As many of you know, I’m currently cowriting a thriller with Mike Kupari. This is a little different than most cowritten books, in that we’re both writing in the 1st person POV. Mike is writing the character of Valentine, a mercenary, and I’m writing the character of Lorenzo, a criminal. The book is basically two seperate, but intertwined stories. It flips back and forth, and no, they are not friends. In fact, every time they meet somebody ends up getting shot or stabbed. D6 is based on the Welcome Back, Mr. Nightcrawler serial from THR.
Mike is on active duty right now, but he is almost done with his half of the book, and should be done by New Years. Then we will be going through process of editing everything together, cleaning it up, and trying to sell it. This bit is from the 1st draft, so it is still very rough.
Here are the opening pages to Dead Six:
Cancun, Quintana Roo
There was an angel standing over me when I opened my eyes. She was speaking but I could barely hear. Every sound was muffled like I was underwater except for the rapid pounding of my heart. Am I dreaming? Am I dead?
“On your feet, damn it!” the beautiful angel snarled. She grabbed my load bearing vest and hauled me off my seat. My head was swimming and every bone in my body ached. At first I wasn’t sure where I was. It came back to me a moment later. We were still in the chopper. We’d crashed. The angel was pulling me toward the door. “Can you walk? Come on.”
“Wait,” I protested, steadying myself against the hull. “The others…” I turned to where my teammates were sitting. Several of them were still strapped into their seats, but they weren’t moving. Dim light poured through a gaping hole in the hull beside them. Smoke and dust moved in the light but behind that there was blood everywhere. My heart dropped into my stomach. I’d worked with these men for years.
“They’re dead, bro,” Tailor said, suddenly appearing in the doorframe. At least one of my friends had made it. “She’s right. We’ve got to get out of here before they start dropping ****ing mortars on us. This isn’t a good place to be.”
Still terribly disoriented, I shook my head. “Yeah…yeah, okay.”
“You’re in shock,” the angel said, pushing me through the door of our wrecked NH-90 helicopter. “What’s your name?” she asked as we stepped onto a large, tiled surface.
“V…Valentine,” I stammered, squinting in the early morning sun. “Where are we?”
“In a pool,” Tailor said, moving up a steep embankment ahead of me. “Ramirez is dead. Half the team’s gone.” He dropped a half-empty magazine out of his LWRC M6 and replaced it with a fresh one. “Hostiles will be on us quick. Are you locked and loaded?”
My head was clearing. I looked down at the DSA-58 FAL carbine in my hands, and retracted the bolt slightly. A .308 round was in the chamber. My good luck charm, a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, was still in its holster on my left thigh. I was still alive. It hadn’t let me down. “Yeah, I’m ready,” I said, following Tailor up the incline.
Our chopper had crashed in the deep end of a huge, pear-shaped swimming pool that had been mostly drained of water. It sat at an odd angle, still smoking, the camouflage-painted hull absolutely riddled with bullet holes. There were deep gashes in the tile where the rotor had struck.
“What happened?” I asked. The angel didn’t answer at first. I remembered then; her name was Ling, the one that had hired us. She followed me up the embankment, clutching a suppressed Sig 551 assault rifle.
“We crashed,” she said after a moment, as if I didn’t know that. “Don’t you remember?” We cleared the top of the incline. A handful of armed people waited for us in the shallow end of the empty pool. Aside from Tailor and me, only three were dressed in the green fatigues of my company, Vanguard Strategic Solutions. I closed my eyes and tried to catch my breath. “It’s coming back to me,” I said, trailing off. Ten of us had left on this mission. Half hadn’t made it. God damn it…
“You alright, Val?” Tailor asked. “I really need you with me, okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said, kneeling down to check my gear. “Just a little shaken up.” It was early morning, and apparently we’d landed in the middle of a sprawling resort complex. The city had once been covered in places like this, but now they were all abandoned. In front of us stood a cluster of white towers that must have been a luxury hotel. About a hundred yards behind us was the beach and ocean as far as the eye could see. The place had probably been evacuated back when the fighting started. It was dirty from disuse and littered with garbage and debris. Several plumes of smoke rose in the distance. Cancun had seen better days.
“Mr. Tailor.” I looked over at Ling as she talked. She was Chinese, and was dressed in black fatigues and body armor. “You’re in charge now, correct? We must keep moving.”
