Release Day

Frozen Conflict went live on Kindle at midnight.  It’s also been available in paperback for a few days now; I approved the proof a little early.  The plus side of that is that the Kindle and Paperback pages were linked by yesterday, so I don’t have to pester KDP about it, like I had to with the last two Brannigan’s Blackhearts books.

Manhunt In A Post-Soviet Hellhole

Transnistria.  A breakaway republic on the eastern border of Moldova, and a bolt-hole for notorious black-market arms dealer Eugen Codreanu.  Except that it’s suddenly turned from safe haven to prison for the man who was once rumored to be dealing in ex-Soviet backpack nukes.

A shadow facilitator reaches out to John Brannigan, former Marine Colonel turned mercenary.  The job: get Codreanu out of Transnistria, out from under the noses of the thousands of Russian peacekeepers swarming around the breakaway republic.  The hook: Codreanu might have information about the terrorist operation in the Gulf of Mexico a few months before.  The catch: there might be someone else trying to beat them to the punch.  The terrorists who seized the Tourmaline-Delta platform in the Gulf of Mexico might be trying to tie up loose ends.  And firefights in Transnistria could have wide-ranging consequences.

It’s a race against time in Eastern Europe.  And Brannigan’s Blackhearts might be going up against the Russian Bear to accomplish this mission.

This one was fun to write.  It certainly follows on from the events of Enemy Unidentified, while mixing things up quite a bit in terms of setting and bad guys.  I hadn’t really had a chance to tell a story in Eastern Europe (and in the winter) before.

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Frozen Conflict Chapter 2

John Brannigan sank the bit of the double-bladed ax into the log round he was using as a chopping block and lowered himself painfully to sit on a bigger log nearby.

His breath was steaming in the cold air, and looking down at his bared forearms, he could see steam rising from the graying hairs there, as well.  It was well below freezing, but he was sweating and stripped down to his shirt.

He gulped air, wincing slightly at the stitch in his side, as he critically looked at the woodpile.  He might have gotten a quarter of a cord split.  It wasn’t bad, given how long he’d been working, but it wasn’t up to snuff in his mind, either.

Stretching, he felt the scar tissue on his side pull.  It had been months since he’d been shot out on the Gulf of Mexico, and the wounds were healed, but it felt like it was taking forever to get his conditioning back.  His leg and his side were tight, and his leg especially didn’t seem to want to work quite right.

Getting old, John.  He was further reminded of the fact as the cabin door swung open and Hank walked out.

“You okay, Dad?” the young Marine Lieutenant asked.  Hank had decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Marine officer.  Brannigan hadn’t approved of the young man’s decision to pursue a commission right off the bat; he’d been a mustang, and just about every other officer he’d known and served with who’d been worth a damn had been, as well.  There were exceptions, but he had always felt that an officer needed to spend time in the dirt as an enlisted man before he could really have the insight and the experience to lead them effectively.

“I’m fine,” he grunted, as he heaved himself off the log.  He wanted to rest a bit longer, but his pride wouldn’t let his son see him getting feeble.  “Just taking a bit of a breather.”

Hank eyed him skeptically.  The young man took after his mother, with thick dark hair and dark eyes, and a fineness to his facial features that always reminded Brannigan of Rebecca.  He had his father’s build, though, tall and rangy, broad-shouldered and given to lean muscle.  The Marine Corps had only honed what Brannigan had already trained.

“You sure?” he asked.  “I’ve seen men shot up a lot less than you were who took longer to get back on their feet.”

Hank had a deployment under his belt, now.  His unit hadn’t done a lot in Syria, but they’d seen some action, and Brannigan knew that his son’s platoon had taken a couple of casualties.

He still shot his boy a hard glance.  “Listen to the hardened combat veteran,” he said.  Hank flushed and looked away for a moment.  He didn’t know everything his old man had been through, but he knew that there was a lot worse in his father’s past than he’d ever seen yet.  “I’m fine, Hank.”

