The Malacca Conspiracy
- Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The Strait of Malacca is located between the long, Indonesian island of Sumatra and the west coast of the Malaysian Peninsula.
At its northwestern entrance, the shorelines of Indonesia and Thailand are separated by two hundred miles of open water.
Five hundred twenty miles to the southeast, near the city-state of Singapore, the strait narrows into the shape of a funnel. At its narrowest point, eight miles of water separate Indonesia and Malaysia. The strait ends at Singapore, where it flows into the Singapore Strait.
The Singapore Strait, 3.2 miles wide at its narrowest point, begins at Singapore, the busiest port city in the world. Stretching sixty-five miles to the northeast, it empties into the South China Sea, and from there, the Pacific.
The linked Straits of Malacca and Singapore form the shortest sea route between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Most of the world's oil supply is transported on tankers, from the Middle East through these straits.
The Malacca Strait
Near the mouth of the Malacca River
The early twenty-first century
Under the bright glare of the midday sunshine, the cigarette boat sliced through the tropical waters to the east. Glistening like the stainless-steel blade of a sharp dagger, the boat, a thirty-eight-foot "Top Gun" model with twin 600 horsepower engines, carried three passengers plus the pilot.
Approaching the coastline at fifty miles per hour, bouncing across light swells and passing several slower boats, it raced by a navigation buoy a half mile offshore.
Houses and storefronts grew visible as the boat approached the shoreline. Cars could be seen moving along coastal roadways. Two single-engine airplanes buzzed the skies.
A second navigation buoy issued warnings in red and white to inbound nautical craft. The warnings were in both English and Malay.
The pilot throttled back the powerful twin inboards, morphing their rocketlike thrust into a chugging putter, slowing the boat to a floating crawl.
The general waited for a moment until the boat leveled off. Then, from his jump seat behind the pilot, he unholstered his pistol. He worked the action, chambering a nine-millimeter bullet into firing position.
"Doctor, ready your weapon," he ordered.
"Yes, General." The man sitting next to him retrieved an identical pistol, pointed it in the air, and pulled back the firing clip.
In a foreign land, even a foreign land so close to Indonesia, prudence required being armed — especially when the lines between friend and foe were blurred . . . and where his hosts had a track record of murder.
What was their agenda?
To warn President Santos to abandon his Western-loving ways or face a fate like former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto?
General Perkasa smiled. Bhutto had gotten what she deserved. He couldn't be so lucky with Santos, could he?
Initially, General Perkasa had declined the hosts' invitation.
Then they padded the general's offshore bank account as a measure of good faith. Overnight, the general and the doctor had become wealthy men, without even speaking to their hosts yet.
Why remained a mystery.
He would know why soon enough.
General Suparman Perkasa, Army of the Indonesian Republic, was certain of only one thing: a weapon seemed prudent at the moment, and he would fire that weapon without hesitation if necessary.
The boat planed down. Perkasa flipped the gun's safety switch and reholstered it.
Cruising through calm waters, they passed a third buoy, just at the mouth of the Malacca River. Then they puttered under a bridge, just inside the river's mouth.
The river narrowed.
Panoramic colors and the salty smell of a small, Asian seaport greeted their senses. Several small craft, mainly single-engine skiffs, glided up and down the river in both directions near the shoreline.
Automobiles crawled along a small, urban street parallel to the right bank. To the left, bright, rainbow-colored houses and apartments scrunched up to the riverbank. Laundry hung from clotheslines behind the houses and apartments.
Perkasa extracted a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to his companion. The doctor declined.
The general lit the cigar and sucked satisfying tobacco smoke into his mouth. He swirled the warm smoke around his tongue and teeth.
His young Malaysian escort began to drone on like the tour guide he was. "For hundreds of years, Malacca was the busiest port on the Malaysian peninsula. The Portuguese, Dutch, and British have all seized this port. Now Singapore, just 180 miles to the south, has taken away most of the shipping traffic. But Malacca will always be the birthplace of Islam in Malaysia. Arab traders brought Islam here in the 1400s."
The general, a short, middle-aged man with a thirty-eight-inch waistline, cocked his head back, basked his face in the warm, overhead sunshine, and opened his mouth into a round circle. Concentric smoke rings rose into the tropical air, then dissipated in breezy wisps. He flicked ashes over the side of the boat into the calm waters of the river.
"Now it is a quiet place," the fellow babbled. "Small among Malaysian cities. This peaceful harbor is inaccessible to oceangoing vessels."
He should pull his gun on this babbling idiot just to shut his mouth. But he needed the fool to guide him to the rendezvous point and, afterward, to get them out of the country again.
"Our dock is there." The guide pointed to a pier just past a bend in the river.
The pilot throttled the engines into idle and steered the wheel to the right. The boat floated toward the dock. Two men, one Asian and the other with Middle Eastern features, stood at the edge of the dock.
"Our ride awaits us, General," the guide said, tossing a rope to the Asian man.
The general stood, and as the boat inched to the dock, stepped off to the outstretched hand of the Middle Eastern-looking man.
