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Chapter Twenty-One

March 19th, 2014 Undisclosed Area, Southeast of Herat, Afghanistan

Cole, in full U.S. Army desert combat fatigues, coolly gripped the handles of his 5.56 NATO Modified M4A1 as he stood in the doorway of a large soviet-era military tent. It was a relatively warm Afghan evening for this time of the year in this region of the desert. The similarly attired Biltmore stood to his right and Mike on his left. The Virginian swept his gaze over the cloth room filled with an assortment of aging Afghani men seated on rugs; he was very aware of their angry stares. However, his concern was not for them, but the four younger men with AK-47′s flanking the aged warlord, Kamran Amhad. Their gaze was that of killers.

“Did you bring me the American girls I demanded, Saint Nick?” Kamran inquired in Pashto (One of the two official languages of Afghanistan). A pair of dark eyes narrowly observed the tall American and his Army entourage, searching for any sign of deceit.

A gust of dusty wind unexpectedly blew through the tent. Its flaps smacked in the sandy blast.

Nick coughed. “Yes, the United States wishes to make it clear that we are overjoyed with you and your fellow patriots’, um, cooperation and we wish to provide you with your demands. Samples of your gifts are in the Humvee parked outside ready for your approval,” the CIA agent responded in Pashto. He resituated his disheveled keffiyeh scarf around his neck and added, “Please, follow me and take a look.”

Kamran nodded, stood with the assistance of his security detail, and indicated with an open hand for Nick to lead him to the vehicle. “You must understand, Saint Nick, the Chinese government has promised me a steady selection of very young females,” the warlord said with a grin. “I hope you are as equally amiable to this request.”

“Oh, yes, my dear Kamran, we are. Fellas, let’s show our friend here our youthful American tributes, alright?” Nick said, switching to English. “Present him with the blonde first, soldier.”

“Yessir,” Mike responded with a salute.

Cole nodded and emerged from the tent with Mike in advance of Nick and Kamran. He stepped to the left and let Mike lead the warlord over to the Humvee. “One...” he said quietly.

Biltmore stood in the tent’s doorway, blocking the exit of the handful of grumbling Afghan rebels attempting to follow their leader. “You guys want a smoke?” he asked offering the man in the front of the quartet a cigarette.

The man said, “no” in Pashto and peered over Chris’ shoulder at Kamran walking over to the Humvee. “Move, American!”

Biltmore lifted a hand to his ears. “Huh, I don’t know what you are saying...you want me to do what? Me no understand-ee...”

“Two...” Cole muttered under his breath. The sound picked up by his throat mike and transmitted to the team’s earpieces.

The Afghani thug shoved Chris as the other three men lifted their rifles and pointed them at the American blocking their exit.

“Hey, no need to be pushy!” Biltmore responded, his arms outstretched, rifle in one hand. “But, go ahead shove me again. See what happens...”

Cole backed into the darkness away from his teammates as Agent Biltmore felt a pair of hands press against his Kevlar vest.

Kamran began to turn and Nick blocked his view of the tent’s opening. “Here we are my friend...”

Mike opened the vehicle door for Kamran and stepped aside only to notice a flurry of activity taking place several meters away. He raised an eyebrow as he observed the shadowy outline of a man quickly moving about inside of another dimly lit tent.

Cole glanced around and knelt. He lifted the edge of the large tent and then rolled an olive drab-colored can inside the opening. “Three...”

“What is this? There are no girls in here!” Kamran exclaimed, his body halfway in the Humvee.

“And there never will be, asshole,” Nick whispered.

“What!?!!” Kamran exclaimed.

BOOM! A flashbang exploded inside of the tent, briefly lighting the interior of the cloth structure like a Chinese lantern.

Biltmore kicked the leader of the distracted insurgents backwards, sending the collection of men tumbling to the ground. “I told you not to shove me again, asshole!” he spat and squeezed the trigger on his M4, emptying a magazine of bullets into the men.

Nick reached around Kamran with his two large arms and restrained the angry warlord, placing a chloroform soaked rag over the man’s face. The Afghani weakly planted an elbow into the rotund man only to fall limp in the American’s arms. “Target is secure,” Nick said as he slid the old man’s body into the Humvee.

“Burn it,” came Aaron’s voice over the group’s earpieces. “Search the camp and then burn the whole thing. Make it appear to be local activity. Leave no witnesses.”

Chris and Cole re-entered the tent, both retrieving an AK-47 from a dead Afghan bodyguard. The sputter of machine gun fire quietly silenced the shouts of the confused old men inside.

“Handled, sir,” Cole responded as he and Chris returned to the nighttime desert air. Cole looked to his left and spotted an armed insurgent appearing from behind Chris. “Down!” he shouted at his partner. The Afghani fighter lifted his weapon, but to no avail. Cole already had his rifle to his shoulder. He squeezed off two bullets in the assailant’s chest and one in his head, sending the man’s lifeless body falling backwards.

Chris looked over at the dead man and then at Cole. He grinned and threw up a shaky thumb.

“That’s two you owe me,” Cole said with a smile.

Chris rolled his eyes. “One day...”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Cole replied. “I know.”

The pair flinched as they heard the burp of an AK-47 from nearby, immediately followed by the report of an M4.

Mike’s excited voice popped over the group’s headsets. “Hey, you guys need to check this out.”

“Where are you?” Cole asked.

“The tent next door...call Delinda. We’re gonna need help with something.”

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