Stiffer and slower than I’d like, and I’m definitely not bouncing back like I used to, but what do you want for fifty years old?

Hank shrugged out of his sheepskin coat and hung it over a low-hanging tree branch, then grabbed the ax.  “Sit down and take a breather, Dad,” he said.  “I need to get some work in, too.”  He shot his father a sly glance.  “Can’t have you grumbling about the younger generation getting soft, can I?”

Brannigan snorted, even as he struggled to keep back a grateful sigh as he sat back down.  His thigh ached where the .300 Blackout round had torn a ragged hole through the muscle, and he straightened the leg out to try to ease it.

Hank put a log round down and hefted the ax, bringing it down with a practiced swing that sank the bit deeply into the wood.

The son of John Brannigan had been raised to hard work.  Brannigan had been away for most of the boy’s upbringing, but he and Rebecca had always seen eye-to-eye on most things, and if anything, she’d been less forgiving with Hank than he had.  She expected the boy to grow into a man, and she set him to the chores that would make that happen.  They hadn’t had a woodstove for most of the time they’d been moving back and forth between Camp Pendleton, Camp Lejeune, and Okinawa, but there had always been other work to have him do, and he’d done it, or faced his mother’s wrath.

He handled the ax well, though he wasn’t quite as practiced as Brannigan had gotten over the years since he’d moved up into the woods following Rebecca’s death.  He wasn’t as smooth as Brannigan could be at his best, though at the moment he was about equal, given his father’s recovering wounds.

Hank hadn’t known exactly what had happened.  He’d suspected that his father was involved in “The Business” again, ever since he’d put Hector Chavez back in touch with him, but he’d never known the details, and had never asked.  He probably suspected; the blowup on Khadarkh had happened too soon after Chavez had gone looking for Brannigan.  And there was no mistaking the coincidence of his father showing up in the hospital with three bullet wounds in him shortly after the worst terrorist incident since September 11th.

But Hank knew better than to ask, and he’d never even hinted at suspicions.  As Brannigan watched his son work, he thought he knew why.

Hank wasn’t happy as a Marine officer.  Brannigan had known it would be the case; he hadn’t been particularly happy by the time he’d been forced to retire, either.  The bureaucracy that ran the Marine Corps was rapacious, and eager to crush anyone who didn’t color inside the lines.  To some extent, that was necessary in a military organization; mavericks often got men killed.  But when the lines were all about garrison discipline and paperwork, and less and less about combat effectiveness, it wore on men.

It was wearing on Hank, and he was nearing the end of his first contract.  He might pick up Captain within the next year, but that was often the breaking point, in Brannigan’s experience.  He’d been fortunate in his superiors and his subordinates.  He’d never have made it to Colonel otherwise.  By all rights, he should have been forced out long before he was.  He’d been a fighter, not a politician.

Something caught his ear, and he turned, his thoughts coming to a halt as he listened.  There wasn’t a lot of noise up there; just the wind in the trees, the occasional bird, and the ringing notes of the ax striking the wood.  The snow muted most sounds, too, and Brannigan’s hearing had taken a beating over the thirty years he’d been in the profession of arms.  But he’d definitely heard something.

Hank must have heard it too, because he stopped, hefting the ax in both hands, and listened, his chest heaving a little.  “That’s a vehicle,” he said.  He looked at his father.  “You expecting somebody else?”

Under normal circumstances, that question could have been taken innocently, or even as a faint ribbing.  Brannigan hadn’t shown any particular interest in women since Rebecca had died.  Hank had always left it alone; he knew that his father wouldn’t have taken kindly to his son playing matchmaker.  Or anyone else, for that matter.

But there was an underlying tension in Hank Brannigan’s voice that had nothing to do with normality.  He might not know everything about what his old man was up to, but he knew bullet wounds, and he knew that Chavez hadn’t been looking for Brannigan just to share a few beers.

