First, a team of Navy SEALs wiped out in a surprise attack. Then, a motorcade of dignitaries is ambushed—and the US Secretary of State is abducted. Coordinated and flawlessly executed, this is no random act of terror. A vision of evil unprecedented in scope has been triggered . . .
The enemy will not stop until the skies over America are black with death and destruction. CIA veterans Dan Morgan and Peter Conley—code names Cobra and Cougar—are America's last chance at averting an unthinkable scenario of bloodshed . . .
"A ripping story—rough, tough, and entertaining." —Meg Gardiner
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Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan
The Night Stalker Black Hawk flew low over a sea of darkness that reached up in jagged peaks along the horizon into a leaden sky. The sleek black chariot of death flew completely dark, keeping radio silence even here in the middle of nowhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Alberto Medina's muscles were tense with anticipation.
The Pakistani government was on board with the op, so radar detection and antiaircraft missiles from the local military weren't among their concerns. But there were still the Martyr's Brigade and the Pakistani Taliban to worry about. The countryside was riddled with them. They were known to stock surface-to-air missiles and wouldn't think twice about trying to bring down a Black Hawk helicopter if they saw it coming.
Since talking without radio over the scream of the engine was a nonstarter, Medina and the rest of SEAL Team Six Gold Squadron sat in silence cheek by jowl in the cabin, one in each seat and two on the floor along with their two Belgian Malinois, Boomer and Roscoe, wearing their harnesses.
Not that there was anything to say. This was hardly their first time around the block. Medina had lost count of how many operations they had run together in the past five years. It had been a whirlwind tour through Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, whose physical and mental demands left Medina used to living at the edge of his tether.
This was different, though. They had taken out countless militants and low-ranking members of terrorist groups, but today they were going to decapitate the Martyr's Brigade. Today, they were going after Haider Raza, code-named Phage for this operation. He was a young man, Medina had seen in his file, just over thirty with a strong nose and the intense glare of the true believer. Under his leadership, the Martyr's Brigade had killed untold numbers of civilians in Pakistan, and Raza had, according to intelligence reports, masterminded a series of suicide bombings that had killed dozens in France, England, and Germany. All that was before the bombing of the US Embassy in Islamabad a month before.
In the wordless roar in the chopper, Medina's mind wandered to an image of Michelle, her smooth brown skin, her dark eyes, that beautiful long neck made vivid by the heightened senses that came with the adrenaline rush of the mission. He had promised her that he'd leave after this tour of duty, and that woman deserved to have a man by her side. He had already let her down once, he thought with a sting of shame. He'd signed on for another two years out of duty and camaraderie — the bond of the Navy SEALs was not one easily broken.
Medina shook those thoughts out of his head and clutched his HK MP5, as if to anchor himself. He focused on the mission, going over in his head the carefully choreographed attack that they had planned in under twenty- four hours after the intel had come in. He pictured the floor plan of the compound, his positions as they would move in. He remembered the contours of the faces of the people suspected to be in there, one by one, until he formed the picture of Haider Raza clearly in his mind.
If he was lucky, Medina would be the one to gun him down.
"Five minutes to target," the pilot said over the radio. Medina felt energy surge through his body, his muscles twitching in anticipation. He chambered a round into his MP5, and heard the others doing likewise with their weapons. O'Connor knelt by the still-closed door of the chopper, ready to throw out the rope when they reached their target, the four-tube night-vision goggles raised above his helmet.
"Stand by to deploy," said Moody through their communicators. Medina checked his watch, clicking on its built-in light. It was just shy of 3 A.M. He felt it in his stomach as the chopper slowed down its horizontal movement, then began to descend. Shortly thereafter, the aircraft drew to a standstill in the air. Medina slipped on his heavy gloves, flexing his hands to accommodate them to the leather. They had worn in nicely by now, and didn't make his movements quite so stiff. It was a small comfort.
"Go, go, go!"
Sykes opened the door, letting a rush of air into the chopper. He unrolled the fast-rope off the edge and went over first, tethered to Roscoe, and O'Connor went next with Boomer. Medina pulled his night-vision goggles over his eyes, and the interior of the chopper was revealed from the darkness in shades of green. Each member of the nine-man team followed the two down in turn. Medina climbed down last, leaving the standard ten feet between himself and the man below him. Cool air blasted him as he emerged from the chopper door, holding on to the thick braided rope with his gloved hands and thighs.
Faint and irregular lights spread out on the town below, bright green spots in a green landscape. His hands grew hot from the friction with the rope, and his MP5 swung gently against his back for the few seconds he was in the air, and then his heavy boots connected with the hard, dusty ground of the complex backyard. His eyes followed the outline of the outer wall that encircled them, by now intimately familiar to him from satellite and aerial drone pictures.
He ran after the rest of the team for cover, where the wall shadowed the moonlight, pulling off his fast-rope gloves as he did. King, Sykes, and Hinton, their demolition team, had already run ahead to plant the C4 on the hinges of the back door and of the iron security gate. Medina and the remaining five stood by, guns against their shoulders, ready to move in, taking cover against the blast.
