Spear Garden

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Chapter 28

Sabzawar, Afghanistan

01:45 (22:45 June 24th, GMT)

June 25th

Blake opened his eyes and let them adjust to the dark while he shook the cobwebs from his mind. He pulled the cover back, twisted his body and pressed his feet to the grainy wood floor. The sand and grit from the unforgiven terrain outside always managed to find its way everywhere and collected in-between his toes. God I hate this place. He slipped on his clothes and stretched out on the floor. The short yoga exercises got his blood flowing and allowed him to clear his mind in preparation for the mission.

He was anxious to see if he could uncover any intel on the disappearance of Jim Dunn, but was also nervous about working with an unknown team. After being good and awake, he went to make sure everyone else was up and preparing to go.

Sardar was standing in the living room. He’d just returned from his watch shift.

“Everything still the same?” Blake asked.

“They do have one person on the outside. When I left, he was sitting on a bucket not moving. Probably sleeping.”

Blake nodded. “Don’t assume he’s sleeping, but that’s good intel. Thanks Sardar. Akbar, you said we don’t have to worry about local authorities? I’m hoping to get in and out undetected, but you never know how these things go.”

“That is correct. The area is under Sharia law and the local police will not go into that area.”

“Okay. Good,” Blake said.

They gathered in the kitchen. Dressed in black BDUs, and carrying silenced assault rifles with Glock 23 pistols, Blake handed out throat microphones and radios to everyone. “I assume everyone has used these before?” Blake asked, hoping not having to give a crash course.

“I think we’ve all used something similar, but not this particular model. Is there something special about them?” Akbar asked.

“Yes. You can barely whisper and we’ll hear you, so just be aware of how loud you talk. We’ll operate on channel eleven. Four six seven, point six three seven five megahertz. Make sure you lock it at that frequency. We’ll do a radio check on the way over.”

“Farishta, Abdul and Barbrak, for confirmation, you’re Charlie team.” Blake said.

All three said “Yes” in unison.

“Sardar?” Blake asked.

“I am Bravo,” he confirmed.

“Right. I know it’s strange to be alone, but it’s just in the beginning until you get the charge on the back door planted. Then you’ll slip around front and meet up with the others.

Sardar gave a quick nod.

“Akbar and I make up Alpha. Does anybody have any questions before we leave?”

Everyone either said “no” or shook their heads. Blake took a deep breath with a bit of apprehension. Regardless of how he felt about his untested team, it was time to go. No turning back. “Ok, let’s load up.”

They drove across Sabzawar and headed south toward their target. Blake and Akbar rode in one vehicle and the rest of the team rode in the following car. Thoughts raced through his mind about his new team. Did they possess the capabilities and, or the will to get the job done? Could he trust them if all hell broke loose and things turned to shit? They were almost to their destination when a pothole jarred Blake back.

Shit. Radio check. I almost forgot. “Alpha to Bravo, radio check.”

“Bravo to Alpha, check. Loud and clear,” Sardar said.

“Check. Alpha to Charlie, radio check.”

All three members of Charlie checked in loud and clear.

“At the next intersection we break off to the east and you all head west. Go to your destinations and we’ll continue on foot.”

“Understood, Alpha,” Barbrak said.

After a few more minutes, they came to their destination. They all verified they were locked and loaded and stepped out into the cool desert air. The half-moon was shaded by clouds, blessing the ground with darkness. A slight breeze filled the air and the barking of several dogs could be heard in the distance. A slight stench of urine burned his nostrils.

Blake and Akbar waited until they heard from the other teams that they were n position. When they got confirmation the two men crept to the back of the neighboring building.

Blake turned and said, “Keep a look-out.”

Akbar nodded while Blake bent down and picked the lock. He made sure to lubricate the hinges to eliminate any squeaking it might make as it opened. Blake took a deep breath as he opened the door. His lips slightly curled at the silence. WD-40 kicks ass. They slipped inside, took a quick left up the stairs and onto the roof.

Barbrak broke radio silence. “Alpha, this is Charlie. There is a guard outside.”

“Affirmative, Charlie. Hold your position and stand-by.” Blake laid down on the roof and belly crawled over to the front edge of the building and looked down. There was a lone guard with an AK-47. He sat on an overturned bucket and from his lack of movement; Blake couldn’t tell if the man was asleep or not.

Blake turned and gave Akbar a hand gesture for him to proceed down to the roof. They both climbed down to the adjacent building. Blake crept over to the door that he’d seen alarmed the previous day. Once he was on the roof and no one popped out of the roof’s door, or the roof didn’t explode, Blake let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d held.

Blake whispered, “Look at this.” He held up a piece of wire to the alarm system. It had been cut and disconnected a long time ago. “One less thing we have to worry about.”

Akbar nodded.

Blake checked the door. It was locked, but another worry crept into the back of his mind. What if this door is rigged to explode? Alice had given Blake an experimental handheld ion mobility spectrometer, which compared reflected, infrared and visible light measurements on multiple areas of the suspected area. After what seemed like eternity, the device gave Blake the answer he hoped to see.

“It’s clear.”

He pulled out his pick kit and quickly picked the lock. More lubricant on all the hinges and a gentle pull to open it. The door broke its seal and Blake stopped when it was barely open.

Sweat ran down his back as he removed a snake camera from his pack and slid it into the crack of the door. On the small screen, a greenish hued image of an empty stairwell was displayed. He showed it to Akbar, who responded with a ‘thumbs up.’

