The RedeemerHarry Hole investigates a mistaken assassination
The five Americans had been lying low in the decrepit hotel room for hours, waiting for nightfall.
Sheets of warm rain rapped on the window, generating the majority of the sound in the dim room, as there was little talk among the men. This room had served as the base of operations for the team, though four of the five had stayed at other hotels throughout the city during their weeklong stay. Now that preparations were complete, those four had checked out of their quarters and consolidated their gear and themselves here with the fifth man in their group.
Though they all were still as stones now, they had been a blur of activity over the past week. They had surveilled targets; developed op plans; established covers; memorized their primary, secondary, and tertiary exfiltration routes; and coordinated the logistics of the mission to come.
But preparations were now complete, and there was nothing left to do but sit and wait for darkness.
A rumble of thunder rolled in from the south, a lightning strike far out in the Sea of Marmara illuminated the five statues in the room for an instant, and then the darkness covered them once again.
This hotel was situated in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, and it was chosen as the team safe house due to the courtyard parking for their vehicles and the fact that it was more or less equidistant to where the operations would be carried out later in the evening. The hotel was not, however, chosen for the vinyl bedspreads or the grimy hallways or the surly staff or the stench of pot smoke that wafted up from the youth hostel on the ground floor.
But the Americans did not complain about their accommodations; they thought only of their tasks ahead.
At seven p.m. the leader of the cell looked down to the chronograph on his wrist; it was fastened over bandaging that covered his entire hand and a portion of his forearm. As he stood up from a wooden chair, he said, “We’ll head out one at a time. Five-minute separation.”
The others—two seated on a bed speckled with rat shit, one leaning against the wall by the door, and one more standing by the window—all nodded.
The leader continued. “I sure as hell do not like splitting up the op like this. This is not how we do business. But frankly . . . circumstances dictate our actions. If we don’t do these mutts damn near simultaneously, word will get out and the roaches will scatter in the light.”
The others listened without responding. They’d been over this a dozen times in the past week. They knew the difficulties, they knew the risks, and they knew their leader’s reservations.
Their leader’s name was John Clark; he’d been doing this sort of thing since before the youngest of the men on his team had been born, so his words carried weight.
“I’ve said it before, gentlemen, but indulge me one more time. No points for style on this one.” He paused. “In and out. Quick and cold. No hesitation. No mercy.” They all nodded again.
They all nodded again.
Clark finished his speech and then slipped a blue raincoat over his three-piece pinstripe suit. He stepped over to the window and reached out with his left hand, shaking the offered left hand of Domingo “Ding” Chavez. Ding was dressed in a three-quarter-length leather coat and a heavy watch cap. A canvas bag lay at his feet.
The Russians call their Kamov-50 helicopter gunship Chernaya Akula—Black Shark. The name suits it, because it is sleek and fast, and it moves with cunning and agility, and, above all, it is a supremely efficient killer of its prey.
A pair of Black Sharks emerged from a predawn fog bank and shot through the moonless sky at two hundred knots, just ten meters above the hard earth of the valley floor. Together they raced through the dark in a tight, staggered formation with their outboard lights extinguished. They flew nap-of-the-earth, following a dry streambed through the valley, skirting thirty kilometers to the northwest of Argvani, the nearest major village here in western Dagestan.
The KA-50s’ contra-rotating coaxial rotors chopped the thin mountain air. The unique twin-rotor design negated the need for a tail rotor, and this made these aircraft faster, as more of the engine’s power could then be applied to propulsion, and it also made these aircraft less susceptible to ground fire, as it reduced by one the points on the big machine where a hit will cause a devastating malfunction.
This trait, along with other redundant systems—a selfsealing fuel tank, and an airframe built partially from composites, including Kevlar—makes the Black Shark an exceptionally hearty combat weapon, but as strong as the KA-50 is, it is equally deadly. The two helos streaking toward their target in Russia’s North Caucasus had a full load-out of air-to-ground munitions: Each carried four hundred fifty 30-millimeter rounds for their underbelly cannon, forty 80-millimeter unguided finned rockets loaded into two outboard pods, and a dozen AT-16 guided air-to-ground missiles hanging off two outboard pylons.
These two KA-50s were Nochny (night) models, and they were comfortable in the black. As they closed on their objective, only the pilots’ night-vision equipment, their ABRIS Moving Map Display, and their FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared Radar) kept the helos from slamming into each other, the sheer rock walls on either side of the valley, or the undulating landscape below.
The lead pilot checked his time to target, then spoke into his headset’s microphone. “Semi minute.” Seven minutes.
“Ponial”—Got it—came the reply from the Black Shark behind him.
