“Deckard!” Nadi shouted. “Deckard, wake up!”
As she shook him, Deckard bolted upright into a sitting position as he was startled awake. He was struggling to catch his breath as if he had just sprinted for a mile.
“Deckard, you’re hurting me,” Nadi said as she grabbed his forearm.
It was only then that Deckard realized that he had her wrist in a death grip. He had gripped her so strongly in his sleep that he had left bruises on her.
“You were having a nightmare,” she whispered.
Deckard laid back down and tried to catch his breath.
“What were you dreaming about?”
“I don’t know,” Deckard said.
“It’s okay, go back to sleep.”
Nadi ran her hand down his chest.
They had several days to themselves now. Bill was talking about putting the entire team on leave for a couple weeks. Then, earlier that night they got an urgent request. A repeat customer, the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Tomorrow it was back to work.
Deckard held Nadi as she drifted off in his arms. He stared at the ceiling until the sun came up.
Liquid Sky hit the ground at Isa Air Base in Bahrain at 9:52PM local time. Two liaison officers from Nerve met them to drive the team to the company’s headquarters. Nerve’s CEO was the former commander of America’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, however the company itself was owned by the UAE. Emiratizing certain functions of private military companies was looked upon favorably by those who gave those companies mandates involving U.S. national security.
The tarmac on Isa Air base was covered with dozens of American F-16 fighter jets, backlit by the golden runway lights. The fighter jets were standing by, just in case something popped off.
The team was driven in two black SUVs heading north on King Hamad highway. Through the night they traveled up the length of the island to Manamah. The island of Bahrain had a population of only 1.2 million but only half of them were actual natives of Bahrain. In addition to hosting U.S. forces in the Isa Air Base, Bahrain was also home to the U.S. 5th Fleet. The strategic importance of the island Kingdom to the United States could not be over emphasized. Then there was the Saudi issue.
As the saying went in Saudi Arabia, “Allah does not see across the bridge.” Taking the causeway across fourteen miles of ocean, Saudis would stop at the liquor stores located on the Bahrain side of the bridge before heading to the discotheques and club life on the island. In Saudi Arabia it wasn’t easy for young men to find ways to spend their leisure money, but in Bahrain there was plenty of alcohol, and Russian prostitutes, to be found if you knew where to look.
The Arab Spring had taken Bahrain by storm starting in 2011 and this was a major concern to Saudi Arabia. Like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia was a kingdom, not a democracy. Like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia had a troublesome problem. The Royal family in Saudi Arabia was Sunni and had a Shia minority population on their eastern coast, one that had revolted in the past during the late 1970s and 80s. Bahrain had a Sunni Royal family that ruled over a Shia majority that made up as much as 70% of their country.
When protestors first began taking to the streets and occupying the Pearl roundabout in Manama, the Royal family of Bahrain responded with a crackdown, arresting and even shooting protestors who were demanding liberalization and increased representation in government. Unknown to much of the West, many Shia Muslims in the Middle East suffered under inequities not unlike black Americans had in the United States in the 1950’s.
The killing of protestors created even larger protest movements as Shias rallied around the funerals of their dead. The demonstrations grew stronger and stronger. Various camps within the Shia movement demanded not just political reforms, but a revolution that included the removal of Bahrain’s Royal family.
Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most medieval and repressive country in the Middle East, knew they had similar issues on the home front with their Shia minority, a minority that lived in squalor and poverty despite the immense oil wealth that the country produced. The Sunni fears in Saudi Arabia were that if the Kingdom of Bahrain fell to the Arab Spring, that the Saudi Royal family would be next on the chopping block.
Sure enough, the protests movement soon spread from Bahrain to the eastern villages of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Royal family moved to secure their flank by deploying the Saudi National Guard to Bahrain. Armored personnel carriers and armed troops rolled across the causeway linking the two kingdoms to help Bahrain repress the protestors as the movement continued to gain steam.
With a strict media blackout imposed on Bahrain, and Western media intentionally not reporting on the crack downs because of American oil and defense interests in the region, things seemed to quiet down some. Then, when riot police in Bahrain shot and killed several teenage demonstrators, the entire Shia uprising kicked into high gear once again. In a country of only 600,000 it was estimated that nearly 100,000 were protesting in the streets each night.
The Royal family of Bahrain was teetering on the brink.
Shia protestors might have wanted their freedom, but Saudi Arabia was determined to control their own Shia problem and by extension that of Bahrain. The United States and Britain had geo-strategic interests which overrode the call for democracy. This pointed out the absurdity of the West supporting so-called democracy movements in Libya, Syria, and Egypt, all while suppressing them elsewhere.
