in extremis 
 Ken Goddard's
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BALEFIRE


CHAPTER ONE

Minus 37 Days … Thursday Evening … 1825 hours


Ben Maddox, a Huntington Beach patrol officer assigned to the swing shift front desk, had just finished saying good-night to the last of the stragglers going off duty, and was trying to adjust his plaster-bound leg into a more comfortable position when the elderly, timid looking man entered the reception area of the California police station.

"Help you?" Maddox asked, looking up, still trying to position his tender right leg on the stool he had borrowed from one of the Records clerks. Five more weeks, he thought moodily, as he prepared himself to listen, distracted by the knowledge that the lieutenant was going to transfer him out of Motors for carelessly totaling one of the brand-new Kawasaki’s.

"I am Martin Botts," the man said hesitantly in a broken and heavily accented voice. "I was told to report for work at the … first desk?" He smiled hopefully, the wrinkles crinkling on his tired-looking face as he fumbled in his jacket and brought out a small packet of identification cards, one of which indicated he was employed by the maintenance company that held the contract for cleaning the new police building.

"Front desk," Maddox corrected, comparing the ID photos on the cards with the wrinkled, still-smiling face. "Your first day on the job, Mr. Botts?"

"Yes, I am much too young to retire, in spite of what my children think." Botts was visibly pleased by the officer’s polite use of his surname.

"I know exactly what you’re talking about," Maddox nodded, remembering the comments of the orthopedic surgeon who had pinned his leg together. He flipped through the thick stack of well-worn pages on the front desk clipboard, and found the list of Leland Maintenance Services employees authorized to work unescorted inside the security doors of the police building. He immediately noted it had been a while since anyone had taken the time to type up an updated list. Almost every one of the original names had been crossed out and replaced in pen or pencil. As Maddox expected, no one had gotten around to adding the name of Martin Botts to the list. He said as much to the old man.

"Is there anything I can do, officer?" Hiram Gehling --- who would be using the name of Martin Botts for the next eight hours --- asked hesitantly. "I don’t want to cause trouble my first day on the job."

The problem of a security list was unexpected, and it had caught Gehling off guard. The Committee had gone to considerable lengths to arrange for his employment with Leland Maintenance Services and to brief him on the standard police security procedures as well as the floor plan of the building. But a security list had not been mentioned.

"Typical government efficiency, Mr. Botts. It’s not your fault," Maddox said, shaking his head. He hesitated, knowing that he was supposed to run a complete security check on the new maintenance man. That, however, would mean at least twenty minutes of painful limping through Warrants and the Records Bureau. Then there was the additional time he would have to spend on the phone trying to reach all of the people necessary to verify that a sixty-year-old retiree was authorized to push a mop and empty trash cans in the building. And it was six-thirty on a Friday evening.

"Listen," Maddox said, making his decision. "They issue you a room key?"

Gehling fumbled through his pockets again and came up with the key that would open the maintenance storage room in the basement. He held it up to the officer.

"Good enough. Tell you what, you can go to work tonight. But you tell your boss to make sure that he gets your name on the security list before you come in tomorrow. Okay?"

"Thank you very much, officer." Gehling nodded his head quickly in agreement. "I hope that I’m not going to get you into any trouble over this."

"Don’t worry about it, buddy," Maddox chuckled, motioning with his hand for the male cadet assigned to the front desk to come over. "As much trouble as I’m in now, there’s not a whole lot you could do to make it worse." He turned to the cadet. "Mike, why don’t you take Mr. Botts here through security and show him how to find the maintenance room. Take him on a tour of the building to get him oriented and then come on back."

Fifteen minutes later, having assured the eager-to-assist cadet that he could find his way around now, Gehling pushed his cart into the crime laboratory and pulled the door shut. He paused for two more minutes to correlate his memory of the floor-plan diagram with the actual layout and to make certain that no one had noticed --- and was coming to check on --- the unfamiliar individual who had just walked into a restricted area. As Gehling waited, he took note of the extensive alarm systems that protected the exterior door and windows of the laboratory. As expected, the actual examination rooms were locked separately.

Finally confident that he would be left alone for at least a few minutes, Gehling removed an elaborate set of lock picks from a packet strapped to his lower leg. The tumblers were difficult; the lock mechanisms had been specially purchased to provide additional security of the evidence in the rooms. Almost eight minutes elapsed before Gehling was able to align the last tumbler. Then he slowly turned the entire internal mechanism until it clicked.

