|A Year and Change|
Major Fahd ended by reporting the supply situation. "We have a supply of food for at least two days, but most of it will need preparation. I only have two men with any cooking skills. Perhaps Major Baiburs could give us some of the women to help."
"No," said Sultan. "I have other plans for the women. Colonel Nur, what is the military situation now?"
Nagy could have reported truthfully that it was hopeless; any two companies of infantry in the American armed forces could wipe them out in minutes. Only the hostages, and perhaps an American reluctance to damage the monument, really kept them safe, for now. But Nagy reported, "The only significant thing to report since our last meeting is that American National Guard units have been called up in the surrounding area."
"National Guard?" said Fahd, sounding apprehensive.
"American militia," explained Nagy. "They are generally used for riot control and disaster relief. It is unlikely they will pose a direct threat to us. The most intelligent use of them would be to supplement their police, providing enough manpower to widen the exclusion zone around us, especially to push the cameras further away. On the other hand, it is quite likely that they have been called up simply to assure the American public that action is being taken."
Sultan lit a cigarette, took a long puff, and then offered one to Nagy, and then to Fahd, out of his case. Nagy noticed the cigarettes were made with a fine paper, and had a gold letter, a Greek or Cyrillic Phi. After taking a drag, Nagy said, "A man's smoke." Fahd coughed about the same time.
Sultan said, "I found this wonderful tobacconist in New York years ago. I ordered these from him, year after year. But he was old; he died. These are the last I have left." Sultan puffed for a moment, and then he hefted a thick, sealed envelope laying on the table. "These are the demands I am giving the Americans. I will give them to one of the female prisoners who will be released shortly."
Nagy remarked, "That is quite a package. The Americans might need quite some time to fill all your demands."
Sultan took a long drag. "Our demands are quite reasonable, considering the situation. The package is not just a list of them. There are also some video recordings, and a political statement we insist be printed in their more important newspapers."
"Could I have a copy of the demands?" asked Nagy.
"No. I will summarize them for you, though, Leftenent Colonel Nur. First, the release of certain prisoners held by the Americans, the French, the Japanese, and the Israelis. Second, a suitable aircraft and fuel for our use and safe transport to the airport. Third, ten metric tons of gold. And, of course, the publication and broadcast of our political material."
"How much time are you giving them?" asked Nagy.
"Two days," replied Sultan. "I have selected a deadline of four p.m. Monday. That will give us more than four hours of daylight to reach the aircraft if they press to the deadline. Reaching the airport in daylight is a particular concern of yours, isn't it, Leftenent Colonel Nur?"
Nagy replied, "It is the safer choice, yes."
Sultan took a last drag on his cigarette and put it out on his plate. "No ashtrays in this place." Then he got up, took the envelope, and said, "I have some business downstairs. Stay here until I return."
Katherine Warfield had spent the most miserable night of her life in the East Room, followed so far by the most miserable morning. Like everyone else, she had been struck several times by their captors. Like most adults, she had an agonizingly full bladder. The room reeked of urine from those who had lost control.
Warfield had found patterns in how the guards acted. When a fresh one came on, he was very active, very rigorous. Then he would slack off, though some of them had more dedication than others. Some dozed off--but not for long; one of the bosses would soon wake them and chew them out, and then they would be extra mean for awhile.
Katherine Warfield had never faced anything remotely like what was happening to her now. Cowardice, however, was not one of her faults. She did not pee when her name was called out. It was the man called Baiburs. Warfield did not know Arabic or much about Arab culture, but she did remember from a humorous documentary that "Baiburs" was the name of a leader from the middle ages--a particularly severe man in a cruel age. She thought this man had chosen this name to inspire fear. She was right.
Baiburs did not approach her personally; one of the guards jerked her up by her arm and pushed her in Baiburs direction. She started toward the door Baiburs was waiting in. Before she reached Baiburs, however, an unfamiliar man burst into the room and began shouting in Arabic. The new man stood inches from Baiburs and shouted in his face. Occasionally Baiburs said something, but he never got to say much.
