Off the coast of Isle de la Juventud, Cuba
02:38 (07:38 GMT)
Zahmir Al Hamwi was jolted awake from explosions in the distance. Springing from his bed, he darted to the wall, grabbed the intercom and called the bridge. Mustafa, his right hand man, answered the com.
“What’s going on?” Zahmir asked.
“Something is happening on shore. There was an explosion followed by gunfire.”
“We’re not being attacked?”
“No. It is all coming from the estate.”
“I’m on my way.”
Zahmir slipped on his sandals, reached for a pair of binoculars and ran out to the deck. Someone had better not be stealing the weapons we came for.
Out on deck, Zahmir put the binoculars to his eyes and focused on the general’s estate. The night glowed on the western part of house from where moments ago a huge fireball engulfed what used to be the massive garage.
Mustafa approached. “Can you tell what is happening?”
Zahmir’s jaw clinched. Anger swelled up from within at the thought of losing his precious cargo. He lowered the binoculars. “No. Gather the men. Two boats. Everyone armed. We’re going ashore, now.”
“Yes, Zahmir.” Mustafa ran off while Zahmir went back to his quarters to get his rifle.
Zahmir was in the lead boat as they made the one klick ride to shore. Waves lapped against the fiberglass hull while the engine hummed. The sound of the breeze flowing past his ears drowned out any of the sounds coming from the shore, but the sight of the fires burning lulled him back to thoughts of his younger days and how he became a member of the most feared terror network in the world.
Zahmir Al Hamwi was 31 years old and from Khaje Bughra, a suburb of Kabul. He grew up poor with three brothers and two sisters. He was the third youngest of the four boys and the fifth youngest of all six children. He felt ignored much of his life because his next oldest brother suffered from severe mental retardation and needed constant attention and his youngest sister had Polio.
His mother had no time for him. When he was fourteen, his brother had finally died from a congenital heart defect. It was more of a blessing than anything, but understandingly, it still upset his parents. His mother lost whatever smile she could occasionally muster when, six months later, his oldest sister was murdered.
In order to help the family, she sold herself to anyone who could pay. His father and mother disowned her out of shame and refused to give her a proper burial.
Privately, Zahmir took the loss the hardest because his sister, seven years his elder, raised him and nurtured him more than his mother ever did. He vowed to Allah that he would avenge her death.
Along with his oldest brother, Osama, it took only three weeks for Zahmir to find out who murdered his sister. A relatively new person to the area, Ayman Mohammed Fadhil had recently set up an import/export business in Afshar, an area a few of kilometers southeast of Khaje Bughra. With no planning, the brothers watched the shop for their mark to appear. When Ayman arrived, they approached him from outside the shop, pushed him inside and threw him to the ground. As Osama closed the door behind them, Zahmir kept approaching the confused man.
With wide eyes and a scrunched, weathered brow, Ayman pleaded with the boys from his position on the ground. “What are you doing?” he cried. “Who are you? Do you know who I am?”
The boys took another step closer.
With a raised open hand, Ayman pleaded, “I demand to know the meaning of this.”
With no words, no expression and no remorse, Zahmir pulled the jambiya that he’d taken from his father’s room and rammed the nine inch blade into Ayman’s gut and twisted. “This is for my sister,” he whispered.
The shifting in Ayman’s eyes showed that he was searching his mind for who Zahmir was talking about. Ayman gawked at Zahmir with the fear of death in his eyes. He struggled to speak but managed just two words. “The whore?”
Zahmir withdrew the blade and screamed. He stabbed Ayman repeatedly over and over again. When Osama pulled Zahmir off, their target had over forty stab wounds in his chest and face. What the two brothers didn’t know was that the business was a front for an al Qaeda terror operation.
Within hours after the murder, the boys had been found, but not by authorities; by al Qaeda.
Zahmir heard the knock and went to the front room of their small home and watched his father answer the door. Two men stood in the doorway.
“What do you want?” his father asked.
