Jack Ryan, Jr. would do anything for Ding Chavez. That's why Jack is currently sitting in an open-air market in Israel, helping a CIA team with a simple job. The man running the mission, Peter Beltz, is an old friend from Ding's Army days. Ding hadn't seen his friend since Peter's transfer to the CIA eighteen months prior, and intended to use the assignment to reconnect. Unfortunately, Ding had to cancel at the last minute and asked Jack to take his place. It's a cushy assignment--a trip to Israel in exchange for a couple hours of easy work, but Jack could use the downtime after his last operation.
Jack is here merely as an observer, but when he hastens to help a woman and her young son, he finds himself the target of trained killers. Alone and outgunned, Jack will have to use all his skills to protect the life of the child.
About the Author
Don Bentley spent a decade as an Army Apache helicopter pilot, and while deployed in Afghanistan was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal with "V" device for valor. Following his time in the military, Bentley worked as an FBI special agent focusing on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence and was a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team member.
Date of Birth:April 12, 1947
Date of Death:October 1, 2013
Place of Birth:Baltimore, Maryland
Education:Loyola High School in Towson, Maryland, 1965; B.A. in English, Loyola College, 1969
Read an Excerpt
Al Tanf Outpost, Syria
“Why are we here again?” Master Sergeant Cary Marks said, shifting his weight for what seemed like the hundredth time.
The two-man sniper hide site Cary and his spotter were nestled beneath offered a number of advantages to its occupants, not the least of which being near invisibility in both the thermal and visual spectrums. It was the closest thing to a Harry Potter cloak he’d seen in his decade and a half of service with 5th Special Forces Group.
But for all the hide site’s technical prowess, it still didn’t make the Syrian soil any more comfortable.
“Because we’re Special Forces,” Sergeant First Class Jad Mustafa said, tuning the focus on his M151 spotting scope. “That means we get to do special shit.”
As always, Jad’s gift of understatement had reared its ugly head. Special shit didn’t come anywhere close to capturing the pure and unadulterated joy that had been the last twelve hours. Per the techniques, tactics, and procedures Cary and his fellow long tabbers had perfected during their countless combat deployments in support of the never-ending war on terror, he and Jad had infiltrated about 0300 local time.
This hour was not randomly chosen. At this time of year BMNT, or Begin Morning Nautical Twilight, was at 0500. This was the time of day when the human eye could start to discern objects from shadows. This was important for a number of reasons chief of which being that even after thousands of years of civilization, human beings were still attuned to the world around them. Though they might not recognize it as such, the average person’s circadian rhythms programmed them to feel restless around dawn.
With that in mind, Cary and Jad had wormed their way into the shallow depression they now occupied while the rest of the world was fast asleep. And while the rocky soil and surrounding scrub brush had provided exactly the hide hole they’d been hoping for, the accommodations were not exactly five star.
The two men had made camp on a sand flea nest.
A large one.
Green Berets might be renowned for their ability to destroy enemy forces much larger than their organic twelve-man A-teams, but this was a different kind of battle. Cary had been waging a bloody war of attrition against the little beasties, but the pecker fleas were winning.
“Goddamn it, Jad,” Cary said, trying to ignore the burning sensation dangerously close to his right testicle. “Can’t you just call up some of your cousins and figure this out?”
“Hey now,” Jad said. “Just because a bunch of biters are munching their way up your leg doesn’t mean you need to get all cranky. Besides, I’m Libyan, not Syrian, you uneducated hick.”
The language exchanged between the two special operators was harsh, but the sentiment behind it was anything but. The two men couldn’t have looked more different. Cary Marks was a blue eyed, blond haired farm boy from New England whose vowels gave away his Yankee roots under moments of duress. Jad Mustafa’s dark complexion and SoCal surfer accent made him Cary’s polar opposite. Jad was suave where Cary was simple, and Jad’s teammates often kidded him about being a SEAL in disguise due to his affinity for hair gel and fashionable clothes.
But despite their differences, the men were opposite sides of the same coin. Physically, their years serving on an Operational Detachment Alpha, or ODA, team had given them bodies uniquely suited to their type of work. Both boasted wide shoulders, broad backs, and well developed chests complimented by an endurance athlete’s lung capacity.
