One week later:

 Karachi, Pakistan

Deckard crouched next to the body of a dead Pakistani doctor.

His white jacket was stained red as blood leaked into a pool beneath him.  Ripping a few buttons on his shirt, Deckard could easily spot the entry wounds.  A veteran of countless firefights, he quickly identified them as being from 9mm bullets.  Two shots, each with impeccable round placement.  The shooter had used the doctor’s collar as a point of reference when aligning his sights.

Aim small, miss small.

The entry wounds were almost touching each other.

Direct Action: Chapter Twelve

Read Next: Direct Action: Chapter Twelve

Leaving the corpse behind, he strode up the steps, taking them three at a time to the front door of the hospital.  The door had been locked so the shooters had used an explosive charge to breach and make entry into the structure.  Deckard had heard the detonation as he drove towards the hospital.  He was just a minute behind them.  One critical minute.

The door looked like it had been sliced in half.  They used a cutting charge, probably explosive cutting tape which used RDX explosive and a metal filament to blast through obstacles.  With the building’s exterior lights turned on, he saw a tangle of clear wire laying in a heap next to the door.  It was the remnants of the shock tube that had been used to detonate the cutting charge.

The sharp scent of the explosives hung in the air as Deckard stepped inside.  Deeper in the hospital, he could hear the sound of gunfire.  The Liquid Sky team was clearing a path to their target.

With his Kimber 1911 pistol leading the way, Deckard picked up the pace.  Jogging halfway down the hall, he slipped and nearly fell on a slick of blood.  Two Pakistani policemen had been slaughtered before they could even draw their weapons.  The Paks had put security on their man, but not very good security.  At a glance, Deckard could tell they had both been shot numerous times in the torso with added shots following up as the shooters moved towards the policemen to make sure they were really dead.  One shot looked like it had flayed the skin right off one of the policemen’s neck.

Aghassi and Jager were right behind him and grabbed him under the elbows before he could topple over.  Leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind him, they kept moving.

“This is Shooter-One,” the earbud connected to his cellphone crackled.  “In position.”

“Roger,” Deckard replied into the mic.

Nikita had taken an overwatch position outside where he could cover the front of the hospital while Pat stayed with their vehicle.

The Samruk International mercenaries had a week to get themselves to Pakistan and conduct mission planning to intercept the Liquid Sky team.  Considering the ad hoc nature of the mission, everything had come together fairly well and they were confident that they could catch the Liquid Sky shooters, whoever they really were, in an ambush before they even got near their target.

Direct Action: Chapter Thirty Six

Read Next: Direct Action: Chapter Thirty Six

Then someone had set a fire in the basement of the Joint Forces hospital on the Naval Base and the patients had to be moved across town to the Aga Khan university hospital instead.  It seemed that Liquid Sky had been conducting their own surveillance and didn’t like what they saw, so they induced a situation in which their target had to be moved to a location where the conditions would be more favorable to the assassins.

It worked.  Deckard’s plans were tossed out the window and now they were improvising on the fly.

What else was new?

Expended brass casings littered the floor.

A Pakistani policemen, this time with tactical gear, including body armor and an assault vest, was sprawled on his back.  The shooters had fired center mass, and when the bullets failed to penetrate the body armor, they walked their shots up into his face and fired until he went down.  It was known as a failure drill.  Put the first two shots center mass and then shoot into the skull until the target is no longer a threat.

Deckard rounded the corner with his two comrades and continued in the direction of the sound of gunfire.

Now he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt.  ECT on the door, failure drills, and the information contained in the roster they had recovered in Nevada.  These guys were Americans and not any ordinary Americans.

These were the type of Americans that Deckard had worked with for years, trained with, conducted combat operations with.  These guys were Special Operations; it was just a question of which tribe they had come from.

Following the trail of destruction, the trio took another turn and bounded up a flight of stairs.  They stepped over several more corpses in tactical gear.  It looked like some kind of police para-military unit had been assigned to guard Liquid Sky’s target.

Only one of the bodies was interesting.  Deckard paused for half a second, noting the deep cuts on the face, neck, and forearms of the body.  They were made by a short defensive blade as the Pakistani had tried to defend himself.  Someone who knew what they were doing and had made quick work of their opponent, taking him apart like a chicken.

