A powerful banker, gunned down in cold blood. A military family, senselessly slaughtered as they sleep. A four-star general, hacked and framed by virtual assassins. Another key general, kidnapped from his farm near Fort Bragg. Atrocities like these are all too common in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. But this is the United States of America . . .
When Jake Mahegan receives a distress call from General Savage in North Carolina, he rushes to the commander’s home—and walks right into an ambush. When the smoke clears, Mahegan is alive but the implications of the attack are as absolute as death: The terrorists are here . . . and no one is safe. Joining forces with Savage’s combat JAG officer, Alexandra Russell, Mahegan follows the trail to a killer who goes by the name “Jackknife,” a Syrian refugee-turned-terrorist who vows to avenge the bombing of a Syrian wedding—by killing as many Americans as possible.
But time is running out for Mahegan. Terrorist cells are gathering in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hackers are emptying the nation’s banks of millions of dollars. And their final act of vengeance will bring the whole world to its knees. For Mahegan, it’s time to kill. Now.
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Jackknife cracked the shadow box and removed the colt .45 pistol, thinking, In case of emergency, break glass.
To Jackknife, the need for this specific pistol wasn't so much an emergency as it was part of an elaborate plan.
Keeping a towel wrapped around the punching hand, Jackknife was able to avoid any incriminating lacerations from the razor-sharp shards of glass. Knowing what kind of pistol was in the mounted display on the wall of Major General Bob Savage's oak-paneled study deep in the bowels of the man's secretive Vass Estate, Jackknife had already secured the magazine and ammunition from the desk drawer. Savage was the enigmatic commander of JSOC, or the Joint Special Operations Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Jackknife knew that Savage was not home this evening, that someone had sent the general a secure text message asking him to meet at a discrete location.
The pistol slid easily from its red velvet background into which two mounting pegs had been secured. Jackknife's latex-gloved hands caressed the pistol as if holding a large, precious gem. The weapon was heavy and perfect in every way for tonight's mission.
Jackknife retraced the route used to breach the secure compound, hiked a mile through the forest, cut through a golf course, and located the cash-purchased, gray 2002 Ford Taurus. Cranking the engine, Jackknife laid the Colt .45 on the towel on the passenger seat, folded the towel over the pistol, then placed it beneath the driver's seat with the magazine and ammunition.
The drive to Charlotte took over two hours because Jackknife drove the speed limit the entire way. Passing a few police officers around nine p.m., the vehicle gave off no suspicion of DUI, speeding, or reckless endangerment.
Though Jackknife's mission was completely reckless and dangerous.
Arriving at the preplanned spot on the far side of the Country Club of Charlotte, Jackknife parked in a dirt lot used to gain access to the golf course maintenance shed. It was out of the way, hidden from the members who didn't care to see the maintenance personnel who kept their course in pristine condition.
Jackknife walked across several golf holes and followed a rehearsed route along number five, went around a pond, hit some muddy spots, and walked into the backyard of the target. Having scouted the security system and overall security posture of the home, Jackknife knew that, despite all of the warnings to the person who was about to die, this part of the plan might actually go smoothly.
Now, at ten-thirty p.m., Jackknife came up the back deck of the Georgian brick mansion. After retrieving a lock pick set from the inner coat pocket, Jackknife first checked the doorknob that led to the kitchen.
Unlocked. This was that kind of neighborhood. Friendly neighbors. Tall pines and magnolias dotted the mature gated community like sentries keeping watch. Signs said NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH. Gate guards were at the road entrances, though no guards protected against cutting across the twice-mowed golf greens and fairways.
After returning the pick set to the coat pocket, Jackknife carefully opened the door, listening for any alarm beep or indicator. After a minute of remaining perfectly still, adapting to the environment, Jackknife quietly closed the door and navigated through the house to the stairs. The muddy, rubber-soled boots were too big but necessary for the job, in part because they ensured quiet movement. Jackknife ascended the stairs thinking, The master bedroom is on the left at the end of the hallway.
Approaching the open door, Jackknife noticed the woman and her husband sleeping soundly amidst rumpled sheets. Both of them were snoring, the husband louder than the woman.
Jackknife wanted to kill only the husband but thought that killing the woman first would be a nice touch. A misdirection that in the grand scheme of things might prove useful, buying some time. With that in mind, Jackknife moved to the far side of the bed, where Vicki Sledge was sleeping soundly.
