The PT Chevron Pacific Gulfstream banks towards the north after lifting off from the international airport at Kuala Lumpur. The oil-exploration team has reason to celebrate: The new oil field outside of Minas will be the biggest reserve in the history of Indonesia. And the country desperately needs it. The team breaks open the fifty-year-old bottle of scotch they've been saving for just this moment. But in the next moment, the jet drops abruptly, like a rock, then turns sharply west on a path similar to that of a well-known commercial airliner from the recent past, descends through radar coverage . . . and disappears.
Decorated Marine colonel and small-town Georgia D.A. Will Parker has nothing to do with Chevron Pacific—until the wife of a former Marine buddy calls. She understands that her husband, who had been working for Chevron, is gone. But she wants answers, and the FBI and CIA are of little help. It's a request Will can't refuse.
Will's contact on the ground is Retno Karims, a sharp, multilingual, former Miss Indonesia who speaks Bahasa Indonesian, Chinese, and Javanese. She also happens to be from Banda Aceh. Rumor has it that the terrorist group Laskar Mujahidin has reawakened and is operating somewhere in Banda Aceh on the northern point of Sumatra. No one doubts they're involved in downing the oil-company jet. Then again, no one believes any proof will stick, even if authorities locate the wreckage. Parker believes otherwise . . .
Praise for RETRIBUTION
“Tense and authentic—reading this book is like living a real life mission.”
“I seldom come across a thriller as authentic and well‑written as Retribution. Andy Harp brings his considerable military expertise to a global plot that's exciting, timely, and believable . . . to say that I'm impressed is an understatement.”
—David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Protector
“Retribution is a stunner: a blow to the gut and shot of adrenaline. Here is a novel written with authentic authority and bears shocking relevance to the dangers of today. It reminds me of Tom Clancy at his finest.”
—James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of Bloodline
“Outstanding thriller with vivid characters, breakneck pacing, and suspense enough for even the most demanding reader. Harp writes with complete authenticity and a tremendous depth of military knowledge. A fantastic read—don't miss it!”
—Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling author of Impact
Release date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 308
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November 400CP Is Missing
The sound of the helicopter came long before he saw it appear above the palm trees. It reminded him of another one on the other side of the world.
I hope this one does better. Charles Hedges rubbed his arm. His left forearm had suffered a bad compound fracture when the Marine CH-53 tore into a hillside just outside of Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. A sudden sandstorm had blinded the pilots. He was the only survivor, who had, some would say, the luck of being thrown out of the plunging machine and into the rocky hillside. More bones than his arm had been broken, but the arm would always hurt. It reminded him of his fellow Marines who didn’t survive the fireball that engulfed the wreckage.
Operation Khanjar finished off Chuck Hedges’s Marine career after several months in Bethesda and a medical board that didn’t agree with his argument that he could still carry a combat load on his back. He left the Corps as a major and Executive Officer of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. As a leader of 2/8 in a third combat tour, he was destined to be a colonel and possibly much higher. But he had a sterling record of getting the job done and employment opportunities started calling once he hit the door.
“Come on, Chuck. It can’t be that bad.” The leader of the Chevron expedition never served. He went straight to work with Chevron’s exploration team after leaving the University of Michigan.
“You have that worried look again.” The engineer lit another cigarette as they stood in the field deep in the heart of Sumatra.
Chuck Hedges pulled up the shoulder strap of his backpack in demonstration of ignoring his boss’s comment.
“This is your last haul. You’ve been worried about this one more than I have ever seen.” The Chevron engineer smiled at Chuck as the two stood on the edge of a clearing surrounded by a forest of palm trees. He pulled another drag on his cigarette. A small white metal Butler building was just inside the grove of trees and had been their home for the last several days. The engineer led a small team of three plus the security officer, Chuck Hedges.
“We needed to leave a week ago.”