“Alpha to Charlie, baby-baby. Prepare and stand-by.”

“Baby-baby,” Farishta confirmed.

“Bravo, sitrep?” Blake asked.

“Just about finished. Ten seconds. Stand-by.” Sardar said.

Sardar rigged the rear door to explode if it was opened by one of the terrorists in an attempt to escape. He was to stay in the rear until he got word via the radio to come around front and join the team before going inside.

“Alpha. This is Bravo. Package is ready.”

“Understood. Charlie, ready?” Blake asked.

“We’re ready.”

Farishta brought her traditional dress and put it on over her BDUs. She carried a large knife but had it bundled up like a baby in swaddling clothes. They’d downloaded recordings of a baby crying a few days ago and placed the digital recorder in with the swaddling and the knife.

Blake belly crawled over to the edge of the roof and observed. Farishta walked up the hill toward the guard outside. A woman out by herself, especially at this time of night was sure to get the wrath of the Jihadist guard. The sound of a baby’s shrills filled the air.

The guard stood and approached Farishta, yelling in Pashtu. “You! Woman! Who are you and why are you walking unescorted? You should be whipped for this.”

Farishta cried, “Please, I beg of you…” Blake winced and turned down the volume on his receiver. “…My husband was killed fighting the Jihad. I have no family and my child is sick.” As the guard mover closer, Farishta showed how deadly she could be. In one smooth motion, she ran the knife up the man’s chest and around his neck and cut clean through the carotid artery.

The man grabbed his neck as blood sprayed out over the road and adjacent building’s walls. Within a second he was on his knees. The next, he was lying face down on the street, dead. While Farishta took off the hijab, Abdul and Barbrak ran in, grabbed the body and moved it to the alley, out of sight.

Blake couldn’t help but smile. Good girl. So far his team was working well together. He crawled the three meters back over to the door.

“Charlie, sitrep.“

“We are green. Getting into position now.” Barbrak said.

“Bravo. Time to move.” Blake said.

“Moving into position now. “ Sardar responded.

Abdul and Farishta were just outside the front door and Abdul had just picked the lock. They were followed by Barbrak and Sardar.

“This is Bravo and Charlie. We are in position.”

“Stand-by. Do not go until I give the word, understand?”

“Understood,” Farishta said.

Blake positioned himself by the door on the roof. He whispered to Akbar, “We really could have used the help of the satellite to see inside.”

“Why was it not?”

“A mission to rescue some kidnapped girls in Africa got priority. We’ll be ok, though.”

Akbar nodded.

Blake got on the radio. “Okay, everyone. On three.”

Blake received a flurry of confirmations over the radio.

“One…two…”

***

Bullets flew out the front door and struck Abdul in the side of his head just under his ear. He dropped dead instantly. Farishta and Barbrak ducked back left around the side of the building as Sardar went right.

More rounds flew out the front glass towards Sardar. Half ran up his Kevlar vest and the rest through his neck and head and blew off the left side of his face. Farishta grabbed a grenade and threw it in the building. After it exploded, she dove in the door while Barbrak followed her while he laid down a suppressing cover fire.

***

Up top Blake couldn’t believe what he heard. What the fuck? They knew we were here! How the hell did they know that?

He barreled his way into the door and down the small flight of steps. Akbar immediately followed. At the bottom of the stairs Blake stopped and peeked around the corner but was met with a hail of gunfire. Son of a Bitch!

Blake grabbed a grenade and threw it to his right where the gunfire came from. It detonated. Two voices cried out in pain. He looked to his left and saw movement. He ducked back into the doorway just as gunfire erupted and ripped through the wall. Blake stepped out and shot several, three round bursts and took out two more men.

He ran back to where the grenade detonated and saw the bodies of two men. He leaned down and felt no pulse. He turned back to where Akbar was. “Akbar? Akbar! Where you at?”

There was no answer. Dammit! Blake ran back to the stairwell and looked up. Akbar was sprawled out, dead on the stairs. Shit!

Blake grabbed Akbar’s ammo and grenades and headed for the stairs to the main level. He heard gunfire. “Bravo, Charlie. What’s going on down there? Anyone!”

“Alpha! This is Barbrak. Farishta is in the hallway and I am in the main room. There are two men in the kitchen. We’re pinned down! We are having difficulty getting to them.”

“Understood. I’m upstairs and coming down the stairs. Where do the stairs come out down there in relation to the kitchen?”

“In the hallway just to the right of the kitchen.” Three puffs came over the frequency of his MP5 firing. “You should be able to come down and they would not be able to see you.”

“Copy that. Next to the kitchen. I’m coming down. Cover me.”

Blake heard the iconic note of the silenced shots as he came down the stairs. When he reached the landing, he saw Barbrak in the living room crouching behind a couch; his weapon popping up to deliver Blake more cover. He couldn’t see Farishta or the men in the kitchen. Blake whispered in his mic to Barbrak what he was going to do.

“I understand,” Barbrak said.

Blake took the two grenades he retrieved from Akbar and pulled the pins. His adrenaline was at full throttle. Sons of bitches. See how you like this! He dove down the hallway to the other side of the door where the men fired from. As he flew by the doorway, he threw in both grenades. As soon as Barbrak heard them start to yell about a grenade, he opened fire towards the kitchen. The grenades exploded and Blake grabbed his weapon and unloaded the rest of his magazine into the kitchen.