Eventually the new man stood back and shouted out to the guards. They began cutting the bonds of the prisoners. The new man went to the woman in the wheelchair, and then he examined the woman the guards had beaten so badly. He returned to Baiburs to shout again. Then he approached Warfield herself, and led her out of the room, explaining that he had just learned how the prisoners were being treated. Then he said, "Ms. Warfield, you are going to be released in a few moments. Before you go, I want you to meet someone." He took her to the elevator and knocked. The door opened. Inside was the President, along with two burly men. The door shut again, and the new man led her away, to the tall doors leading opening on the outside steps. He handed her a large envelope. "Ms. Warfield, this is important. It contains a list of our demands. It also contains a code that will authenticate further messages from our organization. You must give this to the proper authorities."
He opened one of the doors wide enough for her to go out, saying, "My advice is to follow the carpath to the left, once you are at the bottom of the stairs. One of my men told me there seem to be cameras there. I warn you; there are dead people out there. We had to neutralize some of the security people here to get in."
"Wait," Warfield asked, "Who are you?"
The leader answered, "We are anonymous. We have no grandiose title for our organization."
"No, I meant you, yourself."
"I also will remain anonymous," said the leader. "Now, go."
Katherine Warfield was not balked by the bodies near the stairs; bodies she had seen and smelled before. About halfway to the gate she realized she still needed very much to pee. She did not get the opportunity for many more minutes.
Sultan returned to Fahd and Nagy and said, "I'm releasing the women and children . Colonel Nur, you are in charge of this. This is what I want you to do . . . "
As he was ordered, Nagy announced that he was now in charge of the prisoners in the East Room and that he was going to release them, a few at a time, starting with mothers with children. Then he went to the woman in the wheelchair, the one Sultan had told him to release first. He remembered passing by her on the second floor, but that was all. "I have instructions to take care of you first. Do you have children?"
"I have four. Two here, and two babies. Could you let my friend here go first? She needs help, I think."
Nagy knew instantly the woman had to be the one who was beaten in front of Maria, and he wondered why Baiburs was not dead. But he said, "No. But your friend will go next." He wheeled the crippled woman away, toward the children, so she could collect hers with minimum fuss. And then--
He was high above a white barren plain lit only by stars. Below, an immense pod opened, its sepals unfolding with a noise like rolling thunder. Something dark and yet not dark was revealed, constantly changing, beyond description because it should not be allowed to exist. A face formed, a face of beauty but white, with the green wash of death . . .
"Istvan!" It was Maria.
"Ah--what is it, Major?"
Maria was speaking Hungarian. "I thought you got some rest. You were asleep on your feet."
Nagy said, "I guess I was." That had to be it. But . . . where was he now? The woman in the wheelchair . . . two children nearby. They wore their hair in the same odd way as the woman in the wheelchair. "What do you want, Major?"
"You called me," she muttered."
Nagy responded, "Oh . . . Yes I did. The little colonel wants me to handle this evolution personally, so you are in charge."
Major Horthy asked, "In charge of what? Perimeter defense, or just our people?"
Nagy said, "Perimeter defense. Don't take crap from Baiburs, but be patient with Fahd. Don't undermine him. We may need to use him later. Do you understand? . . . Do you understand, Major?"
Horthy replied, "Yes, Colonel."
Nagy said, "Good. Maybe you should see to your own rest when you can, Major. It looks like we will be here longer than we wished." Nagy turned his attention back to the task of the moment when Maria left: the woman in the wheelchair. "Are these your children?"
"Yes, my older ones. I have two babies as well."
"You told me." Had this one noticed his lapse, too? She sounded different than before. "Well, you will need some help, then." Nagy organized it. First he picked out the three more resentful-looking guards and told them they were going to work for a change. The older child was an adolescent, big enough to carry a baby. He sounded out the women in front for a non-mother to help, and picked the one who shouted loudest. It happened to be the Chief of Protocol, but he knew nothing of it.
Jean Lawrence was a very good Chief of Protocol, an asset to the United States. But she had never faced real danger in her life. So, she did not know she was a coward until the takeover. When the opportunity came to get away from these monsters presented itself, she thought of nothing more than saving herself.
Once she was actually walking away, with a strange baby in her arms, she found herself ahead. The woman in the wheelchair rolled up to her and said, "Slow down, please. Kimi can't keep up."