Chuck had been worried. Sumatra was turning back toward a place that should cause one to worry. The island had been a hotbed for fundamentalist Muslims before the Great Sumatra fault just to the west had split open a decade earlier. It caused one of the most devastating earthquakes to strike Southeast Asia. Far deadlier, a tsunami quickly followed the quake and struck the coastal towns and cities with a wave that came in at two hundred miles an hour. The wall of water was well over a hundred feet high. The northern coast of Sumatra became, for a flash of a moment, something out of a Hollywood disaster movie. The death count was well into six figures. In all of the bad news, there had been one piece of good news. It had broken the back of the Muslim fundamentalist groups. Sumatra and Indonesia had been quiet now for a decade. But time had allowed the disaster to become a footnote. Trouble was brewing again.
“Time to get out of here.” Chuck had the respect of the chief engineer and the other bosses at Chevron Pacific. He was a wiry, medium-built man who barely reached six feet, with a black curly beard and cold brown eyes that could push a stranger back if one stared into them. The broken bones had only made him stronger, more determined to be fit and capable of his job as head of security for the Sumatra exploration team. His workouts were well known by the Chevron staff, two hundred sit-ups every morning. He found a crossbeam in the building they camped out in and used it for his fifty pull-ups. He also carried, under his blue Chevron polo shirt, tucked in a holster in the back of his 5.11 combat pants, his Glock 23.
“Last one before corporate.” The chief engineer had helped Chuck’s Chevron career, as had others. Chuck was leaving the field to head up Chevron’s security system. For the first time in his two careers, Chuck Hedges was going to spend more than a few nights at home, in bed with his wife, and playing ball with his two young sons.
“We aren’t there yet.” Chuck turned his back to the Chevron Sikorsky 76D as it gently touched down in the grass of the clearing. The men grabbed their bags and backpacks and ran to the aircraft as its blades continued to spin. The helicopter had the full fittings of an executive machine with leather seats and dark wood paneling. Chuck was the last one on board, making sure that all were secure and safe.
The aircraft rose up, turned to the south and accelerated over the acres and acres of palm trees. After several miles, Chuck watched the terrain change. The palm tree groves gave way to a spiderweb of oil rigs that covered the valley as far as he could see. The oil fields of Minas were the richest in all of Indonesia.
Since the 1940s these fields gave up enough black gold to provide nearly half of all the oil produced in Indonesia. It was the largest producer of crude in all of Southeast Asia. But it had a problem. It was giving out.
Chuck pulled out his iPad and pulled up the most recent threat brief from the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency. Chevron Pacific Indonesia’s security officer had been given special access to the daily intelligence briefings on Indonesia. The agencies limited Chuck’s access to Southeast Asia, but it had been a good source of warnings. It only confirmed what he was worried about.
“Damn,” he said to himself. A police station in Kuala Lumpur had been overrun by a terror group that had killed five officers. As a security officer, he didn’t like the feel of the country.
The other men started to doze off with the hum of the turbines. They had lived on cots for most of a week, eating rations carried into the backcountry but supplemented by several ice chests full of Anker beer. The beer had to be brought in on their Chevron aircraft, as it was getting rarer for alcohol to be found in the Muslim island of Sumatra.
Chuck continued to stare out his window. His boss tapped him on his knee.
“Time to go into town and get a shower?” The man shouted the words over the roar of the engines.
“No.” The former active duty Marine shut down the thought with one word. “Straight to the bird.”
“OK.” The engineer didn’t fight the order. “Honolulu then.” He looked at his watch. “I’ll get our pilot to call the bird and get it warmed up.” He turned to the two up front, tapped one on the shoulder, leaned over and told the man something only the two could hear. The response was a thumbs-up.
Chuck knew that the mission they were on needed to be reported back to corporate headquarters as quickly as possible. For the same reason, it was important that the team leave not only Sumatra, but Indonesia as well.
The Sikorsky started to descend from its altitude just as darkness was setting in. Chuck stood up in the cabin, looking over the pilot’s seat to see the green, white, and red glow of the instrument panel and, beyond, the lights of Sultan Syarif Kasim II airport. The city of Pekanbaru was off to one side of the airfield in the distance.