The sound of brass from the last few shots plinking on the floor and debris from the explosion landing were the only sounds. Blake stood up in front of the kitchen. When there was no sound or movement, he focused on Barbrak. His eyes were wide.

“That’s two more, I got four upstairs plus the one Farishta got outside is seven. How many did you get?”

Blake caught his breath as Barbrak spun around. “There is one in here, plus I think Farishta got one in the hall.”

“That’s only nine! Where’s the tenth?” Blake asked.

A closet door in the front hallway burst open and the tenth man burst out. He was unarmed. When he made a motion to go out the front, Barbrak stepped in his path. Panicked, the man turned and ran toward the back door.

“Get down!” Blake yelled.

The explosion ripped through the front hallway. It obliterated the fleeing man and took out the back door and part of the outside kitchen wall. As debris still settled Blake went into the hallway and saw Farishta.

“Farishta!”

She was on her back and her head rested on the back of one of the men she had killed moments earlier. She clutched her stomach under her Kevlar vest. Blake knelt down and she removed her hand that was covered in dark crimson.

“Barbrak! Get your ass in here, now!”

Barbrak rushed to Blake’s side and knelt down.

“Fix her!” Blake said.

Barbrak retrieved his medical kit and gave her a shot of Morphine. Blake helped her up and removed her Kevlar vest. She screamed in pain. There were no markings on the vest.

“Whatever got her came up at a sharp angle and got in under her protection,” Barbrak said.

“What can you do for her?” Blake asked.

Barbrak shook his head. “Dark blood. Her liver has been hit. There is nothing that I can do.”

Blake gently laid her back down and held her hand. Oh shit. What did I miss? There’s got to be something he can do.

“What the hell do you mean there is nothing you can do? You’re a damn medic for Christ’s sake!”

“A shot to the stomach, a sucking chest wound, yes I would be able to help, but this wound is too bad. I cannot stop the bleeding. I can ease the pain but that is it. I am very sorry.” Barbrak looked down at Farishta “I am very sorry sister. You fought valiantly. You are a true warrior and I am proud to have served with you.”

Tear filled eyes focused on him while she smiled. Some life came into her eyes that had already begun to dim.

For the next few minutes Blake sat with her and did his best to keep her comfortable.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. Someone compromised this mission.

She moved in and out of consciousness for the next few minutes. Then, she took her last breath.

Blake stood up and kicked the body of the dead al Qaeda operative. He picked up a chair and threw it into the living room.

“Shit! How the hell did they know we were here? He ripped off his helmet and slammed it to the ground. Dammit!”

Blake checked all of the bodies to see if any of them were still alive. Barbrak searched the building for anything that might give them information on the whereabouts of al Hamwi or what he was doing with the weapons.

When he stepped back into the main room, Blake was bent over the body of one of the men.

“Blake.”

“What?” he said, not turning around.

“I’ve found something. They have a basement here and there is something that you should see.”

The old wooden steps moaned as they went lower. Blake stopped when he reached the bottom step. It fit what one would expect a basement would be in a building occupied by terrorists; dark, dirty, a single chair in the middle of the room, chains hanging from the ceiling and strung along the floor. It smelled of feces and urine.

The blood stained instruments on the rusted table brought back bad memories. Underneath was an accumulation of various chemicals, rags and a steel wire brush. To the right, on the floor, was a car battery and cables. This place was a dungeon and someone had been tortured here recently.

The dungeon like space he inspected had two doors on the side wall. The solid wood door of the first one went ajar when he turned the knob. He drew his pistol and cracked the door further. Stacks of newspapers, empty boxes and trash filled the closet size room. The second door had a window. The knob didn’t budge when he twisted it. Cupping his hands over the glass, he peered through the window.

“Son of a bitch!”

He stood back, fired two shots at the door lock and kicked opened the door.

On the far wall was Jim Dunn, the agent that had disappeared more than two weeks ago. He hung on the wall with chains to his wrists.

“Barbrak! Look for a set of keys that look like they’d unlock some iron cuffs and get in here. Hurry!”

Jim hung on the wall from chains locked to his wrists. He was unresponsive to Blake’s touch or voice. Chains rattled and containers hit the floor from Barbrak’s search while Blake checked the man for a pulse. He found one, but it was very weak. “Barbrak!”

“I found some. I’m coming.” Barbrak entered the room. “Who is this? Is he your missing man?”

“Yes. Hurry. Toss me the keys.”

Blake was elated that he found the missing agent. If one good thing came out of this night, it was this. He hoped that Jim would be able to give him some valuable information, if he survived.

With the chains unlocked, he lowered Jim down to the floor. “Barbrak, get an IV in him. Do whatever you have to. I’ll be right back.”

Blake darted up the stairs skipping every other one. He went back into the living room and checked the first man. Dead. He checked the second man. Dead. He ran across the hall to the kitchen. One of the terrorists had his head blown off from the grenades. The next man had a pulse. Alive!

He checked the man’s wounds. They were incidental shrapnel wounds to his back, rear and hamstrings. The other guy took the brunt of both grenades.

Blake kicked him. “You playing opossum? You faking it, asshole?” Blake said in Pashtu.

