“I always made it clear that once I broke one of you, I would have to go out and buy a new one. Now I have to blast out a help wanted. Shooter with nothing to lose. Now hiring.”
Bill paused for a moment to down a gulp of beer.
“On the plus side, we get to split up his share of the contract.”
Liquid Sky sat around Bill’s living room, listening to him chide them. Rick turned and looked out of the corner of his eye. Ramon sat with his arms crossed. Deckard held a half-empty bottle of beer resting on his lap. He looked drunk, but it had nothing to do with the beer. He had just gotten released from the hospital in St. Louis. The doctors said he had a slight concussion. He’d be fine once the swelling of his brain went down in a day or two.
Bill’s widescreen TV was on but muted. Deckard was familiar with the story that BBC was reporting on though. Some eccentric billionaire was building an artificial island off the coast of India in international waters. It was called sea steading, and the platforms were being joined together to form the floating island, but it would be a few more years until the project was complete. With the amount of enemies he had made around the world, maybe he would have to retire there.
“That mission was a total goat fuck,” Rick said.
“Yeah, I picked up on that,” Bill replied. “I’m going to get to the bottom of how we were compromised. After Henderson ate it in Pakistan, we knew we were being shadowed. Maybe this was them showing their hand a second time. First Henderson, then-”
“Then they got Zach,” Rick finished.
Deckard took a swig from his beer.
“By putting us in a situation that would get us killed,” Paul said, thankfully relieving some of the pressure Deckard felt.
“It could be a leak inside Nerve. We thought it was Perry’s people but seeing how intel got leaked to Wafa before we got there and then they called down the monkeys on us, even after we cut Perry out of the loop, you have to see that two plus two equals four,” Bill said.
“You’re making it sound like it is separate players,” Ramon said. “Rather than being the same player behind both Pakistan and Bahrain.”
“If you think you can dig something up, let me know,” Bill said. “Until then, I’ll put my feelers out and see what turns up. I should be able to get some people working counter-intelligence on this issue full time considering the substantial investment that the client has sunk into this outfit.”
“I’ll make some phone calls,” Ramon said. “Discreet phone calls.”
“Have at it. In the meantime, I am laying on a training block for us. A couple weeks R&R wherever each of you wants. Then, we do a one-month training workup Stateside.”
“What kind of training?” Nadi asked.
“Back to the basics,” Bill said. “We need to continue to hone our skills. I bought us a driving and off-road package at Tier One Group in Memphis, followed by a CQB package at the same facility. Then, just because I like to torture all of you, I signed us up for the Lone Operator course at DARC,” Bill said pronouncing the acronym as dar-cee.
“Oh shit,” Ramon said as he tried to stifle a laugh.
“What is that?” Paul asked.
“Full-contact hand to hand combat,” Bill said nonchalantly. “They teach you how to make improvised weapons, stun guns, shanks, shit like that.”
“Sounds like a gas,” Deckard said with his eyes only half open.
With that the meeting was over. Zach was at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and they had beers to drink. Bahrain was just another bad dream.
Deckard rolled over in bed as the smartphone on his nightstand began to vibrate.
Nadi let out a low purr next to him. They had finally been getting some sleep. She had kept him up most of the night. Something about the job and facing death on a regular basis tended to give shooters a crazy sex drive. Deckard couldn’t complain.
Reaching for the phone, he picked up.
“It’s Bill. Come over here right now. I’m in my office.”
What was this about?
“Okay, I’ll be there in a minute.”
The line went dead.
Nadi was sound asleep as Deckard pulled on some clothes and walked over to Bill’s pad. He walked over to the office he had set up. The one Aghassi had been unable to penetrate. Knocking on the door, he stepped inside.
Bill spun around in his chair to face him with his head cocked to the side.
“We’re going to Syria.”
“Jesus,” Deckard said. “That place is a fucking war zone.”
“We’re a man short.”
“Not for long. I already picked someone up. The PMC he was working with wants to unload him. Tough for them to handle. HR had issues. Should fit right in with us. You and I are flying out to meet him tomorrow in a third country that we have business in. The client wants us to secure a package and get it shipped to Turkey.”
“I take it vacation is canceled?”
