Authors: Stephen Templin
Dead in Damascus
Dead in Damascus
A Special Operations Group Short Story
THE PAGES TURN THEMSELVES…
Dead in Damascus,
stick around for your complimentary excerpt of
Trident’s First Gleaming
. Learn more about the book here:
For death begins with life’s first breath, and life begins at touch of death.
hris Paladin’s taxi soared through the black morning wasteland like a Valkyrie out of Valhalla, filling his muscles with tension. Laughter boomed from his SEAL Team Six Teammate, Kapua, the Hawaiian giant seated behind him. It was a wonder their CIA driver could see where he was going in the dark hours of the morning as they put distance between them and their base in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. At any moment, they could fly off a ravine or crash into a sand berm, instantly killing everyone in the car, but Chris and Kapua had always been lucky. When others dropped out of Hell Week, the duo remained—albeit unshaven and covered in sand mixed with their own snot, drool, and piss. Later, as they joined SEAL Team Three in Iraq, they lost some of their brothers, but Chris and Kapua survived. When they tried out for SEAL Team Six together, other SEALs didn’t make it past Green Team, but Chris and Kapua did. Although assigned to different platoons, they were reunited for this one mission because of their joint ability to slay enemies. Chris and Kapua were at the top of their game, and there was no end in sight to their winning streak.
. It was a simple, yet effective mantra. With the thought of that one word, Chris automatically inhaled deeply and slowly before he exhaled long, banishing any negative thoughts. He continued to focus on his mantra until all the kinks bled out of his muscles.
In the back seat next to Kapua sat Hannah Andrade, a crack CIA officer who recruited agents and gathered intel on the enemy for the SEALs to do their duty. She was a chameleon with Middle Eastern features, fluent in Farsi and Spanish, who could appear insignificant one moment, but when she turned on the charm, she could make most men brag about themselves—especially their secrets. She was also a former regional mixed martial arts middleweight who could hold her own if things got physical, and although she was proficient with firearms, the Agency didn’t provide her the time or training to reach the skill level of Chris and Kapua—which is why she brought them along—they were about to venture to where the wild things were.
They’d headed southeast through the desert and, after confirming there was no surveillance behind, the driver circled around and motored northwest. Gradually, the darkness from the dust lightened to a gray haze, and the sloping shapes of berms appeared. Soon they crossed the Syrian border and passed stretches of desert, farms, and small villages. The driver stopped in a town at a bazaar where shopkeepers opened for business.
Foregoing the dress-right-dress mentality of the conventional military, Chris and Kapua had grown beards and longish hair and wore white ghutrahs on their heads and white Didashah robes. Underneath their robes they wore camouflage clothing and carried Glock 9mm pistols with spare ammo. Their robes had customized Velcro cutaways, so they could access their weapons and ammo quickly. Similarly, Hannah wore a black abaya with a head and face cover that only exposed her eyes. She also carried a pistol with ammo. They would be better armed with assault rifles, but those would be difficult to hide while sitting for lunch, so they sacrificed firepower for concealment.
Chris, Kapua, and Hannah stepped out of the taxi and strolled into the bazaar. The rising sun swiftly burned off the cool of the desert morning as a man on a donkey pulled a cart full of vegetables. The trio walked a surveillance detection route (SDR) through the myriad of shops, which provided multiple venues for Chris, Kapua, and Hannah to exit and enter. Because the customers had yet to arrive and the walkways were mostly clear, an enemy surveillance team would need to move in close and expose themselves or lag far away and risk losing Chris’s team. On one of the walkways, the trio surprised a feral cat that leaped away.
After completing their SDR, they exited the bazaar and boarded a second Agency taxi. Their new driver weaved through the roads leeward of the Anti-Lebanon Mountain, taking them under an ashen sky into a sprawl of white buildings: the heart of Damascus.
The taxi came to a halt, and Chris, Kapua, and Hannah departed the vehicle. The mountains blocked most of the sea winds and rain from reaching them, intensifying the dry heat. Too much time in this oven could sap one’s energy and eventually cause death. As Chris and Kapua escorted Hannah on foot through the busy streets, they scanned the area for threats.