Brannigan stood, stretching his back, and shook his head.  He wasn’t expecting anyone.  Hank had a few more days of leave left, and then he’d be alone again.  And contact for the little mercenary crew known amongst themselves as “Brannigan’s Blackhearts” wasn’t handled up there at his cabin.

He didn’t ask if Hank was armed.  While his son had showed up empty-handed, he’d quickly borrowed Brannigan’s Beretta 92FS, and was even then carrying it on his hip.  It wasn’t Brannigan’s favorite gun; he’d never really liked the Beretta.  But it had been a gift, so he’d kept it.  He would have preferred something that hit a little harder, especially given the big cat tracks he’d seen out back, but he only had the one Redhawk.  And that was currently resting in a well-worn leather holster on his own hip.

He looked through the trees toward the road.  His “driveway” was about five miles long, and it went over a small ridgeline before it got anywhere near his cabin.  There weren’t any other houses within about ten miles, either; he’d made sure of that.  There wasn’t much call for anyone to go up there unless they were there to see him.

Or coming after him. Continue reading “Frozen Conflict Chapter 2”

The Guns of “Frozen Conflict”

With Brannigan’s Blackhearts #4 – Frozen Conflict coming soon, it’s time for the regular gun porn post!

This one turned out to be a bit more of an irregular operation, moving through the Eastern European underworld and relying on that underworld–not to mention a bit of “tactical acquisition”–for supplies.  As such, there’s a bit more variety in the weaponry used in Frozen Conflict, though it’s still almost entirely Eastern Bloc.

Eugen Codreanu is a Romanian gangster, but as an arms dealer he moves freely through multiple countries.  He’s done business in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe.  But most of his men carry what they’re comfortable with.  His right hand, Cezar Lungu, carries a Beretta PX4 Storm.

Continue reading “The Guns of “Frozen Conflict””

It’s Release Day

Enemy Unidentified is live on Kindle and Paperback!  (Paperback edition doesn’t appear to be linked to the Kindle edition yet, so if you’re going for Kindle Matchbook, give it a day.)

Terror Out Of Nowhere

In a single, blood-soaked afternoon, hundreds are killed in a string of terrorist attacks across the Southwestern US and Northern Mexico. To top it off, the terrorists bomb an energy summit in Matamoros, taking hostages before fleeing to an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

They issue no demands. No known group has taken credit for the attack. All anyone knows is that VIPs from both North and South America are being held hostage. And the first wave of Mexican Marines has been repulsed by terrorists who are far more heavily armed and better prepared than anyone expected.

The Mexican government won’t ask for help. But there is a team that the US and Mexico can agree to send in, as they do not exist, as far as the public is concerned. Brannigan’s Blackhearts have another rescue mission. And it’s going to be the bloodiest yet.

Fury in the Gulf and Burmese Crossfire are also currently a Kindle Countdown deal for the next five days, as well, so if by chance you haven’t picked either of those up yet, now’s the time!

 

“Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 3

“Colonel Brannigan, I presume?”  Contralmirante Huerta stood up and extended his hand.  The Mexican officer was in mufti, a dark suit and shiny blue shirt.

Brannigan shook the proffered hand.  He towered over the Mexican admiral, who was showing a bit of gray in his slickly-parted hair and mustache, though not nearly as much as Brannigan was.

Brannigan had dressed up a little for the meeting; he was wearing khakis and a sport coat, in contrast to his usual “retired” outdoor wear.  He was still wearing boots, though, and the sport coat hid the Wilson Combat 1911 on his hip.  Even with Van Zandt and Gomez in the room, he didn’t trust this Mexican officer very far.  He knew too much about how much the bad guys had infiltrated the instruments of the Mexican government.

Van Zandt was in a suit, and was standing back to one side, watching the two men meet.  Gomez had posted himself up at the door, watching everything impassively with his hard, black eyes.