Vicki Sledge had at one time been Vicki Savage, wife of Major General Bob Savage. A recent divorce landed her in Charlotte, where she married Charles Sledge, the CEO of United Bank of America, the fifth largest bank in the nation.
Having walked the length of the expansive bedroom, Jackknife stood above Vicki. She was sleeping with her mouth slightly open, dyed blond hair scattered across her face. Jackknife imagined that she would have a serious case of bed head in the morning.
Especially with a bullet in her forehead.
Jackknife wasted little time, placing the weapon near the forehead of the sleeping woman, who suddenly awoke. Her eyes popped open, big and round. She was roused either from a bad dream or the realization that she was about to step into one. Her gaze shifted up, and she stared into Jackknife's own eyes and recognizable face.
"Oh my God. What are you doing here?" the wife said. Jackknife recognized that even with a pistol to her head, Vicki couldn't get past herself. Well, that was about to end.
"This," Jackknife replied, and pulled the trigger. The Colt .45 sounded like a cannon in the bedroom. The husband was jolted awake, as if someone had placed defibrillator paddles on him. Vicki's head kicked back into the pillow. Blood splattered in both directions, toward Jackknife's outstretched arm and along the path of the exit wound toward the pillow and the mahogany headboard of the poster bed.
"Vicki, what the hell?"
Suddenly the husband was looking up at Jackknife, eyes wide with fear.
"What are you doing? What have you done?"
Jackknife held the pistol steady at the man and thought, Aw shit, he's seen me. Then an unexpected voice came from the hallway.
"Mom? Dad? Everything okay?"
"Run, Danny!" the father shouted.
Jackknife pressed against the far wall, pistol held high. Yes indeed, run, Danny. Jackknife was solid with killing the husband and wife, but the kid had never been an option, or even a thought for that matter. Still, Jackknife, stood square with feet spread into a balanced shooter's stance, prepared for this unexpected turn of events.
But Danny didn't run, at least not away. He ran into the bedroom and spun around. That was when Jackknife shot him in the face. With that task done, Jackknife walked up to the trembling man and shot him in the heart point-blank. Jackknife was careful to use a small Maglite to find and secure the three shell casings ejected by the Colt .45.
Retracing the path out of the house, Jackknife retreated quickly, mission accomplished. Tossing the gun and shell casings into the golf course lake, as good a place as any, Jackknife felt unburdened and moved quickly toward the car. Unconcerned about the footprints that would clearly reveal the path that Jackknife had taken from the murder scene, the killer turned the ignition, pulled gently onto a state road, and turned on the radio, hoping for some news.
After some time driving the speed limit to the northeast, Jackknife arrived at the next destination, parked the burner car, wiped it down, and thought for a second. The feeling of perfection was close but not at hand. Jackknife wondered if there had been a mistake somewhere along the way. It didn't seem likely, but mistakes were possible. Not having time to contemplate what might have occurred, Jackknife focused on the next mission.
Jake Mahegan was next on the list.
Former army paratrooper and ex-delta force operative Jake Mahegan turned his head slowly and looked in each direction. To his left was a man holding a pistol and to his right was another man holding an AR-15 assault rifle. The assault rifle had a rail with a Maglite attached beneath it and an infrared aiming light secured on the opposite side. Neither man wore night vision goggles, but the presence of the high-tech device gave Mahegan some insight to his adversaries' capabilities. This was not their first rodeo.
Both weapons were aimed directly at him.
"It's going down right now," the man to his right said in a thick Middle Eastern accent. "Everything, all at once."
Mahegan was standing in a rustic cabin on an exclusive golf resort in the middle of North Carolina's golf mecca, Moore County. He had received a text over his secure Zebra communications application developed by his former Delta Force teammates, Patch Owens and Sean O'Malley. The text had instructed him to meet Owens and O'Malley at cabin number two, Longleaf Pine Golf Resort, at midnight. The text had included the code words en fuego, which meant "on fire" in Spanish and "hurry, be armed" to Mahegan. And even though he had intended to head from Wrightsville Beach up to the Outer Banks today, General Savage's text trumped all, as it always did.
