Bill tugged on the black canister stuck to the back of his car. Whatever adhesive it used was powerful stuff, as even a physical specimen like him had a hard time yanking the tracker off the car. Locking the canister in a vice grip, it wasn’t the glue that gave way but rather the canister itself when it shattered in Bill’s hands. The exposed guts of the device were left in Bill’s hands. At just a glance, it was clear that it was a GPS device. His car had a tag, track, and locate device stuck to it, probably since Homs.
The former SEAL Team Six operator smiled. So much the better. It would save him the trouble of tracking the traitor down. Instead, Deckard would come to him.
With Tiger’s help, they lifted the chemical weapon out of the back of his car.
It was morning by the time Deckard rolled into central Damascus.
He had killed way too much time skirting around several city checkpoints, and now the blue dot on his map had been stationary for half an hour. They would be preparing the weapon for deployment. At least now he knew the target area. The vehicle had stopped smack dab in the middle of the city. That told Deckard that Bill was still on track for hitting their original target, Umayyad mosque.
The Al-Hamidiyeh market was also nearby, and the deployment of a chemical weapon was likely to kill people in the nearby market as well. Both targets were central features of life in Damascus with high visibility. Either target would ensure a high body count, but Deckard was putting his money on Umayyad Mosque since it also carried the religious significance of being the holiest site in Syria and perhaps the fourth holiest site in all of Islam. Destroying the great mosque of Damascus would almost certainly drag the entire Middle East into a conflagration of death and destruction.
Deckard parked his car several blocks away from where the tracker stopped and moved out on foot. The streets were already growing busy with people setting out for work in the morning. While the war raged outside and even within Damascus, the people of the city still had to get up everyday and find a way to earn a living. He blended in with many of the morning workers as he was still wearing his native garb, even if the clothes were now dirty and torn. The AK-47, on the other hand had to be concealed. He folded the buttstock and wrapped the weapon in a towel he found in the backseat. Extra magazines went into his pockets.
Deckard shook his head as he closed the car door behind him. This operation was so half-assed that it was a miracle he had even gotten this far. He was shooting from the hip and making it up as he went along at this point. His only consolation was that Bill was doing the same, as his initial mission plan was now lying in ruins. If Bill was making as many mistakes as Deckard was, there might be margin of error for him to exploit and get the drop on his opposition.
This was the oldest part of the city, where narrow streets twisted through ancient buildings. Many of the walls and pillars dated from far into antiquity. Untold numbers of conquerors and empires had occupied the city over the course of human history. The remains of Roman temples stood side by side with mosques. The scenery all blended into the background for Deckard, however. He was focused on dodging between the locals on the streets as he made his way to the tracker, looking down at the screen on his phone occasionally to make sure he was heading in the right direction.
Deckard kept the concealed Kalashnikov in the crook of his arm, holding it low and hoping to go unnoticed. The entire city was on a war footing and all it would take was for one police officer or soldier in the street to get a hint of suspicion, and it would all be over for him.
Moving several blocks deeper into the city, Deckard slipped down another narrow side street until he was almost on top of the signal coming from the GPS tracker. The blue dot looked to be broadcasting from inside the squat, two-story apartment building he was standing in front of. He tried to remain in the shadows cast by the walls and keep well away while doing a quick visual reconnaissance. A metal gate blocked ingress through the front door. After his hasty assessment, Deckard decided that there was no way he was going in through the front, even if he could force the door open.
The side street was quiet, just a few merchants shifting around and opening their shops. The whole thing felt like a trap.
Finding another alleyway, Deckard looked for an appropriate place to scale a wall. He would climb onto the roof of the adjacent building and then creep over to the target building. His arms strained as he found hand and footholds on the stone wall as he climbed up. The wall was on a slight incline, which made it easier, but his joints felt like they were about to pop out of their sockets. He had enough urban climbing in the last few days to last him a lifetime, however much longer that might be.
Up on the roof, he loaded the Kalashnikov and extended the buttstock, making the weapon ready before hitting the target building. Over on the next rooftop, Deckard was able to look down into an open courtyard in the center of the building. A carpet hung over a railing. There was a small pool of water on the ground level where a few birds were having a drink.
The GPS was accurate enough to pinpoint what building it was in, but not enough to tell exactly where it was without doing some searching around. If Samruk had TTLed the car then the GPS tracker must be on the ground level somewhere in a garage. He could only hope that the weapon was still nearby. A gap in the roof was covered over with a piece of plywood with an old car tire used to weight it down. Deckard carefully removed the covering to find a stairwell, and descended into the apartments below.
On the second level, Deckard followed a set of marble steps down to the courtyard. His eyes swept around for an entrance to a garage or basement where the car could have been stashed. Spotting another narrow doorway, he walked towards it.
