Detonate (A Tyrone King Novel)
At 10:30 AM Amtrak train number 64, the Maple Leaf, traveling from Toronto to New York, pulled into the last station on the Canadian side at Niagara Falls, Ontario. The train was eight minutes late.
King sat in a regular coach class seat. A couple sitting across the aisle from him gave him the once-over. He was used to that. Some people thought his dreadlocks meant he was a drug dealer. Other people wondered if he sang reggae. But the couple sitting across from him wasn’t an ordinary couple.
Two hours earlier, King had watched them when they boarded the train. The young man had pulled a black roller bag, the young woman a pastel pink one. Cute, King had thought. Gender-coordinated luggage colors.
They’d climbed aboard the train and made their way down the aisle to the seats across from him. While the man heaved the pink and black bags up to the overhead bin, the woman took off her shawl. After the man sat in the window seat, the woman placed her purse beneath the aisle seat, then sat down beside him.
The woman wore a lime green hijab that covered her head in a crinkly, crepe-like fabric. The man wore jeans and an olive green t-shirt. His hair was curly jet-black. His beard, also black, was on the verge of being scruffy. But his clothes were wrinkle free, as if he’d just ironed them. His posture was formal. He held his head steady and erect. He stared forward. He appeared to be deep in thought.
Since boarding, the couple hadn’t spoken. But now, as the train came to a stop at the Niagara Falls station, the young man turned to the woman and said, “The time has come.”
The man spoke in Arabic, but King understood what he said. Five years earlier, he’d been a U. S. Army interpreter/translator. He spoke Arabic. But the man across the aisle had no way of knowing that.
“Jasmeen,” the young man said gently. “You must get off now.” He put his arm around her shoulder. “Before the child is born.”
Jasmeen frowned. A curl of raven hair peeked from beneath her scarf. Her eyelashes and brows were thick and dark. Her eyes, like her scarf, were emerald green. She did not look pregnant.
“If the child is not born, they will take you off the train,” she replied, also in Arabic. “You’ll have trouble on the American side.” She pulled his arm off her shoulder. “Kareem…” She fixed her eyes upon him. “The child must come before that.”
King tried to place where they were from. The dialect sounded like Iraq, he thought. Or possibly Syria.
Kareem nodded. “Do not worry,” he said. “The child will be born on time. I will call you from the caves at one o’clock.”
Jasmeen stood and bowed. “Allāhu Akbar,” she said. Then she picked up her shawl, which hung on the back of the seat, and wrapped it over her shoulders. She reached beneath the seat in front of her and pulled out her handbag. Without another word, she turned and made her way to the back of the car.
A moment later, King saw her step onto the train platform and walk toward the station. Then she stopped. She looked back at the train. She opened her handbag and dug around. She pulled out something that looked like a phone. But then she put it back, turned, and walked into the station.
To King, it looked like she was leaving and not coming back. He looked up at the overhead shelf across from him. The pastel pink roller bag was still there. Something is wrong, he thought.
King stood and stepped into the aisle. He leaned over to speak to Kareem. “Excuse me,” he said. “I wonder if your companion has forgotten her suitcase.” He pointed up to the overhead shelf.
Kareem was startled by the interruption. His face was expressionless, but he blinked several times. He glanced up at the pink bag on the overhead shelf. He shrugged. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them, and said. “Thank you, but she did not forget the bag. I am taking the luggage to New York for her. She will join me there in two days.”
King nodded, and then sat back down in his seat. OK, fine. He looked out the window at the station. The woman, Jasmeen, was gone. The station platform was quickly emptying out. King looked at his watch. The train was due to leave in less than a minute.
King was puzzled. He mentally replayed the couple’s conversation. She’d spoken of a child coming soon—but she didn’t appear pregnant. She’d warned Kareem that he’d have ‘trouble’ on the American side and that the child must be born before that. King thought he heard Kareem say he’d call her from the caves at one o’clock. Maybe his Arabic was getting rusty. But he doubted it.
The train began to move. Soon the Maple Leaf would cross the bridge over the Niagara River and enter the United States. King looked across the aisle at Kareem. He had something in his hand. It looked like a mobile phone, but it had a thick short antenna and bore the word Cobra on it. King had seen a device like that before. It was a GMRS radio, a two-way radio, like a walkie-talkie, but higher quality. In the U.S., a person who wanted to use a two-way radio had to get a license. But in Canada, anyone could use a short-range device.
The last time King had seen one of those radios was in Afghanistan. A Taliban insurgent had used a GMRS to detonate an improvised explosive device that blew up the Humvee traveling in front of him. Why would a man on a train need a walkie-talkie instead of a cell phone? King thought about the security admonition he’d heard hundreds of times. If you see something, say something. Perhaps he ought to say something to the conductor. But what would he say? There was nothing incriminating to report. But King couldn’t just disregard his suspicions. If you see something, say something.
On impulse, King stood again, put one foot into the aisle and faced Kareem. With a pleasant smile, he said in Arabic, “I hope you aren’t planning to blow up something with that.”
Kareem’s face went ashen. He stood and said, “Excuse me.” He set the two-way radio on the window seat and stepped into the aisle. King stepped back out of the aisle. He relaxed a bit when he saw the device was out of Kareem’s hands.
Kareem pivoted toward the overhead shelf that held his luggage. He pulled the black roller bag down, and set it on the aisle seat. He turned his back to King, unzipped the outer pouch of the bag, and pulled something out of it. He picked up the two-way radio from the window seat. Then he turned around to face King. He held a handgun. He pointed it at King’s chest.