Mentally, the pair were even more alike. Though each man’s upbringing and cultural heritage was radically different, this wasn’t important. As with most men and women who served in the armed forces, and certainly those within the special operations community, differences in skin color and nationality ceased to matter long ago. In the Army there was but a single skin color—green—and just one blood type—red.
After half a dozen shared combat deployments, Cary and Jad were brothers in a way that superseded such trivial matters as birth parents or family lineage. Theirs was a familial bond conceived in the most arduous training the military offered, birthed in the fires of combat, and nurtured into the bone deep trust only shared by men who’ve guarded each other’s backs as bullets whipped past their heads.
The two Green Berets might pick at each other, but woe to the uninformed observer who tried to come between them.
“That’s funny,” Cary said, panning his Sig Sauer TANGO6T Riflescope across his sector, “’cause when we were in Iraq, I’m pretty damn sure you said you were Lebanese.”
“That’s because you listen about as well as you shoot. Which we both know is for shit. Without me as your spotter, you’d—wait a minute now. Boss, I think I’ve got something.”
The change in Jad’s tone was unmistakable. Though Cary had whiled away countless uncomfortable hours shoulder to shoulder with his barrel-chested spotter in more combat theatres than he cared to count, the half Lebanese, half Syrian and all American Green Beret knew not to mix business with pleasure.
As soon as Jad started referring to Cary as boss the time for joking was over.
“Whatcha got, brother?” Cary said.
“Convoy of three land cruisers headed toward the front gate. Shift three hundred meters west of point Alpha and you’ll see ‘em.”
Cary swung his rifle to the prescribed azimuth and turned on the laser range finder mounted to his scope ring. In that instant, the stifling heat, glaring sun, tired muscles, and even the merciless pecker fleas gnawing their way up his inner thigh were forgotten. This was no longer a game of hide in the dirt and hope for the best. The convoy of factory-new vehicles with tinted windows, sparkling paint jobs, and shiny black tires didn’t fit the surroundings.
They were an anomaly.
And anomalies were what Cary was paid to notice.
Though to be fair, nothing about the compound the men were surveilling approached normal. And in Syria, that was saying something. Rather than the traditional stucco walls that denoted a compound or the concrete and cinder block houses that signified more modern accommodations, the structure one thousand meters distant was unique.
As in Cary hadn’t seen anything like it anywhere.
Earthen berms that stretched fifteen feet tall and ten wide formed something more reminiscent of a medieval castle than a middle eastern homestead. The sand and dirt had been bulldozed into a natural barrier and flattened on top into a plateau wide enough to situate fighting positions equipped with crew served weapons. Early that morning, Cary had watched stupefied as vehicles drove on top of the densely packed barriers, bringing to mind the stories of chariot races atop the walls of the Biblical city of Jericho.
Cary hadn’t seen any chariots yet, but after hours of logging the occupants’ comings and goings, he wouldn’t be surprised. Unlike the hodgepodge of vehicles common to Syria’s many militias and self-proclaimed armies, the earthen fortress’s occupants had a motor pool with a surprising amount of sophistication.
Cary had already noted a half a dozen technical vehicles, but on closer inspection, the converted Hilux trucks didn’t have the Mad Max look he’d expected. Traditionally, militia groups paired their vehicles with outsized weapons like DShK antiaircraft machine guns or an M40 recoilless rifles. Matches like this were just as likely to destroy the host vehicle as the target at which they were aimed.
No, what Cary had observed reflected a customized integration between vehicle and armament. The compound’s weapons tech wasn’t some fly by night machinist recruited into turning out weapons of war. The Hiluxes prowling the fortress’s walls resembled something that might have been produced in a 5th Special Forces Group motor pool back in Kentucky.
This was, to say the least, troubling.
And that was before he’d seen the Humvees.
