Spear Garden

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Chapter 23

Al Ueid Air Base, Qatar

21:00 (18:00 GMT)

June 21st

Blake awoke at twenty-one hundred after eight solid hours of sleep, feeling rejuvenated and ready for the mission. After he showered he packed just the things he needed; Glock 23 with silencer, night vision equipment, tactical radio and throat microphone, GPS and a few other items. He placed his left-over personal effects in a locker and locked it before heading to the hangar for his final briefing.

Sitting outside the hangar was the C-17 Globemaster III that would fly him to his drop point. An ideal plane, as it only required three crew to run it - two pilots and a loadmaster. There would be only the two pilots on this flight, connected to Blake via radio. At the rear of the plane stood Colonel Smyth with the two pilots. At Smyth’s feet was the other gear Blake requested.

“Colonel.”

“Mr. MacKay.” The response was as dry and lifeless as the terrain beyond the runway. He gestured to the pilots. “This is Major Henry Talbot and Captain Donovan Stewart. They’ll be your pilots tonight.”

Blake shook their hands and exchanged pleasantries.

“Gentleman.” The colonel nodded as if to say ‘dismissed’ and the two pilots exited and went up into the plane via the loading ramp in the rear.

Blake could sense the enmity in the colonel’s voice. He wondered if the colonel knew that he was going to look for the missing agent anyway and already made that call. Who cares. He can kiss my ass. Instead, he focused on the gear that he’d asked for to make sure everything was there.

“I’ve got all of the things that you asked for, your assault rifle, grenades, sat phone and the M82. That sniper rifle is going to add a lot of weight. Are you sure you want to take that with you? I can get a rifle for you from the team that’s going to meet you.”

“No, thank-you Colonel. I’m quite familiar with this weapon and I’ve requested the proper chute to adjust for the additional weight. It’s just one less thing I’ll need to learn or get used to while I’m there. Having a new team of ‘Ghanni’ soldiers will be challenging enough.”

Blake appreciated the colonel’s offer, but wanted to stick with what he knew. The more control he had over his gear, the better off he’d be. Besides, he had some new technology that might come in handy that the colonel wasn’t privy to.

“Fair enough. Your flight suit, helmet and oxygen are all on board. The extraction team will be there to pick you up at Shinidad Airbase on the north side of the city at oh-two hundred, local time, in four days. Good Luck.” The Brit shook Blake’s hand and then saluted him. Blake wasn’t officially in the military so he rarely saluted. He took that as a sign of respect from the man and returned the salute.

“Thank you, Sir.” Blake gathered all his gear and headed up into the belly of the plane.

Two hours later, the plane was thirty-five thousand feet over Afghanistan. The red light illuminated the cargo area in an eerie glow. His radio squawked, “Three minutes, Mr. MacKay.”

“Thanks, Captain.”

After donning his helmet and oxygen mask, he rechecked all his gear in preparation for his jump. The high pitched shrill of the hydraulics filled the void as he lowered the ramp. Even with his suite, the rush of cold air gave him a quick chill. He shook it off and focused on the task at hand. His adrenaline started to pump as his jump time grew nearer and helped to warm him up. This was the part he hated. A chute not opening or becoming tangled entered his mind. Now—now he was safe. It wouldn’t matter after he jumped. He took some comfort in knowing that everyone else he ever jumped with had the same thoughts.

Captain Stewart came over his headset and said, “Fifteen seconds.” Too late to back out now. Ten seconds later… “Five, four, three, two...” the green light came on and Blake ran down the ramp and dove into the cold. The humming of the planes props was replaced by silence; save for the breaths Blake took inside his mask and the flapping of his suit in the wind.

At this altitude, the temperature was minus thirty-two degrees Celsius. He heard the wind and felt the pressure as his body fell and increased its speed. The rush was exhilarating and something he never got tired of.

Looking down into the darkness, he could make out some of the topography. Small fires burned sporadically in the desert night. Some belonged to the shepherds or nomads in the area for sure, but some—some were more than likely terrorist training camps. Blake wished he had a team with him so they could go in and eradicate them, but that was a mission for a different day.

The glow of his altimeter showed he was at thirty thousand feet. He waited until he passed twenty-eight thousand feet and pulled the cord. His body jerked upward as his decent was slowed from the open chute.