It brought Jean Lawrence to herself. She was undoubtedly on some camera now, and she would be facing cameras and microphones soon enough. "I'm sorry. I guess I just want to be far from that bunch."
They walked along in silence. The smaller child walked with a cane, and seemed agonizingly slow. Jean introduced herself and admitted, "I remember you were one of Michiru's friends, but I'm afraid I remember nothing else about you."
"I am just a housewife," the woman said.
"Do they have your husband?" asked Lawrence.
"No, he could not come," said the woman in the wheelchair. "They have my brother."
Lawrence said, "You were on the second floor, weren't you? I remember, they didn't bring you in until after the lights came on."
The woman said, "Yes. My friend Rei made a fuss, and they let me use a bed upstairs. I was asleep when they came for me. One of them pointed his gun at me . . . but most of them were nicer. They were tough men, but not mean like the guards in the East Room."
"Did you see their leader?" asked Lawrence.
The woman responded with a question. "Do you mean the man who was shouting at Major Baiburs?"
"Yes, that one. Is he the leader?" asked Lawrence.
The woman who had met the mysterious leader said, "I think so, but he didn't say so. He said nothing to me that was important. He said nothing that he thought was important."
"What do you mean?" asked Lawrence.
The woman said, "I think he wanted me to remember that he was kind to me. I think he wants all of us to tell our people that he showed mercy."
They were approaching the gate. There were flies, not clouds of them, but enough to be noticed. A foul smell wafted out of the gatehouse. Strange, she had seen the bodies by the steps, and had to stand near them for some time, while the guards brought down the crippled woman and her wheelchair. She had stood that well enough, but this was worse, somehow. She balked.
"Come on," said the adolescent. "Major Nur said he won't release anyone else until we are out."
Beyond the gate, Pennsylvania Avenue looked deserted. Someone emerged from behind the Executive Office Building, though, and motioned. The walk to 17th Street was longer, but felt far shorter to Jean Lawrence.
It was just past noon in the District of Columbia when the Chief of Protocol spoke her first words to the press. Katherine Warfield had already been whisked away by no less than the Acting Director of the FBI, who got to see what was in the envelope and began making some power calls. The reporters were starving for story when Jean Lawrence. She introduced Mrs. Chiba and her family, said hello to her husband, and that was it before she, too, was whisked away by the FBI, this time the Special Agent left in charge and several assistants. After the man left in charge had taken off with his own career builder, the Bureau was left with only one Special Agent, Ballin, and two more agents, none of whom really knew each other; they had been warm bodies snatched up and sped to the scene. The reporters mobbed Mrs Chiba. She was nobody important, of course, but she was all they had.
After she had identified herself and her children again, Mrs. Chiba told the reporters about her meeting with the man who might be the leader of the terrorists, and of how he had bawled out the man in charge of the guards who had been so bad to the women and children. "Stockholm Syndrome," muttered the Special Agent.
"Don't be too sure," said Ballin. "I'd like to handle this one."
"Why?" asked the Special Agent.
"I 've done background on her. There's some strange stuff."
Mrs. Chiba had borrowed a phone from one of the reporters. She began talking rapidly in Japanese.
"How strange?" asked the Special Agent.
"Have you heard about Blue Note?" murmured Ballin. That was the code for Tiggs' operation.
"Christ! How--" The Special Agent quickly recovered his composure. "Go on."
Ballin said, "All the women with children know each other. The ones to really worry about are Minako Jones and Setsuna Meiou."
"See what you can do with this one now," said the Special Agent. "But stick around. The Bureau is too thin on the ground here."
Ballin asked for a few quiet words with Mrs. Chiba. She did not want to leave the scene until her friends were released. So, Ballin improvised some privacy by making a deal with the SWAT team Lieutenant on the scene, and tried again. "Privacy" was an old armored personel carrier now used by DC SWAT; it had a large back door that doubled as a ramp. He had to share with the SWAT Lieutenant, of course, but compromises have to be made to get things done.
The Lieutenant started out with tactical questions. "How many men to the intruders have?"
Mrs. Chiba said, "I do not know. I saw maybe thirty in all, but I think there were more I did not see."