“You know, we should really have more firepower for this,” Kapua said.
“That’s why I picked you and Chris,” Hannah said.
“Your asset is coming alone, right?” Kapua asked.
“That’s the plan,” she said calmly.
“But he could show up with others,” Kapua said.
Hannah walked as if she didn’t have a care in the world—a façade she wore well. “Anything is possible.”
Kapua shook his head. “We should have more firepower.”
They passed an elderly street vendor selling chilled cactus fruit from a portable freeze box under an abnormous umbrella, and he called out his presence by tapping brass bowls together like cymbals. Nearby, a big-shouldered woman complained to a young shopkeeper that his vegetables were bruised and that he should lower the price, but he defended his produce and prices. An aroma of baked kibbeh wafted into Chris’s nostrils as he and his partners cut across a street to a restaurant called Jasmine.
Inside, he tried to appear nonchalant while observing the customers for signs of danger. There were only a handful of diners in the place and half of the tables remained empty.
Does anyone’s face or gestures show nervousness or anger? Where are their hands? Are they armed?
He began to calculate how he could kill each and every person in the restaurant. To an outsider, it might seem cold-blooded, but if someone suddenly became a combatant, Chris already had a plan.
They chose one of the thick wooden tables away from the windows, in case fireworks erupted outside. They’d arrived at their destination nearly an hour earlier than their appointed rendezvous, so they had time to spot anyone attempting to set up an ambush on them. Chris had already scanned for exits: the door they’d entered from, windows, a side door, and through the kitchen and out the back.
The waiter arrived, and Chris spoke fluent Arabic, ordering drinks while his party “waited for a friend.”
Kapua looked at Hannah and quietly asked, “How sure are you that Najeeb is going to show?”
“Fifty-fifty,” she said.
Kapua gave Chris a look of concern as if to say,
Fifty-fifty, what the hell?
Kapua hadn’t worked with her before, but Chris had. “That’s what she always says,” Chris said, “but the assets show.”
“Najeeb had a falling out with AQ, and they killed his wife and child to punish him,” she said, reinforcing what she’d said earlier at the mission brief. “Since then, he has been collecting intel for us, and now he’s ready to come over.”
They drank and talked quietly for about an hour, then a man with a scraggly beard and dirty, wrinkled clothes walked into the restaurant and fidgeted as he glanced nervously around. During the brief, Hannah had shown a surveillance photo and reported that he was in his thirties, but now he looked older.
“That’s him,” Hannah said.
After the man spotted her, he rushed for her table, almost bumping into a waiter. When Najeeb sat, Chris’s senses rose to high alert, and he checked for anyone who might be following.
“You ready to go?” Hannah asked.
“I don’t know,” Najeeb said in English.
The waiter interrupted, handing them menus—everything was written in Arabic—then left to give them a moment to decide.
Najeeb’s eyes darted around the restaurant before he gave his menu to Hannah. “Not hungry.”
“Chris, can you order us something, so we can look like we’re enjoying a meal?” she asked sweetly.
“Sure.” When the waiter returned, Chris ordered, and the waiter gathered up the menus.
Najeeb leaned over the table and spoke quietly, “The man in charge is Professor Mordet. He supervise bomb cell that make IEDs in Syria. And he supervise other cell that smuggle bombs into Iraq. They plant on roadside and use cell phone to detonate.” He took out a flash drive and showed it to Hannah. “I put all information in here.”
Hannah nodded. “We can protect you. You can live in the US like we talked about.” Of course, that all depended on his intel being as good as he claimed it was, but Hannah must’ve told Najeeb that before because she didn’t mention it now.
“You not understand,” Najeeb said. “They will find me.”
“They won’t find you,” Hannah said. “I’ll make sure.”
“How can make sure?”
Two stern-eyed burly men walked into the restaurant and studied the interior, and Chris reacted by discreetly separating the Velcro on his hip, drawing his pistol, and covertly wielding it under the table. Kapua’s slight movements indicated to Chris that his buddy was doing the same.