This was when Liquid Sky was called in to help deal with the problem.
Their vehicles pulled into a walled compound within the city and parked. The two liaison officers from Nerve then walked them into the office. Liquid Sky knew this was another low visibility operation and wore civilian clothes, but civilian employees scooted to the edge of the hall to let them pass. The six-man and one-woman team made an impression.
The team was brought to a conference room and introduced to a lanky, tall American who wore a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a blue-striped tie.
“Lance Klein, director of special activities,” he said as he took turns shaking each of their hands. Bill took a seat without waiting to be told to.
“What are we looking at Lance?”
“Well, we’ve got quite a mess on our hands here,” Lance said as he opened his laptop and brought up a map of Bahrain which was projected onto the screen behind him. “We’ve got belligerents flooding the streets and threatening the Royal family. Our firm has been hired to monitor and do the statistical analysis, which is easy since the belligerents are using Twitter and Facebook to organize. We also have access to private cell phone traffic with the Kingdom’s consent but things are getting out of control. The Royal family is scared, which makes the Saudis scared, which makes the United States scared.”
“What does that got to do with us?” Bill said, hurrying to get to the point.
“Listen,” Lance said holding a hand up in front of him to stop Bill for a moment. “Don’t tell me anything I don’t want to know. The Royal family instructed Nerve to brief a team they have flying in on specifics about individual groups of belligerents in their country. What you do with that information is none of our business.”
Deckard noted the repeated use of the word belligerent rather than protestor, much less pro-democracy protestor.
“There are three main camps within the belligerents who are staging this public disturbance,” Lance began. Deckard rolled his eyes. “We have the leftist nationalist group Wa’ad, the Islamist group al-Wafiq, and a banned Islamist political party called Wafa. All three have now transitioned from calling for islah, or reform, to demanding isqat, the fall of the current regime.”
Lance briefly walked them through the key personalities of each of the three groups and where they were located based on Nerve’s targeting data, most of it based on cellular intercepts. His analysis was that all three groups were now acting as agents of, or at least under the heavy influence of, the Iranian supported terrorist organization known as Hezbollah. Deckard had no idea if this was true, or if Lance was merely telling his employer what they wanted to hear. The Royal family would no doubt like to paint the protestors as being malevolent agents working at the behest of some foreign power rather than address the real grassroots anger on display against their regime.
“The British maintain some home field advantage here,” Lance continued, “since Bahrain is a former colony. They’ve been very good about keeping Al-Jeezera where they want them. After helping to oust Mubarak, they’ve been kept quiet about what is happening here in Bahrain. Much of the police force that is out every night enforcing curfew has come from another former British colony, Pakistan. The British also maintain a strong presence in Bahrain’s National Security Agency and we’ve found that our interests align well with the Brits.
“With things looking bleak out on the streets, the Saudis are sending more of their National Guard to help control the protests, which are turning into riots. The UAE also has a battalion-sized strike team on call if the Royal family decides they need them.
“At the end of the day, we are playing a zero-sum game here. The police go out to crack down on the riots and kill some of the belligerents. This incites them even further, they rally around the funerals in outrage and then return back to the streets with renewed strength. Every one of them that the security forces kill has the effect of recruiting ten more. This cycle has to be broken, and frankly, Bahrain’s security and intelligence services are not up to the challenge. They have relied on the United States and other countries for their defense for too long, and in this situation it is politically embarrassing for America to have their ally cracking down on demonstrators who claim to be pro-democracy.
“Providing direct support to Bahrain to help quell this movement is a political impossibility,” Lance finished.
“I guess that is where we come in,” Zach said as he cracked his knuckles.
With their in-country brief complete, Liquid Sky was led back to their vehicles and driven to a second compound somewhere within the city. They were met there by another American named Todd Perry. The compound he operated out of was a medium-sized residence that had been converted into his field headquarters. As he led the team inside, he told them how he had been the police chief of Miami until retiring a few years ago and getting hired by the Royal family as the Arab Spring picked up momentum.
“Nerve does information,” he told Bill as they walked down the hall. “I’m an operations adviser to the Bahrain Defense Force Intelligence agency, Bahrain’s National Security Agency, and the Ministry of the Interior’s Criminal Investigations Department. Some of these guys have proper training, some don’t but none of them are at the level of American Special Operations. Not by a long shot. That is why I advised that we bring in some professional outside help.”
