“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″

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“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″

Burmese Crossfire Chapter 3

Well, there’s less than a week until Burmese Crossfire comes out.  One last peek before it’s go time.


Joe Flanagan was not a man given to many words or noticeable outbursts of emotion.  He was often best described as “laconic,” and he took some pride in that fact.  He was a quiet man, often a gray man, passing unnoticed through the crowd, and he liked it that way.  He and Brannigan were of similar temperaments in that respect, as both preferred the wilderness to the hustle and bustle of the city.

Right at the moment, though, Flanagan’s eyes were smoldering, and his jaw was tight under his thick, black beard.  He was not a happy man.

He checked his watch again.  He knew he was in the right place.  The Vegas apartment complex hadn’t been hard to find.  It had been a long drive to get there, and now Curtis was late.  He would have let the man make his own way, but he’d been hiking in Utah, so he’d been close enough to swing through Vegas and pick the other man up on the way up to Colonel Brannigan’s place in Idaho.  But they still had a long way to go, and here he was, sitting at the curb, and there was no sign of the little man.

He pulled his phone out of his pocket.  “Where the hell are you?” he typed.

Joe!  Just in time!  I need extract!  I’m in the Blue Lagoon!  Hurry!

“Son of a…”  Flanagan had to fight the temptation to punch the steering wheel.  “Leave it to him to go to a damned bar and get into trouble now of all times,” he muttered, as he put the truck in gear and headed down the street.  Only having something of a working knowledge of Curtis’ favorite hangouts in Las Vegas gave him a general idea of where he was going, without looking at a map.

Ordinarily, it would seem to be too early for anyone to be in a bar, but it was Vegas, it was mid-afternoon, it was a weekend, and it was Curtis.  The man had never seen a bar that he hadn’t wanted to go into, and Flanagan was pretty sure he knew just why the little man was in trouble, too.

He was fuming and ready for a fight when he stalked through the doors of the Blue Lagoon.

The place was dim, lit by blue neon lights set above the bar and in abstract patterns on the ceiling.  The walls, ceiling, and most of the floor were black, except for the mirrors behind the bar, which just reflected the blue light even more.  The atmosphere was somewhat relieved by the Nevada sunlight coming in the tinted windows at the front, but not by much.

It was easy enough to pick out where Curtis was, even though he couldn’t see the little man behind the knot of belligerents gathered around him.  He could hear the gambler and erstwhile machinegunner’s slightly high-pitched voice clearly enough.

Say what he will about Kevin Curtis’ judgement, he could never accuse his old friend of being a coward.

“Oh, look at you, big man!” Curtis was saying.  “Bow up all you want, it don’t matter to me.  Or to her, apparently!”

The other man said something, probably intended to sound threatening.

“Oh, look at me, I’m so tough, in my Hard Rock Café t-shirt with the sleeves cut off,” Curtis mocked.  Even without seeing him, Flanagan could picture Curtis puffing his chest out and pulling his chin in to ridicule the man.  “Man, get outta here with that noise!  If you were half the tough guy you think you are, she wouldn’t have needed to get to know me, now would she?’

Flanagan was halfway across the floor when the man raised a fist.  “Try it, bitch!” Curtis called.  “See what happens!”

The man let the punch fly.  At the same moment, his half-dozen buddies also converged, fists flying.

Flanagan waded in. Continue reading “Burmese Crossfire Chapter 3”

Burmese Crossfire Chapter 2

The paperback proof is here, the Kindle pre-order is up ($0.99 until Jan 20, when it goes up to $3.99), and here is Chapter 2 to whet more appetites.


The unimaginatively-named “Road-House” lay just off the highway, about twenty miles from the nearest town.  It didn’t get a lot of traffic, except for the occasional motorist stopping in to grab something to eat, either at the gas station attached to the “Road-House” or at the restaurant and bar itself.