In a flash and a puff of smoke, the gate broke loose from its hinges and crashed onto the concrete in front of it.
Three men fanned out into the downstairs floor and secured the outside while the demolition team moved on. Medina led the other three in a charge upstairs, where they expected to find Raza. He would have been alerted to the noise by now, but with any luck he wouldn't be able to arm himself fast enough.
"Outside clear," came a voice through the communicator.
"Ground floor clear," came another.
Something's not right. The house was supposed to be occupied. The misgiving had barely registered in his mind when he kicked open the door to the room reported to be Raza's bedroom. Raza was not there. Instead, he saw a young man with a short beard and wild fear in his eyes. He was wearing a shalwar khameez, under which Medina recognized the familiar bulk of the suicide bomber's vest. In a split second, too surprised to act, his eyes followed the man's arm to his hand, where he was holding a detonator.
Hands trembling, the young man pushed the button.
Medina never heard the blast that took out his entire team. His last thought, barely formed, was of Michelle, of that lovely spot where her neck met her hair.CHAPTER 2
"So what's the story on the Raza mission?" asked Morgan, navigating the narrow streets of South Boston in his Ford Shelby GT 500 Mustang. It was evening and the sky was lead-gray with overhanging clouds that on occasion smoldered with lightning. It had snowed lightly earlier, and then it had rained, and every time Morgan edged the car near the curb the right tires were bogged down in thick slush.
"The story is, nobody knows what the hell the story is." The speaker was Peter Conley, Morgan's old Black Ops partner, riding shotgun. Conley, thin and tall with a bony face and high forehead, had an almost professorial look. He was careful and deliberate and picked up languages like others pick up bad habits. As a man of action, Morgan would give him grief for his thoughtful approach, but there was no one he'd rather have at his side in the line of fire.
"Come on, you gotta know something," said Morgan. He knew, of course, everything that had been on the news. The raid on the house in the tribal areas of Pakistan where Haider Raza was supposedly staying. House was rigged with explosives, with a suicide bomber to set it all off. No survivors among the SEAL Team, not even the chopper, which had stalled and crashed after being pummeled with flying debris. But Conley had active assets all over the globe, contacts who kept him up to speed on everything. He was bound to know more than CNN.
"Only the rumor that someone tipped him off," said Conley. "You could count on your fingers and toes the number of people who knew about the op in the US government. But once they cleared it with the Pakistani leaders ... Well, we know Raza has friends in high places, and it only takes one."
"What I'd do if I got my hands on that bastard," said Morgan, his knuckles going white on the steering wheel.
"You and me both," said Conley.
"Meanwhile, we're stuck doing grunt work in Southie," said Morgan, with an irritated gesture of his hand.
"You know how the game works," said Conley, running his fingers deftly on the touch-sensitive screen of a tablet computer. "We keep the Zeta sponsors happy with a couple of errands here and there, they keep us financed with a smile, and we keep fighting the good fight."
"I'm just here because I'd rather do this than have Bloch on my case about it for the next two weeks," said Morgan. "Plus," he said, feeling an electric excitement in his muscles, "I could use the exercise."
"Are you sure you know where you're going? This thing has GPS, you know."
Morgan brought the Shelby to a halt at the curb on a street corner. "Yeah, I know where we're going." He cut the engine.
"This the place?" Conley asked.
"Over in the corner," said Morgan, pointing with his hand still on the steering wheel. It was a low brick building, whose white façade was tinged blue by the evening light. It sported a wooden sign in faded green Celtic letters. MACAULEY'S.
"Why do these bastards always have to meet in pubs?" asked Conley, retying his bootlaces.
"They're Irish," said Morgan. "Where else are they going to meet?"
Conley checked his tablet computer once more.
"Police?" asked Morgan.
"We're clear," said Conley, turning off the computer and stowing it in the glove compartment.
"We going in armed or not?"
"I say no," said Conley. "We go in packing, and they start shooting as soon as they see us."
"If they start shooting, don't we want to shoot back?"
"Let's try to keep this one low profile, shall we?" said Conley.
"All right," said Morgan as he unstrapped his shoulder holster and laid it on the floor of the car at his feet. "But you let me do the talking, all right?"
Morgan got out of the car and moved with purpose to the door of the bar, sinking his boot into the slush as he crossed the deserted street. The air was chilly, and Morgan had worn only a short-sleeved shirt for mobility. But tension kept him from feeling the cold.
They reached the door of the bar together, and Morgan made eye contact with Conley for half a second. After years of working together, it was all the go-ahead he needed. Morgan pushed open the door and was greeted by the acrid smell of cigarette smoke — the NO SMOKING sign next to the door, Morgan noted, was covered in rude sharpie drawings. The main bar room was long and narrow. The bar itself ran three quarters of its length, with bottles of booze lining the wall. The half dozen working class stiffs on faded yellow pleather barstools or small circular tables that lined the wall opposite the bar were illuminated by dim, hanging yellow lights.