"Ah, General Perkasa," the man said. "I am Bander Omar, chief assistant to Farouq Al-Fadil."
"Mr. Omar." General Perkasa withdrew his hand and motioned to his companion. "This is Dr. Guntur Budi."
"A pleasure, Doctor," Omar said. "I have heard of you and also your father. He was a great man." Two jeeps were parked on the street just behind the docks. "Come. Our Malaysian hosts await us."
The general got into one jeep. The doctor sat in the jeep behind him. They pulled forward, and in a few minutes turned left across a bridge spanning the Malacca River.
On the north side of the river, the jeeps turned left, driving a short distance down a street paralleling the water. They turned right off the river street and stopped in front of a small hotel. The white stucco building with ornate exterior features suggested a bygone era.
"Welcome to the Hotel Puri," Omar said. "It dates back to the 1800s, and has about fifty rooms. My boss has rented them all for our meeting."
"Yes, I know this place." The general took a drag from his cigar, which had burned down about half an inch. "Your boss is expecting many guests?"
"No, General. Just you, the doctor, and a select few others." Omar nodded at the hotel. "Shall we?"
"After you." Perkasa tossed his cigar onto the lush green grass beside the sidewalk. He stepped out of the jeep, waiting for Dr. Budi.
"Follow me, gentlemen." The Arab motioned for the general and the doctor to follow. As Omar pushed open the front glass door of the hotel, Perkasa felt the grip of his pistol. He switched off the safety, readying the pistol to fire.
The lobby was cool from the air conditioning. A large, sparkling chandelier hung down over a round table. Six chairs with red velvet cushions were positioned in a circle around the table.
"Please be seated, General." Omar motioned the visitors to their seats. "Farouq will be with you shortly."
Classic subliminal power play, the general thought. Make your guests wait.
No one made Suparman Perkasa wait. He was the chief of staff of the Indonesian army, and as such, its most powerful officer.
He would not wait long.
Perkasa handed another cigar to the doctor.
"No thank you, General."
"Take the cigar, Doctor," the general ordered. "Strike it, and do what I do."
Perkasa lit a second cigar and took a long drag.
A slender Arab in white, who looked to be in his mid-forties, descended the oval staircase into the lobby. He was followed by two younger men. One looked Malaysian. The other looked Arab.
"General Perkasa." The man extended his hand. "I am Farouq Al-Fadil."
Perkasa rose, opened his mouth, and blew cigar smoke toward the Arab. "A pleasure, Mr. Al-Fadil." Perkasa nodded at Dr. Budi, who blew a second wave of smoke. "Thank you for your invitation."
"We're both on foreign soil, General."Al-Fadil smiled. "Thanks to our Malaccan hosts, whose common mindset is the same as ours." He nodded at three Malaysian officers standing around the table, their arms folded.
"Really?" Perkasa sucked and then swirled more cigar smoke between his teeth. Smoke wafted from his mouth as he spoke, rising into a cloud around the chandelier. But he did not blow smoke at the Arab. He had made his point. "And what is this common mindset of yours?"
"General, meet Admiral Chahava of the Royal Malaysian Navy. To his left, General Kersen of the Royal Malaysian Air Force. To his right, General Pramana of the Malaysian Army."
"Gentlemen." Perkasa nodded.
"These officers are natives of Malacca, and all three — like you and me — are members of the Great Faith."
Another drag from the cigar. "Mr. Al-Fadil, many Muslims serve in the militaries of both Malaysia and Indonesia. Your point?"
"Please be seated, gentlemen." Al-Fadil motioned them to their seats.
They sat, exchanging awkward glances. Al-Fadil broke the silence. "How is your friend, President Santos?"
"My friend, you say?" Perkasa smirked. "Ask Dr. Budi. The doctor is the president's personal physician."
"We know of Dr. Budi, and his father's sacrifice for our cause."
"Thank you," Dr. Budi said. He looked over at General Perkasa, as if unsure of what to say next.
"I am a busy man, Mr. Al-Fadil," the general said. "My time is valuable. What is your point?"
The Arab smiled. "My point is this: we have watched Indonesia for years." Al-Fadil motioned to one of his assistants. "Bring us drinks, please."
"Right away." A servant wheeled in a silver tray displaying bottles of Indonesian and Malaysian hard liquors and wines, along with an assortment of fruits, cheeses, and breads.
"General?" the servant asked.
"No." The general waved his hand and eyed Al-Fadil. "I am sure you did not bring us here to discuss international politics or to sip wine and eat cheese. You did not answer my question."
"Your finest red wine, please." Al-Fadil nodded at the server, who uncorked an expensive bottle of Malaysian merlot. "Ah, yes. My point . . ." He sniffed a splash of wine in his glass and took a sip, nodding approval at the server, who filled his glass. "We know your background, General. We know your fervent devotion to the faith. We know that under the circumstances your power is limited. The problem is not you. The problem is with your president."
Perkasa chomped his cigar between his teeth, studying the man's face.