“We can sleep when we’re dead.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Training is off as well. The world is on fire Deckard. Be ready to roll in the early afternoon.”
Deckard looked around Bill’s home office. Sure enough, the walls had motion and thermal sensors on them. There were several computers in the office and the security looked to be custom.
“Sweet set up,” Deckard said. “Looks like the secret hideout for the Thundercats.”
“Had to bring in a professional to get it all set up. Expensive, but worth it. The client is very particular about commo arrangements. These laptops are just toys, it is that thing over there that makes the magic happen,” Bill pointed to a black hardcase at the end of his desk.
Scooting across the floor on his swivel chair, Bill opened up the case. The black case had a computer built inside of it. There was a screen, a keyboard, and some other switches. There were also input and output plugs.
“Which button launches the nukes?” Deckard said.
“This baby is a cold war relic,” Bill said with a hint of pride in his voice. “It was made as a redundant communications system in case of nuclear war. It bounces signals off the atmosphere rather than satellites, or so that is what I’m told.”
“Continuity of Government?”
“Right, so that the military and the government can still talk to each other after the Soviets push our shit in. Really no need for this system until the nukes fly, except when certain players want to talk behind the scenes without the NSA or others tapping the line and listening in. Those players call it the Pirate’s Net.”
“They hijacked an official communications platform for their own purposes, turning it into a pirate net.”
“That’s how you get shit done,” Bill said as he shut the case. “If you want to protect America, you set aside all this sheepdog bullshit. To hunt a wolf you send a wolf.”
“See you in the afternoon then.”
“Be here by one. Have fun with that little sex kitten until then.”
“Everybody knows Deckard. The way she ran over to you when we found you and Zach in that alley. Zach’s blood was fucking everywhere and you’re doing a faceplant. We all thought you were dead. Nadeesha lost her shit for a second there.”
“Must be my high cheekbones.”
“Enjoy it while it lasts brother, because it never does.”
“Not in this line of work,” Bill said as he turned back to his laptop. “Never.”
Things were moving fast.
After attending to Nadi a few more times in the morning, Deckard told her he was going for a run. He quickly arranged the meeting using a burner phone and threw it as far as he could into the ocean.
“You look like I feel,” a voice said from behind him as he jogged along the beach.
Deckard turned to Aghassi.
“Ate a frag grenade in Bahrain. I’ll be back to normal in a day.”
“That’s what the doctors say.”
The two walked up stone steps to a well-manicured lawn at a French hotel. Aghassi led him inside.
“We’re going to Syria,” Deckard informed him. “Mobilize the other platoon. I want to hit their base of operations here in Mauritius with the platoon you pre-positioned in Madagascar. Once we arrive in Syria I will get comms with Pat and walk the other platoon in to eliminate Liquid Sky. I’ll try to soften them up for you as well.”
“What’s in Syria other than a graveyard?”
“Don’t know. We are going to a third country to pick something up and have it shipped to Turkey. I imagine that we will be smuggling it into Syria.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“No, it doesn’t. I’m leaving for the third country to pick up the package this afternoon. Start putting everything into place. We can’t afford to fuck this up. This is my last mission with Liquid Sky. Rick is already suspicious, I had to kill Zach in Bahrain, and nearly kill myself just to maintain my cover.”
“Want me to have Pat put his name out there and see if he can get picked up the same way you did?”
“No, I don’t think lightning will strike the same place twice. Besides, he is more valuable to me on the outside working with the assault force that will drop the hammer on Liquid Sky. I want both Samruk platoons ready to go.”
“I’ll make it happen.”
Together, they walked to the hotel room. Using his key card, Aghassi opened the door.
“Listen,” the former ISA operator said. “I found out about Bill, found out what all this is really about.”
“What do you mean?”
“I made contact with Dusty and Flakjacket. They are wrapping up their deployment to the horn of Africa with Dev Group. I have the number for the Iridium phone they have been using. They want to talk to you directly.”
Aghassi handed Deckard his cellphone and showed him the number to call. Deckard hit send and held the phone to his ear. He listened as the phone began to ring. Aghassi opened the sliding door and sat out on the balcony.
“Dusty? It’s Deckard.”
“I was told you might be calling.”
