Hunting in the Shadows (American Praetorians)

BOOK: Hunting in the Shadows (American Praetorians)
13.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub










in the


Peter Nealen










This is a work of fiction.  Characters and incidents are products of the author’s imagination.  Real locations are used fictitiously.


Copyright 201
3 Peter Nealen


All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, to include, but not exclusive to, audio or visual recordings of any description without permission from the author.



Hunting in the Shadows
, Praetorian Security, and the Praetorian Security Logo are all trademarks of Peter Nealen.  All rights reserved.


Printed in the United States of America



Chapter 1


              After enough time in hostile environments, you begin to develop a sixth sense for what the military calls the “atmospherics” of a place.  Your mind starts to pick up on all the little cues that tell you whether you’re in a relatively safe area or somewhere that things are about to go very, very bad.  You can look at the young men loitering on the street and figure out if they’re just being lazy or getting ready to start a riot or trigger an ambush.

We hadn’t even been on the ground in Kirkuk for a day, and that sense was already going gangbusters.

Even before Jim and I got in our Bongo truck and rolled out of the Kurdish quarter at about 0200, there was a sense of impending violence in the air.  The safehouse we had set up was as deep in Kurdish territory as you could get in this divided city, but there really weren’t any hard and fast barriers in Kirkuk.  An IED had gone off in the Rahim Awa Square less than a mile away only a week before we got there.  There had been several shootings just across from the Arrafa Estate over the last month.  That said something about how far downhill things had gotten; Arrafa was pretty swank.  Generally speaking, rich Arabs didn’t do their own shooting and bombing.  They contracted that out to the poor suckers they could convince would go to Paradise for killing a few infidels.  Or Kurds.  Or Shi’ites.  You get the idea.

We were both armed, though most of the firepower was under false panels in the floor of the truck, in case we got stopped by the Iraqi Police.  Needless to say, they wouldn’t be terribly enthused by what we were carrying.  Technically, all Iraqis, which still included Kurds by default, were allowed one AK-47 or equivalent, with two magazines, for self-defense.  We weren’t Iraqis, for one thing.  And a heavily modified M1A with a tac scope along with a Mk17, along with about two hundred fifty rounds for each, plus grenades and spare magazines for concealed pistols, was way beyond anything regular Iraqis were going to be carrying.

We planned on keeping the lights on most of the time, trying not to look too suspicious.  There was supposed to be a curfew in place in Kirkuk, according to the IPs, but enforcement was spotty.  There really was no curfew in several of the larger neighborhoods of the city, by default.  That meant we could act like perfectly legal motorists, as long as we stuck to the lesser-patrolled portions of the city.

After a few turns through still well-lit streets, we turned onto the Kirkuk Highway and drove south, alongside the Khasa river, which was starting to dry up already.  City lights were reflected from time to time in its dwindling waters.

I couldn’t help but compare the streets of Kirkuk with what we had seen in East Africa the year before.  Jim and I had both been on Alek’s team and gone into first Djibouti and then Somalia, trying to find and secure some two hundred American servicemen and women who had been taken hostage by a network of jihadi militias and terror groups in the wake of a successful attack on the only major US base in the region, Camp Lemonier.  We had managed to get some of them out, and killed the mastermind of the whole operation in Yemen, but a lot of the hostages hadn’t made it.  Some we believed were still imprisoned in the Egyptian Mukhabarat’s new prison south of Cairo.

Most of Somalia had been a basket case for the better part of thirty years, and it showed.  Even established towns and cities were the next best thing to ruins, with power and sewer intermittent at best, nonexistent at worst.  Kirkuk was in a lot better shape, at least the Kurdish section.  Everything was still run-down, with trash and sewage in the streets, but there were actual sidewalks, commerce, and the power was actually on about seventy-five percent of the time.  Given the state of the rest of the world, that was actually pretty good.

As we left the Kurdish quarter, though, things changed.  There was more rubble, more bombed-out buildings.  Fewer blocks had power.  And the IP weren’t the only forces on the streets.

