Snippet Two, Alone and Unafraid

The first draft was finished on Saturday, and editing has commenced.  Meanwhile, here’s the next snippet:

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Jim and I were waiting at the RV point, two blocks from the target house. We were both dressed like locals. Jim had gone more traditional, wearing a light dishdasha and a brown coat. I was wearing jeans, shoes, and a t-shirt with a leather coat. I was still a little big for a local, but in the dark it made less of a difference. First glance was all that mattered at the moment; if it went beyond that, both of us had our .45s hidden under our coats, along with soft armor. The long guns were in duffels in the HiLux.

Cyrus and Marcus approached us, similarly dressed, and we made a great show of greeting each other, embracing and shaking hands. From a distance, it would look like any group of men meeting on the street. We moved to the HiLux and drove around the block to an abandoned construction site where the rest of the team was waiting.

Cyrus and Marcus hadn’t been part of my team before. They’d been Mike’s boys, but with the casualties we’d taken over the last few months, with Bob, Paul, and Juan going down, after Malachi had been medevaced, we’d had to even things out a little. Mike was down one already, so he gave me Cyrus and Marcus. Both had been Rangers with RRD, so I’d picked them for the R&S element for this particular raid.

The rest of the assault element was gathered in the shadows of the partially-constructed building. It looked like it was supposed to be another residential house, but when or if it would get completed was anybody’s guess with what was going on in Basra. Granted, I’d seen these people carry on with an almost inhuman disregard for the chaos around them before. It was entirely possible that the workers would be here in the morning, continuing to build. We should be long gone by then.

Larry and Little Bob were waiting at the unfinished doorway, both of them looming out of the dark. Little Bob got his name as a sarcastic comment on his size, as well as the fact that we’d had two Bobs at the time. Bob Fagin was almost two months dead, but Little Bob he remained. Larry, like me, was one of the founding members of the company, and was just big—barrel-chested, tall, and with an enormous, balding head and what he’d started calling his “scary murder hobo” beard.

Nick and Bryan were further back in the darkness of the unfinished structure, watching the other openings. Hassan was crouched against a wall. He wasn’t really a team member, but had sort of attached himself to us, first as our interpreter, but increasingly as a partner. He still had some weird cultural habits when it came to combat, but he was turning into a good shot, a halfway decent fighter, especially compared to most of the militia-turned-Provincial Police Force we worked with in Basra, and had way more knowledge of the tribal, ethnic, and sectarian dynamics of the area than we ever would. Add in that he was far more fluent in English than I would be in Arabic, even if I had another five years to study the language, and he was turning into a hell of an asset. None of us necessarily trusted him to the point of a teammate, of course, but at the moment, we trusted him more than we did Black.

Black wasn’t there. He was back at the Basra Police Station, which had become Hussein Ali’s headquarters for the PPF, under guard. We didn’t want to try to do the hit and keep an eye on him at the same time.

Cyrus and Marcus went straight to the middle of the room and knelt down. Cyrus pulled out a small camera that they’d used to take all their surveillance photos. Jim reached into his duffel and pulled out the small tablet that held our imagery. We had laminated hard copies as backups, but this was simpler for the moment; we could mark the points of interest and concern, then pass the tablet around.

With Cyrus holding the camera, Marcus took the tablet and started pointing things out. “They’ve got security out all the time, even at night. The night post looks like it’s only about four guys for the block, but they’re definitely there. They tend to cluster together and smoke most of the time, so their night vision’s going to be shit, but they do occasionally wander out to the street corners. There isn’t really a pattern to their roving; it just happens as they feel like it.”

Cyrus flipped through several photographs, showing at least ten different individuals entering the green gate. “These are the guys we saw go in, but did not see exit.” He looked up at me. “Is Mike’s team in place?”

I nodded. “They have been since just before you guys pulled off. They have eyes on the street; they’ll let us know if anybody else comes or goes.”

He nodded, satisfied. “From what we could see, there are at least fifteen people in the house and grounds. They’re not showing a lot of weapons on the outside at the moment, especially since a PPF patrol passed through about four hours ago. They looked like Daoud’s men, and they were armed to the teeth, so nobody fucked with them, even in here.

“No signs of IEDs set up in the street, and believe me, we looked. Usually in setups like this, if they do have an IED screen, they don’t have them hooked up during the day. We didn’t see anybody do any sort of hookup or shutdown, either yesterday or today. My guess is, from what Black told us, that this guy’s relying on family connections and the threat of his security goons to keep the unwanted away.”

