Navy Nagar Parade Ground Sea Wall,
Colaba, Mumbai, India
Wednesday 26th November, 2008 (20.37hrs)
The western horizon was dark by now and as the tide came in, I noticed that the sea had suddenly grown calmer. The waves that had been crashing on those star-shaped blocks below, were now jostling each other playfully and lapping at them, like they were saying to those blocks,” Sorry, guys, hope you weren’t hurt? Joe here gets all excited on seein’ land, y’know.”
As if on cue, the vendors, their pushcarts, the pony rides, the ferris wheel and the balloons, all melted away into the lights of the city and the tiny beach quickly began ceding territory to the tide, if only for a short while. Phosphorescent foam began washing over the rocks, making them glitter. The sky had been overcast all evening and now suddenly even the winds were still. Had Wagner been here he certainly would have written a crescendo for the scene. The world seemed to stand still. I usually didn’t stay this late and I have no idea why I hung around.
A light blinked on briefly some way beyond the surf, catching my eye and breaking into those thoughts of the Sindhudhanush. Something made me bring up the Oberwerk and train it in the general direction of the flash. Immediately the two speeding zodiacs filled my eyepiece. There were five of them in each, huddled forms, outlined in an eerie red glow by the night vision of the binoculars. Each man seemed to be toting a bulky backpack. The two inflatables pitched and bounced on the waves, releasing bursts of spray as they hit the troughs and bounced off the crests, racing toward the little strip of sand that bordered the jumble of the concrete blocks by the seawall. On their heading they would be beaching right about a hundred meters from where I was perched.
As I followed their progress, that something which had made me sweep the waters one last time, leaped up at me. It had been a brief conversation I had had with Commodore Jimmy Taraporewala at the Navy Club the previous evening. Jimmy had on, an overall that the members of his corps wear, with those shoulder patches depicting in graphic red and black, a crocodile lashing out with its tail. It was an insignia I was intimately familiar with, having worn it myself for six eventful years. Jimmy had succeeded me as head of the Special Forces Divison of the Indian Navy, a shadowy outfit known by the acronym, MARCOS.
We were both nursing sodas, except that mine had a couple of fingers of McDovell Premium in it. Not needing much coaxing, Jimmy whispered,” We have a red alert, Krish. Something is about to happen.”
I looked up sharply, “You mean a landing?”
Jimmy nodded and then grimaced. “Those a—–les at the IB have no clue. No news from our assets at the ISI. JCB and DNI are working on it non-stop. All Coast Guard vessels, as well as the Sindhukirti and Sindhuratna, have slipped their moorings. The Talwar and Trishul are on their way from the Maldives. We ourselves are at 5 minute readiness”.
I leaned forward, “Where did the tip-off originate?”
“Mossad.” Jimmy stared at me and nodded, ” Of late, there has been more active cooperation between us and the Israelis than you had in your time, Krish.”
“What about those Neptunes you just acquired? We have two now, don’t we? Put them on a permanent orbit over the west coast till this thing is over.” I was referring to the new Boeing P-8I Neptune reconnaissance aircraft that have just been inducted into the Navy.
“Boeing technicians are still sorting out some glitches with the Magnetic Anomaly Detectors in them,” Jimmy made a disgusted face and the conversation veered away to his son, Ronnie, who was passing out of the NDA in a week.
Premonition made the hair at the nape of my neck stand rigid. I peered through the Oberwerk, at the huddled shapes on the zodiacs. Fishermen aren’t out so late and besides, they don’t gallivant around the Arabian Sea in zodiacs, I said to myself. They might have seen me, silhouetted against the street lights behind. I crossed my legs over the parapet, stowed the Oberwerk into my windcheater and quickly dropped down to the ground on all fours and began picking my way through the rubble on the side of the road in a crouching gait, in order to remain below the level of the parapet.
10 yards of knee-lacerating crawl brought me to a crack in the seawall where the cement had crumbled, forming a gap large enough to let a man through. It had probably been deliberately created just to have a short-cut to the asphalt, by those street urchins who beg around the beach during the day. I slid through the gap and started slithering down toward the sand, gingerly stepping over the star-shaped blocks, knowing they would be coated with moss and slippery as hell.