With Ramirez gone, Tailor had just been promoted to team leader. He quickly looked around, taking in our surroundings. “And where in the hell do you want to go? This part of town is covered in hostiles.” His East Tennessee twang more pronounced with his anger.
“Somewhere that is not here. I have multiple wounded,” Ling said, nodding toward the rest of her teammates, all members of the same mysterious Exodus organization that had hired us for this mission. Like her, they were heavily armed and dressed in black. They were clustered in a tight circle in near the edge of the pool, waiting for instructions. In the middle of them was a young girl. She appeared no more than fifteen, and was being tended to by their medic. “We have to get her out.”
“Look, damn it,” Tailor exclaimed, “We’ll get your precious package out. That was the deal.” He jerked a thumb at the young girl as he spoke. “Let me try to get help again.” Tailor squeezed the radio microphone on his vest and spoke into it. “Ocean-Four-One, this is Switchblade-Six-Alpha.”
While Tailor tried to raise the base, our team sharpshooter, Skunky, ran over to see if I was okay. He was a skinny Asian guy, in his mid-20s like me. He clutched a scoped, accurized M14 rifle in his hands. “Dude, you’re alive.”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, standing up. “What the **** happened?”
“They hit us with some kind of big gun right after we took off. It punched that hole in the chopper. The pilots were hit with frag…they died trying to find a place to land.”
Tailor looked over at us, flustered. “I can’t raise the base. I still can’t get anyone on the radio. I don’t know what the hell’s going on. This is bad. This is really bad.”
“Switchblade-Six-Alpha, this is Stingray-Two-Zero,” a new voice said, crackling over our radios.
“Tailor, that’s air support,” I said. Driving the point home, one of Vanguard’s Super Tucano turboprop attack planes roared overhead, circling our position. Vanguard was one of the best-funded companies in the business. We did not screw around.
“Stingray-Two-Zero, this is Switchblade-Six-Alpha,” Tailor said. “What’s your status?”
“We were going to ask you the same thing, Six-Alpha,” the pilot said. “We’ve lost communication with the airfield. It looks bad down there.”
“We’ve got multiple wounded and multiple KIA,” Tailor said levelly. “We need an immediate MEDEVAC. Five of us, Six Exodus personnel, and the package,” Tailor said calmly. “Eight confirmed KIA, including the crew of the chopper.”
As Tailor talked to the pilot, trying to figure out what was going on, I looked over at Ling and her people, and at the young girl that we’d gone through so much trouble to acquire. I didn’t know who the girl was. I didn’t know why Exodus wanted her so badly. She had to be important, though. Ling had offered us an ungodly sum of money to go into Cancun, guns blazing, to rescue her. The fact that we’d be violating the bull**** cease-fire between Ramon Mendoza, the local warlord, and the UN hadn’t seemed to bother her.
Tailor let go of his radio microphone. “Pilot says there’s an armed convoy headed our way up Kukulkan Boulevard. Looks like Mendoza’s militia. They saw us go down, I guess. Couple trucks full of guys and some technicals. Heavily armed. He’s going to try to give us some cover, but he’s low on ammo and fuel.”
“Just like us,” Skunky interjected.
Ling put her gloved hand on Tailor’s shoulder. “I need you to get your men moving,” she said. “I’ll contact my people to see if I can find out what’s going on.”
As Ling trotted off, Tailor turned back to us with a worried look on his face. “Val, Skunky, c’mon, we gotta go.” Nodding, I followed him as he waved to the others. Standing away from the Exodus people, we huddled up. “Listen up, Switchblade Six,” Tailor said, addressing us as a team. “We’re in some serious **** here. I don’t know what the ****’s going on back at the base. I got a bad feeling though.” Tailor looked over his shoulder as an explosion detonated to the southeast. The Tucano had begun its attack run.
“This is the third time we’ve broken the cease-fire this month,” Skunky said, anxiously grasping his M14. “You don’t think…”
“I know what I think,” Tower, our machine gunner said. Sweat beaded on his dark face. “I think they left us here.”
That got everyone’s attention. Being abandoned in country was every mercenary’s worst nightmare.
“It doesn’t matter,” Tailor said. “Everybody shut up and listen now. I don’t trust these Exodus assholes. When we start moving, y’all look out for each other. If we have to, we’re going to ditch these guys and head out on our own.”