“We want to talk to your sons.”
“What do you want with them?”
The taller of the two gently put his hand on the chest of their father and pushed him aside and entered the home. The other man followed.
“I did not invite you…”
The second man pulled back his robe and revealed an automatic rifle.
A wave of panic spread over Zahmir when he saw the weapon. Oh no! They know what we’ve done.
“Zahmir! Osama! Come here. There are two men that want to talk to you.”
Their father closed the door behind him.
Zahmir said, “I am here, father.”
Osama came into the room and Zahmir gave him a panicked look. Osama’s eyes widened at his brothers expression and then turned to his father. “Yes?”
Their father gazed upon them. His lips were downturned and his tone was stern. “These two men want to speak to you.”
The taller of the two walked over and around the boys. Both boys watched with wide eyes, the fear rising in both of them. Finally, from behind them, the tall man spoke.
“We’re here to thank you.”
The panic was suddenly replaced with confusion. “Thank us? For what?” Zahmir asked.
“Zahmir!” his father shouted.
The tall man raised a hand. “It’s all right—I appreciate the directness.” He walked around and faced the boys. “You eliminated a problem for us.”
“We did?” Osama asked.
“Do not play dumb. You killed the man that killed your sister.”
“What have you done? Tell me now,” shouted their father.
“Silence!” the tall man raised his hand. “I’ll get right to the point. He was a thorn in our side. He was to lay low, not draw attention and he’d been warned too many times. He whored around and killed your sister. We planned to eliminate him, but you two did that for us, and for that we are grateful.”
The boy’s stood silent. Zahmir watched as the tall man paced around the room. What could they want with us, now?
“We’d like you to come and join our cause. You’d be trained and treated well.”
Their father stepped closer. “No, they will not be a part of the Jihad! They’re just boys.”
The tall man turned to their father and said, “You have misunderstood. This isn’t a request.” He focused his attention to his partner, “What’s the punishment for murder these days?”
“Public execution by hanging,” he said.
The tall man turned back to their father and smiled. “You see? The alternative is much more grim. Besides, we will compensate you.” He turned and to the boys. “Your family will be looked after and you will have the opportunity to help rid the world of the Infidels.”
There was no hesitation. They packed what little belongings they had and left with the two men. Over the next seventeen years, Zahmir had garnered the reputation of being a reliable but deadly soldier for al Qaeda, and one that should never be crossed. He always did what he was told and never let anyone stand in his way of accomplishing what he had set out to do.
Mustafa’s hand, on the back of his shoulder, snapped Zahmir back to reality.
Zahmir faced Mustafa and looked down as he was handed a rope. “The rope. We’re approaching the dock,” Mustafa said.
“Right.” Zahmir grabbed the rope and prepared to exit the boat as they came up to the dock.
A loud crash in the distance and automatic weapons fire caused them all to duck.
A hail of gunfire met Blake after he burst through the garage door. The car’s cabin filled with the sound of bullets ricocheting off the side of the car.
It was a natural reaction was to duck, even though he knew he was protected by the car’s armor. Shit! Another explosion ripped through the garage behind him as the fuel tanks ruptured from the searing heat and flames.
He saw in the rear view mirror, another car rise up and bellow as the fire enveloped the structure. The concussion wave blew men back that were nearby and flung them through the air like ping pong balls.
Two SUV’s came from behind the garage and began their pursuit. Blake pointed the car toward the ugly fish fountain in the middle of the driveway. Past the fountain, the driveway lead out to the main gate.
Flood lights illuminated everything in sight. About three meters beyond that was nothing but jungle. The combination of trees, shrubs and the jungle created a natural alley that Blake was left to escape down. Maybe this was a bad idea. Had he not been in a bullet proof car, a motorcycle to escape through the jungle would have been a better choice.