About two hours into his watch, Cary had gotten the shock of his life when a pair of up armored Hummers had taken a turn around the south side of the compound. The vehicles still had US markings leading him to believe he was seeing an American patrol. He’d been on the verge of calling in his discovery when the doors had opened and Syrians poured out. Promised mystery visitor aside, the presence of American Humvees were worth investigating by themselves.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance.
Cary and Jad had planned their observation post after spending hours poring over satellite and drone imagery, searching for a spot that would offer both concealment and line of sight into the fortress.
They’d only managed one of the two goals.
Biting fleas aside, Cary was pretty happy with the seclusion offered by their vantage point. But visibility inside the compound was a big miss. He could see some of the buildings on the far side of the fortress, but the walls were just too steep to get eyes on much more. After disgorging their passengers and loading up the old guard shift, the Hummers drove back along the wall and then took a ramp to the fortress’s interior where they promptly disappeared from view.
Even so, Cary had elected to remain in position. Mystery Hummers aside, the sniper’s nest offered a commanding view of the roads approaching the compound, and the Agency asset who’d been the genesis of this operation had been firm on this point. The important visitors the asset claimed were coming would be approaching from the west in tricked out, black SUVs.
And here they were.
“Who do you think are our mystery guests?” Cary said.
“Fuck if I know, boss. The guys inside are a cult, right?”
“That’s what the intel folks believe,” Cary said, cheek still welded to his rifle’s stock.
The CIA case officer had tried his best to explain, but Cary was still a bit iffy about what was going on behind the earthen walls. Something about an apocalyptic cult. If he remembered correctly, the head dude was convinced he was an ancient Shia Imam reincarnated.
Or something like that.
Like most Green Berets, Cary was an expert on a good many things. That said, weighing on whether the head crazy on the other side of the Jericho walls really was a holy man reborn was a bit outside his wheelhouse. Then again, as long as the cult members kept to themselves, Cary didn’t really care whether the guy inside thought he was Mohamad, Jesus, or Elvis.
As was the case with most of the men and women who made a living going into harm’s way, as long as the folks in question weren’t bothering anyone, Cary was a big fan of live and let live. There were already plenty of malcontents the world over actively working to visit hellfire and brimstone on American’s sons and daughters.
No sense creating any new ones.
But based on what Cary had observed, he had to grudgingly admit that the folks inside the compound didn’t much look like they intended to keep to themselves. People who were content to peacefully wait in seclusion for the end of times didn’t usually arm themselves with crew served weapons and American Humvees. And the thing most apocalyptic cults the world over had in common was that they were rarely willing to sit passively by while their prophecy unfolded. In fact, many of them believed their leader had a role to play in bringing about the end of the world.
And that role usually involved the shedding of innocent blood.
In this case, the Agency spook asked the Green Berets to keep the compound under surveillance in an attempt to learn how the crazies intended to bring about the apocalypse. And perhaps more importantly, whether or not they had help.
If Cary had to guess, the cult’s plan for world destruction probably had something to do with murderous pecker fleas. But guessing wasn’t the same thing as knowing. The asset said the people who were arming the crazies would arrive in a trio of black vehicles.
And here they were.
“Satellite uplink ready?” Cary said, holding his aim point on the center vehicle.
Cary didn’t know who these guys were, but statistically, the middle vehicle in a convoy usually had the best chance of surviving an IED. If there was an Important Person in this motorcade, that’s where he’d be.
“Negative on the uplink,” Jad said. “We’re getting interference from somewhere.”
Given that the two snipers had just checked in with their team leader via satellite uplink less than thirty minutes ago, Cary didn’t think the sudden loss of connection was a coincidence. In the more than two plus decades since the war on terror had kicked off in earnest, tactical technology had progressed by leaps and bounds. While the U.S. had been behind many of the most exponential advances, America’s adversaries had done a respectable job of trying to thwart the technology overmatch.
Case in point, terrorist organizations didn’t have fifth generation fighters equipped with smart bombs, but more and more were using equipment that jammed the GPS signal that guided smart bombs to their targets. By the same token, the bad guys in Cary’s weapon’s sight probably didn’t have a constellation of geosynchronous cube sats to ensure uninterrupted communications.
But they just might possess the ability to jam the necessary wavelengths.
