Pressure Point by Don Pendleton by Don Pendleton - Read Online

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Pressure Point - Don Pendleton

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EPILOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

INDONESIA

Okay, I think I’ve got the hang of it, Mack Bolan said, speaking through the condensor microphone duct-taped to the inside of his gas mask.

It gets easier once you’ve done it awhile, Abdul Salim told him. As they both took off their masks, Salim, a decorated major who’d come up through the ranks of Indonesia’s Royal Marine Commandos, added, The biggest thing to remember is not to hyperventilate.

Bolan nodded. The truth was, although this particular mask was new to him, he’d worn similar protective gear on several occasions over the past few years. It was a sign of the times, a concession to the ever-increasing chance of biochemical attacks in the grim, unending war against global terrorism. Bolan missed the days when he could feel secure going into battle shielded only by the thin layer of Kevlar armor beneath his blacksuit. This day he’d even had to forgo the blacksuit in favor of a bulky, mud-colored HAZMAT suit. He’d been issued an armored vest, but it wasn’t made of Kevlar and, in comparison, felt as heavy as chain mail.

Major Salim was similarly attired. The two men were seated in the rear of a dust-covered white minibus making its way up a narrow, winding, two-lane mountain road seventeen miles north of Samarinda, capital city of Indonesia’s East Kalimantan Province on the island of Borneo. The bus was following its usual itinerary, a scenic route that led to a hilltop textile center long popular with the tourist crowd.

Those aboard the bus that day, however, were not tourists, and their ultimate destination was not the textile center, but rather a nearby storage facility managed—or mismanaged as many contended—by the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture. The other eleven men in the vehicle were members of KOPASSUS, an elite army commando unit that had seen extensive duty of late battling the rise of Islamic extremism throughout the country’s sprawling chain of islands. They, too, carried gas masks and were suited up in full HAZMAT gear. When Bolan first rendezvoused with the force at a private hangar at Samarinda’s small regional airport, the men had also been issued 10-shot, .45 ACP Heckler & Koch carbines, one of the few such weapons equipped with a trigger guard large enough to accommodate their thick protective gloves. Rounding out their gear, each soldier also carried a belt pack containing ammo clips, three flash-bang grenades and a first-aid kit loaded with ampules and various syringes for use in the event their suits were compromised during the impending raid.

This was the second time Bolan had joined forces with Abdul Salim. Several years ago they’d worked together putting down a rebel coup across the Java Sea in the province of Sumatra. That insurrection, which claimed the life of Salim’s uncle, renowned freedom fighter Ismail Salim, had been clandestinely backed by the Chinese military. Beijing was out of the picture now, but in their place an even greater threat to Indonesia’s fragile stability had emerged in the form of the notorious Lashkar Jihad. The so-called Soldiers of the Holy War had come into being as a retaliatory force against Christian militants in the Molucca Islands. Over the past two years they had grown in number and expanded their agenda proportionately, embarking on a violent campaign to seize control of the entire country, whose two hundred million Muslims constituted the world’s largest concentration of followers devoted to Islam.

The Lashkar had been formidable enough as a self-contained entity, but in recent months it had bolstered its might even further by joining ranks with the United Islamic Front, the global terrorist network cobbled together from the ranks of al-Qaeda and other kindred organizations decimated by the U.S. and its allies in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Whereas Abdul Salim had once thought his country was making headway in its efforts to eradicate terrorism within its borders, the UIF connection now tipped the scales in favor of the enemy.

Over the past two weeks both KOPASSUS and a force made up of KIPAM paratroopers had sustained heavy losses during pitched battles with jihad guerrillas in the provinces of Aceh and Sulawesi. Salim had been wounded by shrapnel in the latter attack—his right thigh still throbbed where he’d been hit—while nearly thirty others had been slain. Almost twice that many had fallen in Aceh. Salim had known most of the victims personally, and their loss weighed heavily. Though he still had his full head of coarse, wavy hair, streaks of gray had infiltrated his mane almost overnight, and his once-youthful features had been increasingly eroded by a deepening of the furrows around his eyes and mouth. The major now looked every bit his forty years, if not older, and though his resolve remained, it had been tempered by weariness. Gone was his proud assertion that the Lashkar Jihad could be eliminated by home forces alone. Much as he was loath to admit it, Salim was secretly relieved that evidence of UIF collusion had brought the U.S. back into the Indonesian fray. Perhaps, with America’s help, the terrorists could be rooted out once and for all, giving his country, for the first time in its turbulent history, a chance at peace.