Suddenly, the sound of a rifle’s bolt being racked startled him. As Deckard spun around, the sound of the bolt slamming home into the chamber echoed through the courtyard. A young Nusra fighter on the terrace of the second floor stared down at him. Several more rifles also clacked as bullets were chambered. More Nusra fighters appeared on the balconies and terraces above him.
Deckard was boxed in. It had been a trap and he walked right into it.
He was about to make a mad dash for the door, see if he could smash through it before hundreds of 7.62 bullets tore through him. It was a pointless gesture, but better than being taken alive.
His name was said like a curse.
Bill came walking down the steps. Tiger, the Chechen rebel leader walked alongside him.
“Go ahead and drop the weapon.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Deckard said.
“You have no chance dumbass, open your fucking eyes,” Bill told him as he waved towards the gunmen standing above them. “You’re a dead man walking.”
“That’s nothing new,” Deckard replied. “For either of us.”
“I have to say though, this really is a first for me.”
Bill stood just in front of him with the bearded Chechen at his side. Both of them appeared unarmed.
“My time with Dev. My Liquid Sky teams. I’ve seen operators come and go, believe me. Some of them were more talented than you, but it’s like I told you back in Mauritius. You’ve got something extra that none of them had. You challenged the odds just because you could. You like having nowhere to run, don’t you?”
“Whoever can make the biggest grandstand play. Guess my luck finally ran out.”
“You had a good run, Deckard. You got this far, after all. Where the fuck is Ramon and The Operator?”
Deckard said nothing.
“Exactly. You cut right through them. I’m beginning to think that the fucking cunt is the only smart one of us. Nadeesha pulled a fade. She’s probably sipping a Mai Tai and having herself a good ride with a Cabana boy on some island by now.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“I don’t get you Deckard, I really don’t,” Bill said with a frown. “You had a seat at the table. It’s like everywhere you go you piss everyone off and burn all your bridges. I’m not even going to ask why because the truth is I don’t even care.”
“So what are we doing here?”
“I’m going to take your scalp, Deckard. I’m even going to tell you exactly what we are doing so that it will motivate you to cut the shit and hand over that AK of yours. Tiger is about to leave with the bomb. He is going to detonate it once he gets near the Umayyad mosque. The moose limbs are finishing up their morning prayer, so now we’re going to help them go and find Allah.”
Tiger had a shit-eating grin on his face as Bill patted him on the back. The Chechen was joined by several other Nusra fighters who came down the steps behind them. Bill gave him the thumbs up.
“Make it happen Tiger.”
“Insha’Allah,” the Chechen commander replied. With that, he disappeared with three gunmen out the side door that Deckard had spotted.
“So here is the deal Deckard,” Bill told him. “You get to square off with me. Bone to bone to see who is bigger. First, you drop that weapon; then, I call off the dogs and it will be just you and me. If you somehow get past me, maybe you’ve got a fifty-fifty shot of catching up with Tiger before he detonates the weapon. Then maybe you’ve got a slim chance at stopping him. Who knows, crazier shit has happened. So which is it? Me or the firing squad?”
Deckard depressed the magazine release on his AK with his thumb and rocked the magazine forward. Dropping the magazine, he racked the charging handle, ejecting the round from the chamber. Finally, he dropped the rifle and let it clatter to the stone floor at his feet.
“That’s my boy,” Bill said with a wicked smile. Reaching under his shirt, he removed his hatchet from the holster on his waist. “Been carrying this since my third trip to A-stan. I made a promise up in them mountains. Been carrying it out every day since. Going to carry your scalp out in a few minutes, Deckard.”
Deckard looked down at the hatchet. It was the same one that Bill has used on their mission in Afghanistan and then again at the military outpost they had hit the night they infilled into Syria. The hatchet was more like a miniature battle axe. He had heard of other Dev Group operators carrying them. They were handmade by a world-famous edged weapons specialist and custom engraved with SEAL Team Six squadron insignia.
The hatchet was designed for close-in combat. Under a foot long, it was coated in black no-glare finish and had a nasty looking spike on the back side of the head. How many ears, scalps, dicks, and fingers had been taken by this particular hatchet was impossible to know.
Bill smiled at Deckard as his fist tightened around the hatchet and waved away the gunmen standing above them. True to his word, the gunmen faded back inside.
Reaching for his own edged weapon, Deckard yanked free Ramon’s karambit from its Klydex sheath at his hip.
“Nice. You looted that off Ramon’s body? You are a cold fucker, Deckard. I can’t figure out your hangups. You’re just like us. My initial assessment was correct, you’re a perfect fit for Liquid Sky. Too bad you sold out.”
Now it was Deckard’s turn to smile. Bill thought that someone was cutting him a paycheck. Money was the only terms that he could understand.
“I hope they paid you well.”
