesitated. “Moment… in a moment… yes.”
Hashan could just hear the airplane now, the noise of its engines fighting to be heard above the roar of the wind. He fancied he could almost hear the sound of the landing gear engaging.
“What does it say?”
“It says TUI?” the boy said, almost asking a question. Then, with more confidence: “Definitely. TUI.”
Hashan consulted the watch on his skinny wrist. It was quite a thing, that watch. Black and heavy, with a thick band, its big face set behind tempered glass. It was shockproof, waterproof, resistant to extremes of cold and heat, and perfectly accurate at high altitudes. If he sold the watch, the proceeds would feed an entire peasant family for a year – but the watch was more important than the family. The family could starve, but a man like Hashan needed to know the time.
As it happened, the time was right. In fact, the plane was twenty minutes late.
“That’s it,” Hashan said. “That’s the one.”
He took one final drag of the cigarette, then flicked it away with his thumb and forefinger. He stood and threw off his heavy, scratchy wool blanket. He allowed himself a few seconds to admire the jagged hillsides all around them, and the taller mountains just to the west salted with white snow. Two seconds, maybe three – there wasn’t much time. Already he could see the black speck moving through the sky, growing in size, coming their way.
He hefted the brown and green rocket launcher from the ground where it lay. It was a beautiful thing – a Strela-2, Russian-made surface-to-air missile system, liberated from the personal stockpiles of the recently departed Western stooge, Muammar Gaddafi.
Hashan moved quickly through his pre-firing preparations. The Strela could be reloaded, but not in the field. He was only going to get one try at this, so he’d better be ready. He removed the covers and extended the sights, then mounted the tube on his shoulder. He activated the power supply to the missile electronics and waited a few seconds for the power to stabilize.
The launcher weighed heavily on his bones – he had made the boy carry it here.
Hashan’s sixty-two years settled more heavily onto him than the rocket itself. He’d fought many wars in many places, and he was tired. Being sent here felt more like a punishment than an honor. Yesterday, he had hiked through these trackless mountains with this young local boy as his guide, and they had spent the night with no food, and no fire, huddled together on the frozen ground for warmth.
The journey had been difficult, but Hashan had been cold and hungry before, many times. Taking down jetliners with old Soviet shoulder-fired missiles was even more difficult. You must be an expert to do it, which Hashan was, but even then…
He shook his head. Silly old man. Allah was the one who sharpened his sight. Allah steadied his hands. Allah guided the missile to its target.
Hashan was too tired even to pray. An image passed through his mind – Allah bathed in bright light, beckoning him to Paradise. He sighed. It would have to do. The Perfect One knew everything, including his most inadequate servant’s intentions.
“Give me strength,” Hashan muttered under his breath.
He positioned his right eye behind the iron sights, steadied the tube with his left hand, and applied half trigger with his right. It happened almost automatically, as if the launcher was doing it by itself. Hashan could now see the plane clearly enough – a big boat of a thing, like a fat bumblebee moving slowly left to right, coming down for a landing at the airport twenty miles south of here. The winter sun glinted off its cockpit windows as it approached.