Deckard squinted his eyes against the dust kicked up by the spinning props of the plane as he and Bill jumped off the back and hit the ground at Benina Airport. They had just arrived in Benghazi, Libya. The two Liquid Sky men stepped through the haze and out of the dust cloud.
Thirty feet in front of them at the edge of the runway, a lone figure stood with his arms crossed. Waiting. He wore khaki 5.11 pants, a black polo, Army-issue desert boots, and mirrored Oakley M-Frames. His hair cut was both high and tight.
“There he is,” Bill said.
Deckard took one look and instantly regretted not having had Pat try to get recruited by Liquid Sky to replace Zach.
“A real life fucking legend,” Bill said. “And available on short notice.”
“I wonder why,” Deckard said out of the corner of his mouth.
The two Liquid Sky shooters approached The Operator. He was almost as big as Bill. Almost. Up close Deckard could see that his short-cropped hair was salt and pepper throughout.
“I’m Bill,” the team leader said as he shook hands with The Operator. “This is Deckard.”
The Operator took Deckard’s hand.
“I do not know you, but I know of you,” he said, his words stunted as if there was a period after each one.
“Thanks, I guess.”
“My squadron Sergeant Major said you were a smart aleck.”
“Listen,” Bill cut in. “I’m making you the same deal I made Deckard when we picked him up a month ago. You are hired on a provisional basis. You’re on probation until I say otherwise.”
The Operator nodded his head confidently.
“I will perform to standard.”
“Jesus, you look like a real-life action figure,” Bill commented.
The Operator said nothing.
“Have you found us a ride?”
“I have secured transportation,” the new Liquid Sky member said. “I have changed the oil, test-driven the vehicle, and added improvised armor using rubber conveyer-belt material I recovered from a nearby scrapyard.”
“That’s what I call service,” Bill said with satisfaction.
The three got into the Toyota Hilux that The Operator had procured and Bill drove them away from the airport. Benina Airport was just one more in a long procession of run down third world airports that they had all visited. Customs had gotten word to leave them alone and so they drove by the roundabout outside the airport and headed towards the Mediterranean coast.
Deckard noticed that Bill was driving the route by memory. He didn’t use a map or GPS. Half an hour later they arrived at an oceanside compound.
“This is Yezza’s place,” Bill informed them. “An old friend. All we have to do is take possession of the package and make sure it gets on a plane for Turkey.”
“What’s the package?” Deckard asked.
Soon they arrived at yet another walled compound of the type that was ubiquitous across the Middle East. Two guards stood by the front gate armed with SIG 553 sub-machine guns. Bill leaned out the open window of the pickup and waved at them. Recognizing the former SEAL, the Libyans opened the gate and let them in.
Bill parked in the driveway next to a well-tended garden and the three Americans walked towards the door. The walls looked like they were scrubbed with lyme on a regular basis. The ocean waves could be heard crashing gently on the nearby shore. A maid answered the door as they walked onto the front steps but was brushed aside as a severely overweight Libyan pushed her away. He wore Western clothes: blue jeans and a collared shirt with gold Ray Ban sunglasses but somehow he still managed to look like he was rocking a Gaddafi starter set.
“Bill, my friend!”
“What’s happening Yezza?” Bill asked as they embraced each other. “These two are part of my new crew,” he said pointing to the other Liquid Sky members.
“Welcome, welcome,” Yezza said as he stood aside and let them into his home. Turning to the maid, he motioned for her to get to the kitchen and fetch some drinks.
“Yezza is one of my boys going way back,” Bill said. “Good for action and logistics.”
“I could find a Russian hooker in the Vatican,” Yezza said with a confident smile.
“Did I teach you that?”
“Does a hobby horse have a wooden dick?”
Even Deckard laughed at that one as Yezza cracked the joke in broken English. The Operator remained expressionless.
Yezza walked them through his living room. Paintings of seascapes were hung on the walls. Otherwise, it was all velvet pillows and golden curtain rods. Out on the back deck they had a brilliant view of the ocean and a cloudless blue sky.
“Damn, this place is pretty nice when you guys are not killing each other,” Bill chuckled.
“I know, I know,” Yezza said as if he were stating the obvious. “Please sit,” he said pointing to the metal chairs he had around a table.
“Like I was saying,” Bill began. “Yezza can get you anything. This guy knows guns.”
“I am the man,” Yezza confirmed.
