As we approach the landing field, I find myself distracted. There’s a ton of shit running through my mind. Knowing Echo’s been alive after all this time is fucking with my head. My team’s safety is quickly taking the lead in my thought process as our plane touches down. Shy’s my first stop.
“Watch your back in there, got it?” She nods once.
I turn to everyone, speaking louder. “That goes for all of you. Watch your six.”
I tighten Shy’s Kevlar and she moans against the pressure of the vest on her ribs. That concerns me. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, don’t worry. The doctor wouldn’t have discharged me if he didn’t think I was ready.”
I hold her eye contact for a few more seconds before walking away. She’s still in pain, but I trust her to make the call if she’s strong enough to go out. My team takes their seats in the black Mercedes van. Beck enters first then Delaney followed by Laci. She gives Shy a look of pure hate. What is she doing? She’s inviting only negative attention to herself, making my decision to put her in the N.E.P. program that much easier. Shy laughs to herself, shaking her head.
We use the night to hide us as we make our way to the abandoned apartment building. Delaney and I head to the wall, gating the old condemned building. The wall is no more than twelve feet tall with missing brick from either vandalism, or decay. Either way, it makes it easy for Delaney and me to scale the wall. A guard is posted about eight feet from where we land, having a smoke. I slide my blade quickly and quietly out of its sheath as I make my way behind the guard. Reaching up with my left hand, I cover the man’s mouth. With my right, I quickly stab him through the side of his throat, severing the larynx and carotid. The man hits ground without a sound. Looking over the parapet, I spot Shy and Laci clearing their sectors. They hold, looking through the scope of their Arctic Warfare sniper rifles. Once they’re in position, Delaney and I move in a leapfrog formation toward the entrance of the building. One guard stands just inside the entrance where a door should’ve been, but is now missing. Delaney sneaks up behind him, placing one hand over his mouth. He holds his M9 Bayonet to his throat. I slip in around Delaney, standing in front of the man with my Ruger 556 aimed at his chest.
“Where is the girl?” Delaney whispers in his ear.
The man speaks in Russian, and Delaney looks at me, frowning. “What did he just say to me?”
One of Delaney’s specialties is in linguistics. He’s fluent in five languages with Russian being one of them, so when he asks me what the man said it’s out of shock, not out of any misunderstanding.
“I believe he told you to go fuck your mother,” I confirm, calmly.
“That’s what I thought he said.”
Delaney tightens his grip on the man’s mouth, removing the blade from his throat. He gives it a new home, deep in the man’s thigh. The hostile struggles against the pain, but still offers nothing. It’s futile, but they always insist on doing things the hard way. Delaney gives a little twist and the man tries to scream. Only muffled sounds are heard as he points in the general direction.
“Thank you,” Delaney says right before he breaks the man’s neck, ending his pain.
We head toward the stairs, leading to the third floor. There’re two hostiles patrolling the second floor, but they pose no threat. Our breath is heavy as I take one and Delaney takes the other. As easy as they are to take care of, there’s always a chance, things won’t go our way. We continue up the next set of stairs, hugging the wall as we go. I round the corner first with my weapon ready. Delaney comes up behind me, tapping me on my shoulder before taking the lead. Delaney reaches the top of the stairs. He peers around the corner, scoping out how many stand between us and Echo. He looks at me holding up five fingers to signal the number of guards in the hall. Then three, pointing to the right side of the hall. Then two, pointing to the left side of the hall. We will have to be quick and simultaneous to bring them down without return fire. I indicate to Delaney I want him to go low, taking the two on the left. This leaves me the high ground, taking out the three on the right. We get in our positions, eyeing each other. I give one sharp nod, and with five quick shots through our suppressors the hostiles are down.
I tap my comm and speak, “Shy, you and Laci move in and cover our exit. We’re heading in.”
“Copy that,” They both reply.
The girls check-in each time they clear an area as they make their way to us.
“We’re in position, Michael. Chavez, how we lookin’?” Shy asks.
“Sky and ground lookin’ good,” he acknowledges.
“Roger that,” I reply. “We’re going in.”
Delaney and I head toward apartment twenty-one. I step up, listening through the door. I can hear muffled voices, at least two. Holding up two fingers, Delaney knows we have two hostiles to clear before getting to Echo. He nods, reaching up to test if the door is locked or not. It’s not. Delaney turns the handle softly as not to alarm whomever is inside. The door protests, squeaking loudly and giving us no choice but to go in hot. He flings the door open. We fire one quick burst from each of our guns. No one is left standing between Echo and I. I half ran to her side, ripping my gloves off as I go. Taking in the site of her damn near brings me to my knees. She’s hanging by her wrists in the living room of the apartment like meat in a locker. She’s so still, badly beaten and dehydrated. She has no idea I’m even here. She’s strung up in nothing more than her blood-soaked bra and panties. I plead with whatever God is listening for her to still be alive. Checking her pulse, I barely feel it, but it’s there. Delaney is standing outside keeping watch as I unhook her, gently lying her on the floor. I stand, shrugging out of my jacket to wrap her in it when I feel the steel of a gun pressed to the back of my head.
“Don’t move,” a voice says in Russian.
I put my hands up like I’m surrendering before quickly turning, twisting the man’s wrist. I pop the magazine out and cock the chamber, releasing the bullet. Rearing my arm back, I strike him in his temple with my elbow, knocking him out.
“Where the fuck did he come from?” I eye Delaney, standing at the entrance of the door. He must have heard the commotion. Not wanting his excuse, I speak into the comm.
“We have the package, heading for ex-fill.”
“Copy that. We’re good on our end,” Laci replies.
“Eagle one, report” I say.
“Flying high, all’s clear from the sky,” Beck reports back, putting my mind at ease.
I look at Delaney. “Let’s get out of here.”
He nods, heading out first with his gun at the ready. I gently pick Echo up off the ground. She moans against the pain. Cradling her in my arms, she looks like a small child. Coming around the corner, I spot Shy as we exit the apartment. Holding her gaze, she lowers her weapon.