“These guys rarely have IED screens in cities, anyway,” Larry pointed out. “That’s usually a rural thing. The ones living in cities still have to live with their neighbors, and there comes a point when fear no longer outweighs blown up local kids.”

Looking at the overheads, it was apparent that this was going to be a tough hit, even without the heightened resistance. Getting to the target fast was going to be paramount, as well as timing the hit with Mike’s guys, four of whom had climbed onto nearby rooftops with their rifles. No sniper rifles this time; the distances weren’t such that the .338 Lapuas would be in their element. But they were placed to sweep the street just before we moved in.

Most of the time, in these sorts of urban situations, I preferred to move in on foot, converging from multiple directions, keeping the footprint small until it was time to breach. The sentries on the street were kind of fucking with that model.

I ran through how we were going to make the hit. This involved going over it with the four of us in the middle of the room, then going over to each of the four guys on security at the doors and empty windows, and going over it with them, trading off so they could look over the tablet and the pictures. It took longer than I would have liked, but I told myself that the later at night it was, the less likely the bad guys would be expecting anything.

We finished prepping what little gear we had, which was mostly belt kits, plate carriers, lightweight helmets, and NVGs with thermal attachments. This was probably going to be the last raid we made that we used the .300 Blackout SBRs. Ammo was becoming a problem. We’d been able to resupply earlier, but it was next to impossible down here in Basra, and the .300 BLK wasn’t a caliber commonly found outside the US. NATO standards were, thankfully, more and more common in the Third World, especially in the wake of US “nation building” efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, but the more specialized cartridges were still plenty rare.

We were about as ready as we were going to get. Time to dance.

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Snippet One, Alone and Unafraid

“That’s him.”
Amos Black was sitting in the center back seat of the black HiLux, with Bryan and Hassan crowding him on each side. Bryan was there to quietly kill Black as soon as he showed any sign of treachery. Hassan was there to help coordinate with the team of Hussein Ali’s finest that was running overwatch. Hussein Ali had suggested that his boys should take this, but I’d declined, and Mike had backed me up. This was our hit, for very special reasons.

The man Black had fingered looked nondescript as hell, especially in southern Iraq. Short, skinny, short black hair, neatly trimmed beard, black dishdasha, talking on a cell phone. There was nothing in his appearance to suggest that he was anything special.

Not that that was in any way odd in this strange, shadowy war. Some of the nastiest opponents were the ones who looked like frail businessmen. And according to Black, this guy was one of the top commanders of the Abdul Qadir Brigade, a sub-unit of the Islamic State in Iraq and as-Sham.
Right now, this skinny, inoffensive-looking motherfucker was walking down a still-crowded street in a primarily Sunni part of Basra. There weren’t a lot of majority Sunni areas here in the south these days; in fact, until things really got nasty between Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaysh al Mahdi and Zarqawi’s AQI, much of Iraq’s Sunni and Shia lived pretty intermixed. Not anymore.

The street was narrow and increasingly dark as night descended. A few of the streetlights flickered to life, but with the fighting that had been going on in Basra for the last couple of months, things like power had gotten pretty hit-or-miss. Trash and sewage had always been secondary (or tertiary, or lower) priorities; there was standing water in the street—and it wasn’t the rainy season yet—and trash was piled against the dingy buildings.
I lifted the mobile phone to my ear. It was a cheap, local throwaway job, that kept hitting me with Arabic text messages from the local cell provider. I hit the speed-dial and after a moment, Jim’s voice scratched over the circuit. “Go.”

“Our guest is coming at eleven,” I said. “I told him to wear black. He says he’s running late, just getting out of the Laundromat now.” It sounded like ordinary chitchat if anybody was listening in, but I’d just sent a description of his dress, his direction of movement, and identified the point he was passing in those three short sentences.

“I see,” Jim replied. He had him. I nodded to Nick, who put the HiLux in gear and turned us onto another side street, pushing ahead out of sight of the target.
“You can move to the safe house now,” Black said quietly. “I told you, that’s where he’s going. We can get set up to hit it as soon as he goes in.”

I half-turned to look at him out of the corner of my eye. “That’s assuming a lot of things,” I said. “One of the biggest items on that list is assuming that they didn’t change all the safe houses and procedures once you didn’t show up again.”

“It’s possible,” he conceded, “but I doubt it. This isn’t a Project safe house. This is one of Abu Tariq’s hidey-holes. It’s his cousin’s place, I’m pretty sure. He comes here regularly, even before ISIS started moving in down here to start killing Shia wholesale. He’s vicious as hell, but his tradecraft sucks; he’s a blunt instrument. Relies more on fear and heavy security than finesse for survival.” The most vicious of Islamist militias in Iraq had started calling itself simply the Islamic State a while back, but most of us still called it by its earlier name—ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham.