The man put his arms up in a defensive block. Blake grabbed him by the collar and dragged him out of the room. When they got to the hallway, Blake stood him up and elbowed him in the face twice. The man stumbled backward and back to the floor. Blake rushed to him, lifted him up and punched him in the gut.

The anger Blake felt from the loss of his team and the condition of Jim Dunn came through and he relished taking it out on this sick bastard.

“I’ve got some questions for you that you’re going to answer!” Blake reared back and knocked him down the hall, toward the basement door.

Blake followed him down the hall and picked the man up again. The young Jihadi was coughing and tried to get his breath. He had a bleeding cut under his eye.

“Come with me, dick.” Blake dragged him through the doorway to the basement entrance and threw him down the stairs.

Blake leaped down the stairs, grabbed the man and threw him in the chair. The man’s body was limp as Blake bound his hands with cord he found on the filthy floor. He gently slapped the man’s cheeks, “You’re not out. Come on. Wakey wakey.”

The man spat in Blake’s face. Without wiping it off, Blake delivered a punch to the helpless man’s nose so hard, the chair lifted before toppling him over backwards.

Torture; or “Enhanced Interrogation” as it was called in the world of political correctness. Blake always thought that it was kind of an oxymoron to call enhanced interrogation “politically correct”. But, it was what it was. He guessed that it was really more to make it just sound friendlier, or not as harsh. Regardless of what he called it, it still sucked and he hated doing it. Although, this time his fists connected without thought or repulsion.

He knew people who made it their specialty in extracting information from unwilling participants. Over several months’ time or even years, depriving people of sleep and food and breaking them down, little-by-little, until they cracked.

Others could do unspeakable things that would make the Nazi’s cringe. When reading or even seeing these techniques, Blake was glad it hadn’t been the career path chosen for him; he had neither the patience nor the desire. However, if he needed to get down and nasty, he would. This was one of those times.

“Tell me where al Hamwi is,” Blake said in English.

The man sat and stared straight ahead. Blake pulled out his suppressed Glock and shot the man in the knee cap. The prisoner screamed, but Blake was prepared. He grabbed one of the rags from the table and stuffed it in the man’s mouth and asked again, “Where is al Hamwi? I know you understand me. I’m too pissed off to speak your language. Now tell me!”

The man stared up at him. Eyes wide. Blake removed the rag from his mouth.

“I do not k….” Blake put a round in the man’s other knee cap and rammed the rag back in his mouth.

When his prisoner finally stopped screaming through the gag, Blake told him, “I can do this for a while. I know ten more places where I can shoot you that will cause significant pain but won’t kill you. Next one goes in your ankle.” Blake removed the rag.

In broken English the man said, “Please. I tell you true when I say I do not kno…”

Blake stuffed the rag back in his mouth. He raised his pistol, paused and then put it on the table.

“Maybe you’ll like what your asshole jihadis did to my friend.”

Blake didn’t really want to go where he was going, but maybe if his prisoner thought he was crazy or losing it, he’d come around quicker. He drew his knife and placed it by the man’s ear. The man’s eyes widened as he wiggled in his chair. Blake delivered a hard punch to his groin.

“Barbrak, hold him,” Blake yelled. Barbrak exited the other room and held the prisoner. His eyes we’re almost as wide with fear as the man’s in the chair.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Blake said. “It needs to be done.”

Blake placed the blade on the top of the man’s ear and carved it off like a piece of holiday ham. Blood flowed down his shoulder and collected on the floor into a small crimson pool.

The scream echoed, despite the gag in his mouth. Blake removed the cloth and shoved the severed ear the young jihadi’s mouth.

“Chew on that!” Blake grabbed his prisoner by the back of the head, leaned down next to him and said, “I do not have any patience today. You’re going to tell me everything you know or I am going to cut you up little by little, piece by piece and shove them into your mouth.”

The man spit out his severed ear.

“Fuck you, American Infidel!”

“Fuck me? Fuck you! Where is al Hamwi? Tell me now!”

“Go to hell!”

Blake reached over to the table, grabbed a machete and hacked the man’s thumb off. He raised his pistol and shot him in the thigh. He reached down to pick up the severed thumb and shoved it, followed by the rag, back into the squirming man’s mouth.

Blake went around to the back of the man. His evil side was coming out in full force. It grew in him that he’d only experienced a couple of other times in his life. He did nothing to suppress it from consuming him. “Barbrak. Hand me that bottle of kerosene.”

Barbrak stood still.

Blake turned to him. He could see the stunned look on his face, but didn’t care. “Barbrak! Get me the damn kerosene. What’s the matter, never seen an interrogation before?”

Barbrak remained still. “Not like this.”

Well I guess I shouldn’t have expected them to understand everything. Blake let out a frustrated sigh and took the necessary few steps needed to retrieve the fuel. Doubt about Barbrak’s allegiance crept in. “You’re still with me, right? They did just kill all your teammates up there.” Blake raised his arm and pointed towards the main floor with the bottle of kerosene.

Barbrak snapped back from his shock. His eyes narrowed as he looked at Blake. “Yes. One hundred percent. What do you need me to do?”

“Hold his feet up when I tip him back.”

Blake pulled the chair over backward and the man hit the ground. He lifted him slightly from his shoulder. “Grab his feet and hold him at this angle.”

Barbrak snatched on to the man’s pant legs and held him while Blake grabbed another rag and put it over the man’s nose and proceeded to pour the kerosene over his mouth and nose. The man flailed violently. “You do know that this is flammable liquid, don’t you?”