As they took their seats, the maid set out bottles of beer for them.
“Talk to me, Yezza,” Bill said. “You know what I’m here for.”
“Yes, well, this is something quite special. It exists, of course, or you wouldn’t be here. I’ve located what you are interested in.”
“But?” Deckard saw it coming from a mile away.
“But it is held by another militia.”
“For fucks sake, I should have known this couldn’t be simple,” Bill said.
Yezza swallowed a gulp of beer. Upon closer inspection, Deckard noted that he wasn’t just wearing Ray Bans. No, those were Ray Bahns. Those bad boys really closed the deal.
“It is the Green Mountain militia boys,” Yezza said with a sigh. “They’ve been a thorn in my side ever since the Americans peeled out of Benghazi. The Agency came back after a month but I don’t have protection the way I once did, you know? Anyway, the militia is holding on to the weapons stockpile as a bargaining chip.”
“What do they plan to do with it?” Bill asked.
“Trade it to the CIA in exchange for a security contract that will be routed through the State Department.”
“Some people never learn.”
“Tell me about it. First Gaddafi was public enemy number one for the United States, then you were friends, then you flipped the switch on him and here we are. I stopped trying to figure out what your President is thinking. Now I’m just hoping to still be standing when the smoke clears.”
“We did not elect the usurper,” The Operator said. “We serve the people.”
Deckard bit his tongue. After all, he was the team smartass.
“Fucking undercover Muslim,” Bill snorted. “No offense.”
Yezza held up a hand.
“None taken my friend. Surely there must be another member of the Bush family that can run for office, no?”
“I hope so,” Bill said. “I’m trying to run a business here after all.”
They sat in silence for one long moment, looking at each other.
“Can you take us there?” Bill asked.
“Yes, tonight,” Yezza answered. “I have a private collection of weapons in the house that you can choose from.”
“And shipment on to the destination?”
“I ship weapons from here to Turkey. Where they go after that I do not know,” Yezza said, his fat face split wide open as he smiled. “Everyone knows this.”
Yezza’s private armory was impressive to say the least. It was all top of the line along, with special rare weapons he had cherry picked from the stockpiles the arms dealer had taken control of during and after the civil war.
The wall hangers were something else. Deckard even spotted an ultra-rare Nazi STG-44 submachine gun. In some ways it was the predecessor to Mikhail Kalashnikov’s famous AK-47 rifle.
Deckard claimed an HK 416 for himself. It seemed that Yezza also got a load of weapons that had flowed into the country from the European powers during the 2011 Libyan Civil War. Next he found a Glock 17 and a holster for it.
“The Glock,” The Operator surprised Deckard as he came up from behind. “A reliable pistol. I prefer the 1911. That is what I carried in the desert.”
“The Creator has no need for open carry,” The Operator deadpanned.
“What’s that over there?” Deckard asked pointing to the 1911 pistol on the wall.
“Yes, that is what I will use.”
The Operator picked up the pistol and immediately blew through a complete functions check, his hands moving in a blur of motion as he completed checking the safety, trigger, and trigger reset in a fraction of a second as he worked the gun as he had so many others, doing it out of pure muscle memory.
“Perfect. A Rock Island Armory .45 caliber 1911. It is not a five thousand dollar pistol, nor need it be.” The Operator nodded. “There are show horses and there are work horses. This is a work horse and will perform to my standards.”
“Yeah,” Deckard said. “Cool.”
He was pretty gear queer himself, but this guy was over the top.
Bill walked in, grabbed up the other 416 hanging on the wall, blew dust off a Beretta 92F pistol and walked out.
“Hurry the fuck up you two, we need to get on the road.”
The Operator looked at the STG-44 on the wall for a moment, seriously considering carrying a World War Two era gun into combat and then changed his mind and opted for a SIG MP-X sub-machine gun with a suppressor.
Deckard followed him out the door, shuddering to think of what was coming next.
Yezza pointed to the bright lights coming from above the desert ridge. Night had come fast in the desert.
“That is where you will find what you are looking for,” he said. “You can take my fighters.”
They had driven an hour outside of Benghazi into the desert to an old ammunition bunker complex that had been built by the Gaddafi regime. It had changed hands a few times over the last couple years from Gaddafi, to an American private military company that had been hired to secure WMD sites in Libya, then to Yezza who was hired to watch over the depot until it could be destroyed; then, the Green Mountain militia shot their way in and captured it from him about a month ago.