Chuck adjusted the Glock as he sat back down when the aircraft started to bank into its landing. He looked out on the airfield and in the low light saw the shape of Chevron’s Gulfstream G650ER. Their mission was important enough that corporate had provided one of its primary executive airplanes that could easily reach Hawaii with its Mach .9 speed. There was activity around the Gulfstream, crew moving quickly to ready the aircraft to pull back for takeoff.
The Sikorsky landed just to the side of the Gulfstream and as Chuck heard the turbines of the helicopter wind down, the engines of the jet started to overtake the noise. A ground crew worker pulled the door open and grabbed the bags of several of the men.
“See you onboard. The ice is waiting!” The engineer slapped Hedges on his knee.
“Got to make a call. Be right there.” Chuck held up his satellite phone. He looked at his watch and calculated the time zones. She wouldn’t be there, with her job, but he just wanted to let her know that the journey home had begun.
The phone went to voice mail.
“Hey, gettin’ on the last ride. They want us to stop in Honolulu but should be home by Tuesday. Love you. Tell the guys to get their gloves ready.” At Annapolis, he’d lettered all four years on the Navy’s baseball team. He wanted his kids to have the same skill set, but time was running out. They would be well beyond the coaching stage if he delayed much longer. Chuck had thought long and hard about this transition in his life.
He stepped onto the tarmac and stepped around the puddles left by another thunderstorm. Rain happened on a daily basis. The Gulfstream’s tail number N400CP stood out on the white, glistening body of the aircraft.
“Get some sleep on this bird,” he said to himself. The seats were large, leather, and soft and would lay out flat. The Gulfstream would quickly climb above the weather, settle down at something above forty thousand feet, and the first cool air in several weeks would quickly put them all to sleep.
“Ready to go, sir.” The man standing in front of him had on a Chevron shirt and dark pants.
“Where’s Guppa?” Chuck stared at the man for a brief second.
The engineer was waving at the door to the aircraft.
Charles Hedges ran to the door. He should have gone with his instincts.
The Gulfstream’s male steward closed the door as soon as Chuck came through it. At the same moment, the aircraft started to taxi, and in no more time than it took Chuck to sit in a seat and put on his seat belt the engines spun up and the airplane was airborne.
The engineer sat across from Chuck and raised his crystal glass in a toast.
“Ice and bourbon. Life is good!”
“Yeah.” Chuck waved at him. He noticed the steward headed to the back, where the restroom was in the rear of the aircraft. Chuck loosened his seat belt, sat up, and pulled the Glock with its holster from his belt, setting it on a side table. Sleep came quickly as he knew he was safe and the jet climbed above the thick cloud cover.
The fall from the sky came quickly.
Chuck saw his Glock float up in the air then fall away from him, as if it was a fastball thrown by a major leaguer. The jet was in a deep dive. The masks came down from the overheads as a loud scream of noises rose through the aircraft. Chuck, still restrained by the seat belt, reached out and grabbed the engineer’s arm. The man’s eyes were as wide as saucers, his face was pale white, and he had the look of pending death and fear.
“You’re not going to die.” Chuck knew an important clue. The steward had not come out of the bathroom. “Listen to me! Tell them nothing! If you do, they will kill you! Nothing!”
“Your life doesn’t mean anything to them if you tell them why you are here. Got it?”
The aircraft pulled out of the dive at less than fifty feet above the water. The lights had been cut off and the Gulfstream traveled for some time in complete darkness. Chuck wanted to reach for his Glock but every time he stood up, the airplane made a giant swing as if to put him back in his seat. Finally, he gave up and pulled his seat belt tight.
“They are going to run this into the ground.” He said the words, but no one was listening. They were all praying to their God and working their cell phones. It wouldn’t matter. Chuck pulled both his cell and his satellite phone from his pockets, but both were out of commission. Whether it was the speed of the aircraft or the low altitude, the phones had no reception. Chuck figured out what the pilot would do. The plane would stay low to the end of its journey, then slow down with full flaps, but not rise up, and run into the water or the ground. The airplane would stay well below radar for the remainder of the trip. “Keep your head down to your legs as long as you can.”
The engineer shook his head and tucked down. He didn’t have to hold the position long.