I flinched. “Tailor, they’ve got wounded and a kid.”
“Don’t argue with me!” Tailor snapped. The pressure was getting to him. “We’ll figure it out. Now get ready. We’re moving out. Keep your spacing, use cover, and watch out for snipers.”
“GET SOME!” the rest of us shouted in response.
“Mr. Tailor, I’ve got some bad news,” Ling said, approaching our group. She had what looked like a satellite phone in her hand. “I don’t think anyone’s coming for us.”
“What?” Tailor asked, his face going a little pale.
“Something happened,” Ling said. “According to my people, the UN shut down all of Vanguard’s operations, including the airfield at Playa Del Carmen, about an hour ago.”
“The UN?” Tailor asked, exasperated. “But the Mexican Government…”
“The Mexican Nationalist Government dissolved last night, Mr. Tailor. I don’t have all the details. I’m afraid we’re on our own.”
“All we have to do is get to the safe areas in the city, right?” Harper asked. Since the cease-fire, half of Cancun was controlled by UN peacekeepers.
Ling took off her tinted shooting glasses and wiped her brow on her sleeve. “I don’t think that’s wise,” she said, putting her glasses back on. “All employees of Vanguard Strategic Solutions International have been declared unlawful combatants by the UN. I’m sorry, but we need to go, now.” We all looked at each other, and several obscenities were uttered. We were now on our own in a country where we’d made a lot of enemies.
“Mother ****ers sold us out,” Tower said bitterly.
Tailor spoke up. “It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters now is getting out of here alive. Let’s move.” He took off after Ling. The rest of us followed, spacing ourselves out in a small column. Ling rallied the Exodus personnel. They too came to their feet and followed her as she climbed over the edge of the pool. Two of them were always within arm’s reach of the strange young girl.
Following the Exodus operatives, we quickly moved across the courtyard of the resort complex. The grass was overgrown and the palm trees were untended. As we weaved our way toward the hotel itself, Tailor told me to contact Stingray-Two-Zero and inform the Tucano’s two pilots of the situation.
The pilot never responded, and it was obvious something was wrong. The small attack plane zoomed back over the resort in a steep right turn, ejecting flares as it went. An instant later, a missile shrieked across the sky, trailing smoke behind it. The Super Tucano exploded in mid-air, raining burning debris into the ocean below. An F-16E fighter jet with UN markings then roared overhead, turning to the east. A second jet could be heard in the distance somewhere, but I couldn’t see it.
Our entire group froze in disbelief. This day just kept getting better and better.
Tailor grabbed my shoulder and pulled me along. “Go, go, go!” he shouted, breaking out into a run. Beyond the scream of the jets’ engines, I could hear a helicopter approaching.
“Into the hotel, quickly!” Ling said. Behind us, a huge Super Cougar transport helicopter descended past our crashed chopper and set down in the hotel’s courtyard. Like the F-16, it bore UN markings. More than twenty soldiers, clad in urban camouflage fatigues and blue berets, spilled out of the chopper. They fanned out and started shooting at us. Rounds snapped past my head as I ran across the hotel lobby. I jumped, slid across the reception desk and crashed to the floor below. I landed on top of Tailor. Harper landed next to me.
“What do we do?” I asked, climbing off of Tailor. The lobby was lighted from overhead through a huge, shattered skylight in the ceiling. The wall in front of us was pockmarked with explosions of plaster and dust as bullets struck it. The reception desk was heavily constructed out of marble and concrete. It provided decent cover. The hotel lobby was ruined from disuse and stunk of rot from water damage. No-one had been around to clean up after Hurricane Calvin had struck six months earlier.
“Why the **** are they shooting at us?” Tailor screamed.
Ling was behind the counter with us, crouched down next to Tailor. She looked over at him and shouted in his ear. “I told you, they declared you unlawful combatants. We broke the cease-fire. They’re just following orders!” She then stood up, leveled her assault rifle across the counter, and ripped off a long burst. “Return fire!” Ling ordered. “Protect the child.” The Exodus operatives under her command obeyed her order without hesitation. The two men guarding the young girl hustled her, crouched over, to the very back of the room. The rest started shooting, causing the UN troops outside to break their advance and dive for cover.
The UN had just declared war on Vanguard. I glanced over at Tailor. “What do we do?”