The man tried to mumble to Blake to stop. He noticed him struggling to get something down his throat and winced at the thought of him swallowing his own thumb. The liquid ran out and Blake propped the chair back up and walked back to the front.

“Five seconds from now, I’m going to shoot you again, unless you talk.”

Blake removed the rag.

“Please! Wait! I know what he is doing. I do not know where he is, but I know what he is doing”

I knew it! Blake waved his pistol at him. “Go on. Keep talking.”

“He went to Cuba to get a weapon.”

“I already know about the weapon, asshole! That’s why I’m here. Who is he planning on attacking? When is he planning the attack?”

The man shook his head. “No attack. He is selling it.”

Blake’s brow furrowed. That didn’t make sense. “Selling it? To who?”

“I do not know.”

Blake pointed his weapon down and shot him in the ankle. His prisoner screamed.

Blake crammed the rag back in his mouth and waited for his cries to subside.

“One more time.”

Blake jerked the rag out of his mouth and the man pleaded, “Please! Stop! The Russians I think. I heard them mention Russians.”

Blake’s eyes narrowed. Now this is getting really crazy. “That doesn’t make any sense. The Russians sell weapons to you assholes, not the other way around.”

The man replied, “All I know is that is what Zahmir called them. He said he did it to make them angry.”

Blake stepped back. Make them angry? Why would a Russian get angry from being called a Russian? He turned and walked toward the room where Jim Dunn was. He peeked in. Clear liquid dripped from the IV bag hanging from one of the chains. Why wouldn’t I want to be called a Russian?

Blake spun back around toward his prisoner. The thought slammed into the front of his mind. Because I’m from Belarus or Ukraine. That made more sense. Ever since the eastern bloc countries seceded from Russia, they hated to be called ‘Russians’.

He didn’t let his prisoner know he’d figured it out. He took three quick steps back toward him.

“How is he getting the weapons over here?”

“By boat. That is all I know. I swear.” Blake shot him in the other ankle, then stuffed the rag in his mouth. He screamed and cried.

“God, will you shut the fuck up!” Blake backhanded him. Perhaps a bribe will work. “Would you like some pain killer? Maybe some morphine?”

The man’s eyes widened and he nodded.

“Barbrak, hand me some morphine, please.”

Barbrak went to the back room and retrieved his bag. He handed Blake a syringe of morphine and went back to treat his patient.

Blake held it up. “Is this what you want?” The man nodded. Blake removed the rag from the man’s mouth.

“Where and when are they docking?”

“Please! I swear to Allah! That is all I know. Please! Can I have the morphine?”

“Are you sure that is all you know?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Blake shot him through his left foot.

As his prisoner screamed, Blake pressed.

I don’t believe it. This guy is tough. There has to be more he can give me. “Do you swear to Allah, that is all you know?”

“Yes, yes! Please! That is all I know.”

Blake stepped back and shot him through his other foot.

“Aughhh! Please stop! Pleeaaasssee!” Tears ran down the man’s disfigured face as he pleaded in agony. The realization that he had probably gotten all he was going to get finally started to set in.

“That is all you know?”

“I swear! Please. The morphine!”

Images of the pain that they put Jim through flashed through his mind; the relentless torture. The inhumanity they bestowed onto others. His anger boiled. The hatred. It numbed his humanity. “No.” He lit a match and flicked it onto his prisoner. The kerosene ignited. His clothes and face soon became engulfed in the flames and the man screamed in agony.

Blake raised his pistol, let the man suffer a few seconds more, then put a bullet between the terrorist’s eyes.

The impact of the bullet knocked the chair over. Blake stared down at the burning man’s body, emotionless. Barbrak darted out from the other room and put a blanket over the man to extinguish the flames. The stench of burning flesh filled the air. Both men were silent.

They went back into the room where Jim Dunn was. Blake bent down next to Jim. “How’s he doing?”

Barbrak bent down next to him but wouldn’t look into his eyes. Blake wondered if he thought he was some kind of animal. He didn’t care. He got what he needed.

“He is severely dehydrated, but this IV will help that. He has seven cracked ribs, ten broken fingers, no finger or toe nails and they cut off his right ear. I’ve set all his fingers and put splints on them. Everything but the ear will heal, but I assume they will have a prosthetic ear for him back in America.”

Blake chuckled. “Yeah, maybe.”

“I think I hear sirens. I thought Akbar said they wouldn’t come to this area? We need to get him and us the hell outta here. Once we get him in the car, I can call for a medevac,” Blake said.

Barbrak looked up at Blake. “My friend. Do not worry. We’re not on some clandestine mission in hostile territory. You forget that I am a Major for the ASA Special Forces. I will have jurisdiction here. I radioed my commanding officer and he has dispatched them. I can call for ambulances to take us back to the base.”

In all of the excitement, Blake had indeed forgotten. “Right, we’ll wait for them to arrive and then we’ll get out of here and get Jim to the base as quick as possible.”

Minutes later, the police arrived and entered the house. Blake sent Barbrak upstairs to talk to the police while he stayed with Jim.

He heard the voices upstairs but couldn’t make out what was said. Jim Dunn was still lying unconscious on the floor, but his pulse had strengthened. Blake looked at his toes and finger tips, stained with dry blood where his nails used to be. He too had been in situations before where he had been interrogated. He had received a strong beating, but it never got to the point where they ripped out his fingernails. He’d either escaped or been rescued before it got to that.