We spotted the little three-vehicle convoy just south of the ancient Turcoman Castle that has been the centerpiece of Kirkuk for millennia.  Two Opal sedans and a Toyota HiLux turned onto the highway about a hundred yards ahead, and headed south.  They were totally blacked out—no lights.  Jim eased off the gas to let us fall behind; we didn’t want to get close to anybody else on the road that night if we could help it.

Now, I was already wary enough of these guys.  They were obviously sticking together and had no lights on.  That made them sketchy to begin with.  When they turned at the same corner we were headed for, I got downright paranoid.

“I think these guys might be headed the same place we are,” I said.

“Maybe,” Jim replied.  “I’m not gonna panic until I see them pull up to the target house.”

But as we wove our way through the streets toward our destination, deep in the Nahijat Shurijah neighborhood, we kept seeing the same three vehicles just ahead of us.  We didn’t know about any friendly elements that might be out on the streets that night.  That made it pretty certain that whoever they were, they probably weren’t good guys.  And if they were
bad guys, they were probably out to kill the guy we were there to extract.

I shifted the panel beneath my feet, pulled out my rifle, and laid it on the floor at my feet before reaching in for the tac vest with my extra mags, first aid kit, and grenades.  I pulled the suppressor out of its pouch and quickly affixed it to the rifle muzzle.  “If they are after our guy, I hope they’ve got a good ruckus set up somewhere else,” I said.  Neutralizing a hit squad and getting our contact out would be hard enough.  Attracting official Iraqi attention with a gunfight without a substantial distraction to keep the IPs away would make it that much worse.

Jim grunted.  “Let’s hope
not the ruckus,” he said.

I looked across the cab at him.  He was pointedly watching the road.  “And I thought I was supposed to be the depressing bastard here,” I said.

“Hey,” he replied, as we made another turn behind our mystery convoy, “you’re a team lead now.  Voice of Doom is an assistant billet.”

I shook my head as I turned my attention back to our presumed hostiles.  “Fuck.  Promoted out of the job I pioneered.  What’s the world coming to?”

“It’s going to shit,” Jim said, “which you have been pointing out for years now.”  He let off the gas again.  We were only a few blocks from our destination, and sure enough, the three vehicles we’d been inadvertently tailing for the last few miles were stopping across the street from our target house.  “Can you get my rifle out?”

“Sure.”  It took moments to pull out Jim’s well-used Mk17 and his chest rig.  I handed them over and quickly pulled on my own vest.  Game time.

“Fucking hajjis,” I muttered, “fucking up my operation.”  I levered open the Bongo’s cheap fiberglass door and hit the street.

Both sides of the street were lined with close-packed, blocky, cinderblock houses; some were two story, some only one.  A few had arched windows.  Most of them were set back from the street, with walled courtyards out front.  Trees grew in most of the courtyards, raising their branches over the walls.  Most of the painted metal gates were closed, some of them chained shut.

I knelt next to the tire while Jim finished shrugging into his chest rig and slung his rifle.  I had my PVS-14 night vision goggles hanging from a cord around my neck; we hadn’t wanted to take the space to pack our FAST bump helmets with their NVG mounts.  I didn’t need them, anyway; there was enough light around to see what was going on well enough, which meant there was enough light to aim.

All three vehicles were stopped now, and the doors were open.  The men who got out were all dressed similarly; they wore loose, dark colored trousers and t-shirts.  A couple had their faces covered.  All of them were carrying weapons; I could make out the silhouettes of several folding-stock AKs, but there were a couple of submachine guns.  They milled around on the street for a minute before heading toward the very house I had been hoping they wouldn’t go for
—our target house.  I already had my phone out and had called the contact number.  The recognition codes took seconds to exchange.

“Listen to me very carefully,” I said.  “There are men here to kill you.  We are on the street outside, and
we will deal with them.  Do not move from your house until I call you to tell you it is clear.  Do you understand me?”

There was a moment’s hesitation, but I had identified
myself according to the protocols that had been set up, so he had no reason to disbelieve me.  “Yes,” the man replied.  I hung up.