"You are an Arab, Mr. Al-Fadil. And you are Islamic. Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic country." A drag from the cigar. "More than one hundred eighty million Muslims live in Indonesia. We are the fourth largest nation in the world. What is your problem with Indonesia?"
Al-Fadil sipped his wine. "Your country is like Pakistan was. A great nation full of Muslims, but with lukewarm leadership that is Muslim in name only, leadership that embraces our greatest enemy, the United States." Another smile. Another sip. "We took care of the problem in Pakistan."
"Bring me an ashtray." Perkasa waved to the servant.
"Yes, General." A sterling silver ashtray appeared on the table.
Perkasa put the stogie into the ashtray. "Yes. I heard that your organization was helpful in the elimination of Bhutto. If that is true, accept my compliments."
"I can neither confirm nor deny any such thing," Al-Fadil laughed. "Nevertheless, I accept your compliments." He raised his glass, as if to celebrate a great accomplishment. "Are you sure you do not wish to drink, General? Perhaps a toast to the unfortunate demise of Benazir Bhutto?"
"Perhaps later," Perkasa replied. "Bhutto sided with the Americans. So does Santos. Both purport to be Muslim." Perkasa took a drag from the cigar. "What are you getting at? You wish to assassinate Santos too?"
"Not so fast, dear General." Al-Fadil set the glass on the table. "Since you are unwilling to drink with me, perhaps I could smoke with you?"
His eyes locked onto the stogie, casting a longing look upon it. "Would you share one of those with a brother of the faith?"
"Why not?" Perkasa slid a cigar, a cutter, and a lighter across the table.
The Arab cut the cigar with the ease of an experienced aficionado, lit it, and exhaled smoke off to the side. "This is not as simple as you would suggest, General. Indonesia and Pakistan are different nations."
"Not so fast, my friend." Perkasa flung his hands in the air. "I suggested nothing. And I by no means proposed or suggested the assassination of Santos."
"Of course you did not, General," the Arab said. "I was addressing the great geographic and political differences between Indonesia and Pakistan."
"Very well," Perkasa said, having set the Arab straight. Not that he would mind seeing Santos dead, but no one would ever be able to say that an assassination was his idea. "Please proceed."
"As I was saying," Al-Fadil nodded, "unlike Pakistan, Indonesia controls, or at least has the potential to control, the most strategic sea lanes in the world. Your islands stretch across the waters from east to west in a distance greater than New York to Los Angeles. Your country, unlike any other Islamic country in the world, has all that is necessary to become the world's first Islamic superpower." The Arab took another drag from the Cuban stogie. "Except for one thing . . ."
General Suparman Perkasa let that sink in. "And that would be?"
"Leadership," Al-Fadil said, without hesitation. "And related thereto, courage and vision."
Perkasa flicked a segment of white ashes into the silver tray. The Arab was correct. "Look, you know that I am no admirer of our president, or you wouldn't have gotten me here. But as you have pointed out, Mr. Al-Fadil . . ."
"Please, General, call me Farouq," Al-Fadil interrupted.
"Very well," Perkasa continued, "as you have pointed out, Farouq, Indonesia, because of her geography, possesses a greater geo-strategic importance to the world than Pakistan. Control of those sea lanes means billions of dollars to America. You cannot do in Indonesia what you did in Pakistan. The Americans did not step in there. Here, if you moved against Santos, they would send their navy. Perhaps their marines. They would use force. And remember that President Williams likes to play John Wayne with the US Navy." His cigar had gone out. With a single flick, a blue-and-orange flame leapt from the lighter.
"Ahh, the all-powerful Americans." The smiling Arab sipped more wine. "Good. Our thinking is congruous." He put the glass down and motioned for more. "What if I told you, General, that we have a plan for Mack Williams and the Americans? What if I told you that we have a plan to make you the most powerful Indonesian in the world? And what if I could show you a plan that will work to make Indonesia the first Islamic superpower, with you at the historic forefront of this great awakening?"
Perkasa glanced at Dr. Budi, who was raising an eyebrow and sipping a glass of water.
He looked back at the Arab.
"You know, Farouq," Perkasa said, "you have succeeded in piquing my curiosity. I will have that drink now. Red wine will be fine."
"Excellent," Farouq said, motioning the servants to attend to the general's request. "Let us drink, General, to a new alliance . . . a new strategic alliance that will change the history of the world."
"That," General Suparman Perkasa said, "I will drink to."
Copyright © 2010 by Don Brown
This title is also available as a Zondervan ebook.
This title is also available in a Zondervan audio edition.
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Don Brown is the author of Treason, Hostage, and Defiance, and Black Sea Affair, a submarine thriller that predicted the 2008 shooting war between Russia and Georgia. Don served five years in the U.S. Navy as an officer in the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps gave him an exceptional vantage point into both the Navy and the inner workings of "inside-the-beltway" as an action officer assigned to the pentagon. He left active duty in 1992 to pursue private practice, but remained on inactive status through 1999, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He and his family live in North Carolina, where he pursues his passion for penning novels about the Navy. For more information, please visit www.donbrownbooks.com.
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