Najeeb’s drinking glass erupted, one of the restaurant windows had shattered, and a shot sounded—for a split moment, space and time seemed jumbled. Without thinking, Chris crouched and brought his weapon up to search for targets. Najeeb fell out of his chair, and Hannah pulled him away from the line of fire. Kapua flipped over the table with a loud thud, creating a shield for them. One waiter froze and the other dove to the deck as two customers upped and dashed for the side door.
The stern-eyed burly pair seemed to have spotted Najeeb, and they lifted their robes, exposing their AK-47 rifles, and then raised them in Najeeb’s direction. Chris still hadn’t figured out where the original shot had come from, but using the upturned table for cover, he popped the quickest-moving burly guy twice in the upper body before shifting to the slower guy and popping him once in the chest. Chris’s adrenaline pumped so madly, and his mind sped so quickly that the world around him decelerated. Chris’s shooting instructor Ron Hickok told him that body shots were effective for slowing a man down, but the only sure way of stopping a man was a head shot. The fear struck Chris that he wasn’t moving quickly enough, but he ignored it and took the time to adjust his own body position for a clearer line of sight and aimed at the slower man’s face. Chris squeezed the trigger, causing the man’s head to snap back. With the same efficiency, Chris dispatched the other man.
Kapua blasted in the direction of the shattered window—he must’ve picked up the shooter who Chris hadn’t seen. Hannah and Najeeb crawled away, toward the kitchen, following the retreat of waiters. The remaining customers fled the restaurant through the side door.
Outside, more men with AKs descended on the restaurant. Chris and Kapua didn’t have to kill them all, but they did have to protect Hannah and Najeeb. The enemy muzzles flashed. Inside, windows imploded, and a salvo of projectiles ripped into Chris and Kapua’s table. The wood wouldn’t hold much longer before the bullets broke through. Chris and Kapua scrambled to another table, and Chris flipped it to its side. He and Kapua used it as a shield while they busted caps in the direction of the muzzle flashes. Chris’s gun ran dry, and with a fluid motion, one hand ejected the empty magazine while the other brought up a fresh one. He inserted the full magazine and depressed the slide stop release. The slide sprang forward and a new cartridge loaded into the chamber.
Hannah and Najeeb had disappeared into the kitchen, and now it was time for Chris and Kapua to do their vanishing act, too. In training and in real firefights, Chris and Kapua had learned to read each other’s minds—words were unnecessary. They gave the enemy one last taste of lead, but just as they turned toward the kitchen to make their escape, a loud
sounded behind the duo—the distinctive sound of a rocket-propelled grenade with their names on it. The RPG exploded. Its concussion caused Chris to stumble and nearly popped his eardrums. On either side of Chris and Kapua, chairs and tables scattered as if thrown by a typhoon, but Chris and Kapua remained on their feet.
They tumbled into the kitchen and joined Hannah. Najeeb was under a nearby table, shaken, but he seemed unharmed. Waiters and kitchen staff were hunkered down for safety. Chris squatted as he threw open the back door and aimed his weapon outside. Bullets snapped the air where he would’ve been standing, and he spotted ruptures of light in the direction from where the shots had come from. Instinctively, he fired at the flickers, and the outline of a man dropped. Chris glanced down the opposite way of the shady alley where a frightened woman froze in fear. “Clear!”
He glanced behind to find Hannah and Najeeb following while Kapua brought up rear security. Chris slipped into the alley and while headed in the direction of their vehicle, gave the fallen enemy a security round—a shot to the head to make sure he wasn’t playing possum. Gunshots sounded behind them, the smaller caliber of Kapua’s pistol, but Chris had his responsibility in front and couldn’t neglect it. He trusted Kapua to cover their six.
Chris made his way around the block to the car, where the Agency guy was in the driver’s seat and had the engine running. Chris swung open the back door and covered for his crew as they piled in the back. Then Chris took his seat up front beside the driver. Before he could close the passenger door, the Agency driver burned rubber. Chris tried not to fall out as he snatched the door handle and slammed the door shut. He observed everything in front while Kapua kept a lookout behind. Chris’s nerves stretched taut. He’d taken a couple wood splinters in the leg, and now he pulled one out and flicked it on the floorboard. “Anyone wounded?” he asked.