There was a long silence, as Nick continued to follow our leapfrog pattern to pick up the alleged Abu Tariq a few blocks down. Black just sat back in the seat. He’d apparently resigned himself, for the time being, to our distrust. Considering how we’d picked him up, that was probably wise.
After all, it isn’t every day you find yourself working with an American clandestine operative who’d been mentoring and supporting a former Al Qaeda affiliate. And, they were only “former” because they’d managed to get kicked out of AQ for being too savage even for that band of cutthroats. Think about that for a second.

Of course, he’d had a good story about how he and several of his fellow contractors had been suckered into it. It was even a fairly plausible story, given what we knew about the guy he’d claimed was coordinating the whole mess. Collins had come after us under the guise of a State Department bureaucrat, trying to force us out of Iraq, probably because he was afraid we were going to stumble across his little Project.

Black had been more than willing to cooperate with us since he was captured after the taking of the Basra police station about a month before. Fingering an ISIS command cell was one of the first juicy nuggets he’d offered. Of course, our company, Praetorian Security, was getting a bit of a rep in certain circles for not fucking around. He knew that the possibility of a bullet in the brain and a shallow, unmarked grave was hanging over his head. I suspected that that threat had more to do with his cooperation than any idealism or disgust with the black project he’d been a part of for the last year or so.

Nick circled us around two blocks, coming out to the main street, where a few food kiosks were still open, hawking somewhat fresh food for the evening meal. Especially with the power being as intermittent as it was, most Iraqis didn’t rely on refrigeration, but bought their food a day at a time, sometimes a meal at a time. We were planning on taking advantage of that.

Nick brought us to a halt on the side of the street, and Hassan got out, going over to one of the booths that looked like the proprietor was about to close up shop and go home. It was getting dark, and few Arabs like to be out and about after dark, even in the cities.

I had my hand on the short-barreled .300 Blackout AR that I had next to my leg, a shirt thrown over it for concealment. Hassan was armed; even when he couldn’t carry his beat-up old Tabuk rifle around, he had a Beretta that he was never separated from. But it never hurt to be ready, especially in a city that had seen as much chaos and violence as Basra had in the last couple of months.

Hassan started talking to the vendor and bickered and haggled long enough for the target to come into view. He quickly paid the man for the food, then came back to the HiLux.

We watched Abu Tariq cross the street, moving with more of a purpose now that he wasn’t talking on the phone anymore. There was no communication, but I spotted the white Bongo truck that Jim and Little Bob were driving as it leapfrogged forward to pick Abu Tariq up farther down the line. It was risky running surveillance with only two vehicles, but we still hadn’t replaced the losses we’d taken over the last few months. We definitely had to “do more with less.”

Abu Tariq, assuming that was indeed who he was, crossed the street at something close to a trot, since what traffic there was wasn’t always inclined to stop for pedestrians. Nick waited until he was almost out of sight, then eased the HiLux across the street and after him. We actually passed him, making sure not to stare as we drove by, and parked half a block further down the street.
I was already seeing what Black was talking about when it came to Abu Tariq’s security. We had barely turned onto the street when we were getting the stink-eye from several young men with “jihadi fighter” written all over them. They were stationed in little clumps up and down the street, and appeared to be centered on one two-story house with dingy, whitewashed walls rising over the plain cinderblock exterior wall.

“Fuck,” I muttered. “This looks like damned near a platoon.”

“There are going to be more inside,” Black said. “Like I told you, he likes his security heavy.”
This was going to suck. Close quarters was already enormously dangerous, even when the opposition was only a couple of people. The more resistance, the nastier it got, and if you added in reinforcements coming from outside, it got even worse.

We stayed in place long enough for Hassan to get out, fiddle with something in the bed, and get back in. In other words, just long enough to see Abu Tariq—I realized I was thinking of him with that name, though more for the sake of convenience than anything else—go through the green-painted metal gate to the whitewashed house. As soon as Hassan was back in, and before one of the small groups of young, hard-eyed men could come and investigate why we were stopping, we were moving again.

“We need to get surveillance on that house,” I said. “I don’t want you exposing yourself in this neighborhood any more than necessary, Hassan,” I added, as he opened his mouth to say something. “We’ll go back to the base and find one of Hussein Ali’s boys to come back in. He can find a house that’s either abandoned, or the family has some bad blood with the ISIS types. Then we’ll slip two of us in there in the wee hours of the morning.”