“Tired of listening to you talk.”
With that, Bill surged forward. Deckard kicked the Kalashnikov laying at his feet into the air. Dropping the rifle in front of his feet had been a deliberate maneuver. The metal receiver spun into the air, distracting Bill as he charged toward Deckard like a rhinoceros. The rifle hit Bill in the face. With his nose bloodied, Bill reached out to grab Deckard while the other brought the hatchet up to swing down on him.
Deckard’s hands moved in a blur of motion. The razor sharp edge of the karambit ended up clawing into Bill’s inner wrist. Pulling up with his knife hand drew the hook of the karambit’s blade, and Bill’s wrist towards him. Meanwhile, he grabbed hold of Bill’s hand and bent it towards his opponent, trapping Bill in a bloody wrist lock.
Bill was nearly driven down to his knees by Deckard’s surprise counter. His flailed with the hatchet, Deckard pivoting away at the last moment, the blade passing an inch from his head. Then the hatchet came flailing back towards him again; this time he was unable to avoid it, and the metal spike on the reverse side of the weapon slammed into Deckard’s ribs.
Knocked off his feet by the blast to his abdomen, Deckard rolled across the courtyard. Bill managed to struggle back to his feet, one bloody hand hanging at his side. Deckard was struggling to breath as he held on to the side of the water fountain and pulled himself up. He didn’t have a punctured lung, but the hatchet had left a ragged tear in his side and probably cracked a rib.
“Deckard, you cocksucker.”
The two combatants tightened their grip on their weapons. There was no doubt in either of their minds that one of them wasn’t walking away from this fight. They circled each other, looking for an opening to strike. Bill had an oil leak; he was trailing blood across the courtyard from his wrist. Deckard took several deep breaths, wincing at the pain while trying to force oxygen into his system.
Bill swung first. The hatchet came at him in a blur, the trajectory aimed right at Deckard’s face. Deckard sidestepped the attack, then immediately had to backpedal to avoid Bill’s follow-up attack. The evil looking black hatchet came at him again and again. More blood sprayed from Bill’s wrist with each swing, splattering across Deckard’s chest.
The former SEAL Team Six operator was fast, faster than someone his size should be. He had training and knew how to use his weight to his advantage. Experience in martial arts and military hand-to-hand combat made his every movement seem smooth and rehearsed, because they were. Deckard was avoiding his attacks, but only because his opening gambit had injured Bill and left him at a disadvantage.
Like The Operator, Bill was someone that Deckard could not let get ahold of him, or he would be taken apart in short order. One more screw up, like the blow he already took from the hatchet, and this fight was over. Bill would be walking out the door with Deckard’s scalp in his hand.
The Umayyad mosque was only three city blocks away and Tiger was already on the way with the chemical weapon in tow. Deckard knew he had to bypass this fight somehow, or otherwise defeat Bill in the next sixty seconds, or it would be impossible for him to catch up with the Chechen and prevent him from gassing thousands of Muslims on their way home from their morning salat.
Bill swung the hatchet again, backing Deckard closer to the wall behind them. The former SEAL grunted in anger; then, came at him again, slashing the hatchet diagonally one way and then the next. Deckard moved in to stab Bill in the forearm with his fighting knife, but he was a fraction of a second too slow. Bill brought the spike on the axe behind Deckard’s knee and forced him down, his knee smashing into the stone floor. He was now looking up at Bill as the hatchet came swinging down towards his throat.
Deckard rolled away at the last moment, the hatchet cutting through empty space instead of his neck. Before he could fully get to his feet, Bill came at him again. Instead of trying to parry or dodge the attack, Deckard stepped into it.
The fight was over one second later.
As the hatchet came towards him, Deckard blocked the attack with his forearm and brought the Karambit straight up in a vertical slashing motion. The claw of the knife cut through Bill’s bicep like a hot knife through butter. Ducking under the hatchet, Deckard then slid the knife across Bill’s stomach. The knife separated skin and abdominal muscles, partially disemboweling him.
Without missing a beat, Deckard dashed towards the door and blasted right through it, the wooden panels smashing on the wall as he flung himself through. Bill was out of the fight and irrelevant to his objective. He couldn’t spare a single second on him now. The passageway was so tight that he had to turn sideways at times as he fought his way towards the streets. Finally, he came to another door, booted it open and was back outside in the sunlight.
Now the streets were bustling with people. He still held the karambit in his fist, having forgotten it was there as his eyes swept the street for the Nusra goons. The entrance to the Al-Hamidiyeh market was right in front of him. From scanning the map on his phone earlier, he knew that the market was a commercial ribbon of shops on both sides of the street.
Once inside the market, it was a straight shot for five-hundred meters, right to the mosque.