He looked around for a moment, swearing aloud. “**** it,” he said. He raised his voice so he could be heard over the noise. “Switchblade Six! Open fire!” Tailor’s command was followed by a series of short bursts from his carbine.
My team was aggressive to the last. Tower opened up with his M60E4. The machine gun’s rattling roar filled the lobby, making it difficult to hear anything. I saw a UN trooper drop to the ground as Skunky took his head off with a single, well placed shot from his M14. Harper’s FAL carbine barked as he let off shot after shot.
I took a deep breath. My heart rate slowed down, and everything seemed to slow down with it. I was Calm. I swiped my carbine’s selector from SAFE to SEMI, and quickly stood up, aiming over the desk. The scope on my FAL was zoomed all the way to four-power. I aimed with both eyes open. The green chevron reticule hovered in front of my field of view. I found a target, a cluster of enemy soldiers advancing toward the lobby, and squeezed the trigger. The shortened steel stock bucked into my left shoulder as I fired.
One of the UN troops, much closer, tried to bolt across the foyer. Two quick shots and he went down. Another soldier crouched down to reload his G36 carbine. The palm tree he was hiding behind didn’t conceal him well. The blue beret flew off in a spray of blood as I put two bullets through the tree and through his face.
I flinched. Something wet had struck the right side of my face. Red droplets appeared on my shooting glasses. I reflexively wiped them off in a smear. Dark red blood stained my green glove. Harper was lying on the floor. Blood poured out of a gaping exit wound in the back of his head. Bits of gore and brain matter were splattered on the wall behind him.
I ducked back down behind the counter and dragged Tailor with me. I pointed at Harper. My mouth opened, but I couldn’t find anything to say.
“He’s dead?” Tailor asked, yelling to make himself heard.
I nodded in affirmation. My face was still smeared with Harper’s blood. “We’re gonna get pinned down! We need to get out of here!”
“Got any grenades left?” Tailor asked, reloading his carbine again. I nodded. He looked over at Ling, and tugged on her pant leg. She ducked down behind the counter.
“Hey!” he said. “Val and me will toss frags, then I’ll pop smoke. Then we move back into the hotel. They’ll find a way to flank us if we stay here.”
Ling nodded, then shouted orders to the rest of her men. Tailor and I pulled fragmentation grenades from our vests and readied them. A moment later we both stood up. “Frag up!” We threw our grenades then ducked back down. The lobby was rocked by a double concussion a second later as the two grenades detonated nearly simultaneously. Dust filled the room, and the remaining glass in the skylight broke free and rained down on top of us. Tailor then threw his smoke grenade over the counter. It fired a few seconds later, and the lobby quickly filled with dense white smoke.
“That way!” Ling shouted, pointing to my right. At the far wall was a large doorway that led into the main part of the hotel. Her men filed past us at a run, stepping over Harper’s body as they went.
One of Ling’s men stopped. He was a hulking African man, probably six-foot-four, and looked like he was made of muscle. The G3 rifle he carried, even with a grenade launcher affixed, looked like a toy in his hands. “Commander, come on!” he said. Behind him, an intense-looking Chinese man fired off short bursts into the smoke, keeping the UN troops busy as we fell back into the building.
Behind him came the young girl, flanked by her two bodyguards. She looked down at me as they hustled her by, and everything else dropped away. Her eyes were intensely blue, almost luminescent. Her hair was such a light shade of platinum blonde that it looked white. It was like she was looking right through me.
“I’m sorry about your friends,” she whispered. At least, I could’ve swore she did. I don’t remember seeing her say anything, but I definitely heard her.
“Val, go, God damn it!” Tailor said, snapping me back to reality. He shoved me forward and we followed Ling’s people into the building.
Men with AK-47s waited for us at the gate, illuminated by the headlights of our stolen UN two-and-a-half ton truck. The guards approached the windows. One of them was wearing a necklace strung with dried human fingers.
“Decorative bunch,” Carl stated.
The voice in my radio earpiece was not reassuring. “Lorenzo, I’ve got three at the gate. Two in the tower. FLIR shows lots of movement in the camp.” Reaper was a quarter mile up the hill, one eye on the glowing blobs on his laptop screen and the other on the road to make sure the actual United Nations troops didn’t show up.