Racing down the hall, they passed under a broken florescent light, the adjacent lights blinking on and off due to a flash bang grenade that had exploded.  The door of the target’s hospital room was ajar.  Several sets of bloody boot prints trailed out and back down the hall.  Deckard stood in the doorway.

Abdulkarim Al-Khalifa lay in his hospital bed, one arm hanging lifelessly over the side as blood ran down it and softly pattered onto the floor.  He had been a social organizer and protest leader in the country of Bahrain.  Al-Khalifa had been so successful in organizing pro-democracy movements that he had to flee the country with state security services nipping at his heels.  Eventually he found his way to India where the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, had kidnapped him.  It was to be a for profit operation for ISI.

The Pakistanis had been in the final stages of negotiating a ransom with the Kingdom of Bahrain.  Al-Khalifa had continued to be a thorn in the government’s side by utilizing social media websites to communicate with the opposition groups.  Bahrain wanted him back so that he could be imprisoned, and eventually, permanently silenced.  But the ISI was driving a hard bargain, so somebody decided to take matters into their own hands.

A third party called Liquid Sky.

Gunfire sounded back on the ground floor, the staccato bursts rattling the windows.  The mercenaries could distinguish between the initial shots, from Nikita’s sniper rifle, and the return fire that came a moment later.

“Fuck,” Nikita cursed as he hot mic’ed the radio.  “Shit!”

“I’m on it,” Pat’s voice came over the net.  His PKM machine gun was now shaking up the party.

“These guys are good,” Nikita transmitted.  “I took down the first one and the others immediately hit the ground.  One deployed a smoke grenade and the others returned fire on my position.”

The full auto gunfire broke off into stunted bursts and the Liquid Sky gunfighters returned fire one more time.

“They’re breaking contact,” Pat reported.  “Flushing them back in your direction.”

Deckard took a final look into the hospital room.

Al-Khalifa’s wife lay sprawled out on the bed on top of him.  She had been trying to protect him from the onslaught of gunfire and had died alongside her husband.

Deckard keyed his radio.

“We’re moving.”

The team followed him back down to the ground floor.  Liquid Sky had tried to bail out a side exit to make their escape, but Nikita had that angle in his field of fire.  They retreated back into the hospital, but now it was a question of whether they would hard-point it and wait for extraction or attempt another breakthrough and escape.  Deckard could hear the shouting just ahead of them.

Women were screaming.  Somewhere in the fray, a man’s voice could be heard.

“Get the fuck outta the way!” the voice echoed.

Bursting into the burn ward, Deckard shot a glance over the front sight of his 1911 and caught a flash of the enemy as the Liquid Sky member moved into the next room.  Sprinting between occupied beds, several patients turned to look at him.  Others were in no state to do anything other than let a machine breath for them.  Rear security hadn’t spotted Deckard yet, and he pushed into the next room.

Seeing a moving shadow with a rifle in its hands, Deckard’s shot blasted through a hanging IV bag, spraying the fluid into the air.  The .45 caliber round ricocheted off the metal pole that had held up the bag, saving his target from growing a third eye.  The shooter ducked and dived through a doorway after his comrades.

A flashbang grenade rolled into the room and spun across the floor towards Deckard’s feet.  Without hesitating, Deckard kicked it back.  The distraction device made it halfway back to the door before it went off.  Even though he knew enough to turn away, the flash was momentarily blinding.  The bang was enough to rattle all three of the mercenaries for a few seconds.

Blinking away the spots in his vision, the three mercenaries ran through the orthopedic department and out into the courtyard just in time to see the last Liquid Sky member slip over the wall and out onto the street on the back side of the building.  Their blind spot where Nikita and Pat had no coverage.

“Shooter-One, Gunner-One,” Deckard called out Nikita and Pat’s callsigns.  “Secure the body you made and get to the extraction site.  We are going to pursue.”

Without waiting for a response, Deckard ran at full speed towards the high wall.  Leaping into the air, he planted a foot on the wall and pushed off it, vaulting himself up onto the lip of the wall where he grabbed hold.  Pulling himself over the top, he stayed low as he slid over the wall and dropped down into the dirt and trash on the ground.