A pensive silence fell over the commandos as the bus groaned its way up the mountain. Bolan, himself troubled after the long flight from Islamabad, turned from Salim and stared out through the tinted windows at the surrounding valley. Miles in the distance, tall, steeplelike derricks rose from the oil fields of Muara Badak. Farther to the south, near the seaport of Balikpapan, dark, noxious clouds spewed from several coastal refineries, further polluting a late-summer sky already shrouded with the smoke of countless slash-and-burn fires set by small farmers and large date palm conglomerates looking to clear swaths of rain forest for the planting of new crops. Most of the surrounding hills had already been cultivated. Sarong-clad laborers could be seen working thin ribbons of terraced farmland, clearly oblivious to the impending danger at the agricultural facility less than two miles uphill.

According to the classified files Bolan had skimmed through on the flight from Pakistan, over the past twenty years Indonesia’s Ministry of Agriculture had used its Samarinda mountain site to stockpile more than two hundred tons of obsolete, highly toxic pesticides. The compounds—laced with such carcinogenic agents as DDT, heptachlor and dieldrin—were not of Indonesian origin. They were imported from European manufacturers looking to rid their inventory of items banned by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Corrupt IMA officials made a fortune off the scheme, accepting bribes from the Europeans to take the outlawed agents off their hands and then passing along inflated invoices to the Indonesian government for reimbursement. A few of the herbicides had been put to use; the rest had been haphazardly stored outside Samarinda with few, if any, safeguards. FAO investigators hadn’t caught wind of the enterprise until corrosion breached several containers and unleashed a toxic cloud that had swiftly killed the compound’s entire fourteen-man day shift.

That was two months ago. In the aftermath of the initial investigation, which resulted in five arrests and two suicides within the IMA hierarchy, a Malaysian-based waste disposal firm had been hired to safely repackage the volatile chemicals for transport across the treacherous mountain passes of central Borneo to a high-tech incineration facility in Tomani. The firm had seemed efficient and conscientious enough while removing the first loads from the storage site, but less than a week ago FAO overseers had determined, much to their alarm, that barely a quarter of the loaded pesticides had actually been delivered to the incineration plant. Concern over the whereabouts of the other cargo had triggered a wide-scale investigation, and two days ago UN officials—with help from the CIA and Indonesian Military Intelligence—had confirmed their worst fears, unearthing a paper trail that linked the subcontracted transport firm, Bio-Tain Enterprises, to an affiliate of the United Islamic Front. The implications were as clear as they were odious: the UIF, frustrated by failed attempts to amass an effective nuclear and biochemical arsenal, was apparently ready to go the dirty-bomb route, hoping the diverted pesticides could somehow be incorporated into a weapon that could duplicate, no doubt on a far larger scale, the same fatal effect they’d had on the day-shift workers at the Samarinda facility.

Once the UN’s findings had crossed the President’s desk in Washington, they were quickly prioritized and relayed to the Virginia headquarters of Stony Man Farm. There, the covert ops brain trust—Hal Brognola, director of the Sensitive Operations Group, and Barbara Price, mission controller, had reviewed the data and forwarded it once again, this time via an encrypted e-mail, to Mack Bolan.

For Bolan, the timing couldn’t have been more opportune. When he’d first received the directive, he was already in Asia, attempting to track down the UIF’s founder and mastermind. Hamed Jahf-Al, a charismatic Egyptian known in some circles as the Nile Viper, had risen to the top of the FBI’s list of Most Wanted Terrorists back in June, when he was implicated in the ballroom explosion aboard a Caspian Sea cruise liner that had killed more than four hundred tourists, including sixty Americans. Jahf-Al had thus far eluded a four-country manhunt, and after three days in Islamabad the trail there had gone cold as well. Intel as to his whereabouts was conflicting, but the consensus was that the Nile Viper had fled Pakistan and was headed east. News of the UIF link to the missing pesticides, coupled with the Front’s already established collusion with the Lashkar Jihad, had given Bolan hope that in Indonesia he might once again pick up Jahf-Al’s scent, or at least that of one of his closest lieutenants.

The raid would be a start. During a quick briefing after his arrival in Samarinda, Bolan had been told that a Bio-Tain crew had shown up at the IMA facility earlier in the morning to load another shipment of pesticides, purportedly for delivery to Tomani. To the best of Major Salim’s knowledge, the transporters were unaware that they had fallen under suspicion. As such, there seemed a good chance that, once apprehended, the crew—or at least their transport vehicle—would provide evidence as to where the pesticides were being routed once they left the facility. The key was to storm the site and overpower the crew as quickly as possible, before it had a chance to realize its cover had been blown. Bolan had tackled similar missions dozens of times in the past, and Salim had assured him that most of the KOPASSUS commandos were equally seasoned. If all went well, it would be over in less than an hour.