As I placed my foot in the squishy sand, I saw the silhouettes. The men had by now, run the boats onto the sand and begun getting out of their polyurethane suits. They seemed to be speaking and gesturing with each other but the steady shush of the waves drowned all sounds around. The one who was already out of his wetsuit and still bare-chested, was the first to sense my presence. In a single fluid motion, his right hand came up holding a handgun while he dropped to a crouch.
I had expected that. I raised my hand, palm outward and whispered,” Salaam, Bhaijan.” (Greetings to you, brother). He peeled off from the rest and came forward. The gun in his hand was a 9mm Luger and he brought it down, holding it loosely in his right hand, as he came to a halt a few feet from me. He was clean-shaven, diminutive and wiry and had piercing bright eyes that had no fear in them. A pro.
“Salaam,” said the man,” Do you have our stuff, janab?”
I nodded,” Its all in there.” I gestured toward the star-shaped blocks by the seawall.
“Aapki tareef?” (Who are you?), he looked up at me.
“Aftab”, I said, to which he nodded.
“Aur aap hain, janab…?” (And you?)
He turned his piercing gaze at me and said, “Babar”.
“Leh, usko samhal, Ajmal, ” the man named Babar barked and a wild-eyed guy who looked young enough to be a teenager, dropped what he was doing and made his way toward the blocks. I braced myself. The star shaped blocks were about 100 meters from where we were standing. The boy, Ajmal, would be gone maybe five minutes max. They had five minutes to realize I was lying. There was nothing there.
We waited, my hands on my waist, my right palm just inches away from the Glock34 that I always carried with me these days. Ex-special forces members are licensed to carry a hidden automatic weapon. The Glock had become a part of me, nestled in the small of my back, now hidden by the windcheater.
As the seconds ticked away, the man called Babar said,” Rana ne wapsi ki koi zikar kiya? (Did Rana mention the extraction plans?)”
“Rana?” I stared at the man, “Nahin, hamein Rana ne nahin bheja.” (Rana? I have no idea. Rana didn’t send me)
“To phir?” I could see the first flush of puzzlement in the man’s eyes, as the man called Babar straightened up and stared, “Kisney bheja?” (Then who sent you?)
“MARCOS,” the acronym, pronounced clearly, hung in the air for a split second. I had whispered it so softly that only Babar heard me.
Maybe it was fatigue brought on by the 50km ride on the zodiacs or the stress that any clandestine operation can bring on, I don’t know. But a split second can be a very long time in our business. Time enough to die.
The man called Babar was bringing his firing arm up when the Glock appeared almost by magic in my hand. It took another half millisecond for Babar to grow a third nipple, right between the other two. He collapsed in a heap and rolled over, staring up, squinting, his eyes trying to focus. Perhaps he had noticed a new star on the belt of Orion. A trickle of blood began seeping out of the corner of his lips and his nostrils, pulsating in step with the frantic thrashing of his dying heart.
Instantly the confined space in the beach was filled with the klicks and coughs of silenced automatic weapons erupting lethal fire. My forever faithful Glock did a lot of talking tonight. One of my rounds opened up the kid, Ajmal’s head like a melon. He kept walking a while, his body still believing it had a head, before it realized it didn’t and collapsed.
I dispatched the rest quite easily. These were dumb kids, just a bunch of miserable suckers, out for twisted glory. The last two dropped their weapons and tried to run into the waters. Maybe they wanted to swim all the way back to Karachi. They never had a chance. When you are up against the MARCOS, you never have a chance. We are trained to shoot by sense alone, in the dark. I picked them off pretty easily. Looking around at the carnage, I speed-dialed 100 and then got through to Jimmy.
As I proceeded to pick my way back up those rocks, I heard a groan. I turned to see the man named Babar and I walked over to him. The spit of sand around me had turned into a slaughterhouse. Babar’s chest heaved as he made an effort to speak and I brought my face closer. If he had any last words, I was curious to find out what they were.
Alas, the man named Babar disappointed me. He just uttered one word,” Gaddar” (traitor). His eyes gradually began taking on the glazed sightlessness of the dead and I decided to hurry him along. I brought my Glock up and pressed it against his forehead.
Before pressing up on the trigger I grinned. I wanted him to see me grin. And then I spoke clearly so the words would register in his dimming brain,” Here’s one for your janab Hafeez Sayeed, asshole.”
I had climbed back up onto the asphalt and was leaning against the parapet of the seawall when I heard the comforting wail of the first siren and the lights charging up Pilot Bundar Road.