Five shadows moved down the street ahead of him.  The third-world stench was thick in the air as burning trash, body odor, and diesel exhaust combined with the stifling heat.  The shadows were in a mad dash, no doubt having shifted their extraction point by radio.  Kurt and Aghassi dropped down alongside him as they came over the wall.

Staying in the shadows, the Samruk mercenaries chased after Liquid Sky.  They didn’t get far before a white van blasted around the corner up ahead and screeched to a halt.  Red brake lights blinked as the van rocked forward before settling into place.  The sliding door opened and the five shooters piled inside.

Deckard stepped out into the street, leveling his pistol.  With Aghassi and Kurt, the three of them unloaded their handguns into the van.  Bullets pockmarked the metal siding, one taking out a rear light as the van sped away but none of them seemed to strike the driver of the getaway vehicle.  Now under fire, the van took the first right-hand turn to escape the killzone.

Cutting up another side street, Deckard’s lungs felt like they were about to collapse on him.  He still wasn’t fully recovered from his previous mission.  Although a week and a half had done a lot to help him heal up, he still wasn’t at a hundred percent.  For a moment, it seemed futile.  Back on the main boulevard, he turned his head.  Sweat stinging his eyes, he spotted a single brake light.  The van was caught in traffic.

Kurt Jager moved to the nearest car as the driver slowed.  Tearing open the door, he grabbed the mustached Pakistani by the head and tossed him out of the vehicle.  The mercenaries got in and slammed the doors.  Seeing the firepower they were carrying, the driver decided to leave well enough alone.

As Kurt took the wheel, Deckard keyed his radio again.

“We’re heading west,” he announced.  Towards the port.

As Kurt began nudging cars out of the way and driving up on the shoulder to get ahead, the driver of the van noticed that they were still being pursued and did the same.  Spinning the wheel, the driver took them onto another side street, finding an alternate route to the port of Karachi.  By now they were less than a mile away from the coast.  The van driver now slammed on the brakes, slowing down enough to prevent the vehicle from spinning out as the paved road turned to dirt.

Kurt Jager downshifted.  Experienced in rally racing, Kurt got everything he possibly could out of the third-world jalopy.  It wasn’t much.  Deckard held on to the door to prevent himself from being thrown around the back seat.  They were gaining on the van, but now the plume of dust kicked up in its wake was obscuring Kurt’s vision.  He was forced onto the shoulder of the road; otherwise he would be driving faster than he could see.

As the dust cleared, Kurt immediately yanked the steering wheel to the left to avoid a giant crane the size of the tractor trailer parked on the side of the road.

The van driver realized he had an accidental weapon on his hands and began swerving back and forth to kick up an even bigger dust cloud.  Leaning into the next turn, Kurt was forced to slow down or risk slamming into another crane or pallet of bricks.

Deckard gritted his teeth, the dust coming through the window sticking to his lips.  His suspicions had been confirmed in triplicate.  Liquid Sky was the real deal, and they were about to slip outside his grasp for good.

Kurt veered left with the road and the dust finally cleared.  Looking at a parallel running road, they could see that they had missed a turn.  The van was racing towards the end of the port, and now there was a set of train tracks between them and their target.

The port was lit up in a golden glow at night, the shadows wavering through the sedan as Kurt struggled to stay on their query.  Tanker ships bobbed in the dark waters, the golden flow from their deck lights bouncing gently on the waves.  Connex containers and oil containers flashed between them and the van as they ran parallel paths.

The former GSG-9 commando finally found a passage over the tracks and cut the wheel.  The van was doing the same, nosing towards the towering cranes that indicated a commercial shipping yard.  The vehicles shot through the connex container storage area and out onto the loading docks.  The van stopped near the first crane and the five shadows spilled out.  The driver jumped out as well for a total of six.

Anticipating their next move, Kurt put a small administrative building between themselves and Liquid Sky.  Gunfire chased them until they reached their cover.  Bullets continued to streak through the thin sheet metal walls and shatter windows.  To their flank, Deckard heard the roar of a high-powered boat engine gassing towards the dock.  The long, slick craft passed them and slowed down alongside the dock.  The mercenaries kicked open the car doors before they had even slowed to a stop.