Now, the Green Mountain militia was working a backroom deal with the U.S. government to turn over the arms depot and everything inside in exchange for a hefty security contract paid for by the State Department. Liquid Sky had to get what they needed out of the depot before that happened.
The three Liquid Sky members stood in the desert with Yezza and a dozen of his gunfighters.
“You can stay in the low ground here and sneak right up to the perimeter,” the Libyan gun runner said.
“I appreciate the help,” Bill said. “I’ll take however many fighters you are willing to lend me.”
“Take them all. I want this depot back in my hands.”
“So you can sell the weapons to the Syrian rebels?”
“So I can sell the weapons to the Syrians and then trade in the scraps to the Americans for that big time security contract,” Yezza said with a smile.
“We’ll see what we can do.”
Deckard took point as the others filed in behind him. He kept in the defilade, creeping his way up the ridge towards the arms depot. When the top of the concrete bunkers came into view, he hunched over to avoid skylining himself against the horizon. Finally, he got down on his stomach and leopard crawled forward to a depression that kept him out of the bright stadium lighting that surrounded the bunkers.
Bill snorted behind him, not even bothering to crawl, he just bent over and stayed as low as possible then laid down alongside Deckard. The Operator conducted a perfect high crawl straight out of the field manual. Yezza’s fighters followed Bill’s lead, and then plopped down next to them facing the armory.
“What do you think?” Bill asked Deckard while they waited for The Operator to catch up.
Deckard took one look at the bunkers and sized them up in an instant. He was an expert tactician if nothing else. He wished he had a whole company of Rangers to do this right, but from working in unconventional warfare environments, he knew how to work with what he had on hand. The compound was lightly guarded considering there were over ten bunkers, presumably filled with weaponry.
“Move to contact on the closest bunker to establish a foothold while flexing four of Yezza’s fighters and one of us on the right flank of the objective to knock out that technical,” Deckard said pointing to a pickup truck with a ZPU-2 anti-aircraft gun mounted on its bed. “Use the ZPU to suppress the other bunkers and enemy troops while we initiate our movement to the next bunker. Leapfrog forward in alternating bounds from bunker to bunker while we have a driver cheat forward with the ZPU to keep suppressive fire on the enemy.”
“That’s a pretty good plan, Deckard.”
“I’d like to think so,” Deckard said with a hint of feigned arrogance in his voice.
“But I’ve got a better one,” Bill said.
“I left my wingsuit at home.”
“Delta Dan, get up here,” Bill said giving The Operator another nickname. “You’re up.”
The Operator crawled up to their position and looked over the compound.
“Where do you want me?”
“I want you to take down this compound.”
“Make it happen.”
The Operator checked the loads in his 1911 and MP-X sub-machine gun one final time before crawling off towards the compound.
“You can’t be fucking serious?” Deckard said. “We’re going to back him up right?”
“Maybe. First let’s see what he can do. I’ve heard some stories about this dude.”
“You and me both.”
“Word on the street is that The Operator is a legend in the unit. Embassy take downs, raiding drug labs in the jungle, low-vis hostage rescue ops in denied areas, blowing up SCUD launchers out in the desert, shoot outs with the Russian mob on ops to recover nuclear material, calling in airstrikes until there is nothing left but armpits hanging from tree limbs. Bat shit crazy stuff.”
“He is a legend. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt, then went back and got t-shirts for all his ex-wives and estranged children.”
“You’re a hater, Deckard.”
“The Operator is unstable. They fucked that dude in the head so many ways that it isn’t even funny. He ran combat operations forever, many of them pumped full of issued Modafinil to keep him awake for long-duration high-stress missions. That and pseudo-ephedrine which the guys call ‘ranger speed.’ When he started showing signs of PTSD, they didn’t want to let him go out to pasture, so they prescribed him a half-dozen different medications, none of them cleared by the FDA by the way, to deal with depression, anxiety, and paranoia, not to mention drugs for anti-psychosis purposes and others to help him sleep at night. They ran him like that for years until he finally burned out and snapped.”
“Yeah, down in Basra. The Operator lost his fucking mind and started murdering civilians during operations, killing them and torturing them in the worst kinds of ways. He was a senior-ranking guy and couldn’t be reined in, but everyone avoided going outside the wire with him.”