Bolan was still staring out the window, preparing himself for the pending confrontation, when he saw two farmers suddenly glance up from their labors, shielding their eyes against a faint glare of sunlight that had somehow managed to penetrate the haze. Bolan tracked their gaze and saw two armed helicopters drifting low across the valley toward them. He wasn’t concerned. They were friendlies. He’d seen the choppers—both U.S. Black Hawks armed with .50-caliber M-2 Browning machine guns and submounted 2.75-inch rockets—back at the airport. One was being flown by a KIPAM-trained pilot, the other by Stony Man flying ace Jack Grimaldi, who had also been at the controls of the Learjet that brought Bolan to Samarinda from Islamabad. The Black Hawks were flying low for the same reason the bus had been outfitted with tinted windows: to maximize the element of surprise as they closed in on their target.

As the gunships drew nearer, Bolan glanced at his watch. Abdul Salim did the same.

Right on schedule, the major said, echoing Bolan’s thoughts.

Salim rose from his seat and conferred briefly with his second in command, Sergeant Umar Latek, then strode quickly down the aisle, passing along last-minute instructions to the other commandos as well as the driver. Latek, meanwhile, donned a headset linked to a portable Heaton 525 field transceiver and patched through a quick call to the three-man KOPASSUS surveillance team posted on a hillock overlooking the agri-compound. Bolan could see the sergeant’s features darken as he spoke with the team leader. As Major Salim passed by on the way back to the rear of the bus, Latek motioned him aside to pass along the news.

Apparently the smoke from all these fires has drifted across the IMA grounds, the major explained as he rejoined Bolan. Our surveillance team is having trouble seeing the facility.

Bolan stared back out the window at the dark, low-hanging soot cloud that loomed ahead of them. Assuming they’re having the same problem at ground level, it could work to our advantage, he stated. Disguised or not, we’ll be better off the closer we can get before they see us coming.

True, Salim conceded. Maybe there’s some truth to that saying about every cloud having its silver lining.

Soon the bus came to a turnoff. A posted sign indicated a left turn for those traveling to the textile center. The driver ignored the sign and continued to drive straight, downshifting to better tackle a steep rise in the grade. Bolan knew from the briefing that the agricultural facility was now less than a quarter mile up the road.

It’s time for the masks, Salim said. He pulled on his protective headgear and affixed the seals securing it to the rest of his HAZMAT suit. Bolan quickly did the same.

After rounding a tight corner, the bus came to a straightaway. The road leveled off slightly and it narrowed, hugging closer to the near-vertical rise of the mountain it had been carved out of. To the right, a steel guardrail, corroded by years of monsoons, separated the road from a precipitous drop into a deep, rock-choked ravine. Bolan peered into the chasm and saw a narrow, glimmering band of water swirling its way around an obstacle course of large, fallen boulders.

The Mahakam River, Salim told him. It carries water from the upper mountains all the way to the delta near…

The major’s voice suddenly trailed off. Bolan turned and saw Salim staring straight ahead, slackjawed, past the other soldiers and out the front windshield of the bus. Up ahead, less than a hundred yards away, a second vehicle had rounded yet another turn just below the smokeline and was heading downhill toward them.

The delivery truck, Bolan murmured through his mask.

It’s supposed to still be at the facility! This is all wrong! Abdul Salim called up to Sergeant Latek, Why weren’t we alerted?

I don’t know, Latek responded, his voice edged with concern. Perhaps with all the smoke…

I don’t care how much smoke there is up there! Salim ranted. They had to be able to see the truck leaving!

Latek had on his headset and was trying once again to raise the field agents. I’m not getting any response.

I don’t like this, Salim said.

The major was reaching for his carbine when the driver suddenly slammed on his brakes. Bolan had to grab at the nearest armrests to keep from being flung down the aisle by the abrupt stop. A torrent of curses filled the bus. Bolan couldn’t understand them, but he knew damn well what had the men so alarmed.

Up ahead, the Bio-Tain transport truck had veered from its lane and was now straddling the median as it bore down on the bus, picking up speed. With no shoulder between the guardrail and the mountain, the bus had nowhere to go to avert a head-on collision with the truck and its lethal cargo.

A dirty bomb on wheels, Salim mused grimly.

Eyes on the approaching vehicle, Bolan muttered, A guided missile is more like it.

CHAPTER TWO

Everybody out! Abdul Salim shouted as he and Bolan bolted to their feet. And get your masks on! Hurry!

Sergeant Latek yanked off his headphones and grabbed for his mask. The other commandos responded just as quickly, and once their headgear was in place, they rose in their seats and quickly unlatched the window safety catches, then leaned heavily into the hinged framework. As the windows swung downward, the men began clambering from both sides of the vehicle, clutching their assault rifles. The driver, meanwhile, wrestled determinedly with the gearshift, trying to throw the bus into reverse.

There’s no time for that! Salim called out. Get out! Now!