After a few eternal minutes, Blake heard the clump, clump, of footsteps from several people coming down the stairs. It was Barbrak and two or three other people. Two EMT’s lifted Jim Dunn onto a stretcher and carefully took him upstairs to the waiting ambulance outside.

“Blake, I’d like to introduce to you Mohammad al Aziz. He is the captain of the police force here.”

“Captain, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Blake extended his bruised hand and the Captain shook it. “We need to go to the Shinidad Airbase. Are you familiar with it?”

“Of course. We will be happy to take you. But your man needs immediate medical attention. The hospital is…”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you Captain, but there is a full medical staff at the base and I’m sure that they will be able to handle anything that he needs. No disrespect to your facilities.”

The captain raised his hand. “None taken.”

Shinidad was one of the first airbases built during the U.S. insertion on the War on Terrorism. The base is one of the best and most modern of the air bases in Afghanistan with full concrete runways. It was used to bring in troops and multiple aircraft into the base like the C-17 Globemaster III, the same type of plane that Blake used to HAHO into Afghanistan.

“I believe they have your man loaded by now. We should go up and make sure. We can give you an escort from here,” the captain said.

“Right. Thank you,” Blake said.

The captain turned and left up the stairs and Blake put his hand on Barbrak’s arm. “Stay here a minute.”

After the captain and other police had left the basement, Blake turned to Barbrak and asked, “Are you sure about these guys? I know a lot of them are bankrolled and paid off by some of the local radical groups.”

Barbrack cocked his head and squinted. “I am sure. I have no suspicions.”

Blake hesitated. There was something in his gut that said no, but he had no reason not to trust his teammate. “All right.”

Barbrak turned to leave when Blake stopped him again.

“I want you to keep your guard up, okay? Just in case.”

Barbrak nodded and he and Blake headed for the stairs.

***

The EMT’s loaded Jim into the back of an old Citroën ambulance. It was narrow and long to easily navigate the more narrow roads and alleys that Sabzawar had to offer. Barbrak stayed in the back to keep an eye on Jim while Blake rode up front with the driver. They headed north through the city and they had a police escort of two cars up front and one more behind.

When they turned west at the top of a hill, Blake thought that was unusual. They should’ve continued north. The number of people along the road had also started to thin out. It was late enough in the early morning that he should have seen more people as they started their day.

That uneasy feeling started to course through his veins. It would not be unusual for the Taliban or al Qaeda to infiltrate the police or even local military units of Afghan troops and warn the civilians to stay off the streets. Recently, there had been increasing reports of Afghan troops and police turning their weapons on their U.S. trainers or Afghan leaders.

Blake shot a quick glance in the side mirror and saw a panel truck had moved into the road and stopped to block a rear exit. His heartbeat sped up just a bit and his senses became more aware. Situational awareness and just plain instinct had been what had saved Blake many times in the past. Ahead and to the left another panel truck moved across the road. There are no such thing as coincidences.

Blake quickly reached over and jerked the wheel toward him. The driver swung at Blake and connected with his left cheek. He shook it off and punched the driver twice, just above the temple.

“What is going on?” Barbrak screamed.

“It’s an ambush!” Blake tried to open the driver’s door. The driver wedged his arms in under Blake and pushed him back. Blake drew his pistol. The driver elbowed him twice in the nose and struck Blake’s arm. The pistol clattered to the floor. The small ambulance lurched from one side of the road to the other.

The driver hit Blake once more and reached for his own pistol. Blake grabbed the driver from behind the neck and slammed his head into the steering wheel, twice. The truck side swiped a parked car jarring the occupants inside.

He fumbled for the latch and managed to get the driver’s door opened. The emergency brake handle clicked when he yanked on it. The ambulance jerked to a stop and the door flung open. Blake karate chopped the driver in the neck and crushed his windpipe. The driver put his hands up to his throat, gasping. A swift kick and the man tumbled out onto the pavement. Blake hopped over the center and into the driver’s seat.

“Hold on! It’s about to get really bumpy!”

Blake released the brake, put the truck in reverse and slammed on the gas. His adrenalin was pumping at full steam again. He slammed into the front of the car that followed them and kept his foot on the gas, pushing the car onto the crumbling sidewalk behind them and into the front window of a café.

Barbrak looked out the front window. “We’re blocked both front and rear! Where can we go?”

“Ever drive on a sidewalk? There’s almost always a way out.”

Blake put the ambulance in first gear and floored it. He drove up onto a sidewalk and slammed through several cafe’ tables and chairs and scattered them into the buildings and road. “See, that was easy,” he said, grinning.

“Look out,” cried Barbrak.

A police van sped around a corner toward them. The rear doors opened and three men opened fire.

“Get down!” Blake yelled. He jerked hard on the parking brake and slid the ambulance sideways. Bullets shattered his side window and plinked their way down the side panel of the ambulance.

Blake looked furiously for a way out. Barbrak pointed forward. “Look. Over there. Head for that alley.”

Blake floored the accelerator and steered for the alley. “It’s really narrow! Hang on!”

As he entered the opening, both side mirrors were ripped from the vehicle. Bullets pinged into the rear of the ambulance. Blake was thankful this ambulance had been retrofitted with armor on the inside, but was disappointed they didn’t upgrade the engine to compensate for the added weight.