Either way, this wasn’t Cary’s concern. In the lexicon of Green Berets, he was an Eighteen Charlie—a Special Forces Engineer specializing in demolition. Jad on the other hand was an Echo—a communications expert capable of fashioning a radio from a coat hanger, car battery, and calculator.
Or at least it seemed that way to Cary. If there was a way to re-establish the satellite uplink, Jad would do it. Otherwise the sniper team would do things the old fashion way—take pictures and then wait until nightfall to exfil and carry the intelligence they’d gathered back to the COP, or Combat Outpost, they called home.
“Roger that,” Cary said, maintaining his sight picture on the rear passenger’s window. “Keep recording.”
In addition to riding in the middle vehicle, Important People usually sat in the back, behind the front passenger’s seat. This allowed the muscle on the passenger side of the vehicle to take care of business while the precious cargo hunkered down behind armored doors and Kevlar-reinforced seats.
While this little excursion had been briefed solely as a sneak and peak, Cary viewed every operation as one mistake away from going kinetic. That way when the inevitable happened and steel started flying, he was prepared rather than surprised. Already the part of his mind occupied by the black magic practiced by every good sniper was considering dope, terminal ballistics, Coriolis effect, hold, relative wind, and a host of other arcane-sounding words.
In layman’s terms, Cary’s fire-control-computer-of-a-brain was calculating all the environmental factors that might or might not affect a shot he might or might not ever have to take. As his instructor had told him during the first day of Special Operations Target Interdiction Course, pressing the trigger was the easiest part of the job.
It was everything that happened prior that separated a sniper from a shooter.
A slight breeze tickled Cary’s cheek, probably no more than two or three miles per hour. Even so, it might be worth asking Jad for a formal wind check just in case things didn’t go according to plan. That was the second most important lesson he’d learned at sniper school—nothing ever went according to plan.
This truism applied to both sides of the battlefield.
As if to drive this notion home, a blast of dirt and rubber erupted from beneath the SUV as the front tire exploded. A second later, the breeze carried the sharp pop to Cary’s ears.
“Looks like someone forgot to pick up their tire spikes,” Jad said. “Sucks for our guy.”
“Yep,” Cary said. “But great for us. Get ready for the money shot.”
“Come on darling,” Jad whispered, “hike up your skirt.”
At first the SUV’s driver seemed determined to roll through the checkpoint. Then, physics stepped in. The front tire was done. Not only was the wheel deflated, but the rubber had disintegrated around the rim. The engine revved, and the wheel spun, churning away what was left in black, spongy chunks, but the truck wasn’t going anywhere.
“No run flats,” Jad said.
“Nope,” Cary said. “Looks like he’s going to try and ride in on the rim.”
“Not going to work,” Jad said. “Too sandy.”
Once again, his spotter proved prescient. The now rubber-less rim spun impotently, throwing up a fountain of rocks and dirt as the vehicle settled into the soil. After several seconds spent trying to rock the truck free, the roaring engine idled.
“Protection detail fucked this one up,” Cary said. “They should have evac-ed the Principal by now. If this had been an ambush, the middle vehicle would already be toast.”
“Hard to find good help,” Jad said. “Okay, here we go.”
The passenger-side doors of the lead and trail vehicles opened in unison, releasing a scrum of gun-toting occupants who swarmed over the middle vehicle. Only once the screen was fully in place did the rear passenger door open.
“All right, beautiful,” Jad said, “show me see your face.”
Cary increased the magnification on his optic, centering it on the opening door. A moment later a bearded face swam into view.
A familiar, bearded face.
“Well son of a bitch,” Cary said. “Look who’s slumming with the locals.”
“You recognize him?” Jad said.
“Indeed I do. Contrary to popular belief, you Syrians do not all look alike.”
“I’m not Syrian you racist son of a bitch. I’m Libyan. Now tell me who we’re seeing before I whoop your farm boy ass.”
“That my uneducated friend is General Farhad Ahmadi.”
“As in commander of the Iranian Quds Force?”
“One and the same.”
“What’s he doing with a cult hell bent on bringing about the apocalypse?”