The driver either didn’t hear the warning or chose to ignore it. He wasn’t about to distract himself putting on a gas mask, either. Still cursing, he continued to grapple with the transmission. He finally managed to put the bus into neutral, but while trying to shift into reverse, his foot slipped off the clutch. The bus shuddered violently as the engine sputtered, then died. An eerie silence filled the bus as it began to roll slowly backward. The driver pumped at the brakes but they, like the steering, were power assisted, and with the engine out of commission, it quickly became clear he would be unable to keep the vehicle under control.

Bolan, meanwhile, shouldered open the rear emergency door. Salim shouted again for the driver to get out, but the man refused. He was still fighting the wheel when a bullet smashed through the windshield and plowed into his shoulder. His pained howl was punctuated by more bursts of gunfire. Outside the bus, one of Salim’s men took a bullet to the head and pitched forward alongside the road.

Snipers, Bolan thought. From where he stood he couldn’t see where the shots were coming from, but he guessed the Lashkar Jihad had to have positioned gunmen somewhere up on the mountain.

Ambush! Abdul Salim cried. Assault rifle in one hand, he moved past Bolan to the rear doorway. Another round of gunfire poured into the bus, pummeling the bench seats three feet from where the two men were standing. Let’s go!

Bolan cast another glance at the driver, who’d hunched over slightly but was still conscious and struggling with the steering wheel.

He needs help.

There’s no time! Salim tugged at Bolan’s arm as more gunshots poured into the bus, riddling the seats. You’ll never make it! We have to go!

Bolan reluctantly followed Salim out the rear exit. Both men dropped hard onto the pocked asphalt, then quickly tumbled to their right to avoid being run over as the bus continued its backward roll down the steep grade.

Over the railing! Salim called, vaulting the horizontal beam. Latek and a handful of the other commandos had already cleared the rail and were clinging to the uprights on the other side, sending loose rock tumbling down into the ravine as they tried to secure a footing on the sheer face of the cliff. It was more than a hundred feet straight down to the river.

Bolan hesitated astride the guardrail, leaning away from the bus as it began to drift past him. Up ahead, he saw the Bio-Tain truck closing the gap between the two vehicles. The commandos who’d exited on the mountain side of the bus had taken up positions along the road’s shoulder and were firing at snipers above them as well as at the oncoming truck. Even if they managed to take out its driver, Bolan feared the vehicle would continue on its collision course with the bus.

While his instincts told him to follow Salim over the railing, Bolan couldn’t bring himself to abandon the man still inside the bus. As the front end of the vehicle rolled past, he cast aside his rifle and sprang forward, landing on the stairwell that led into the bus. The door was closed. Bolan stabbed his gloved fingers through a gap in the rubberized insulation and tugged hard until the door folded in on itself, giving himself enough room to squeeze through.

The exertion took its toll, however. As Salim had forewarned him, Bolan’s labored breathing inside the gas mask left him feeling suddenly light-headed. Sagging against the handrail, he clawed at the mask, yanking it off. His face was layered with sweat, and his dark hair was plastered flat against his head. He doubled over and drew in a deep breath. The move saved his life, as yet another burst of gunfire took out the rest of the windshield, showering him with glass.

Bolan stood back up and peered out at the other truck, which had begun to slow. He suspected the plan to ram the bus had been aborted once the ambushers realized that most of their intended victims had abandoned the vehicle. It was a stroke of good fortune, but there was little time for rejoicing. Turning to the driver beside him, Bolan saw that the man had taken another round, this one to the neck. One look and Bolan knew he was dead.

Unmanned, the bus listed slightly to one side. There was a loud scraping sound as it began to brush against the guardrail. Bolan climbed up out of the stairwell and anchored himself as best he could alongside the fallen driver, reaching past him for the steering wheel. There was little play in the wheel, and the soldier knew he’d need better leverage to ease the bus away from the guardrail. He was concerned that the railing would soon give way under the strain and send the bus hurtling to the bottom of the ravine with him still on board.

Desperate, Bolan quickly pulled the slain driver from the seat and took his place. The steering wheel was slick with blood, but he gripped it as tightly as he could and turned it to the left. The wheel resisted at first, but finally he got enough response to guide the bus away from the railing.

Bolan shot a quick glance over his shoulder. The rear doors were still open, and he could see the roadway behind him. He was running out of straightaway, and there was no way he’d be able to maneuver the bus around the coming bend. It was unlikely the bus would even make it that far. Each time it struck another pothole or crease in the road, its course changed slightly, and no matter how hard he worked the steering wheel, Bolan suspected it was only a matter of time before the bus slammed into the mountain or took out the guardrail. Either way, the bus was a deathtrap.

Bolan lunged from the driver’s seat and sidestepped