Blake had his GPS strapped to his left arm. Based on his current position, he would have to control his decent speed and direction. He estimated that he should be on the ground in approximately eighteen minutes; twelve minutes ahead of schedule, which was how he liked it. He hated being late for anything. It would also give him a few minutes to scout the area and make sure it wasn’t an ambush.

Just as he predicted, eighteen minutes later, he landed on the ground at the exact area they had pinpointed. He took off his chute and jump suit. The desert air felt good and helped warm him as he dragged his gear behind a small outcrop of rocks for cover. With his night vision binoculars he scanned the area. Nothing yet. You’d better be here, Rafala.

The rumble of a four cylinder engine approaching from the east had him straining to see through his binoculars. It approached with its lights off. He drew his pistol and chambered a round. The truck stopped eight meters away and Blake continued to watch from behind the rocks.

A gentleman dressed in a kondura stepped out of the truck and searched the area. Blake recognized him from the picture in his dossier, but slowly approached him to within a half meter behind him. With his pistol pointed at his asset, he told the man to ‘stop’ in perfect Pashto. “Wadrega.”

Rafaela turned around, saw the weapon and raised his hands. “Please. Are you the American?”

“I’ll ask the questions. Hands on your head. Face the truck.” Blake frisked the man and looked for weapons and any type of monitoring device while he kept his weapon trained on him. Satisfied, he turned the man around to face him. “What’s your name?”

“I am Rafaela Delatam, your contact. Please. I am here to escort you to your safe house.”

“Where is the safe house?”

“I do not understand. I thought you were told of this.”

“I do know. I’m just checking to make sure that you are who you say you are. Now tell me the address of the safe house.”

Rafaela told him the address and several other tidbits of information that only his contact would have known. Blake lowered his pistol.

“Tell me about the team. When do we meet up with them?”

“They are to come to the safe house just before first light. It is the four men and the woman that you selected.”

“What about al Hamwi and his men? Any change? Have you spotted al Hamwi?” Blake asked.

“No change. There are still ten men there and no sign of al Hamwi.”

Blake started to ask Rafaela another question when a familiar whishing sound came in, and then the report of a rifle.

Rafaela’s head exploded and splatted blood and grey matter in Blake’s face. Blake dove down to his left where he had placed his gear. He hurriedly unclipped his Barrett sniper rifle from his pack. He switched on the night vision scope and started scanning in the direction of where the shot came from. His heart thumped in his chest.

There were outcroppings of rocks and hills everywhere. At this point, the shot could have come from behind any of them. Where are you, you son-of-a-bitch?

Blake knew that he had to get the shooter to take another shot to get the bearings. Because of the crack/thump, the timing between when Rafaela was hit and the report of the rifle, he had a pretty good idea of the distance: and it was close.

Blake grabbed a rock and lobbed it into the back of the pick-up, hoping the noise would startle the shooter into taking another shot. It worked. Not only did he get a better bearing on where the shot was coming from based on the report, but he was looking in the right direction at the right time and saw the muzzle flash.

Through the scope he saw movement behind a rock, one-tenth of a klick away. There you are. He lined up his crosshairs. He used tactical breathing to slow his heart rate and waited. When a head popped up, he squeezed the trigger.

The shot hit the top of the rocks. Whoever was behind it, ducked down even further out of his sight. Dammit. Blake had sighted the rifle in for targets much further away. His manual adjustment was too much and he cursed at himself for that.

He had no idea what kind of rifle it was or if they were using any kind of night vision. One thing he was sure of was that there was only one of them. Anymore and they would have flanked him by now.

Blake looked through this his sight again and DOPED his scope. Okay asshole. Looks like it’s just you and me. Let’s see who the better man is. I’ve got a little surprise for you.

Blake pulled a new piece of technology out of his bag. It was the latest piece developed by the brilliant young scientist, Alice, whom the CIA snatched from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Blake looked to his left. Down about three meters was a perfect place for cover, a natural indention in the desert floor surrounded by rocks that stood just under two meters high. Blake jumped down. Another shot hit the top of the rocks as he landed.

Dammit!

Blake unfolded the brace that would hold his rifle steady and clamped it into place. The legs looked like small shock absorbers and were designed to absorb the recoil from the fifty caliber rifle. A quick glance up ensured he wasn’t being flanked. Next, he attached a small box that surrounded the trigger on the rifle. He connected a short cord from the trigger box to the scope. The rifle was semi-automatic and he had nine shots left.