Morgan led Conley though the hostile stares of the regulars to a couple of stools at the bar. The waitress, a skinny, aging redhead whose thick skin seemed both figurative and literal, shot them the stink eye. Morgan could practically see what she was thinking plastered on her face. Plainclothes cops.
She should be so lucky.
"What'll it be, ladies?" she rasped, wiping the counter in front of them with a rag.
"Grey Goose Rasmopolitan," said Conley. "With a twist"
The barmaid raised a disbelieving eyebrow. Morgan suppressed a laugh.
"Aperol Spritz? Mai Tai?"
"He'd like a pint," Morgan cut in before the barmaid lost what little temper she had. "Whatever you have. Water for me, if you've got that on tap."
"Cute," she said without a smile.
"You got a bathroom in this place?" asked Morgan.
"In the back," she said, tilting a pint glass against the tap.
"How about an ATM?" asked Conley.
"Next to the bathroom."
They both stood up and made their way to the back of the bar, feeling the patrons' eyes burning holes the backs of their heads. A short, dark hallway led to the bathroom in the back, and a grimy old ATM stood there as promised. But they were interested in another door, on their right, an old-fashioned door with a glass window that was obscured by dirty, bent venetian blinds on the other side.
"Let's try to be subtle about this," Conley whispered. "I'd rather not fight a bar full of surly drunk Irishmen."
Morgan tried the door, which was locked. Then he knocked.
"Bathroom's the otha dooh!" a man's voice came from inside.
Morgan looked at Conley and shrugged. He took a step back and kicked in the door. A chunk of wood and a spray of splinters flew into the cramped room inside.
Time slowed down as Morgan assessed the situation. Three young men and a blond woman huddled around a small table, two men on his right and other man and the girl to his left. A snub-nosed revolver lay on the table, in front of the man on his immediate right, sharing the surface with bags of crystal meth and stacks of money. The blond hair and fair skin advertised the girl as their target.
The man's hand went straight for the gun. Morgan grabbed his arm and twisted until he heard a crack, while taking the gun in his left hand. Morgan released the man's arm and kicked him in the chest with a heavy wet winter boot, tipping his chair so that his head banged against the wall. The man next to him just sat petrified. Morgan heard the thump of the other man hitting the ground.
"Stay," Morgan ordered the last seated man, pointing the revolver at his chest. "You can keep your junk and your money. We're here for the girl."
She was shrieking and cussing, her pretty face contorted and red with rage. "We're here from your father," Conley told her. "We're taking you home."
"That goddamn Nazi can go to hell!" She landed a right hook on Conley's cheek, and Morgan winced. That was going to leave a mark. She then picked up a baseball bat and retreated against the wall, brandishing it wildly to keep Conley away.
Morgan could tell Conley was at a loss for how to deal with the girl, and they had seconds before the rest of the bar was drawn to the screaming. He turned his attention to the man Conley had laid out, who was now trying to stand. Morgan pulled him up by his lapel and laid him on the table, money and bags of meth spilling on the floor. He was red- haired with finely freckled skin, and his green eyes were dazed and blinking from Conley's blow.
"Is this your boyfriend?" Morgan asked the girl, still holding him by the lapel.
Her anger now turned to Morgan. "Don't you lay a finger on him!"
"Then let's do this the easy way, all right?" Morgan said. She held up the baseball bat. Morgan took the middle finger of her boyfriend's left hand and pulled it back with a crack. This woke him from his daze and he screamed in pain, writhing on the table and clutching his hand.
"Now be good and come with us," said Morgan, "and I'll stop." He forced the boyfriend's palm against the table and wrapped his muscular hand against his ring finger. "Your choice."
She let the bat tumble to the floor and leaned over the redheaded kid. "Baby, are you okay?"
"He'll live," said Morgan. "Now come, or he might not." He looked at the kid, contorting in pain on the table, square in the eyes. "And you," he said. "Come after her and Daddy is going to do a lot worse than a broken finger, you hear?"
"Come on," Conley said, playing good cop. "We won't hurt you."
She let herself be led by Conley. Morgan took the lead out of the back room, the man's revolver in his right hand. He emerged to a bar where every single patron was frozen still, looking at him. The barmaid, standing behind the bar, had a shotgun with a sawed-off handle pointed at his chest.
"Honey, we're leaving with the girl," said Morgan, gun trained on the woman. "We didn't hurt anyone. Much. And we're not taking any of the drugs or the money. Let's not turn this into a bloodbath, all right? Same goes for everyone else in here."
There was a tense silence as Morgan took his first steps out, slow but showing no sign of hesitation. She kept the shotgun on him, and he kept the revolver on her. The room watched as Morgan traversed its length with Conley and the girl in tow. Morgan was by the door when someone cleared his throat.
"Anyone got something to say?" Morgan demanded, booming voice filling the bar. No one answered.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Black Skies"
Copyright © 2014 Leo J. Maloney.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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