Up ahead was set of stairs going down. He slowed down enough so the ambulance wouldn’t launch and catch too much air as it went down the stairs.

“Shit!”

The ambulance slammed into the stone walkway and recovered. They came to a street and flew out onto the pavement without slowing down. Turning a hard left, Blake side swiped a small car and pushed it into a parked car. He made a hard right and entered another alley.

“Fuck! More stairs. Hold on!”

The car launched into the air and landed hard. Agent Dunn’s body lifted and slammed back onto the floor of the ambulance.

“Careful!” Barbrak yelled.

Blake turned north at the next street. He gave it full throttle and went two more blocks when two cars barreled around the corner and closed in behind them. Are you kidding me? Blake maneuvered around the slower cars, scooters and bicycles that dotted the road.

“Barbrak, you’re going to need to help me get them off our backs. I’m going to radio the base and get some help and let them know we are on the way!”

As he crossed another intersection, a car turned in front of them. He swerved to his right but it wasn’t enough. The front left corner of the ambulance slammed into the right front quarter panel of the other car and made it spin out of control into the intersection. The two cars chasing them swerved and continued their pursuit.

Blake got on his radio and dialed in the frequency for the air base. When Blake got through to the base, he talked to Lt. Cmdr. John Thielen.

“Commander Thielen, this is Blake Mackay. I’m supposed to be coming there to get my ride back to Al Ueid.”

“Yes, Mr. MacKay, we’re expecting y...”

“Sorry to interrupt you, but I’m coming in hot. I’ve got some dirty cops on my ass and they’re plugging my car full of holes. I’m driving an old ambulance and I have passengers. One is a missing asset of ours. Situation is Fubar. Send me some help.”

“Jim Dunn?”

“Affirmative.”

“I’ll have a bird in the air in three minutes.”

Blake tossed the radio mic into the passenger seat and yelled back to Barbrak, “Five or six minutes until we get some help. Do what you can to buy us some time.”

***

Barbrak restrapped his patient to the gurney and then strapped the gurney to the floor. He made sure he had a full clip in his sub machine gun. He kicked open the double back doors of the ambulance and opened fire into the front windshield of the car directly behind him and hit the driver.

He aimed and blew out the front passenger tire. Both incidents caused the car to slow suddenly and lurch to its right. The car behind it hit the swerving car so hard, it flipped it and started to roll. Barbrak fired and aimed at the gas tank and ruptured it.

Barbrak waited for the car to roll around again and unloaded his weapon on the rear chassis of the car. He hoped to generate a spark and ignite the fuel. After about eight more shots, the car erupted into a ball of flame. The second car slammed into the car as it exploded.

“Ha ha!” Barbrak said aloud. “Two down.”

“That’s great. Anymore?”

Two more cars and a pickup came from around a corner and closed in behind them. The closest one was the pickup and it had two fighters in the bed firing AK-47’s over the roof of the truck.

“Sharp right coming up!” Blake said.

Barbrak held on tight.

“Barbrak, that’s the final turn. We’re on the main road to the base. We should see help any second now!”

Barbrak raised his weapon and fired at the pickup and hit the man on his left. He saw one of the assailants fall out of the truck. The man on the right fired and hit Barbrak clean through his right shoulder. Barbrak winced, but recovered and unloaded the rest of his clip at the man behind him in the truck. Another shooter leaned out of the passenger window and opened fire at them.

Barbrak took out his last grenade and pulled the pin. He released the handle and counted. Just before the grenade exploded in his hand, he threw it onto the ground. The grenade detonated under the rear of the trailing truck, sending it flying into the air, tumbling end over end until it finally came to rest on its roof.

The second car sped up toward the ambulance. Men fired out of both rear door windows. Barbrak picked up his machine gun and fired in controlled bursts.

Blake yelled back to him, “We’re getting close, I can see the base entrance and I can see the helo headed our way!”

“That is good my friend because I am almost out of ammunition!” Barbrak emptied his machine gun and threw it down. He pulled out his pistol and fired it at the car behind him.

Blake yelled back, “We’re close. A hundred meters!”

Just as Barbrak’s slide locked open, he heard what sounded like a chain saw.

It was the mini gun, a GAU-17/A Gatling style machine gun that fires 7.62 mm bullets at a rate of up to six thousand rounds per minute. It was mounted on an Apache helicopter that was now unleashing hell. The car disintegrated as it was pummeled with flying lead.

Blake had the gas pedal to floor. The little Citroën was maxed at seventy miles per hour as he drove through the front gate of the base. The Apache couldn’t get turned around fast enough to fire on the remaining car that pursued them.

Military personnel filed in to protect the base. The terrorists were still in pursuit in what was now a suicide mission for them. Little did they know how soon their death would arrive.

The base entrance was protected by a Hearld Roadblocker barricade system. It was a spring loaded barricade that lies flat but can spring up in a fraction of a second when triggered. It is capable of stopping a thirty ton truck traveling at fifty miles per hour in less than a quarter of a second.

As soon as Blake’s ambulance passed over the barricades, the guards in the guard house activated it. They sprung up in instantly. The remaining car hit the barricade at nearly eighty miles per hour and stopped immediately. The car was crushed, and all four occupants were killed instantly.