Deckard forced his way through the throngs of people and into the entrance of the market. Several saw the blood splattered across his shirt and stepped aside of their own volition. Inside the market, Deckard turned right. With the arched roof reaching across the market, it basically formed a long tunnel all the way to the exit where the mosque was. The corrugated metal roof was held up by an iron support structure. Deckard could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel, some five-hundred meters away. He took off at a dead sprint.
His legs felt wobbly, his arms slightly out of tune with his body as they reciprocated with his legs. He was over twenty-four hours without sleep and had been in combat off and on for days. His body would charge with adrenaline for a fight and then dump it, leaving him drained. Now he steeled himself for one final push to the finish line.
Shops filled with spices, produce, and clothing passed on both sides and became a blur as Deckard’s long strides ate up the ground in front of him. The daylight at the end of the tunnel was growing as he got closer, his lungs struggling to fill with air because of the throbbing pain in his side.
Suddenly a police officer blew his whistle and jumped out in front of Deckard. His body reacted before his mind even fully processed what was happening. The karambit was still in his fist. Deckard had his trigger finger looped through the hole at the end of the karambit’s handle, and used it like a set of brass knuckles to plow the policemen in the jaw with. The cop went down and stayed down. He would wake up in the hospital, but at least he would wake up.
Deckard had barely even slowed down and vaulted over a fruit stand as he continued to run towards the mosque. He dodged several more pedestrians as he reached the end of the market. Suddenly, he stood in the remains of the Temple of Jupiter. The Roman ruin had columns and arches that formed colonnades on both sides of the walkway. There on the walkway was four merchants pushing a wooden cart covered in children’s toys on display and for sale. One of the merchants had a long black beard.
The four Nusra fighters turned towards the sound of the commotion as Deckard dashed towards them. Civilians scattered in all directions. About fifty meters from the Jupiter temple was the Umayyad mosque.
As Deckard crashed into the nearest Nusra fighter, the jihadist held up his arm to try to defend against the attack. Deckard reached over the arm and snaked the karambit under his jaw on the far side of his neck. He then used his forearm to push against the side of the jihadist’s face while simultaneously drawing the hook of the karambit across his throat. The Filipino fighting knife cut across the jihadist’s neck at a depth of about two inches. He dropped to the ground, clutching his throat.
His buddy saw what was going on and jumped into the fray, grabbing Deckard by the wrist to try to prevent him from doing any more damage with his knife hand. Deckard simply reversed the knife around and hooked the blade over his opponents wrist, slashing through the flesh and breaking his grip. He maintained pressure on the forearm and locked it in with his weak hand while slashing the jihadist’s triceps muscle and finishing by slashing one of his eyeballs.
By this time, Tiger had backed away from the cart and began reaching for a pistol he kept in concealment under his shirt. The remaining Nusra fighter was doing the same. Deckard’s knife hand shot out and hooked the karambit into Tiger’s elbow, getting him in a vicious arm-lock that tore through his skin and the ligaments underneath. The other Nusra fighter almost had his pistol out by now, so Deckard punched Tiger in the forehead with the metal loop at the end of his knife and quickly diverted his attention to the other would-be gunman.
The pistol had barely cleared leather when Deckard stepped into the attack, coming up under what would have been the gun arm, forced the Nusra fighter into a bent over position, and slashed his fingers. The pistol dropped to the ground, and Deckard slashed his throat.
Tiger had recovered enough to wipe some of the blood flowing down his face away and grab his own pistol. Deckard went for a grab while pivoting sideways. Tiger squeezed off a shot with the Glock that chiseled into one of the Roman pillars behind Deckard. Before he could get off another shot, Deckard slammed the hook edge of the Karambit into his inner elbow and forced him down, then used it to slash through his fingers and pry the gun out of his grasp. Finally, Deckard went in low, sinking the Karambit into Tiger’s groin and ripping upwards.
The Filipino blade carved the Chechen open from groin all the way up to his chest, opening him like a Christmas turkey.
All four of the terrorists were now dead or dying.
Deckard turned his attention to the cart they had been pushing. Ripping through the stuffed animals and plastic toys, the facade on the top of the cart easily came away and crashed to the ground. Inside was what Deckard had been looking for. The bomb that they had pulled out of a bunker in Libya; the chemical weapon was laying in the bottom of the cart.
He cursed as he looked down at the LED screen attached to the side of the weapon. There was 29 seconds left on the clock. The Nusra fighters had intended to martyr themselves. The market and the area just outside the mosque were now filled with people. The results of deploying a chemical weapon here would kill thousands of people.
Leaning over the cart, Deckard reached inside and quickly began punching in the activation/deactivation code that Bill had briefed them on before they left Turkey. He could already hear police whistles behind him. He hit the enter button, then the eight digit code number, and finally pressed enter a second time.
The red numbers on the display screen froze at twelve seconds.