Nothing, however, was more important than taking the Steenpaleis, the Stone Palace. Nothing. The Go-Between had been emphatic about it, and so far the Go-Between had been right about everything, starting with the value of his own contributions. He had been as good as his word--no, better. He had been generous to the point of profligacy with his armaments and, equally important, his intelligence. He had not disappointed the Caliph, and the Caliph would not disappoint him. The Caliph's opponents had their resources, their backers and benefactors; why should he not have his?
"It's still cold!" Arjun cried out with delight as he picked up the beer can. The outside of the can was actually frosty. Arjun pressed it to the side of his face, moaning with pleasure. His fingers melted oval impressions in the icy coating, which glinted cheerily in the checkpoint's yellow mercury light.
"And it's really full?" Shyam said doubtfully.
"Unopened," Arjun said. "Heavy with the health drink!" And it was heavy, unexpectedly so. "We'll pour off a swig for the ancestors. A few long swallows for me, and whatever drops are left for you, since I know you don't like the stuff." Arjun's thick fingers scrabbled for the pull tab, then gave it a firm yank.
The muffled pop of the detonator, like the sound of a party favor that spews confetti, came milliseconds before the actual explosion. It was almost enough time for Arjun to register the thought that he had been the victim of a small prank and for Shyam to register the thought that his suspicions--although they had remained at the not-quite-conscious level of vague disquiet--had been justified. When the twelve ounces of plastique exploded, both men's trains of thought came to an end.
The blast was a shattering moment of light and sound that instantly expanded into an immense, fiery oval of destruction. The shock waves destroyed the two knife rests and the wooden roadside booth, as well as the barracks and those who slept there. The pair of guards who were supposed to have been on duty as backstop at the other end of the roadblock died before they awoke. The intense, momentary heat caused an area of the red laterite soil to crust into an obsidian-like glass. And then, as quickly as it arrived, the explosion--the deafening noise, the blinding light--vanished, like a man's fist when he opens his hand. The force of destruction was fleeting, the destruction itself permanent.
Fifteen minutes later, when a convoy of canvas-topped personnel carriers made its way through what remained of the checkpoint, no subterfuge would be necessary.
There was an irony, the Caliph realized, in the fact that only his adversaries would fully understand the ingenuity of the predawn onslaught. On the ground, the fog of war would obscure what would be obvious from far away: the pattern of precisely coordinated attacks. The Caliph knew that within a day or so, analysts at the American spy agencies would be peering at satellite imagery that would make the pattern of activity as clear as a textbook diagram. The Caliph's victory would become the stuff of legend; his debt to the Go-Between--not least at the insistence of the Go-Between himself--would remain a matter between him and Allah.
A pair of binoculars was brought to the Caliph, who surveyed the honor guards arrayed before the main gate.
They were human ornaments, an accordion of paper dolls. Another instance of the government's elitist stupidity. The compound's nighttime illumination rendered them sitting ducks while simultaneously impeding their ability to see anything in the surrounding darkness.
The honor guards represented the ARA's elite--typically, those with relatives in high places, mannerly careerists with excellent hygiene and a knack for maintaining the crease in their neatly pressed uniforms. The crème de la crème brulée, the Caliph reflected to himself with a mixture of irony and contempt. They were showmen, not warriors. Through the binoculars, he gazed at the seven men, each holding a rifle braced upright on his shoulder, where it would look impressive and be perfectly useless. Not even showmen. Playthings.
The Janson Directive. Copyright 2002 by Myn Pyn LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews Reproduced by permission of the publisher, St Martin's Press.
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