Authors: Will Jordan
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Military, #Contemporary Fiction, #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers
Afghanistan, 2008. A Black Hawk helicopter carrying a senior CIA operative is shot down by a surface-to-air missile, its lone passenger taken hostage by a fanatical new insurgent group.
Knowing this man holds information vital to the ongoing conflict, the CIA bring in Ryan Drake and his elite Shepherd team to find and rescue their lost operative.
But nothing is what it seems, and within hours of arriving in the war-torn country, Drake and his team find themselves caught in a deadly conflict between a brutal terrorist warlord and the ruthless leader of a private military company.
And lurking in the shadows is a woman from Drake’s past determined to settle old scores …
While studying for a degree in IT, Will Jordan worked a number of part-time jobs, one of which was as an extra in television and feature films. Cast as a World War Two soldier, he was put through military bootcamp and taught to handle and fire weapons in preparation for the role. The experience piqued his interest in military history, and encouraged him to learn more about conflicts past and present. Having always enjoyed writing, he used this research as the basis for his first thriller,
, supplementing it with visits to weapon ranges in America and Eastern Europe to gain first-hand knowledge of modern weaponry. He lives in Fife with his wife and son, and is currently writing the third novel in the Ryan Drake series.
For Margaret, my rock
In 1839, British troops based in India invade Afghanistan, beginning the First Anglo-Afghan War. Despite their capturing key cities, a growing tide of rebellion forces the army to withdraw two years later. Subjected to constant ambushes, the entire force is annihilated.
It is considered one of the worst disasters in British military history.
16,500 British and Indian soldiers and civilians killed
Total number of Afghan deaths unknown
Parwan Province, Afghanistan, 8 August 2008
Dust and sand and rock, stretching from horizon to horizon.
Sitting perched by the open crew door on the side of the UH-60 Black Hawk chopper, Private Lawrence ‘Law’ Carter watched as the arid, wasted landscape of eastern Afghanistan slid by beneath them at 120 knots.
Everywhere he looked he saw withered fields, wind-scoured outcroppings of rock, endless stretches of open dusty ground and winding, tortuous valleys that led nowhere. All of it stretched out beneath him, fading away to a hazy yellow-grey horizon that masked details and defied any estimation of distance.
The whole country looked the way he imagined the Dust Bowl of the 1930s Midwest had been – all the life and colour bleached out of everything, scoured away by the relentless wind and dust.
What a hell of a place to be fighting a war over.
He tracked the six barrels of his door-mounted M134 Minigun slowly from left to right, not really expecting to see anything, but feeling the need to do something to ease the boredom. Cruising at 2,000 feet, they were too high for him to make out much on the ground anyway.
‘I heard they’re sending us out tomorrow night,’ a thin, nasal Texan voice remarked. Carter could almost picture the mischievous grin behind that voice. It belonged to Eric Myers; a pinched, red-headed San Antonio native who hadn’t even left his home state until he joined the army. ‘Night patrol, along the edge of the green zone. Captain’s got us specially picked out.’
‘Yeah? Who’d you blow to get that intel, Myers?’ another man asked, his voice deep and gruff. Dino Hernandez, a wiry Hispanic man from Fresno, California, who had enlisted to join his two older brothers.
‘It’s God’s honest truth, I swear,’ Myers promised, as if that meant anything. Roughly 50 per cent of whatever he said was pure bullshit. ‘Heard one of them tactical planning REMFs talking about it. We’re on the company HQ shit list, you mark my words, brother.’
REMF, or Rear Echelon Mother Fucker, was a colloquial and obviously none too flattering term for anyone involved in the planning, but not the execution, of front-line ops.
on the shit list,’ Carter replied, turning away from the Dust Bowl terrain to speak to Myers. ‘Your number’s been up ever since that fuck-up with the 203.’
During a firefight with Taliban insurgents several months previously, Myers, fancying himself the hero, had crouched on the flat roof of a building, taken aim at his elusive target and triggered off his M203 grenade launcher, only for the high-explosive round to slam into the stone parapet right in front of him. Fortunately for him, the projectile was designed not to arm itself until it had travelled around 20 metres.
‘I guess they really are retard-proof after all,’ Hernandez concluded, laughing at the memory of
Myers’ panic-stricken leap from the roof, his former bravado gone.
Carter couldn’t help laughing as well, and after a few moments of stubborn silence, even Myers joined in.