Chuck remembered hearing, at the beginning of the end, the wings clipping the tops of palm trees, then seeing, as if in slow motion, the aircraft being shredded by the crash. It all happened in an instant and then blackness overtook him.
Will Parker hadn’t planned to be in Alaska for more than a month. He had returned from his lodge in Georgia to get in some flying. Alaska offered the opportunity to fly like no other place in the world. He often had to set his airplane down on a river shoreline, or with pontoons on an isolated lake, or at other times, land on ice. He loved it. Alaska was the last, great frontier. It required the best of a pilot and mistakes rarely were forgiven.
Where are they? he thought as he followed a river up through a valley where one lake was connected to another. Two hunters from the lower forty-eight had called in an emergency. Their guide, who promised a hunting trip for bear at a very low rate, turned out to be an alcoholic. Once he finished his last bottle, he went into the d.t.’s and they woke up a long way from any civilization. They had gotten what they had paid for.
Will’s Turbine Maule single engine airplane was made for the wilderness. It was built like a tank and could make a landing on any surface if given enough room. He slowed the aircraft, dropped some flaps and cruised the circumference of the river valley.
Got to be on this one. Will had covered much of the river above where the hunting party had been dropped into the wilderness. The hunting permits for nonresidents were for Game Management Unit 19D, which helped narrow the search down, but a poor guide could have taken them much farther from the drop-off spot. This was their ninth day and supplies would be low. But the Maule’s fuel was getting low as well.
“November 156 following the Kuskokwim River passing Vinasale Mountain. Making one more lap up the river.” Will’s radio report helped those back at the airfield keep track of the effort. The late spring sunlight gave him several more hours to search than a month ago. The hunters had a radio and had reported in, but the guide was unconscious and of no help. Will had been told that they had been dropped off, hiked for several days, and had no sense of where they were. The country had an ample supply of nine-hundred-pound grizzly bears who could turn the hunters into those being hunted. One bear in the area had come in at over thirteen hundred pounds with claws on its front paws that could shred the body of a pickup truck. And it would be a mistake to run. Jesse Owens would not have escaped a hungry brown bear.
Will’s aircraft banked hard to the left in a turn and looked for any sign. Vinasale Mountain jutted up from the river valley. The Maule circled the point of rock.
“Roger, November 156, better bring it on in before we are looking for you.”
Will recognized the voice. The brotherhood of bush pilots watched out for each other. Will turned the Maule back to the south.
“Another night can’t be good. One more pass.” Will had seen the weather reports and more thunderstorms were expected. He guessed that the men thought well of themselves as being expert hunters, but Alaska could wear you out quickly. And desperation would set in. A hunter in the lower forty-eight could always walk out of a bad situation. If he followed a river downstream in the West, it would lead to something. In Alaska, it led only to more wilderness.
As Will turned to the south, he saw something near the bank of the Kuskokwim River.
A sliver of white smoke rose up from the woods on the far shore of the lake. Got ’em.
“November 156, hunters on the Kuskokwim just southwest of Vinasale Mountain.” Will loved the Maule. He had bought the single engine taildragger aircraft on this trip to Alaska. It could carry four in tight quarters and land on nothing more than fifty yards of flat riverbank. The turbine engine had more power than needed even with a full load. It was the Porsche of bush pilots.
He banked the aircraft again, going slow over the river and picking out the spot of sand and smooth river water. It was no more than fifty yards from the spiral of smoke.
Will made the final turn into the wind, dropped some flaps, and slowed to a fast walk. The large donut tundra tires rode gently over the sand and rocks. As the turbine spun down Will was greeted at the nose of his aircraft by two men who looked very ready to head back to civilization.
“You guys OK?”
“He’s dead.” The taller of the two had sloped shoulders, gray hair tucked under a well-worn Orvis hunting hat, and a week-old beard. His companion stood just behind him, a foot shorter, but just as worn out. Their clothes were wet and covered with a layer of mud.
“Your guide?” Will was asking the obvious.
“Back at our lean-to.” The taller one spoke.