Intently aware of the time-factor, Gehling quickly replaced the lock picks into his leg pouch and then entered the examination room. Moving immediately to the single desk phone in the room, he removed the phone cover and went to work. Using a small pocket screwdriver, he worked with careful haste to attach a miniaturized logic chip to a specific pair of thin, red-and-white striped wires. Then he quickly replaced the cover and dialed a memorized number to confirm that the phone still functioned properly. A voice answered. Gehling recited the number on the phone dial, hung up, and rapidly left the examination room.

Eight hours later, having installed twelve of the special logic chips in predetermined phones throughout the police building, Gehling waved goodnight to the cooperative desk officer and walked to his car. Everything was in order. Tomorrow morning, his "wife" would call Leland Maintenance Services advising them that her husband had found the work to be too demanding on his heart, and he would regrettably have to find other employment. By that time, Mr. Hiram Gehling, alias Martin Botts, would be far, far away.

Smiling contentedly at the completion of another job well done, Gehling patted the inner pocket of his jacket, which contained his passport and a stack of soon-to-be-used first-class airline tickets, and began the one-hour drive to the Los Angeles International Airport.

*****

Arlan Marakai, a meticulously dressed man with dark Mediterranean features, strode purposefully through the large glass door of the southern California Pontiac car dealership and advanced toward the potbellied salesman who was drinking a cup of coffee with a fellow con man. Eighteen years of competition-hardened instincts spotted a probable sale, and the salesman moved with deceptive speed to block out his competition and intercept the customer in the middle of the showroom.

"Can I help ---" he began.

"I would like to purchase an automobile." Marakai spoke in precise Oxfordian English.

"Certainly." The salesman nodded happily, sensing the glare that his associate was focusing on the back of his head. "We have ---"

"A Firebird," Marakai stated. "Black. Fully optioned. Five-speed package. Sun roof, of course."

"Of course," the salesman managed to say without actually grinning. "We don’t have one in stock at the moment, but ---"

"Delivery in five days," Marakai continued as though the salesman hadn’t spoken. "Ownership to be registered as indicated on this document." Marakai reached into his immaculate sports jacket and pulled out a folded piece of heavy manila bond which he handed to the stunned salesman. "A simple gift," he explained in a tone which dismissed the need for any explanations.

"I’m not sure ---" the salesman tried again.

"I’m sure that you are perfectly capable of dealing with any difficulties that may be encountered," Marakai continued firmly. "A one-thousand-dollar premium should cover any additional expenses that you may incur. Payment, of course, will be in cash at the time of delivery."

"Cash?" the salesman repeated weakly, not quite able to absorb the direction or the speed of the transaction all at once.

"Certainly. Now then, are we agreed as to terms?"

"Ah, yeah, sure," the salesman stammered, abandoning any attempt to gain some semblance of control over the situation. He had no idea how or where he was going to get a black Firebird in five days.

"Excellent." Marakai nodded as though he expected nothing less than total cooperation in such matters. "I should also like one in azure blue and another in royal maroon." He reached into the jacket for two more pieces of the heavy manila bond.

Forty-five minutes later, Mr. Arlan Marakai entered the Datsun showroom on beach Boulevard and approached the politely attentive salesman.

"May I help you?" the salesman inquired.

"Yes, I would like to purchase an automobile," Marakai said, reaching into his hand-tailored jacket, taking care not to pull out the packet which contained the airline tickets and his passport.

*****

Bobby Joe Edwards, foreman of the fifteen-man crew from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, stepped across the nailed two-by-four forms that would contain the massive cement support slab, jammed his gloved fists against his tool belt, and wrinkled his sunburned forehead in professional satisfaction.

In spite of the latest armload of changes from the City Architect’s office, Bobby Joe was satisfied that his crew would meet their deadline with days to spare. The emergency fuel tank was already pressure-tested and buried. The specs for the huge burner had been fed into the grid program and cleared. No one in the valley would run short on gas to heat their hot tubs or grill their hamburgers. As soon as the bare-chested master plumber finished soldering the latest pipe changes, the would be ready to call in the cement crew. No problem.

Bobby Joe sucked in a deep breath through his cigar-stained teeth and grinned happily as he stared into the future.