Gomez had become a Blackheart in the plus-up that Hancock and Santelli had conducted prior to the Burma job.  Nobody knew much about him.  He didn’t talk much.  In fact, getting more than a handful of words out of him on any particular subject was often an exercise in frustration, if not outright futility.  He was lean and hard, with short black hair that was almost as dark as Flanagan’s, and features that made him look like a younger version of Geronimo.  If he was an Apache, he never said as much, even when asked, but he sure looked the part.

He’d just shown up in Corpus Christi, unannounced, and had been waiting at the meetup when Brannigan had gotten there.  True to form, he hadn’t said much, but had simply taken up a position as Brannigan’s bodyguard.  Brannigan had just made out the outline of a pistol butt under his shirt when he’d moved just right at one point. Continue reading ““Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 3″

“Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 2

“No,” John Brannigan said.  “Not only no, but hell no.”

“John,” Hector Chavez started to remonstrate with him, “we’re not talking about some half-assed Pemex contract, here.”

The two men were facing each other across a table in the Rocking K, the best—and essentially only—diner in tiny Junction City.  It wasn’t the sort of place most people would immediately think of when it came to planning covert operations, but it was the closest meeting place to Brannigan’s mountain hideaway, and so Chavez had pegged it as their contact spot, more often than not.

John Brannigan was a towering, six-foot-four former Marine Colonel, his hair gone shaggy and gray on his head and his face.  He shaved his cheeks and his chin, but his handlebar mustache was bushier than ever.  He might have had a few more crow’s feet around his gray eyes, especially after his recent turn to mercenary commander.  Activities like a hair-raising mission on the island of Khadarkh in the Persian Gulf, followed by a jump into northern Burma to take down a North Korean liaison operation in the Golden Triangle, were not calculated to keep a man young.

Brannigan was dressed in his usual flannel shirt and jeans, his “going to town” clothes.  Chavez had dressed down since his first visit; he was wearing a leather jacket and jeans.  The third man at the table, however, stood out a bit more.

Mark Van Zandt, his hair still cut in a close military regulation cut, clean shaven and straight-backed, was dressed in his usual khakis and a polo shirt, and leaning back in his chair, wisely keeping out of the conversation.

Van Zandt had been one of Brannigan’s last commanding officers.  He’d also been the one to bear the news that Brannigan would be forced to retire from the Marine Corps.  There was little love lost between the two of them, even though they had entered each other’s orbits once again when Van Zandt had been looking for a deniable team to send in on the Burma operation.

“You want me to take my boys into Mexico,” Brannigan said, leaning back in his chair and folding his brawny arms across his chest.  “Mexico defines ‘non-permissive environment.’  Gringos are not welcome, particularly gringo contractors.  I’ve done my homework, Hector.  If you think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m going to go into that killing field unarmed, relying on Mexicans of dubious loyalty for protection, you’ve got another think coming.”

“This isn’t that kind of contract, John,” Van Zandt snorted.  “Which should be abundantly obvious, since we’re coming to you.  The guys who blew up Khadarkh and jumped into northern Burma aren’t exactly the go-to for a petroleum security operation, now are they?”  Acid sarcasm dripped from his voice.  Brannigan turned his glare on the retired general.

“Not the point,” Brannigan retorted.  “We get spotted down there, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”

“Which is different from your last two jobs how?” Van Zandt pointed out.  “Come on, John, now you’re just being difficult.”

“Why us?” Brannigan asked, after taking a deep breath.  He really didn’t want to go into Mexico.  He knew too much about the horror-show that was the Mexican narco-war.  Khadarkh had been a simple in-and-out, on a tiny island, no less.  Burma had been different, but for all the atrocities happening in Burma—some of which his crew of mercenaries, the self-styled “Brannigan’s Blackhearts,” had witnessed first-hand—Mexico was an entirely different scale.  It had beaten out the Syrian Civil War for body count.