Mahegan said nothing. He stood there and waited. He understood that someone had probably breached the secure Zebra application. He didn't know if Owens and O'Malley were dead or alive, and now he wondered if Savage had sent the secure text for him to meet here. They rarely communicated on the Zebra app, but when they did, their texts and phone calls were immediately eliminated from any server or digital storage system. Gone forever. One of his teammates could have sent the text message in extremis, at gunpoint, but he didn't think so. They, and he, would take a bullet for one another before sending a secure coded message luring one of them into a trap.
Mahegan sized up the two men in the dimly lit cabin. The pistol man was almost his height, placing him just under six foot six. The man was broad shouldered and muscular, holding a balanced shooter's stance. Sweat glistened on his shaved head. He wore a black T-shirt and dark cargo pants. Muscles strained the fabric of his shirt as he held the pistol, locked forward in large hands. Behind the pistol man was a small river-rock fireplace and a doorway, from which he had emerged as Mahegan had stepped into the cabin.
"Do as we say and no one gets hurt," the man with the AR-15 said.
The assault rifle came closer as the man stepped slowly through an open door that led to a screened porch, holding the rifle at eye level like a soldier conducting a room clearing. He was dressed in similar dark clothing. Because of the moonlight pressing through the screened porch, Mahegan could discern the dark features of this attacker. Olive skin, dark eyes, hard planes on his face. His cocked elbow flexed at a right angle to the weapon, the forearm muscles looking like steel cables beneath his skin.
The two men had moved simultaneously from opposite sides of the cabin. They had checked him, like chess pieces cornering the king.
Fortunately for Mahegan, en fuego also meant for him to come armed and ready. It was a code that the hackers must have seen before the texts vanished on previous communications. They would only surmise it meant to move quickly, perhaps, but not that Mahegan would also come armed with his Tribal Sig Sauer pistol and his Blackhawk knife, both readily accessible.
The open family room, dining room, and kitchen design gave advantage to his two attackers, who had been lying in wait. Mahegan's was not too far from the home of his mentor and chief aggravator, Major General Bob Savage. Mahegan had assumed the code was for a quick meeting to act upon a new threat to the homeland. So far, since his dismissal from the Army for killing a handcuffed enemy prisoner of war, Mahegan's chief role had been to thwart nefarious schemes operationalized by those intending to harm the country.
Truthfully, all he was really looking for was a good-hearted woman and some peace to counterbalance all of the violence he had endured so far in his young life. Thirty years old with multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries not to be named, Mahegan was a Native American from a small town called Frisco in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a series of sand spits formed by the violent clashing of the Atlantic Ocean's Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream.
His birthplace foreshadowed his life so far. Love of the ocean and its beauty were offset by the danger of the currents and tides colliding. Love and violence, his twin curses, seemed to be his fate. When the call to duty rang clear, he surrendered the possibilities of a stable home life like so many of his peers. Even as a former soldier, Mahegan never saw a different path than that of defending his nation. Like the black-and-gold, half-moon-shaped Ranger tab tattoo inked on his left shoulder, the lazy Z scar just beneath it, and the TEAMMATES tat on his right bicep, Mahegan's call to duty was part of his DNA.
Not sure what the two gunmen were waiting for, Mahegan was never one to be stymied by indecision. He analyzed his situation. First, the two men were opposite one another, Mahegan being the center point in a straight line. If both fired and missed, there was a fifty-fifty chance they would shoot each other. Second, Mahegan's right hand hovered inches away from his Tribal 9 mm pistol, which had a round chamber and was hidden beneath his loose Windbreaker. He didn't know how good his two attackers were, but he was pretty damn good. He gave himself a fifty-fifty chance at beating the pull of the trigger of at least one of the men. Third, if they wanted him dead, they could have shot him as soon as he walked into the unlocked cabin. So there was a probability they needed him for something. What did they want from him?
Mahegan's body was coiled tight, as if flexing would make the bullets bounce off his sturdy frame. In the end, there was only one decision to make. The fifty-fifty chances of the world usually worked in his favor when he acted first. The geometric problem that Mahegan faced was that he needed to first kill the man aiming the AR-15, the more lethal and accurate weapon, but that man was to his right. The movement would require Mahegan reaching into the hip holster on his left side, angled slightly forward for a quick draw, and then crossing his arm 180 degrees to his right. He could do that fast, but not fast enough to beat two gunmen.