1 DECISIONS Marriott Hotel Islamabad, Pakistan Three Weeks Later
LIEUTENANT MAQSUD KAYANI’S solution to repay Moore for saving his life came in the form of an invitation for an introductory meeting between Moore and Kayani’s uncle, Colonel Saadat Khodai of the Pakistan Army. Upon his arrival in Islamabad, Moore found the lieutenant’s intriguing e-mail in his inbox. Kayani’s uncle, the same man who had orchestrated their helicopter rescue, had confided in his nephew his ongoing battle with depression triggered by a crisis of personal ethics. The e-mail did not disclose the exact nature of the colonel’s crisis, but Kayani stressed that such a meeting might benefit both Moore and his uncle immeasurably.
Over several weeks of meetings and extensive verbal sparring, Moore came to suspect that Khodai could identify key Taliban sympathizers within the Army’s ranks. He drank liters of tea with the colonel, trying to convince him to disclose what he knew about the Taliban’s infiltration and exploitation of the country’s northwest tribal lands, most particularly the region known as Waziristan. The colonel was reluctant to commit, to cross the line. Moore was frustrated. It was a major stumbling block, the crux of their impasse.
The colonel was not only concerned about the possible ramifications to his family, but he now found himself up against his own deeply held personal convictions to never speak out adversely or otherwise betray his fellow officers and comrades, even though they’d broken their oath of loyalty to Pakistan and his beloved Army. His conversations with Moore, however, had ultimately brought him to the abyss. If not him, then who?
Then one evening the colonel had called Moore and said he was willing to talk. Moore had picked him up at his house and driven him to the hotel, where he would sit down with Moore and two of Moore’s colleagues. They pulled into the guest parking lot.
Khodai had just turned fifty, and his thick, closely cropped hair was woven with streaks of gray. His eyes appeared worn and narrow, and his prominent chin was dappled by a quarter inch of snow-white growth. He was dressed in civilian clothes, simple slacks and a dress shirt, but his military boots betrayed his office. His BlackBerry was tucked tightly in its leather case, and he nervously twirled it between his thumb and middle finger.
Moore reached for his door handle, but Khodai raised a palm. “Wait. I said I was ready, but maybe I need more time.”
The colonel had studied English in high school and had then attended the University of Punjab in Lahore, where he’d earned a BA in engineering. His accent was thick, but he possessed a wide vocabulary, his tone always impressive and commanding. Moore could see why he’d risen so quickly through the ranks. When he spoke, you couldn’t help but gravitate toward him, and so Moore relaxed, removed his hand from the door, and said, “You are ready for this. And you’ll forgive yourself. Eventually.”
LIGHT TROOPS—an Eleven-Bravo light infantryman, according the United States Army’s MOS (military occupational specialty) system—are supposed to be “pretty” spit-and-polish troops with spotless uniforms and clean-shaven faces, but First Sergeant Sam Driscoll wasn’t one of those anymore, and hadn’t been for some time. The concept of camouflage often involved more than patterned BDUs. No, wait, they weren’t called that anymore, were they? Now they were called “Army combat uniforms,” ACUs. Same, same.
Driscoll’s beard was fully four inches long, with enough flecks of white in it that his men had taken to calling him Santa rather annoying to a man hardly thirty-six years old, but when most of your compatriots were an average of ten years younger than you . . . Oh, well. Could be worse. Could be “Pops” or “Gramps.”
He was even more annoyed to have long hair. It was dark and shaggy and greasy, and his beard coarse, which was useful here, where the facial hair was important to his cover and the local people rarely bothered with haircuts. His dress was entirely local in character, and this was true of his team as well. There were fifteen of them. Their company commander, a captain, was down with a broken leg from a misstep—which was all it took to sideline you in this terrain—sitting on a hilltop and waiting for the Chinook to evac him, along with one of the team’s two medics who’d stayed behind to make sure he didn’t go into shock. That left Driscoll in command for the mission. He didn’t mind. He had more time in the field than Captain Wilson had, though the captain had a college degree, and Driscoll didn’t have his yet. One thing at a time. He had to survive this deployment still, and after that he could go back to his classes at the University of Georgia. Funny, he thought, that it had taken him nearly three decades to start enjoying school. Well, hell, better late than never, he supposed.
He was tired, the kind of mind-numbing, bone-grinding fatigue Rangers knew only too well. He knew how to sleep like a dog on a granite block with only a rifle stock for a pillow, knew how to stay alert when his brain and body were screaming at him to lie down. Problem was, now that he was closer to forty than thirty, he felt the aches and pains a little more than he had when he was twenty, and it took twice as long to work out the kinks in the morning. Then again, those aches were offset by wisdom and experience. He’d learned over the years that despite it being a cliché, it was in fact mind over matter. He’d learned to largely block out pain, which was a handy skill when you were leading much younger men whose packs undoubtedly felt much lighter on their shoulders than Driscoll’s did on his own.Life, he decided, was all about trade-offs.
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