“The same reason I came to you for the Burma job,” Van Zandt said coolly.  “You’re deniable.  Which, I might add, is a huge selling point for Contralmirante Huerta right now, as well.”

“Who’s Huerta?” Brannigan asked.

“He’s the commander of the Mexican Marines who tried to retake the oil platform where our mysterious terrorists took their hostages,” Chavez said.  “He lost most of a company in a few minutes, has been getting stonewalled by Mexico City, and wants payback.”

“So he’ll cover for us?”

“He’s assured me that he will,” Van Zandt said.  “He’s under strict orders that no US military forces, including DEVGRU or Delta—who are about the only ones who could handle this otherwise; we don’t exactly have a MEU in the vicinity—are to be called upon.  The platform is technically in Mexican waters, and therefore it is a Mexican affair.  They don’t want help.  Well, the PRI doesn’t want help.  Huerta does.”

“And if he sells us down the river as soon as the job’s done?” Brannigan asked quietly.

Van Zandt shook his head.  “It’s a possibility, but I’ve talked to the man.  I think he’s on the level.  And I made it clear that if anything goes wrong that he might have prevented, recordings of all our conversations would somehow reach the President.”

Brannigan nodded.  “I expect that’s a pretty good deterrent, all things considered.”

“It should be,” Chavez said.  “The PRI’s so damned corrupt, they might not even bother to put him on trial.  At least not before they’ve disappeared his entire family.”

Brannigan looked down at the table, frowning.  It was true enough that he’d already started feeling the itch for another mission, another fight.  And his Blackhearts were the kind of mercenaries who went into impossible situations and managed to kill their way out.  They’d done it twice already, and Van Zandt wouldn’t even have considered them for the job if it had been anything else.

But he couldn’t shake the bad feeling that Mexico gave him.  He’d been there, many years before, before the narco wars really kicked off and the corpses started piling up.  He’d liked the country then.  But he’d watched as the violence, corruption, and increasingly brutal and sadistic killing had spread even to the tourist safe havens of the country.  Going into Mexico struck him as the equivalent to marching into a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

“With the level of sophistication and preparation the opposition has shown,” Van Zandt said quietly, “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that you could well be those people’s only hope of getting out alive.  Especially with the Mexicans refusing official help.”

Brannigan blew out a sigh.  “What do we know about the opposition?” he asked.  The decision was made.  He’d go.  He knew his men would go, too, at least the original team.

Damn, I still haven’t recruited a new medic.  He’d avoided it after Doc Villareal had gone down in Burma.  Losing Doc already hurt bad enough, in addition to the guilt he felt for having taken the man back into combat, which had been his own personal hell ever since Zarghun.

“Next to nothing,” Van Zandt replied.  “In the first half hour or so, several of the attacks were claimed, piecemeal, by various jihadist splinter groups, but we’re pretty sure now that none of them were in on it.  It was too coordinated, and none of them had the foresight to wait until the dust settled and claim responsibility for the whole shooting match.  Whoever’s behind it still hasn’t uttered a word.

“The guys you’re after are the only lead we’ve got, and they left no witnesses at the golf course,” he continued.  “Their faces were covered, and they wore gloves, so we don’t even know what color they are.  They are packing some serious hardware, though; bullpup rifles and SAMs at the least.”

“Insert?” Brannigan asked.  He was already going over the logistics of the mission in his head.  It was his great skill and something of his curse; as soon as he knew he was doing something, he started planning it.

“Don’t know yet,” Van Zandt replied.  “Air appears to be out of the question; the Mexicans lost four Hips trying to take the platform back.  A surface approach at night might be possible, but if they’ve got night vision and thermals—and I suspect that they do—then that could be suicide, as well.  We’ll have to figure that out.  Preferably without bringing the Navy into it.”  He grimaced.