I was signaled to roll down the window. Complying let in the humid night air and the scents of cook fires and diesel fuel. The lead guard shouted to be heard over the rumble of our engine. My Burmese was rusty, but he was gesturing with the muzzle of his rifle toward the only building with electricity, indicating our destination. I saluted. The guard returned it with a vague wave.
The heavy metal barricade was lifted and shuffled aside. Carl put the truck into gear and rolled us forward. “They bought it.” The gate was shut behind us, effectively trapping us in a compound with a thousand Marxist assholes. My driver smiled as he steered us toward the command center. “That was the hard part.”
“For you,” I responded as I took my earpiece out and shoved it back inside my uniform shirt. Scanning across the compound showed that our aerial reconnaissance had been spot on for once. The main generator was right where we thought it would be, ten meters from the loading dock. The machine was a thirty-year-old monstrosity of Soviet engineering and our source had reported that it went out constantly. Perfect.
More soldiers, if you could use the term for a group this disorganized, were watching our big white truck with mild curiosity. Many of the local peacekeepers moonlighted smuggling munitions so our presence was not out of the ordinary. I opened the door and hopped down. “Wait for my signal,” I said before slamming the door.
Carl put the truck into reverse and backed toward the loading dock as a pair of soldiers shouted helpful but conflicting directions at him. The truck’s bumper thumped into the concrete. The tarp covering the rear opened and a giant of a man stepped from the deuce and onto the dock. My associate, Train, spoke in rough tones to the thugs on the dock, pointing to the waiting crates of mortar rounds. They began to load the truck. The rebels paid him and Carl no mind. The various UN peacekeepers they had on the take changed constantly, only the officers, like I was pretending to be, actually mattered.
The guard at the entrance held the door open for me as I trotted up the steps. The building had once been part of a rubber plantation and this had been a reception area for colonial-era visitors. It had been rather nice once, but had slid into the typical 3rd world shabbiness of faded paint, peeling wallpaper, and spreading stains. The air conditioner had died sometime during the Vietnam War and giant malarial mosquitoes frolicked in the river of sweat running down my back. There was a man waiting for me, dressed nicer than the others, with something that casually resembled a uniform. The guard from the door followed me inside, carelessly cradling his AK as he stood behind me.
“Good evening,” the warlord’s lieutenant said in heavily accented English. ”We were not expecting you so soon, Captain.”
“I need to speak with your commander,” I said curtly.
He looked me over suspiciously. I had practiced this disguise for weeks. The fake beard was perfection, my coloring changed slightly with makeup, my extra inches of height hidden with thin-soled boots and a slight slouch, and my gut augmented with padding to fill out the stolen camouflage uniform. I had watched the Pakistani Captain, studying his mannerisms, his movements. I looked exactly like the fat, middle-aged, washed-up, bureaucrat hack from an ineffective and corrupt organization.
Since the receptionist didn’t pick the AK off his desk and empty a magazine of hot lead into my chest, I could safely assume my disguise worked. I watched the guard over the tops of the Pakistani’s spectacles. I had replaced the prescription lenses with plain glass after murdering the real Captain this afternoon. Finally the lieutenant spoke. “Do you need more money?”
“Those border checkpoints won’t bribe themselves open,” I responded, my accent, tone, and inflection an almost perfect impersonation. I made a big show of looking at my watch. Carl and Train had better be loading that truck fast. “I must be back soon or my superiors will suspect something.”
“General is busy man,” he said, the sigh in his voice indicating what a bother I was being. He gestured toward his subordinate. “Search him.”
I raised my arms as the soldier gave me a cursory pat down. I was, of course, unarmed. I couldn’t risk the possibility that one of these amateurs might take their job seriously. Bringing a weapon into the same room as a rebel leader was a good way to get skinned alive. The search I received was so negligent that I could have smuggled in an RPG, but no use crying over spilt milk. I lowered my arms.
“Let’s go,” the lieutenant motioned for me to follow. The three of us went down a hallway that stank of cigarette smoke. The light was provided by naked bulbs that hummed and flickered weak yellow light. We passed other rooms flanked by soldiers. Quick glances through the windows showed village laborers, mostly old women and children, preparing narcotics for shipment. Revolutions need funding too. Finally we reached a set of double doors with a well-fed guard on each side. These boys were bigger, smartly dressed, wearing vests bristling with useful equipment, and kept their rifles casually pointed at me as we approached.