King raised his eyebrows. Before he’d joined the army, he’d trained in Aikido, the Japanese martial art also called ‘the Art of Peace.’ It emphasized the ability to relax the mind and body, even in the stress of dangerous circumstances.
King stood six feet tall—which was four inches taller than Kareem. He kept the smile on his face, even when Kareem said, in English, “Don’t move.”
King assessed the situation. The two-way radio was in Kareem’s left hand. The gun was in his right. King had studied Aikido, but this called for improvisation. He glanced around the car at the other passengers. There were only a few. Most had already left the train on the Canadian side of the falls. A woman with a boy sat three seats away. She stared at the gun with a look of incomprehension. King spoke in her direction, “Don’t worry, ma’am,” he said. “He won’t use it.”
Kareem turned his head for a split second toward the woman and the boy. In that moment, King executed an Aikido technique called nikyō, a pronating wristlock that torques the arm and applies painful nerve pressure. He silently counted his breaths.
One. He dropped down and to the left. With his right hand he knocked the barrel of the gun down and to the right. Instantly Kareem fired the gun. With a loud report, the bullet ripped into the velvet blue fabric that covered the padding on the seat cushion. The woman nearby screamed.
Two. Coming back up, King gripped Kareem’s right wrist with his left hand. Using nikyō torque, he applied nerve pressure until Kareem could no longer hold onto the gun, which fell to the floor.
Three. Extending leverage to Kareem’s wrist and arm, King bent him down and to the side. Kareem swung out his right arm to try to keep his balance.
Four. King spun and gripped Kareem’s right wrist, which held the detonator. King applied pronating torque to the wrist until the detonator clattered to the floor.
Five. King pushed him all the way down to the right and pinned him on the floor.
Once on the floor, Kareem grunted. King could tell his wrists and arms were hurt. He waited until Kareem lay completely still. Then he focused on the roller bag on the aisle seat. He considered the various ways a bomb inside it could be detonated. Kareem’s two-way radio was on the floor nearby. But King had also seen Jasmeen remove something that looked just like it from her purse. Maybe she was the backup plan. She could use her detonator if she was anywhere within a two-mile range. They might also have rigged the bomb with a timer. King decided he’d better get the luggage off the train and away from people as soon as possible. But he couldn’t think of a way to do that and subdue Kareem at the same time.
He made a snap decision. He released Kareem from the pin. He picked up the pistol from the floor with his right hand. At the same time, he used his left leg like a shuffleboard stick to push the detonator and shoot it down the aisle.
He cradled the gun in the palm of his hand. It was a Sig Sauer P220. He hefted it, gauging its weight. He had to decide what to do with it. He had only an instant to decide. It would be easy to point it at Kareem, but it was a matter of principle with him. He’d renounced the use of weapons. Although he wasn’t willing to use the gun on Kareem, he had to be sure no one else could use it either.
He stood and removed the magazine from the gun. Then he ejected the round from the chamber and stuffed the magazine in his pocket. He put the empty gun back into the open compartment on the bag and re-zipped it. He grabbed the handle on the roller bag and pulled it off the seat. He stepped over Kareem and put the bag on the floor.
Kareem had flopped onto his stomach. He held his sorest arm, his right arm, out in front of him. King stood between him and the roller bag. Kareem rolled onto his back, holding his right arm, and grimaced. He said in English, “What are you going to do?”
King said in Arabic, “I’m going to look inside your bag and see what’s in it.”
Kareem blinked. He rolled onto his stomach to look for the radio. King had kicked it a good distance down the aisle. It had come to rest near a young woman. The woman stood at her seat, frozen in place, with one foot in the aisle. She stared at King. She had headphone earbuds in each ear. She pulled one of the wires until the earbud popped out of her left ear.
King pointed to the radio on the floor. “Pick that device up right now,” he said to her. “But don’t push any buttons on it. Keep it away from this man, and bring it to a conductor.”
The young woman popped the earbud from her right ear, but didn’t move. She looked at the radio. “What is it?” she asked.
King sized her up. Her clothes looked expensive. She wore a blue satin blouse with black silk crepe pants. A gold ankle bracelet glistened above the sandal on her foot. Her toenails were painted with pale lavender polish. He focused on her eyes. He tried to gauge her ki. In Aikido, ki was synonymous with life energy. He had a sense of strong ki from her. Would she have the courage to do what he needed her to do? He hoped she would. But she’d have to trust him. He knew it was a good idea to address a stranger by name if you wanted his or her trust.
“What’s your name?” King asked her.
She looked at him, then at the man on the floor, and then back at him. She waited a moment before answering. She was obviously sizing him up. Then she said, “Sarah.”
“Sarah, that device is a two-way radio,” he said. “It might be a detonator. There might be a bomb in this suitcase.” He held the suitcase up. “I’m going to get rid of the suitcase. While I do, you need to keep that thing away from him. If he gets to it, he’ll explode the bomb.”
Sarah looked back down at Kareem, who was crawling along the aisle, inching toward the detonator.
“Sarah, do it now,” King yelled. “Do you understand?”
She nodded. She looked at the object at her feet, and then around the train car. There was no one else. The woman with the boy had already scuttled away. Sarah bent and picked up the Cobra radio. She held it out at arm’s length in front of her. Her arm trembled.
Kareem had crawled close enough to her to reach out and grab at her leg. He closed his hand around her ankle bracelet, but his damaged wrist was in pain. He flinched.
Sarah felt him pull at her ankle. She let out a short, startled cry. She pulled back hard, and yanked her leg out of his grasp.
“Sarah, run,” King shouted. “Run now.”
King, Kareem and Sarah were in the second from the last car of a seven-car train. Sarah ran toward the front of the train. She ran without looking back. Within a moment, Kareem was on his feet, running after her.