Ok Alice, let’s hope this thing works.

He pulled out his phone and opened the special application that Alice had installed. The screen glowed in the same greenish hue as the night scope. Blake adjusted the rifle and saw the screen on his phone react. The rock where the sniper was came into view. Blake smiled.

Now to keep you there for a while. Blake pressed the button on his phone and the rifle reacted. It fired a shot toward the rocks where the sniper dug himself in. Nice.

He opened a sub-menu in the application and a small circle appeared on the phone screen. With his finger, he pressed in the middle of the circle and slid it to the left. The legs on the brace adjusted and Blake saw the rifle move. Perfect. Nice job, Alice.

Blake drew his Glock and fired two shots in the direction of the rock. He immediately ran behind the truck and ducked. He looked as his phone and saw movement behind the rock. He pressed the button on his phone and the Barrett ripped out another shot. He seized the moment and ran for another outcropping of rocks to flank the sniper.

Blake ducked in behind the rocks and looked down at his phone again. Whenever he saw the slightest bit of movement, he pressed the fire button on his phone. After about fifty meters, Blake turned toward the shooter. He crept slowly while he glanced at the image on his phone and looked for movement behind the rock. Sixty meters later he pressed fire again, but this time he heard the bullet hit the rock just a few meters down an embankment. It was fifteen meters in front of him.

Blake stopped when he heard rocks shuffle below his target’s feet. You’re still there, aren’t you, you little bastard? He concentrated on his breathing and calmed himself. He put on his night vision goggles and looked in the shooters direction. Blake was surrounded by large rocks and boulders. His view was obstructed on all sides. Up ahead, the ground angled down to where his adversary was.

There was an alley way with tall rock formations on either side that headed down to where the shooter was. Crap! Last place I want to be is in there. Let’s see if I can get you to come to me.

The image on his phone was grainy. He hit the fire button and nothing happened. He looked down and tried again. Nothing. Shit! These rocks are blocking the signal. All right, asshole. You want me, here I come.

Blake tucked his phone away and raised his pistol. He took a deep breath and prepared to head down between the rocks. When he looked down, his target was coming at him. Oh Shit! Blake fired two quick rounds into the man’s knees. A dead man can’t be questioned, and Blake had questions.

The man screamed and dropped to the ground. Blake holstered his pistol and pulled out his knife. In less than a second, Blake was on top of his assailant. Blake elbowed him in the face twice. He heard the crack and witnessed the man’s nose go crooked. Blake yelled in perfect Pashtu, “Who are you? Who sent you?”

The man struggled under Blake’s vice like grip but got free. He rolled over and away from Blake. He drew a grenade and pulled the pin. “Allahu Akbar!” Blake dove toward the man and reached for the grenade. He tried to grab it before the man released the handle that would start the timer, but was too late.

The man gave a feeble throw in Blake’s direction. Unable to stop due to his momentum, Blake grabbed the shooter as he flew over him and used him as a human shield. The grenade exploded just as Blake started to pinch his nose and open his mouth to minimize the pressure of the concussion.

A high pitch filled his ears. An odd numbness, like thousands of tiny needles that penetrated just below the surface of the skin, came over him. Similar to the “needle effect” one feels when a limb that has fallen asleep gets the blood pumped back into it, but more painful.

He rolled his assailant over who fared much worse. Shrapnel was up and down the man’s back and head. He was dead. “Dammit!” By now, it was obvious that the man was there alone.

Blake searched him for any intel, but found nothing. His rifle was an old Tokarev SVT-40, used by the Soviet’s as early as WWII. It was eventually replaced because of complaints of too much muzzle flash. Blake now understood first hand why.

Blake took the rifle and headed back to the truck, but not before taking pictures of the face of the man that was sent to kill him and his contact. He gathered his gear and put it in the cab, along with the old soviet rifle.

Questions, worry and concern all filled his head as he wrapped Rafala’s body in his parachute and placed him in the bed of the truck. He pulled up the address of the safe house on his phone and started to drive into Sabzawar, all the while wondering who sent the man to his rendezvous to kill him and if his mission was compromised before it even started?

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