“The good news,” Hector Chavez put in, “is that Matamoros and the platform are both close enough to the border that you shouldn’t have to stage inside Mexico itself.  You should be able to stay in Texas until it’s time to go.”

“Small favors, I suppose,” Brannigan said absently.  His mind was working a mile a minute.  Then his eyes sharpened, focusing in on Van Zandt.  “Unless you’ve got any more intel for me, I need to get moving.  If you’re right, time is pressing.”

“Unfortunately,” Van Zandt said, “that’s it.  That’s part of the problem.”

“Fine,” Brannigan said, standing up.  “I’ll let you know if we find any intel on the platform.” Continue reading ““Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 2″

“Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 1

Brannigan’s Blackhearts #3 – Enemy Unidentified is up for Kindle pre-order, due out the 15th.  So, here’s the first preview chapter.


Officer Lou Hall had been on the San Diego PD for about a year.  He’d just gotten off night shift, and frankly wasn’t sure whether the tradeoff had been worth it.  Sure, he got to see the sun a lot more, and with the sun, in San Diego in the summertime—the winter tended to be pretty gray and damp—usually came the California girls, dressed in as little clothing as they could get away with.

But his partner, Fred Dobbs, was a surly, balding cynic, he wasn’t getting paid that much more, and most of those same attractive California girls turned up their noses as soon as they saw his badge.  He’d even gotten berated by one for, “just wanting to shoot minorities.”  He was half Mexican, himself, so he didn’t know where the hell that had come from.

Then he looked on social media, and didn’t have any more questions.

Dobbs was grumbling, as usual, and Hall had tuned him out after about the first five minutes, as usual.  It was always the same thing.  Dobbs was in the process of a nasty divorce, and couldn’t talk about anything besides what a bitch his soon-to-be ex-wife was.  So, Hall was scanning the sidewalks and trying not to think too hard about how much he hated his life, and really should have applied to El Cajon, or somewhere that actually paid their cops well.

Something caught his attention, and Dobbs’ incessant bitching faded even farther into the background noise.  At first he wasn’t sure why he was looking at the parked taxi so intently, then he saw that it was unoccupied.

Taxis parked in Horton Plaza were nothing new.  There was always far more traffic than there was available parking, and most people didn’t try to drive to Horton Plaza.  But an unattended cab?

Maybe the driver just went to take a piss.  Yeah, that was probably it.  He knew full well what a full day sitting in a car was like.

He didn’t notice the second cab parked just around the corner; there was no reason to.  It wasn’t out of place.  But the man sitting behind the wheel certainly noticed the San Diego PD car cruising past the abandoned taxi.  He toyed with waiting, but there was a crowd coming out of the Lyceum Theater at the same time.  Perfect.

The man ducked down below the dash and touched a remote.  The unoccupied taxi exploded, the detonation shattering every window within sight, including the windshield of his own cab.  He was showered with fragments of safety glass, as the vehicle rocked on its shocks.  He’d parked a little too close; the concussion hammered him into the floor of the cab, and he blacked out for a moment.

When he came to, he had to kick the door open.  The Plaza was a nightmare hellscape.  Where the taxi had been parked, only a crater filled with twisted, fiercely burning wreckage remained.  The cop car was burning, the windows shattered and the side panel crushed in and peppered with shrapnel, both men inside obviously dead.  The sidewalk was littered with bodies and parts of bodies.  People were screaming, the noise only then managing to register to his deadened hearing.  His ears were ringing from the explosion.  A young woman staggered away from the crater, bleeding, half of her face flayed away by the blast.

The man staggered out of the cab and joined the mass of screaming, panicking humanity fleeing the blast zone.  Wounded were being trampled.  The panicked mob was going to seriously impede the first responders; it was just too cramped in downtown San Diego.

The man felt no particular satisfaction in what he’d done.  He’d been well paid for it.  It had been a job, nothing more.  He blended into the crowd and disappeared.

*** Continue reading ““Enemy Unidentified” Chapter 1″