“We are both doctors. He’s with MD Anderson.” The smaller one took over the conversation. “We were residents together at Mayo.”
Will had heard of the famed Houston cancer center and Mayo Clinic. It sounded like an often-used line that certainly would impress many in the lower forty-eight. Here in the Alaska wilderness it fell in the category of not a “need to know.”
“When did you last eat?”
“Ran out of everything four days ago. Didn’t even see a chipmunk.”
This land wasn’t covered with chipmunks, but the lack of game probably began when they lit their fires. Hunger was setting in with the two lost hunters.
“Let’s get you out of here.”
“Just need our rifles.”
“Sure, I’ll call the AWT. They’ll get a helicopter out here at first light.” Will knew that the Alaska Wildlife Troopers, or game wardens, would want to investigate a death and get the body out before the wildlife had it for dinner, but they wouldn’t go into the wilderness with the sun going down. Looking for a dead body in the dark could lead to more dead bodies.
“Thanks.” The taller one stuck out his hand. “We owe you one.”
Will laughed at the comment.
“Happy to help. Get your stuff and let’s go.”
The Maule lifted off with ease, turned to the south and headed toward the closest airfield. The men had a hefty bill to pay. They would carry the price of others who had diverted from their own hunting parties to help in a rescue. With a hunt in Alaska costing $10,000 or more, the bill for a rescue wasn’t cheap. Several airplanes had flown on the rescue mission, but the two doctors from Houston wouldn’t mind paying. The fear of the wilderness could make any man humble. But Will knew one other thing about this rescue. It was far more important that nothing was said that would get back to Texas. Anyone who traveled to the backcountry of Alaska had his pride.
The two hunters climbed out of the Maule at the airfield. The older, taller one turned back to their rescue pilot.
“Can’t say thanks enough.”
“No problem.” Will didn’t need any more thanks than the fact that the two left the backcountry of Alaska alive.
“Didn’t get your name?”
“Just a rescuer.” Will didn’t need a gift package later on.
“OK, rescuer. Thanks again.” As the hunter walked away, he stopped and turned around. He dropped his backpack to the ground, struggled with one of the side pockets and pulled out a business card. “I owe you a steak. If you ever get to Houston, call!”
A truck pulled up with a tank of fuel on a trailer. The driver attached a hose to the airplane and hand-cranked the pump. Soon the Maule had been topped off.
“The state’s got this.” The driver pointed to a uniformed figure who had walked up to the airplane.
“I’m heading back,” said Will. The man who had controlled the rescue effort stood in front of Will. He was dressed in the uniform of an Alaskan game warden and stood at the wingtip of the Maule. “Their guide’s body is a quarter of a mile down the Kuskokwim just below Vinasale Mountain.”
“Thanks for your help.” The game warden stuck out his hand.
Will shook it.
“We got some steaks on the grill. Don’t you want to join us?”
“Thanks, but the air’s calm, there’s plenty of moonlight and I need to get back.”
Will’s airplane slipped off the runway and climbed out over the forest. It soon gained altitude and once his altimeter showed four thousand feet, he knew he was clear of any of the small mountains between him and his home field. The full moon cast a light that reflected off the rivers below. Will had flown over this territory many times and the illumination of the light as it struck the water and the twists and turns of the rivers gave him his bearings. The green glow of his instruments also confirmed his direction. The moon, the stars, and the hum of his engine reminded him why he had come to Alaska to fly.
Will thought this was his last rescue mission for the year. He would be wrong.
The two men walked past the gold sign attached to the bleached-white wall that surrounded the building on Jalan Ampang Hilir in the suburb of Kuala Lumpur. They stopped at the front gate, then moved on quickly. One spat on the sign as they moved away: the Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
A few minutes later a white Toyota pickup truck roared down the quiet street. It turned suddenly into the embassy, crashing through the gate. Neighbors could hear the sound of automatic rifle fire followed by an explosion. Then there was a second explosion. Sirens began to wail as both the police and military descended on the building. Smoke could be seen rising up from the structure.
A day later the Malaysian military unit VA. . .
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