In exactly thirty-seven days, the 1984 Summer Olympic games would open in Los Angeles Olympic Stadium. At ten o’clock that evening, a young athlete carrying the symbolic torch would sprint up the thirty-eight tile steps which were now only lines on a sheet of blueprint. At the precise moment that the runner reached the top of the platform, Bobby Joe would open a large brass valve with a firm twist of his heavily callused right hand, keeping his eyes locked on the flow gauge and his left hand on the backup valve. The runner would pause, salute the stadium, and then extend his arm, placing the burning torch against the lip of the massive brass bowl that would be filled with heavy gas fumes. The flame would ignite, and the Games would begin once again, this time with the help of Bobby Joe and his work crew.

Like most of the Los Angeles County residents, Bobby Joe Edwards was loudly and emotionally supportive of the mayor’s declaration that the 1984 Olympic Games would be held in Los Angeles, regardless of any threat of boycott, demonstration, or violence by any government or special interest group. "Or any other dissident assholes!" Bobby Joe had shouted one night while watching TV in a local bar with his drinking buddies. He had pounded his thick fist on the bar with glee as the chief of the Los Angeles police department declared his intention to use hundreds of volunteer police officers from neighboring cities in addition to his own officers to make certain that the Games would be held without incident.

"Goddamned right!" Bobby Joe declared as he continued to watch his mean sweat and work in the hot sun. As far as Bobby Joe was concerned, the Olympic Flame was a symbol of everything that was right about the Games, and the United States of America, for that matter. When it came time for an American athlete to run up those steps, the Olympic torch held high and proud in his hand, Bobby Joe would see to it that the flame continued to burn.

*****

Seventy miles south of Los Angeles, a young man named Baakar Sera-te stepped out of the elevator at the top floor --- number fourteen --- and stared with undiminished awe at the entryway to his temporary penthouse residence. Still unaccustomed to the richness that enveloped him, the young Arab communications expert allowed himself a few moments of blissful contentment before he carried his armload of last-minute shopping items through the front door of his lavish three-bedroom apartment.

As Baakar Sera-te stepped inside the Santa Ana penthouse, he mentally shifted from the assumed personality of a nervous and shy foreign exchange student to that of a trained, determined, dedicated individual with a mission. Unlike Hiram Gehling and Arlan Marakai --- both of whom had been well paid to complete assignments of short duration --- Baakar Sera-te had no intention of using his forged passport or his escape route in the near future.

Placing his shopping bags on the wooden kitchen table, Baakar began the series of tasks for which he had been trained with single-minded intensity during the last nine months of his relatively short life.

First he set the locks --- three separate dead bolts at the top, middle, and bottom of the reinforced door. Forced entry would still be possible, but such an entry would take time, too much time. Baakar smiled with fierce pride.

The electrical circuits were next.

The first series magnetically alarmed the door and the panoramic windows. A green light over the door blinked reassuringly. The alarms were loud and wired in duplicate. Baakar would be awakened within milliseconds of an attempted entry from any direction. He nodded his head in satisfaction.

The second series of circuits were wired directly into the instruments that would comprise the total reason for his existence in the weeks to follow. The instruments represented the latest in computerized communications technology --- instruments specifically designed and built for covert communications. Baakar threw the switch, and twelve large, yellow buttons glowed brightly in their selected locations throughout the apartment --- there were two in the bathroom and one right next to his bed. All that Baakar would have to do would be to reach one of the buttons, press firmly, and every bit of incriminating data in the memory banks would be wiped irretrievably clean.

The third series of circuits were the most critical. Baakar held his breath as he closed the final switch, and hen exhaled with a relaxed smile as the room remained intact. He had wired the circuits himself, and had made the appropriate triple-checks, but one could never be absolutely certain until the loop was actually closed. Next to each of the twelve yellow buttons, twelve red buttons glowed their brilliant affirmation that the explosive devices were armed and ready to obliterate the entire fourteenth floor of the building the moment that such an action became necessary. The stage was now set.

The red buttons might very well be necessary, Baakar knew. The man that the Committee had hired was known to be ruthless and persistent in carrying out his assignments, driven to succeed at whatever the cost. He would be expected to push the opposition with fierce, insidious determination, ultimately forcing them to strike back wildly out of desperation and fear. He also had a reputation for pushing his resources to their limits and expending them whenever there was a tactical advantage to be gained.

The reality of Baakar’s mission was that he was a resource --- essential to the success of the Project, but at the same time, totally expendable. His task was to maintain a communications link between the man and the Committee, a link that would remain open twenty-four hours a day, a link which would be severed the moment that pursuit of the man placed the Committee --- and more importantly, the Project --- in danger.

In simple terms, Baakar Sera-te was a cutout. If something went wrong, he would have to die.