“Sounds like he is the right man for the job,” Bill said approvingly. “Is that all?”
“That and the steroids, but I guess that goes without saying.”
The Operator was now three quarters of the way to the technical with the ZPU machine gun mounted on it. He high-crawled silently, sticking to the shadows.
“Besides,” Bill said. “This is all I could get on short notice.”
“Did you check the personal ads in the back of Soldier of Fortune magazine?”
“I put it out over the secret squirrel net and this was the first experienced guy that could be on a plane in a few hours. I tried my guys from Dev, but they are all mixed up in this South America deal.”
“Training Colombia’s Counter-Terrorist unit?”
“Way better,” Bill said as they watched The Operator slowly crawl towards the technical. A Green Mountain militia man was leaning against the back of the truck smoking a cigarette. Two others stood near the truck smoking and joking with each other.
“A couple of our boys got out of the Navy and went to work with the real pirates, those fucks on Wall Street. Once these large brokerage firms saw SEAL Team Six on their resumes, they got earmarked to go straight to the top. Every one of those yuppies wants a Bin Laden killer on their staff just for bragging rights.
“So my guys, Alek and Stew, they get a line on some investments off the coast of Colombia and Venezuela. They buy in low, then convince the top guys at these brokerage firms to buy in as well. The reason why it is so low to invest is because the company is underwater, financially speaking, so Alek and Stew round up the boys and do some extracurricular activity putting the competition underwater literally.”
“The ultimate insider trading.”
“Who is better at underwater demolition than we are? Fly them down there on Teeny Weeny, sabotage the competing oil company’s hardware, and get back home in time for hot sandwiches. All the evidence is at the bottom of the ocean. Who is going to go down there and do forensics and link it back to Alek and Stew?”
“These guys are contractors like we are?”
“Some. Others are just active-duty operators on leave from Dam Neck.”
“Hey, here we go,” Bill said as he started turkey-necking towards the objective. “Our boy is ready to go.”
Deckard looked over in time to see The Operator stand up and stay low as he moved forward. He got the first Libyan in a choke hold before dragging him behind the technical and breaking his neck. Leaving the body concealed behind the truck, The Operator crouched down and moved along the tailgate, inching closer to the two militia men who were talking to each other.
Everyone knew about The Operator. He had been a Golden Gloves semi-pro boxer at one point. Practiced Thai kickboxing at a gym in Fayetteville for years. Then, his skills had been further refined. There was an old school Special Forces soldier who could be contacted for private lessons, provided you had been vetted and knew what number to call. He was one of those scary dudes who did work from Laos to Nicaragua. Specialized in silent takedowns of sentries and other esoteric skills.
Deckard had heard the stories, but now he would see it for himself.
Breaking from cover, The Operator confronted the two militia men.
His boot was a blur of motion that connected with the closest Libyan’s temple. The Muay Thai kick sent the militia man spinning. He collapsed against the side of the truck and then crumpled to the ground. The second militia man went for the pistol on his hip but never made it. The Operator, moved and a second later his opponent had an ear torn off and one of his eyes gouged. Before the Libyan could even feel the pain, The Operator finished him off with a vicious right hook, dropping him.
“What do you think?” Bill asked.
“Someone has studied the martial art of ripping and tearing. Not something they teach at the Special Operations Combatives Program.”
“No, it isn’t.”
The Operator was looking over the ZPU-2 heavy machine gun on the back of the pickup when two more Libyans came walking out of the nearest bunker on a security patrol. They glanced over at the technical.
The MP-X sub-machine gun materialized in The Operator’s hands as he popped into a perfect shooting stance. The sub-gun burped out two stunted bursts through the suppressor with hardly a gap between each trigger squeeze. Both of the militiamen went down with bursts placed center mass in their chests.
Without missing a beat, The Operator climbed on to the back of the pickup truck and sat down on the thin metal seat behind the twin barreled ZPU-2 Anti-Aircraft gun. Spinning the traverse and elevation wheels on the weapon system, he used the metal bullseye sight on the gun to aim at a group of Green Mountain militiamen a hundred and fifty meters away near another bunker.
With the sites aligned on target, The Operator set his size 11.5 desert boot down on the foot peddle which acted as the trigger for the firing mechanism.
The,n the night lit up with orange flame from the twin-barreled weapon. The 14.5mm rounds went downrange to devastating effect. Flesh was separated from bone as red ribbons shot into the air. Then, the bullets churned into the concrete surface of the arms depot and kicked up a thick gray dust.