I twisted around in my seat to look at Black. He was sitting back, his face blank. He did that a lot. “What, no protestations that you’ve already filled us in on everything?” I demanded. That wasn’t entirely fair; Black had been cooperative and had never given us the least reason that he was trying to push us toward any particular course of action. He had given every sign that he knew he was dealing with men who had become deeply paranoid about anything outside of the company, and he valued his own skin enough to avoid giving us a reason to indulge that paranoia.

He just shrugged. “I haven’t been in there in months; Abu Tariq accepted some support from the Project, but he made it plenty clear that he didn’t trust us, didn’t like us, and would have happily beheaded all of us on camera, one at a time. There were a few meetings there, but they were short. I can’t say that I’ve got all the details for you. Surveillance for a day or two would probably be a good idea even if you did trust me.”

I didn’t say anything, but just faced forward again as Nick drove us out of the target zone. I didn’t like Black—none of us did—but it had less to do with his personality than with what he’d been involved in. He was working hard to try to redeem himself, but it was an uphill battle.

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Well, It’s Official

With the recent events in Iraq, as ISIS takes city after city and the Iraqi Army folds like a cheap suit, Hunting in the Shadows and Alone and Unafraid have solidly moved from “speculative fiction” into “alternate history.”  It’s a risk that an author takes, writing fictional stories in real-world conflict zones, that events might very well overtake the story.  In this case, they have, as a couple of my assumptions in setting up the story have proven erroneous: I figured ISIS would focus more on Syria until Assad was overthrown, and that the IA would show a little bit more spine than it has.

Oh, well.  That’s why it’s fiction.  I’ll still push forward based on the story so far; for one thing, I’m not throwing out 80k words worth of work.  It’s still a good story, it’s just happening in a world that’s not quite ours…

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Updates and Some Idea of the Future

Wow, it’s been a long time since I updated this page.  Sorry about that.

So, I’m presently banging away at Alone and Unafraid, the third Praetorian novel.  Put simply, it’s being something of a bear.  While I’m a significant part of the way done, it’s not done yet, and it’s probably going to require some serious rewrites.  It is coming, eventually.

That said, I’ve got three more Jed Horn stories on the horizon, one of which is a prequel to A Silver Cross and a Winchester, revealing Jed’s introduction to the Order.  The other two come after Silver Cross.  There’s a haunted sanitarium, an age-old evil that’s claimed the lives of twenty Hunters over the last century, and a few other things that go bump in the night.

The Praetorian series has taken a turn away from the direction I thought it would, and that’s, I think, for the better.  Provided I get Alone and Unafraid done, we’ll see stories coming up in the Tri-Border Area of South America, Mexico, Nigeria, Eastern Europe (I foresee a long-standing feud between the Praetorians and the SVD/Mafiya), and possibly Central Asia somewhere.

There’s also a stand-alone about fighting Malay pirates that I’ll admit is partly inspired by Far Cry 3.

There are a couple of fantasy and science fiction stories that have been floating in the background for several years now that I’d like to get around to eventually.  They’re still a little ways off yet, but they’re coming.

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Operation Ranger Up

My friends at Ranger Up Military and MMA Apparel are starting a crowdfunding campaign to help locate, train, and fund the next veteran entrepreneur. The entire campaign will be documented on Ranger Up’s YouTube channel. Please consider helping out.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/operation-ranger-up

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Book Review: The First Bayonet

So, I finally got around to my friend Steven Hildreth’s first novel, The First Bayonet.  I’ve got to say, it’s a good read.  Not as kinetic as some of them out there, but it’s tense, well-researched, and the fights that are in it are pretty well done.

Ben Williams is former Delta turned contractor, who gets a contract to extract a dissident from an Egyptian prison.  The book is set in 2006, before the recent revolution and ensuing unrest in Egypt, so the antagonists are part of Mubarak’s security apparatus.  Hildreth doesn’t shy away from the Egyptian military’s human rights record, and though the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t make an appearance, it illustrates a good deal of why so many students rose up in 2012.

Williams infiltrates the prison, where we get to see some of the more egregious brutality of the Egyptian authorities.  As Williams plans and executes his breakout, Egyptian security types start to die, and the book turns into a personal contest between Williams and the Egyptian officer who is hunting him.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this book, and Hildreth’s definitely a promising author.  What cons there are are nitpicks, nothing more.  Overall, a solid first effort, and I’m expecting some good stuff to come from Steven in the future.

You can buy the book here.

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The First Shipment of Gear Is In

The First Shipment of Gear Is In

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