Blake steered the Mercedes around the fountain. The tires smoked and created a thick white fog he used as cover. He could smell the rubber as the smoke permeated the cabin of the car. The act taunted the men in the SUV to catch up. Come and get me assholes. As he drove back around the fountain and faced the garage, Blake saw the two SUV’s barrel toward him at breakneck speed. Guards poured out of the house to his left like ants on a disturbed hill. Four guards came directly towards him.
As he sped around the fountain, a guard ran down onto the driveway and opened fire at the car fruitlessly.
“You’re an idiot!” Blake swerved over and nailed the guard head on with the front of the car. The guard flew up; his legs were twisted in an unnatural way. He landed on the roof and rolled off the back of the car.
Blake ejected a half spent clip from his H&K and replaced it with a fresh one. He went around the fountain again and saw the SUV’s getting close. All right, that’s enough smoke. Time to get the hell outta here.
The Mercedes sped towards the gate, down the long driveway. Blake quickly glanced in the mirror and saw the grill of a Range Rover directly behind him. He swerved from side to side. Bullets plinked off the back of the car. Another quick glance revealed a man climbing out the side window of the other SUV. Oh shit! RPG!
The Range Rover came up along the side of Blake. He swerved the Mercedes into the SUV. “Get over you son-of-a-bitch!” A quick turn to the left, the Mercedes swerved off the road to the edge of the jungle. Another peek at the mirror revealed the man behind him aiming the rocket propelled grenade.
The RPG launched from its cradle. Blake swerved hard right. The propelled explosive hit a tree and detonated. The concussion was too much for the bullet proof glass. The rear window shattered violently, sending glass flying inside the cabin. “Shit!”
Blake smashed into the Ranger Rover as he swerved back on to the road and forced it to brake and move back to a trailing position. His rearview mirror suddenly disintegrated from the automatic weapons fired behind him. Blood trickled down his forehead.
“Son-of-a… Now you’ve really pissed me off!”
He wiped away the blood, then grabbed the H&K. Adrenaline pumped at full capacity as he turned around and fired out through the back window while trying to control the car. Bullets peppered the front grill of the Chevy. The headlights shattered and steam pushed outward as it escaped from the punctured radiator.
He turned back around to steer. The front gate was in sight. Guards were scattered about. He twisted back around and opened fire on the Chevy again. With the front tires blown out, somehow it kept coming.
“You like that? Come on!”
He spun back around and headed straight for the gate. Bullets ricocheted off the front of the car. As the firing intensified, he swerved hard right. The cross fire from the guards at the gate went straight through the windshield of the Chevy.
The bullet riddled Chevy veered fiercely to the left and lurched off the road. The front of the truck hit a palm tree and snapped it in half. The impact sent it back onto the road where it rolled. Bodies flew from the windows like rag dolls and the truck continued to roll.
The Range Rover dodged to the right to miss the Chevy but a guard’s body slammed into the windshield. The Range Rover veered off to the right and slammed into a tree.
In the melee, the guards at the front gate stopped firing and watched the turmoil unfold in front of them. Blake seized the moment. He opened the sunroof and stuck the H&K out. He mashed the gas pedal to the floor and opened fire on the men at the gate. The Mercedes burst through the front gate and tore off down the road.
Blake killed the lights and drove solely by the moonlight. The car covered the two kilometers to the airfield in record time. A glance in the side mirrors revealed that nobody was following him. The tightness in his shoulders loosened. He breathed a sigh of relief. The outline of the control tower was stark against the moonlit sky.
To his left was a heavy cluster of trees. He pulled the car in as far as it would go and abandoned it. Blake grabbed his bag and dug for his night vision binoculars.
Ok general, I know you’ve got people there. The small hangar appeared with the familiar greenish hue. No movement.
He scanned to the right and the outline of an MD 530F and an older Huey came into view. Bingo. With his rifle in hand, he dashed across the road toward the airport.
Keeping low was key as he approached the fence. Blake lay on the ground as he withdrew a set of wire cutters and cut his way through the chain link fence. He crept quickly to the first helicopter, the MD. He took cover behind it and looked through the binoculars. There you are.