“We got a brief on the targets back at Nerve.”
“Good. Now I want to emphasis that I called in technicians, specialists like you, because I want the leaders of the opposition movement brought in, but I want them brought in alive. We have several contingencies, but at this stage any fatalities will only make the situation worse. Bring them in quickly and quietly and they will disappear into a state-run prison for twenty or thirty years until things have died down. Way down the line we’ll spring them as a part of some future political deal. That is how these things work. Then they get to go live in exile in Iran or some other camel-fucker country.”
“No promises,” Bill insisted. “If these guys are backed by Hezbollah, things could get ugly out there.”
“I get that, but also understand that I have had significant bonuses approved for each of you if you complete this operation within the parameters I just described.”
“How significant?” Ramon asked.
“One hundred large.”
“Per operator. Bahrain shares an oil field with Saudi Arabia. Money is of little consequence.”
Perry showed them into his arms room.
“Christmas comes early boys,” the former police chief said.
He wasn’t joking. Money really was no object. There was rack after rack lined with top of the line carbines and rifles. Crates of ammo lined the walls. There were grenade launchers, rocket launchers, good old fashion hand grenades. None of it was American for reasons of keeping their mission sterile.
“Load up,” Bill ordered. “Looks like we’re going on safari tonight.”
Liquid Sky began reaching for weapons and ammunition while Perry sat down on a stool and watched.
“Yup,” the former police chief said. “Reminds me of the good old days when we would have to have our batons weighed prior to going and breaking up protests in Miami. After they weighed in correctly we would go to the next room and drill them so we could drop lead rods down inside. Those were the days.
“Ha, better than my grandfather’s time on the force. Back then, the cops would just handcuff niggers to fire hydrants and beat them within an inch of their life!”
Deckard grabbed an AK-47 and then started shoving full magazines into a chest rig he found in one of the boxes. He also palmed a handful of grenades and stuck them in pouches.
“Body armor is in another box down the hall,” Perry informed them. “Haven’t tested the plates. Don’t want to.”
“I’m on it,” Deckard volunteered as the team continued to arm up.
He had to scrub this mission before it ever got off the ground.
Outside the armory, Deckard hurried out the front door to the courtyard where their vehicles were parked. It was the oldest trick in the book. He pulled the pin on one of his hand grenades and then jammed it behind the tire on one of the two SUVs they had arrived in. With the spoon on the grenade held down as it was pinned between the tire and the vehicle, the grenade would remain as it was until they started driving.
He then headed back inside and went to retrieve the body armor. Locating the box in a room at the end of the hall, he first brought the ceramic trauma plates and set them down in the armory, then went back for the nylon carriers that also contained the soft body armor inside. The plates would go into pouches on the outside of the blue vests.
A few more minutes were spent squaring away their kit. Everyone had AK-47s so they would remain consistent and would be able to exchange ammunition. Everyone seemed to find a different handgun though, from Glocks to Berettas. Deckard claimed a Smith and Wesson M&P pistol for himself. With a little luck, he wouldn’t have to use any of his guns this time around.
He wasn’t naive. Deckard had seen enough of the Middle East to be deeply skeptical of the region’s ability to join the modern world, but he also wasn’t some thug for hire. It wasn’t his job to suppress pro-democracy movements when people were suffering under an archaic monarchy. Now he was at the point where Liquid Sky’s mission was conflicting with his own undercover operations to take down the hit team and discover who their puppet master was.
Bill had a three-ring binder with overhead imagery of the three target areas they were to hit. Opening the book, he had the team gather around for some hasty mission planning. Al-Wafiq was the first group they would target; they would expressly go after their leadership cell for a capture, and only a kill if it became necessary as per Perry’s guidelines. Al-Wafiq was the group suspected to be the most deeply involved with Hezbollah and the group they would expect the most resistance from.
The al-Wafiq headquarters, their first target, was located to the south in Tabil. Then, in generally a diagonal line, target two was in Manama and target three was further north on the island of Muharraq. Bill pointed out their first target on the map. The building was not the party’s official headquarters as the group had gone clandestine when the Saudi troops helped the largely Pakistani police force of Bahrain in the crackdowns. Nerve’s intelligence indicated that the leadership cell of al-Wafiq was holed up in the basement madrassa where Shia school children were taught.
“The building is at the end of a dead-end street,” Ramon said. “Choosing that location was a tactical decision. Only one way in or out.”