Blake raced through the base to the hospital and skid to a stop by the main entrance. The medical staff met them with a stretcher. They carefully removed Jim from the ambulance and into the emergency room. Blake grabbed the last EMT by the arm on his way in and asked for regular updates. The EMT nodded as he turned to follow the others.

Barbrak limped around to where Blake was standing. His hand was grasping his bloody shoulder. “He will be fine. Even after all the bumps you put him through on the way over, he should recover.”

Blake pulled his gaze from the emergency room doors and said, “Barbrak, I want to thank you. The way you handled yourself—even after everyone else on our team was killed. You’re a valiant soldier and I’d be proud to serve with you anytime.” Blake reached out and shook his hand.

“Thank you,” Barbrak replied.

Blake pointed to Barbrak’s shoulder and said, “You’d better get that looked at.”

“I will. Do you have any idea of what your next move is?”

Blake knew in the back of his mind what he was going to do, but shook his head. “No. I’m going to call my boss and see what he wants me to do. The first thing is to get a ride back to Qatar and then probably head back to Washington.”

Barbrak winced when he put his hands on Blake’s shoulders. “All right my friend. If I don’t see you before you take off, safe travels and good luck.”

“Thank you and good luck to you as well.”

Blake got back into the beat-up ambulance and drove over to the administration building. He found Lt. Cmdr. Thielen standing in his office, just finishing a phone call. When he hung up the phone he directed his attention to Blake and said, “That was Langley. I was letting them know that you’d found and rescued Jim Dunn. You’ll probably get a commendation for that, you know?”

Blake shrugged. “I would hope that if the tables were turned he, or anyone else for that matter, would do the same for me.”

“Regardless of what you think, it was heroic and I commend you for it. So, what can I do for you, Mr. MacKay?”

The coffee pot to his left called to him, so he strolled over to grab a cup. “I was hoping for a ride back to Al Ueid.” He took a sip, grimmaced and poured it in the sink.

The Lt. Commander laughed, “Yeah, nasty stuff. It takes some getting used to. I can arrange a ride for you. When did you need to go?”

“Now.”

“Now? Hold on a second.” He stepped over to a file cabinet, opened a drawer and removed a folder. “Tomorrow. I’ve got a group of guys that just officially ended their tour. They’re scheduled to fly out of here to Al Ueid at first light.”

“I’m sorry Commander, but that’s not good enough. I was able to extract vital information from one of al Hamwi’s men, and time is of the essence. I need to leave as soon as possible.”

“What kind of information?”

Blake shook his head. Everybody wants to know something. “Sorry Commander. Classified. Just know that it’s extremely important.”

The Lt. Commander stood and tapped the folder on his desk. He looked at Blake and finally said. “This is highly unusual, but…” He picked up the phone and ordered the plane to be fueled and prepped for the flight to Al Ueid. He then made the arrangements for the two dozen soldiers to leave a day early.

“Okay Mr. MacKay, you’ve got your early flight. It leaves in an hour.”

“Thanks and if you catch heat, have whoever it is, call Director Thomas. He’ll have your back.”

“Oh trust me—I will.”

***

Blake was exhausted and sore. Since the flight had only two dozen soldiers on it, there were plenty of empty seats. Lying down across a full row, he closed his eyes and thought about events from the past two days.

How did this mission get compromised in the beginning? There were only a few people that knew the details. Who would have had the intel and the connection to leak to al Hamwi’s men?

Farishta straddled him. Her soft lips caressing his as her thick black hair softly brushed across his skin. Her eyes in a panic; the life fading away.

He sat up quickly, rubbed his hand through his disheveled hair as his eyes darted throughout the plane. The hum of the engines echoed throughout the cabin. He had to find some way to distract himself from the last painful day.

A group of young men and one woman were playing cards. He decided some small talk would be good. The rest of the flight was uneventful and Blake even had a chance to enjoy himself talking to the young soldiers that were going home to see their families. He saw quite a collection of photos of girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands and children.

Three hours later the plane touched down and Blake said his farewells to the young men and women he’d just made friends with. He wondered if he’d ever see any of them ever again on some mission in the future.

He walked to the building where he stored his other gear and retrieved it. Colonel Smyth didn’t seem to be around, which was fine with him. The last thing he wanted was another distraction and someone trying to extract classified information.

Outside the hangar, Randy and Chuck, were waiting for him.

They trudged up the stairs and Randy turned and asked, “Ready to head back, Sir?”

“What’s with the sir, shit?”

They both chuckled. Blake stored his gear while Randy and Chuck prepped the plane for take-off. After a few minutes, they taxied down the runway and took off toward Andrews AFB.

A jolt of turbulence startled Blake out of a sound sleep. A glance at his watch told him he’d been asleep a few hours. He walked gingerly to the front of the plane and started a fresh batch of coffee. He opened the cabin door and said, “Hello boys.”

Both pilots reciprocated the greeting.

“How we doing?” Blake asked.

“We’re good. We might hit a little bit more of this turbulence in about thirty minutes but it shouldn’t be too bad and should only last ten minutes or so,” Randy said.

“That’s good.” Blake paused a moment before continuing. “Hey, I need to take a bit of a detour and not head right back to Langley.”

Both pilots shot a quick glance to each other. Randy finally asked, “Okay. So, where to?”

Blake stared straight out the cockpit window for a few seconds. I’m going to catch hell for this.

“Cuba.”

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