The oldest child said, "I was in the East Room when they came in. Maybe a dozen came in at first. They were fast and they all had those goggles you can see in the dark with, except for Colonel Nur. Then after a little while, there was a lot of noise and more men came. Major Baiburs had maybe twice as many men to start out. It was still dark; I couldn't really count them, but it was about twice as many . . . anyway, I guess I saw thirty, thirty five. But I don't think they were all the same guys Mom saw."
"Why?" asked Ballin.
Mrs Chiba said, "The men I met upstairs were not mean, most of them. Most of them spoke Arabic, like Major Baiburs and his men. They did not act the same. And there were men who spoke other languages. I think those men belonged to Colonel Nag--to Colonel Nur."
"Colonel Nur is their spokesman," remarked the Lieutenant. "Do you think he is the leader?"
"No," said Mrs. Chiba. "Their leader is the man who met me before I was taken downstairs. He is the man we saw yelling at Major Baiburs."
Ballin said, "You seem to have a high opinion of him."
Mrs. Chiba paused for a long moment, and the Lieutenant began to ask another question. But Mrs. Chiba cut him off. "I told the reporters what he expected me to tell him. My friends are still his hostages, and my brother, and his wife, and their daughter. Any of my friends will tell you I am not the smartest person, but I do not believe that this man did not know how we were being treated."
There was a short silence. Then the Lieutenant repeated his question. "Can you tell us anything about their weapons?"
Mrs. Chiba said, "Most of them have rifles. I saw one man with something that might have been a bazooka, but it was still dark and I was not very close."
"Where was that?" asked the Lieutenant.
Mrs. Chiba said, "I was upstairs. They did not take me down until after the lights came back on."
Ballin asked, "Did you see the President?"
"No," said Mrs. Chiba.
Then the second-oldest girl, the one who used the cane, piped up. "They took the President to the second basement."
The Lieutenant, sounding amused, leaned down so that he was eye-to-eye with the little girl. "And how would you know that?"
"Well . . ." replied the child. "The first one they let go was a reporter. I remember because she came to our house once. The man who let her go made her stop in front of the elevator, and the door opened, and there was the President, and then the door closed, and the man took her away and sent her outside. But I could see the lights on the elevator. It went all the way down."
Mrs. Chiba said something in Japanese, and the girl replied in the same language. Mrs. Chiba said something else after a moment.
Ballin said, "May I ask what you were saying?"
"It is not important to you," Mrs. Chiba replied. "There is something else I want you to know, something I did not tell the reporters. One of their men got very sick. It was one of the men belonging to Major Baiburs."
"I remember him," said the oldest girl. "He was the worst."
"What do you mean, very sick?" asked the Lieutenant.
"He couldn't stand up," said the oldest girl. "They carried him away."
Mrs. Chiba said, "After that happened, Major Baiburs came and took away three of my friends. Ami and Ginger are doctors, and Minako is a nurse. I think he took them to help the sick man."
"Well, I suppose they might give us a more complete picture of what's happening inside," said the Lieutenant.
"Yes," said Mrs. Chiba. "Ami speaks Arabic, and German, French, and Spanish, so she . . . " She trailed off. Then she began speaking Japanese. The two older daughters joined in. It was all over quickly, but it sounded like a lot had been said. Mrs. Chiba said, "I should have thought . . . Colonel Nur assured me, but . . . They won't let them go. Baiburs knows that Ami speaks Arabic. We have not seen them since they were taken away . . . I should have thought." Mrs. Chiba was crying.
The oldest girl said something in Japanese--or was it? Ballin was no linguist, but it sounded not at all like what had been said before. Then the girl said, "Leave my mom alone for now. We need to go someplace to clean up and--"
Mrs. Chiba said something sharply, which began a long exchange between her and her daughters, none of which Ballin understood. Eventually she was taken off in the same ambulance as Ms. Hino.
Noon in the District of Columbia was nine in California, where Dr. Mamoru Chiba had been at the end of his thirty-six hours of duty. He had not been sure Usagi had been at the White House when it was taken over until she called him--word that she had been on television arrived about a minute later.
The Chief of Staff caught Mamoru on his way out, and asked if there was anything he could do. "No," replied Mamoru. "Not now."
"Are you going to Washington?" asked the Chief of Staff in the voice he used to comfort the bereaved and fend off lawsuits.