But one man who wasn’t laughing was the fourth occupant of the crew cabin. A real gloomy customer sitting at the aft bench on the port side, directly behind Carter.
The young private couldn’t help but look at him again.
He was easily in his fifties, he guessed, with a tanned, deeply lined face hidden by a greying beard that made him look a lot older. Clearly he’d been in-country a while. His eyes were staring out at the Dust Bowl through the grimy window beside him, dark and pensive.
There was a tension, a nervousness about the guy that put Carter on edge. The fact that he hadn’t spoken a word to any of the men on board the chopper since they’d lifted off from Firebase Hammer thirty minutes ago only added to his disquiet. He had been bundled aboard at the last minute; a hitcher, a foreign and not altogether welcome presence.
He wasn’t military – that much was obvious. There was no name tag on his body armour, no unit badge or rank insignia on his clothing. Nothing to identify him at all, in fact.
None of them had said it out loud, but they were all thinking the same thing. The guy was a spook, either CIA or NSA or some other clandestine group that was way above their pay grade. Part of another world that neither Carter nor the others had any desire to join.
But what was he doing on their chopper?
Unknown to Carter, a pair of binoculars was trained on the lumbering chopper as it beat a path through the
dusty sky, exhaust fumes shimmering from the engine outlets. The thud of the main rotors from two miles away was just faintly audible in the warm air, but getting louder as the chopper approached.
The hands clutching the binoculars were big, square and strong, the digits – all eight of them – thick and powerful, hardened and calloused by years of manual labour. The last two fingers on the left hand were missing, terminating in lopsided stumps just before the first knuckle.
The field glasses were lowered, revealing a lean, gaunt face, prematurely lined and marked by a lifetime of conflict and hardship. A man, middle-aged, halfway through a life that had been neither short nor easy.
Dark eyes surrounded by deep crow’s feet surveyed the rapidly approaching target, the keen mind behind them imagining the sequence of events that was about to play out.
The men inside the chopper were confident and complacent, oblivious to what was coming. They thought themselves safe, protected by altitude and armour and technology.
They thought wrong.
Myers was about to launch into another story when suddenly high-pitched threat warnings started blaring from the cockpit, the aircraft’s on-board computers screaming a warning that they were being targeted by something.
Instantly Carter felt himself tense up, his heart rate soaring as his body prepared itself for a danger it didn’t understand. He was a gazelle on the African plains that had just spotted a lion stalking him in the long grass. Death coming for him.
In his mind he begged for it to be a false alarm. An instrument malfunction, a blip from a nearby radar array, even some asshole on the ground with a radar gun who was curious to know how fast military choppers really travelled.
‘We’re being lit up,’ the pilot warned.
A moment later, the bleeping alarms changed to a constant, high-pitched tone.
‘Shit! We’re locked up. We’re locked up.’
‘Anybody see anything?’ the co-pilot called out.
Leaning out further, Carter looked down towards a range of low hills off to the east, saw an innocuous little puff of white smoke and felt his blood run cold.
The missile was about 1.5 miles from its target when the operator depressed the trigger. Just shy of 2,500 metres. It left its launch tube an instant later, propelled by a small disposable ejector unit that fell harmlessly away after serving its purpose. The main rocket motors kicked in a second later, and with a tearing roar the missile accelerated up to Mach 2.2 – more than twice the speed of sound.
‘Missile inbound!’ he yelled, more through instinct than intent.
The pilot’s reaction was immediate. ‘Hang on.’
Jinking the stick left and jamming the throttles wide open, he put them in a hard turn to port under full power, raising the collective to claw for more altitude. He was no nervous rookie on his first flight, but a seasoned veteran of the Afghan theatre who had been shot at by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire more times than he could count. He knew all the tricks, and how best to exploit them.
Turn, increase speed, gain altitude.
The Black Hawk was no Apache gunship. Its turns
were slow and lazy by comparison, like a luxury sedan set against an F1 racing car, but even then the sudden violence of the turn was enough to push Carter forcefully down into his seat.
An instant later, the chopper ejected a stream of bright incandescent flares from both sides, designed to confuse and disorient incoming warheads that might be homing in on the heat from their engines.
All of it was futile, because the missile stalking them had been designed to defeat such things. Ignoring the flares, it came straight at them: 1,000 feet, 500 feet, 200 feet.