The general’s personal bodyguards and the lieutenant exchanged some indecipherable dialog. I was patted down again, only this time it was brutally and invasively thorough, making me glad that my weapons were in the truck. The guard pulled my radio from my belt, yanking the cord out from under my shirt. He started to jabber at me.
“Regulations require me to have it at all times,” I replied. The guard held it close to his chest, suspicious. “Fine, but I need it back when we’re done here.” The two led me into the inner sanctum while the lieutenant and the first guard returned to their post. That just left me with two heavily armed and trained thugs to deal with. The odds were now in my favor.
Now this room was more like it. Most warlords learned to like the finer things in life. While their army slept in mud huts and ate bugs, they lived plush and fat. Being the boss does have its perks. The furnishings were opulent, but random and mismatched, a shopping trip of looting across the country. The air was twenty degrees cooler as a portable AC unit pumped air down on us.
The warlord was waiting for me, reclining in an overstuffed leather chair, smoking a giant cigar, with his feet resting on a golden Buddha. This man had spread terror over this region for a generation and grown obscenely rich in the process. He’d also become soft and complacent, which worked to my benefit. He was grizzled, scarred, and watching a 56” TV on the wall, tuned to some situation comedy that I couldn’t understand. The volume was cranked way too high. “You want see me, Captain?” he grunted, puffing around the cigar. “What you want?”
He was ten feet away. I had a guard standing at attention on either side of me. “If I am to continue smuggling ordnance for you, I will need more money.” I put on an air of meekness, of subservience, while in reality I was taking every detail, calculating every angle. My pulse was quickening, but I gave no outward indication. I coughed politely against the cloud of Cuban smoke.
“Eh? I already pay you. Pay you good. Maybe too good…”
“They set up another checkpoint just north of the river. I’ll need cash to payoff the garrison commander there.”
The warlord sighed as he stood. “UN troops so greedy.” He limped over to the wall and pulled back a tapestry, revealing a vault door, just where my informant said it would be. “Old days, we just kill each other. Peacekeepers make it so complicated now. Peacekeepers…” he snorted. “No better than my men, but with pretty blue hats.” No disagreement from me on that one. The UN was less than useless, though their ineptitude created plenty of business opportunities for men like me. “Maybe someday my country not have war, then my men get pretty blue hats, and we can go to other countries and rape their women and take their money. Hah!”
I waited patiently for him to spin the dial. That vault was state of the art, rated TXTL-60, and would have required quite some time and a lot of noise for me to defeat on my own. Better to just have the man open it for you. I glanced over at one of the waiting guards. He had a Russian bayonet sheathed on the front of his armor. He smirked, taking my look to be one of nervousness. After all, what did he have to worry about from a middle-aged Pakistani who was just padding his paycheck? The guard turned his attention back to the TV.
“How much you need?” the warlord asked. The lock clicked. The vault hissed open.
The man at my right snickered along with the laugh track as my hand flew to his sheathed bayonet. “I’ll be taking all of it.” Steel flashed red, back and forth, and before either guard could even begin to react, they were dead. I jerked the knife out from under the second guard’s ear and let the body flop.
“Huh?” The warlord turned and saw only me standing. His bleary eyes flicked down to see his men twitching on the ground, then back up at me, dripping bayonet in hand. “But, what…” then he said something incomprehensible but obviously profane as understanding came. He saw his end.
The general’s pistol started to come out of his holster. I covered the distance in an instant, ran the knife up the inside of his arm before driving it between his ribs. I removed the gun from his nerveless fingers and left the old man tottering as I went back for my radio. The warlord went to his knees as I hit the transmit button.
Carl came back before I even had the earpiece back in place. “–truck’s loaded. Status?”
Stepping over the dying warlord, I glanced inside the vault. It was about the size of a walk-in closet. Rebellions ran on cold hard cash. There were stacks of money inside. A quick check revealed that much of it was in Euros, which was good, because many of the regional denominations weren’t worth the effort to carry out.
“Status? Filthy rich… Train, bring three of the big packs. You’ve got two guards in the entrance, three more in the hallway. Carl, you got a shot at that generator?”
“Execute,” I ordered before noticing that the warlord was still breathing, gasping for air around a perforated lung, one useable hand clamped to his side, the spreading puddle of blood ruining the nice Persian rug beneath. I squatted next to him. “I must have hit you a little lower than expected. You should already be dead. Sorry about that.”