Taking a knee, Deckard broke cover from behind the structure and returned fire.  At forty meters, it was a long shot with his .45 caliber pistol but at least it gave some maneuver room for Kurt and Aghassi to move.

The motorboat pulled up alongside the dock and one by one the Liquid Sky shooters dropped down into it.  When the entire team was aboard, the boat peeled off.  The mercenaries ran for the edge of the dock, firing after the boat but it was too late.  The boat powered off into the night, leaving them behind.

Deckard stood with his pistol in slide lock, trying to catch his breath while reloading.

That was when the van exploded.

The sides of the van bulged outwards, tearing at the seams to let an orange fireball escape from inside.  The fire curled into the air and became black smoke.  Deckard groaned as he pulled himself to his feet.  He was sweating profusely, and now dust was stuck to every inch of exposed skin.  He could feel the heat from the fire on his face.

A black SUV pulled up behind them, no doubt vectored in by the giant fireball which gave away their position.  Pat got out of the driver’s side, hefting his PKM machine gun out with him.  Nikita got out of the passenger side with his HK 417 sniper rifle.

“We lost them,” Aghassi said shaking his head.  He wasn’t accustomed to losing his targets.  As a Special Operations soldier he had lived as a nomad in Afghanistan where he watched terrorists for weeks and months, living like a local.  He was once placed in a Pakistani prison in order to eavesdrop on imprisoned Al Qaeda operatives in an attempt to locate Osama Bin Laden.  Everyone knew that Aghassi was someone who got the job done when it came to human intelligence.  He had proven it to Deckard in Mexico.

“We lost them,” he repeated.  They all knew they didn’t have any other leads.  They were on the trail of a black ops team that specialized in two things, killing and not being found.

Deckard slammed home a fresh magazine and thumbed the slide release.  He said nothing as he holstered the weapon.

“Take a look,” Nikita said to him, reverting back to his native Russian language.  Deckard was still learning that one but understood what the sniper meant.

Nikita opened the SUV’s rear door.  Inside was the body of the Liquid Sky shooter he had killed when they had initially exited the hospital.  The 7.62 round had smashed his face pretty good, enough to leave it unrecognizable in a photograph.

On the other side of the wharf, red and blue police lights were flashing.

“Get us out of here,” he told Pat.  The entire Samruk International team got inside with Deckard crawling into the back.  As they began driving, he pulled out a small LED red light to look over the body.  He was a big dude, Caucasian, definitely lifted weights.

Underneath his clothes, the shooter wore concealable body armor.  Over it was a locally procured chest rig that held magazines for the MP5 sub-machine gun he had been carrying.  It looked like the tags had been cut from his clothing and kit.  The team had gone in sterile.

Deckard suddenly realized that he might have known this man in another life.  Was he rifling through the body of a guy he had gone to selection with?  Could he be an old Ranger buddy?  Was this a former teammate who had gone over to the other side?  He pushed the thought away.

As the police lights closed in, Pat positioned the SUV between two connex containers and cut the headlights.  A half dozen police cars screamed by towards the scene of the explosion.  Once they had passed, Pat crept back onto the road, turned on the headlights, and began driving towards their safe house.

The corpse also had tattoos.  A red crusader cross on the forearm.  SPQR tattooed on the shoulder.  Stripping off the chest rig and body armor, Deckard located a black rectangle on the ribcage.  It was where Nazi soldiers would get their dog tag information tattooed during World War Two.  Many modern-day soldiers, including Americans, had adopted the practice.  This soldier had gone back to a tattoo studio to have that information blacked out rather than pay for a laser removal.

He had nothing.  Maybe dental records if he could get access to military databases but even that seemed doubtful.

Deckard leaned back against the side of the SUV as Pat navigated the back roads of Karachi.  Cold sweat trickled down his neck and seeped into his clothes.  It hit him like sucker punch.

He was trying to analyze what he had to find a lead where there was none.  What he did have was a body.  What he did know for a fact was that Liquid Sky had just had a member killed in action.  What he had was an opportunity: an opportunity to entice Liquid Sky into finding him.

Come tomorrow morning, Liquid Sky would be looking for a new operator.

Deckard grinned.

He knew just what name to drop in the hat.