Mahegan had wrestled in high school and had retained the flexibility required for that timeless combative sport. His right hand slid perfectly onto the textured pistol grip as he dropped low to the ground, spinning as if performing a single leg takedown. He raised the pistol and fired three times, walking the sight up the AR-15 guy's torso, stitching him with 9 mm hollow point bullets. The AR-15 fired wild and high, like a baseball closer losing control of his fastball. Mahegan rolled toward the rapidly dying man, who was no longer holding the AR-15, and came up to one knee, using the arm of the leather sofa as a prop for his shots at the man with the pistol.
He scanned the room, but didn't see the man. In his attackers place were the pockmarks from the AR-15 bullets riding up the pine paneling. Blood was splattered around the lower bullet holes, looking like those fake gunshot stickers that rednecks put on their trucks.
From his protected position, he quickly checked the AR-15 guy, who was slumped dead against the screened porch door, blood still blossoming onto his dark shirt. Rising slowly, Mahegan kept his pistol aimed in the direction of the pistol-wielding man until he noticed that the attacker had taken two shots in the torso — one lower left and the other upper right.
He was still alive as Mahegan approached him. His breathing was a labored wheeze.
"Who?" Mahegan asked.
He stared at the man whose neck and head were slumped against the wall. The body was splayed at a forty-five-degree angle to the river-rock fireplace, as if he was just resting in the nook between the wall and the chimney. Blood was running out of one corner of his mouth, and his eyes looked milky. After just a few shots from three weapons the cabin smelled like a gun range, cordite wafting into the open chimney flu.
Mahegan held his Tribal to the man's forehead and asked again, "Who?"
The man shook his closely shaved head twice before it lolled to one side, lifeless. Mahegan confirmed the man's death with a finger to the carotid artery. He searched the men and found nothing on either. They had removed any revealing information prior to entering the cabin. Mahegan didn't know who they worked for or who else might be headed his way. These two men had obviously compromised Zebra, and so he couldn't use it to communicate with Owens or O'Malley. The last thing he wanted to do was reveal their locations, assuming they were secure.
He replayed in his mind what the men had said.
It's going down right now. Everything, all at once.
Mahegan carried a government-issued smartphone that was encrypted with the latest technology to include the Zebra app, which was a combination secure locator service, distress signal, text eraser, and classified telephone. Once Mahegan read a text on his phone, it was automatically erased in five seconds. Texts that were not read in twelve hours were automatically deleted. It was better than Wickr and other secure e-mail and text apps, but not impenetrable, apparently.
Excerpted from "Direct Fire"
Copyright © 2018 A. J. Tata.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Tops in current patriot/anti-terrorist reading. A true military action adventure of bigger-than-life characters meeting today’s threats, home and aboard. All books can be read as stand-alone singles, but are best read in sequential order. Among the best and freshest reading I’ve done in years... Duncan Duvall
Confusing plot and characters - totally unbelievable and muddled - typical officer BS
Great action/technology read
Love the Jake M stories. Cannot wait for the next one!!!!!
Brilliant!! A.J Tata is fast becoming one of my favourite Authors. He certainly knows how to write very clever and interesting Action Thrillers. I thoroughly enjoyed the Intensity of this story, and the detail and background he has put into the characters. Jake Mahegan fits the mould perfectly for the smart, tough guy warrior, with his background in Special Forces he’s definitely a fighting machine, and someone you want on your side. The person calling themselves Jacknife was very confident in their ability as a killer. They fully expected the target to be asleep, and very easy to kill. However the killer wasn’t overly concerned if they came across anyone else in the house, as they could die as well. Either way it wouldn’t affect the overall mission. Jake Mahegan was used to people shooting at him, especially in his former life as an Army Paratrooper and ex-Delta Force Operative, so it’s no surprise to him when two men try to kill him. Little did America know that it was assisting the terrorist Zakir, in allowing their fighters into the country, and posing as Syrian Refugees. Jake seems to be the only person prepared to find out what’s really going on, especially when everyone else is trying to hunt him down for something he didn’t do. Luckily for Jake he’s not alone, and he has Cassie a very strong and confident female Army Ranger, to assist him in trying to get to the bottom of who’s responsible for all the terrorist activity. If you enjoy Action Thrillers then this is certainly a book worth reading. Seriously great entertainment from start to finish. Easily worth the 5 star rating.