“I have some questions for you if you have a minute.”
“I have a minute and I already know what you’re going to ask. Your buddy already told me. You want to know about Bill Geddes.”
“Bill Geddes is a fucking cancer.”
Deckard was caught off guard by such a candid comment from one of Bill’s former teammates in Dev Group.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that there is a cancer that has grown within Dev Group and Bill is right at the center of it. He is responsible for the spread of this cancer. You know about the scalpings and shit?”
“I’ve become familiar.”
“It gets worse.”
“How the hell did all of this happen?” Deckard asked. “I mean, I’m aware of a few incidents, some things that happened in the heat of the moment, sometimes honest mistakes being made in combat. But things that none of us would be proud of.”
“This is different, dude. Way different. This is pervasive throughout the unit and Bill takes it with him wherever he goes having left the cancer behind with us. You remember early on in the war when we lost Chief McAtee?”
“I wasn’t there. I heard he was on an OP in Afghanistan that got overrun or something.”
“Yeah, and there is a whole lot more. Stuff that never made it to the press. Stuff that got scrubbed even out of official debriefs.”
“When the other Dev Group element in that AO got there to rescue those guys they found McAtee. He was still technically alive when our guys found him.”
“They had been in the process of cutting his head off but the knives were not sharp enough to fully do the job. He was in deep shock, there was nothing that could be done to save him. The enemy also ass-raped him.”
“Bill Geddes was the team leader that led the rescue effort. It was bad, Deckard, real bad. They got denied extract, got denied air support for political reasons. They left those two recce teams out there flapping. Bill blatantly disregarded orders and left his position to go save his team. No one was surprised, Bill was always an operator’s operator. Shit, he was one of my instructors when I was in Green Platoon. He was the real deal.
“After McAtee, Bill changed. A lot of us did. Bill made it clear to everyone in Dev that from here on out it was an eye for an eye. Scorched earth. He started going out on objectives and taking scalps. The unofficial insignia of his squadron has a couple of hatchets on it anyway so they started carrying hatchets out on missions. The younger guys that Bill mentored got into it as well.
“He brought up a whole generation of Dev Group operators and corrupted them, turned them into war criminals. There have been some beheadings, and cleaning out entire compounds, man, woman, and children. Executions too.”
“No one tried to stop it?”
“Yeah, one of our officers went up to JSOC to try to shut this shit down. Guess what?”
“JSOC wanted to paper over it.”
“You got it. When that officer went to blow the whistle internally, JSOC immediately threatened to yank his security clearance.”
“These days it seems like Top Secret clearances are used as a de facto gag order and have little to do with keeping national security secrets.”
“There have been others. OGA guys have spoken out. Rangers have tried to drop dime. It is the same shit every time. Dev Group gets shut down in Afghanistan for a month so that JSOC has time to conduct an official investigation, the real purpose of which is to paper over the war crimes. Then, they are right back in business. They make sure that a SEAL gets assigned as the investigative officer and he goes in and briefs the witnesses on what he wants them to say they saw as opposed to what they actually saw.”
“What about Admiral Corbett, the JSOC commander? He was one of yours.”
“Dev is too far gone, man. I’m just trying to ride out my time to retirement and hoping I don’t get killed in the process.”
“Corbett is covering it up?”
“He knows a little about it, but isn’t doing anything to stop it. It is more of a see-no-evil deal for him. Deep down, he doesn’t want to know. If this shit ever went public it would lead to Dev Group getting disbanded. Dude, I’ve seen these guys call in airstrikes on entire families just for shits and giggles. This war has been big money, lots of deployment funding rolling it and no one wants to see that go away.
“So I don’t know what you are into Deckard, but if you are asking around about Bill, you need to stay the fuck away from him. Like I said, the guy is a fucking cancer on the Special Operations community. There is a conspiracy of silence about the war crimes and it goes straight to the top.”
Deckard was silent for a moment.
“I appreciate you filling me in on all of this, Dusty.”
“No problem man. And hey?”
“Be fucking careful.”
“Yeah, I was afraid you would say that. In that case, good luck.”
“Hit me up when we are both back in the world. I’ll buy you a drink.”
“I’m going to need it.”