“We will off set here,” Bill pointed up the block. “Leave the vehicles and move on foot for better dispersal. We don’t want to get taken out by a single RPG.”
“Nerve will be feeding me intel updates in real time,” Perry piped up. “I’ll then keep you guys up to date. They want to use me as a cut out to relay information so those pussies can keep their hands clean.”
“Whatever,” Rick said as he rocked a magazine into the mag well of his AK.
“What do you have around here for manual breaching tools?” Bill asked Perry.
“A whole kit in the corner over there. Battering ram, sledge, bolt cutters, hoolie tool.”
“Zach, take the battering ram. Divide the rest of it amongst yourselves and then we roll out.”
Once everyone was kitted up, Perry walked them to the door.
“Have fun bashing in some skulls,” he told Liquid Sky. “Wish I was coming with.”
“I’ll have a few of the girls scream your name so you don’t feel as bad,” Paul said as he walked by.
Deckard got into the back seat of the rear vehicle. The SUVs had been upgraded with an armor package that would defeat most small arms and shrapnel, but you never knew for sure.
Paul waved goodbye to Perry and got behind the driver’s seat of the lead vehicle. Turning the ignition, he let the truck inch forward while one of Perry’s people opened the front gate for them. No one noticed the grenade drop and Deckard made sure he kept still and didn’t telegraph his knowledge.
The explosion washed out from under the lead vehicle, blowing out all four tires. A piece of flak spider-webbed the windshield on the second SUV. His ear were ringing as Deckard got out of the second vehicle and ran forward to help. Paul stumbled out of the truck followed by Bill. Ramon took one step out and tripped. Deckard ran over and helped him up.
“What?” Ramon’s ears were ringing too.
“Get off the X!” Bill shouted.
Deckard and Ramon ran to the open door where Perry was just picking himself up off the ground. They secured the entrance while the rest of the team flowed inside the hard point the structure. Bill was the last in and slammed the door behind him before locking it.
“What the hell?” Perry asked.
“It had to be one of your monkeys,” Bill said to Perry. “You got a mole in your network.”
“I’ve had these locals on my payroll for months now.”
“That is the problem, you stopped vetting them. This operation is a fucking abortion. Over before it even got off the ground.”
Bill pulled out his cell phone and made a phone call.
“Fuck this shit,” Zach muttered.
Nerve picked up on the second ring.
“It’s me. We need extraction back to the airport,” Bill said. “We’re compromised.”
He paused for a minute while someone on the other end talked.
“This is non-negotiable. Perry’s operation here is blown and I’m pulling my team out of the contract.”
“Roger, just send vehicles. We’ll drive ourselves out.”
Liquid Sky continued to hard point inside the building while they waited. Several of Perry’s Bahraini employees were unceremoniously tossed out the front door and locked out. When Nerve’s second set of SUV’s arrived from their corporate fleet of vehicles, Liquid Sky ran outside, hauled the drivers out and sped off towards the airport.
Deckard sat in the passenger seat of the lead vehicle while Zach drove. Nadi and Bill sat in the back seats. Zach gunned it, pushing ninety miles per hour as they sped south.
Everything was going according to plan.
They were just arriving outside Isa Air Base when Bill received another phone call. He listened to whoever was on the other end for a full minute before speaking.
“Zach,” their team leader said. “Turn us around.”
“Things have changed?”
Zach slowed down and spun the wheel, rolling them over the median and then heading in the opposite direction. Deckard’s hands formed fists.
Bill hung up the phone.
“We are not working directly for Nerve. The Royal family shat ten different kind of bricks when they found out we were canceling our contract.”
“And our rates?” Zach asked.
“Tripled. They could have brought in someone else but there is no time. The bodies are stacking up around the Pearl roundabout. Three hours ago the Saudi military fired tear gas into an alleyway and a couple teenagers died of asphyxia. The protest then turned into a massive riot that scattered those weak-kneed camel fuckers from Saudi Arabia. The counterattack happened just minutes ago. 300 protestors were shot and killed. The whole fucking country is about to be on fire.”
“Holy shit,” Zach cursed. “You ain’t kidding.”
Deckard saw it, the orange glow emanating from the city ahead of them. It wasn’t street lights, it was fire.
“People are finding out about the mass killing on their smart phones from social media. The Royal family is about to shut down internet access but the damage has already been done. We’re up. The mission parameters just changed from capture to kill.”
“Even better,” Nadi remarked.
Deckard looked out the window as Bahrain went up in flames.
Things had just gotten a whole lot more complicated.