I stepped out from the cover of the cab to where I could see Jim, and looked over at him.  He was set, his rifle held in the low ready, watching our unwelcome interlopers.  He looked over at me and nodded once.

As one, we raised our rifles and opened fire.

Our suppressors were very good.  That being said, it is impossible to truly “silence” a high powered rifle round.  They immediately knew they were being shot at, even before the first one collapsed on his face in the street.  They were still caught flat-footed.

I don’t know if they just hadn’t been paying attention to what was around them, or if they’d just been keeping an eye out for the Iraqi Police.  Either way, they weren’t prepared to get attacked from their flank as they moved in to make their hit.  Five of the ten went down in the first few seconds, crumpling as Jim and I fired as fast as we could settle our sights on a target.  The rest tried to run back to the vehicles.

One tried to open the door of the HiLux and climb into the cab.  I shot him through the door; the window shattered in a shower of bloody glass and he fell in the gutter with a splash.  Jim gunned down two more
that were trying to get behind one of the Opals and got tangled.  The last two threw down their weapons and ran.  Unfortunately for them, they ran down a perfectly straight street, away from the shooters.

I dropped one with a single round between the shoulder blades.  Jim hit the second in the head.  His skull splashed and he collapsed like a bag of disconnected bones.

In another time, shooting fleeing combatants in the back would have been a crime.  These days, it was self-preservation.  Too many well-meaning soldiers had let insurgents go only to be killed by the very people they showed mercy to a few days later.  Praetorian Security didn’t play that game, especially not after East Africa.

I let my rifle hang from its sling, and pulled out my phone.  It was a cheap, throwaway job that had been bought from a small telecom store just up the road from the safehouse.  It would be discarded before the night was over.

“The men who came to kill you are gone,” I explained, after the same identification mantra.  “Can you get out of your house by the back way?”

“Yes,” the man’s voice replied.  He had very little in the way of an accent.  “There is an empty lot behind the house.”

“We will meet you at the far corner of the square,” I told him, as Jim and I climbed back in the Bongo.  Jim had left the engine running, and simply put the truck in gear.  We’d leave the bodies for the IPs to worry about.  “We will be able to see you the entire time.”

“I understand,” the guy on the other end of the line said.  He didn’t seem as shaken up at the knowledge that men had just tried to kill him as I would have expected.  He was wary, that was for sure, but he wasn’t panicking.  Good.  I didn’t know shit about the guy, but he seemed to have a level head.  I just hoped that what was in his head was worth the trouble of picking him up.

Jim cruised slowly past the vehicles, managing to avoid running over the bodies, and turned the corner at the end of the street.  I was keeping an eye out for the Iraqi authorities, but now that our little fight was over, I could see and hear signs of a major disturbance a few miles away to the south.  Fire-lit smoke was billowing up from what had to have been an IED blast, and there was a crackle of small arms fire audible over the low hum of the Bongo’s engine.  So, the hit squad had indeed had a ruckus set up to distract the Police from their little operation here.

We took a long circle around the block, coming to a stop facing northwest at the corner of the long, rectangular plaza between four dense blocks of houses.  It looked like at one time there might have been a fountain or a statue in the center, but it was barren now.  I scanned to the northeast, where our contact should have been coming.

I spotted him after a moment, as he stepped out of the shadows in the empty lot he had been describing over the phone.  He looked around nervously before hurrying across the street and into the square.

I used my NVGs to scan the buildings surrounding the square.  Given the growing sophistication of some of the jihadi groups we’d encountered, I wouldn’t have put it past our friends out front to have set a sniper in to watch the back way.  Fortunately, there was no one in sight, and no shots were fired.

I realized I was assuming that the hit squad had been Al Qaeda or Jaysh al Mahdi, when that wasn’t necessarily the case.  While those two were the primary irregular forces in Iraq these days, there were plenty of gangs and jihadi splinter groups running around, especially in places like Kirkuk.  For all we knew, we’d just interrupted a robbery.  I doubted it, though.  The timing was too pat.

BOOK: Hunting in the Shadows (American Praetorians)
13.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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