“Who… who…” the old man gasped.
`“You don’t know me. It’s nothing personal, just business.” The lights flickered and died as Carl killed the generator. It was pitch black inside the old plantation. I rested next to the dying man and waited. The warlord finally breathed his last and embarked on his short journey to Hell. A moment later the door opened and a hulking shadow entered. Train pressed a tubular object into my hands and I quickly strapped the night vision device over my head. The world was a sudden brilliant green. “You get them all?”
“Yeah. Smoked ‘em,” he answered as he handed me my suppressed pistol. The can was warm to the touch. “Where’s the cash?”
The two of us stuffed as many bills as would fit into the three big backpacks. I threw on one, and Train, being half-pack animal, took the other two. I took point and led us out. I had to kill one more guard who blundered blindly into the dark from one of processing rooms. We didn’t even slow as I put a pair of nearly silent 9mm rounds through his skull. Bodies were scattered around the entrance. It had started to rain. Carl started the truck as Train climbed into the back. I handed up my pack of cash.
I crawled into the cab and pulled off the NVGs. “Let’s go.” Carl nodded and put the beast into gear. I kept my pistol in my lap, and I knew that Train was ready to fire a belt-fed machine gun through the fabric back of the truck, just in case the alarm was raised before we made it out.
The rain comes hard in Burma. The gate guards barely even paid us mind as the truck approached. I watched them through the windshield wipers as they sullenly left the security of their overhang to move the barricade. The man with the finger-necklace glanced back toward the command post and shrugged as he noticed that the lights were out again. I saluted as we rolled out. The muddy jungle road stretched before us. We were home free. I activated my radio. “Reaper, we’re out. Meet us at the bridge.”
“On the way,” was the distorted reply.
“We did it,” I sighed. The spirit gum pulled at my cheeks as I yanked the fake beard off and tossed it on the floorboards. The glasses and idiotic blue beret followed. “There had to be at least a quarter mil in the vault.”
“That was too easy,” Carl said, always the pessimist.
“No. We’re just that good.”
There was a sudden clang of metal from the back, then a burst of automatic weapons fire. I glanced at Carl and he was already giving the truck more gas. Somebody had raised the alarm. “Told you,” he snorted.
“Lorenzo, taking fire,” Train shouted into the radio. Then there was a terrible racket as he opened up with the SAW and ripped the guards at the gate to bits. Bullets quit hitting our truck, which was a relief, since it just happened to be filled to the brim with high explosives.
I checked the rear-view mirror. Through the raindrops I could see headlights igniting. They were coming after us, and they were going to be really pissed off. Train had just popped the men who would normally be moving the barricade, so that would buy us a minute, but our stolen truck would never outrun all of those jeeps on this kind of road.
It could never be simple… “Go to Plan B,” I said into the radio.
We reached the bridge over the Say-Loo river nearly a minute ahead of our pursuers. A hundred yards long, it was the only crossing for miles and had been built by captives of the Japanese army over five decades ago. The wood creaked ominously as our heavy truck rumbled over it. We stopped halfway across and bailed out. Headlights winked through the rain three times from the other end of the bridge, confirming that Reaper was waiting for us. Train tossed a bag of money to Carl and the detonator to me. He shouldered the other two bags with one hand and carried the SAW like a suitcase.
The three of us walked to the waiting Land Rover. I could hear the approaching rebel vehicles. “Bummer about the ordnance,” Train said. “That would’ve been worth some serious dough back in Thailand.”
“Beats having our fingers end up on that one guy’s necklace,” Carl muttered.
We reached the waiting vehicle and piled in. Reaper scooted over as Carl got behind the driver’s seat. Carl always drove. He spun us around through the mud so we could head toward the border. I glanced back at the bridge, noting the swarm of flashlights swinging around the UN truck. I waited until we were several hundred yards down the road before pressing the button.
The explosion detonated the block of C4 that Train had stuck to the crates of 82mm mortar rounds and 155mm artillery shells. A tenth of a second later the truck was destroyed in a spreading concussion that blew the pursuing rebels into clouds of blood and meat and turned the Say-Loo river bridge into splinters. The shockwave washed over our vehicle and popped our ears.
My crew gasped at the intensity of the display. “Impressive,” I mumbled, before turning my attention to counting the money.
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