Spinning the traverse wheel, The Operator walked his gunfire into another technical on the other side of the bunker complex. Sparks blasted around the pickup like angry fireflies and in seconds it was reduced to scrap metal.
“Let’s go,” Bill said as he stood up.
Deckard ran forward with a dozen of Yezza’s fighters. Several of them began firing their AK-47’s at absolutely nothing as they jogged towards the closest bunker. Deckard yelled at them in Arabic to hold their fire.
“Kif! Kif, you assholes!”
They took cover next to the heavy steel doors of the bunker just as The Operator abandoned the ZPU-2. He had burned through the entire box of ammunition. Reaching down, he recovered an FN FAL rifle from one of the militia men he had killed with his hands and feet before joining them at the bunker.
A few pop shots still echoed throughout the arms depot. Someone shouted in Arabic.
Bill looked back to The Operator.
“Go take care of that while we secure the package.”
The Operator turned and ran into the night.
“I like him,” Bill said with a smile.
“Suffice to say that I have my reservations,” Deckard said dryly.
“Don’t worry. He’ll be dead after a mission or two and we’ll just hire someone new.”
By now, Yezza had come waddling over the ridge and made his way towards them.
“What did I tell you!” Yezza shouted to Bill. “Did my fighters not fight bravely in the re-capturing of my bunkers?”
“Oh, yeah,” Bill confirmed. “Every one of them is a hero.”
This made Yezza smile.
“Now do me a favor and show me which bunker has our stuff in it.”
“Come with me,” Yezza said. He was panting, out of breath from his arduous journey from their trucks.
The Libyan arms dealer led them across the way to another bunker. Off in the distance, they heard Kalashnikov fire. The heavier 7.62×51 FN FAL rounds answered back. As they approached the bunker, Deckard thought he heard the rapid fire of a pistol, probably God’s gun, the 1911 doing its thing.
The sliding door was secured with nothing more than a bicycle chain and a padlock. Bill shot the lock off and Yezza ordered his men to slide open the steel door. With no small degree of bitching and moaning about it, the Libyans man handled the bunker door open.
Bill clicked on a Surefire flashlight he had brought along and used the light to cut through the darkness inside. There were metal racks loaded with conventional dumb bombs that could be dropped from airplanes. There were wooden crates, some empty, some full. As they walked inside, Deckard could also see 130mm artillery rounds stacked against one wall.
Their footsteps made hallow echoes inside the bunker. Everything was covered in dust. Deckard used his own pen light to find his way.
“Bingo,” Bill said from deeper in the bunker. “Come over here.”
Deckard joined Bill to see what he was looking at.
“Know what that is?”
From the tail fins and markings Deckard made a determination.
“Russian dumb bombs,” he said as he looked over the long green bombs in the metal rack. “The mounting lugs on the sides mean they are designed to be dropped from an aircraft.”
“And the payload.”
Deckard noted the yellow band around each of the bombs in the rack.
“I’m not sure.”
“Inside is a small tube that acts as a burster when the nose fuse is touched off on impact. Packed around the burster are a series of larger tubes which can hold up thirty liters.”
“Thirty liters of what?” Deckard asked, fearing he already knew the answer.
“Each one of these puppies is a giant mustard dispenser, and not the kind you find at a hot dog stand.”
Deckard clenched his teeth. It was nasty stuff. When deployed against humans, the gas acted as a blister agent against any exposed skin and in the lungs when inhaled. The first and second degree burns the gas caused could take up to a week to kill those who were exposed. The chemical warfare agent had killed thousands of troops during the first world war.
Yezza barged in between them, looking at the bombs that Bill had found.
“This is what you are looking for my friend?”
“It sure is,” Bill said, clapping Yezza on the shoulder. “Have your boys load two up on the trucks. You can sell the rest to the CIA for destruction.”
“And a big fat security contract.”
“And a big fat security contract,” Bill confirmed. “C’mon Deckard. Let’s go flip the off switch on our pal outside before he fights all the way to Tehran.”
Bill brushed passed them and walked toward the exit.
“Gotta get back to the home station so I can get comms with higher and find out the rest of the game plan.”
Deckard followed behind him, his rifle held by the pistol grip at his side.
“We got a war waiting for us in Syria, that’s what.”