John Brannigan nearly filled the doorway as he stepped inside.  Six-foot-four, broad-shouldered, he retained the leanness and power of a man much younger than his nearly fifty years.  His hair was going gray, as was the thick handlebar mustache he’d grown since he’d retired—not entirely willingly—from the Marine Corps, some years before.  Deep lines surrounded his icy eyes as he swept the interior of the restaurant with a practiced, professional gaze.  This was a man who had never stepped into a room without knowing the layout, who was in it, and how to get out.

It wasn’t that he was paranoid.  It was simply a fact that twenty-three years as a Marine, both enlisted and commissioned, had hard-wired certain habits into him.  And his most recent work hadn’t served to dull those habits any, either.

Hector Chavez was waiting by the bar, sitting on a stool with one elbow on the bar and the other hand on his knee, so that he needed only turn his head to see the door.  He grinned a little as he hitched himself off the stool and stepped toward Brannigan, holding out his hand.

“Good to see you again, John.”  Chavez was getting a little heavy, his gray hair thinning.  He still moved well, for a man whose heart didn’t quite work right anymore.

Brannigan shook the other man’s hand.  Chavez’ ticker might need a pacemaker, but his grip was still strong.  “Did you let Mama Taft intimidate you last time, Hector?” he asked, with a half-smile.

Chavez chuckled.  “No, though that is certainly an intimidating woman.”  He sobered.  “I just figured that establishing a pattern of life might not be the best idea.  If we keep meeting in the same diner, with different clients, somebody might start to think that you’re working as some kind of consultant.  And then they might start wondering what kind of consulting a man like you does.”

Brannigan nodded.  The reasoning was sound.  The last job that Chavez had brought him, his first as a mercenary, had been high-risk and highly illegal.  That it had been the right thing to do wouldn’t matter if the wrong people got wind of it.

He looked around for his new client, but Chavez appeared to be alone.  Noticing the look, Chavez inclined his head toward the back of the restaurant and said, “Come on.  And John?  Try to keep an open mind, all right?” Continue reading “Burmese Crossfire Chapter 2”

“Burmese Crossfire” Chapter 1

Roi Tri Somboon Sirpreecha was nervous.

It had been a whole fifteen days since he had reported to his post as the youngest, least-experienced platoon commander in the Thanan Phran, the Thai Rangers.  It hadn’t been an easy fifteen days, either.  While the Royal Thai Army provided the Thanan Phran with its officer and NCO corps, many of the men had their own ideas about discipline and responsibility.  He’d long heard that many of the Rangers had been criminals, pardoned of their crimes for joining up, but he hadn’t realized just how shadowy the interior workings of the Thanan Phran could be until he’d caught one of his more experienced and respected Rangers brazenly stealing from one of the villagers when they’d passed through Ban Pha Hi on patrol.

When he’d confronted the man, he’d found himself half-surrounded by suddenly surly Rangers, all with weapons close at hand.  He’d held his ground, backed up by Sip Ek Klahan Phonarthit, and the Rangers had slowly backed down.  The culprit, Kamun Amsir, had finally handed the stolen food back to the bent old woman, giving the Roi Tri a smile that promised that he would learn how the Thanan Phran worked, or he wouldn’t be around for long.

Now he was chivvying his platoon into trucks to head for the same village, based on reports from the Border Patrol Police that the sensors they had emplaced along the border, with the Americans’ help, had picked up a sizeable group moving toward the border, through the jungle.  They weren’t going to the border crossing in Wiang Phang Kham, either.  Which meant they were probably drug smugglers.

The United Wa State Army had been running ya ba, methamphetamine pills, into Thailand for years, along with the heroin that the Golden Triangle was world-renowned for.  A good part of why the Thanan Phran was on the border was to intercept the UWSA drug shipments.

Of course, Somboon was increasingly aware that some of his Thanan Phran were probably complicit in the same trade.  It had been a problem for some time, and had led to some tensions between the Rangers and the BPP.  He had his eyes on Kamun.  The man seemed like the type. Continue reading ““Burmese Crossfire” Chapter 1″