"I was ready to go anyway," replied Mamoru.
"Of course. I'd forgotten." Mamoru was starting his vacation. The Chief of Staff said, "You might not get through. I heard they were cancelling some flights to Washington."
"I'll find a way," said Mamoru.
As he promised, Nagy released the badly beaten one next. Then he eliminated the next largest problem by releasing Mrs. Umino and her nine children; then Mrs. Urawa and her six. But the next largest family on the list was the nurse's: four children. The prisoners kept inquiring about the women who had been taken away. He put them off with "later" and "not yet," which was true at first; he sent off one of Baiburs' men to fetch them. But the man did not return, and Nagy realized Sultan might have no intention of releasing them. Still, he went on playing his part. Nagy could not have lasted this long if if he could not act a convincing role.
The last mother from the East Room, however, said to him, once she had her single child in her arms, "You are not releasing the three you took away, are you?"
Counting three cots still containing infants, Nagy said, "I told you, later. Now--"
"Are you going to release their children?" asked the woman in a clear, quiet, unsettling voice.
There was a point. Sultan had not been specific about that. But Nagy was inclined to do it; he was a very hard man, but not a cruel one. Besides, the children were nuisances, distractions. Better to get them all out of the way while he had the chance. "Yes, I am releasing them."
The woman said, "Let me take them. The older ones know me; there is no one after me they will trust. My companion Lorraine can take one of the babies. Ishtar can manage another. We would need only one more for the third baby."
Nagy eyed this one. By his lights, she was the most attractive of the women, swarthy as himself or his mother. And she was quite unafraid; he was certain of that.
"I will take your suggestion," Nagy replied. "We will return to the East Room, and you will gather up your friend and the children without fuss. But say as little about your missing friends as you can. Nothing would be best. We have things we want to keep secret, and we will take harsh measures to do it."
The woman said, "I believe you, Colonel. Thank you. I will remember this."
Nagy was generous. He sent the woman off with her companion and two of the servants they had captured, both black. Nagy was summoned to see Sultan after that, and wondered if he had made a mistake. The group was not off the grounds yet, but getting them back was a bad idea.
Sultan was watching television on a large set which could monitor sixteen channels at once. He asked, "Have you sent off the last of the children?"
"Yes," Nagy replied. "I sent off the ones belonging to the women we selected for medical duty with this group. I sent two black servants as will. Five of the children are black. This will make a good picture for the Americans. This city is mostly black, you know. Later you might think of releasing the black males for some favorable coverage."
Sultan said, "That is an option I have considered. Of course, one of the black men is a Secret Service agent, one is the Chief of Security, and two of them are guards, according to Major Baiburs' report."
"He is efficient in many ways," said Nagy.
"He is efficient in all ways, Colonel," retorted Sultan.
Nagy was not willing to let that pass unremarked. "Baiburs has hardly presented us with the best image, Commander. Abusing women and children will not play well. Is not playing well, as you can see." Two of the channels were showing images of the beaten woman.
Sultan did not bother to look at Nagy. "Baiburs has demonstrated that we have ruthless men among us. You and I have shown that we are capable of reason and kindness. After all, we have to seem hard enough to frighten them, yet not so much that they decide the best way to save the hostages is by eliminating us. . . . Colonel, how many women are left now? Besides the three medics?"
"About a dozen," replied Nagy.
"Can they work?" asked Sultan.
Nagy responded, "I suppose. What do you have in mind?"
Sultan said, still without turning away from the screen, "I want you send them out in pairs to carry away the bodies by the stairs. They are close to some of the air intakes. We can't use the air conditioning without bringing their stink inside."
"Yes, Commander," said Nagy. "How far away do you want them?"
Sultan said, "All the way off the grounds. And if you have enough able-bodied women, use them to clear the bodies from the grounds. Have the north patrol deal with any bodies that are left. Tell the Americans we will let them remove their dead later, according to instructions we will give them." Sultan turned to fix snake eyes on Nagy. "Do you approve?"
"Yes," replied Nagy. "It shows decency, but also reminds them how hard we can be."
"See to it, Colonel," said Sultan, turning back to the television.
Story Index Main Index