Just inside the hangar, Blake saw movement. Three men and a Jeep with a fifty caliber machine gun mounted on the back. He reached into his pack and took out the last mine. Lying on his belly, he crawled the ten meters to the Huey, set the mine to manual detonation and placed it on the bottom of the chopper.
Back in the MD, Blake felt into his pack. Two and a half clips for the HK and three for the Glock. His finger was on the first switch that engaged the start-up sequence for the helicopter when he stopped. More movement from the hangar caught his eye. A quick glance through the binoculars showed more men. “Shit!”
With his Glock in his hand, he jumped out of the chopper and scampered over to the Huey and removed the mine. He opened the passenger door of the chopper and pulled out his knife. From under the dash, he grabbed a handful of wires and cut them.
Still leaning over, Blake ran back through the fence and out to the car. The distance between the Mercedes and the hangar was too great for anyone to hear it start. He backed the car out of its concealment and drove it to the opposite side of the hangar.
With the car parked out of view from the men inside the hangar, Blake stepped out and placed the mine on the fuel tank. This should distract you idiots while I fly away. He navigated his way back to the MD as quick as he could; staying low and out of sight.
The start-up would take about one minute. He would have to get the engine to temperature and wait for the oil pressure to build. He felt better about his decision to use the car as a deviation while the chopper started.
Air filled his lungs as he took a deep breath. With one hand on his phone, Blake flipped the first switch to start the chopper. Seconds later he mashed the button on his phone. The explosion created an orange and white glow on the opposite side of the hangar and got brighter as it mushroomed over the roof.
Vasquez’s men darted out of the hangar and went to the opposite side. The Jeep followed. Blake counted down the seconds until the rotor speed was high enough for him to take off. Approaching headlights appeared in his peripheral. A truck veered off the road and blew through the fence onto the tarmac. The MD roared to life and Blake took off. He spun the chopper to his left and aimed the bird toward the truck as men jumped and dodged for cover. With both hands on the stick, he gained as much altitude as he could.
As he cleared the hangar, the men that had been distracted from the explosion opened fire on the chopper. Blake took evasive action. Bullets plinked off the bottom. Dammit! A quick glance at the gauges revealed no immediate damage. He pointed the bird toward the north and set a course for NAS Key West.
The base was three hundred and fifty kilometers away and based on his fuel level, it was going to be close. The MD could cruise at nearly two hundred and fifty kilometers per hour. Blake glanced at his watch and did a quick calculation in his head for an ETA. It’s going to be too close for my comfort.
As he headed for the base, he thought back to time that he had spent there a few years ago. The base is the home of the U.S. Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School, or (SFUWO). He filled in for a friend that was recovering from a torn ACL he got while water skiing.
The few weeks Blake was there, he facilitated the Combat Diving Supervisor course; one of three courses taught at the school. The other two courses were the Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification and the Special Forces Diving Medical Technician course. All three were required for graduation and Blake was one of just a few people qualified and available to teach and fill in while his friend recovered from his injury.
Jack Thieme, served as the base Command Master Chief and was still there. Blake knew that he would be able to help him out of this sticky situation.
Bullets plinked off the side of the chopper and jolted him from his thoughts. “Shit!” Blake flew the chopper in a defensive move and turned around to see where the shots came from. Down and to his left, he saw the nav lights on another chopper. “Son of a Bitch! Where did that one come from?” Blake pulled back and banked hard right. Bullets whizzed by and ricocheted off the rotors. He made a steep dive and kept evading the chopper behind him. Blake turned on the radio.
“NAS Key West, this is CU-H133. I have an emergency.” There was no answer. “NAS Key West, this is CU-H133. I am taking fire and need assistance!” Blake continued to maneuver the bird back and forth. He used the cover of darkness and quick evasive moves to try and lose the pursuing bird.
“NAS Key West. Hello! Answer the fucking call!”
Blake scanned his gauges. He had one hundred and eighty kilometers to go and not enough fuel.