Indy’s poked her head in. “I have something to report,” she said, in a tone that said, “Fasten your seatbelts.”

Jackson ushered her into his inner office, where they both took their seats on his little facing couches. “Let’s have it,” he said.

“I’ve been sifting through all the email and web traffic in the days around the disappearances. Since you asked me to look into Chief Finn’s background, I decided to take a closer look at his Internet usage. His second day onboard he did several web searches, all based on the word ‘Mukalla’— that’s a city on the coast of Yemen…”

Jackson recognized it: the location Finn mentioned, where the “incident” occurred.

“The other search terms included ‘terror attack,’ ‘massacre,’ and the date July 28.”

“I don’t remember reading any news about a recent massacre in that part of Yemen.”

“There wasn’t any. So I dug a little.”

It had taken a bit of digital forensics to tunnel down to it, and all she could unearth were references in an obscure Naval Special Warfare report, withheld from the public and classified as “investigation pending,” plus a few unsubstantiated rumors.

“There was an AQAP cell operating in the area, carrying out local assassinations and grand theft — mostly drug money.”

Jackson nodded. AQAP: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“According to the report, nearly four weeks ago, on July 26, the group tortured and killed an American journalist. Two days later a SEAL team stormed their safe house, but they managed to evade capture. That same night, they slaughtered a nearby settlement of farmers who had given up their location. You didn’t read about this because the whole thing was buried, kept completely out of the press.”

Jackson gave a low whistle. “An American journalist. Wonder how they kept that quiet.” He frowned. “And why?”

“Why indeed,” said Indy.

“Which is where the rumors come into it — and where it gets weird. As I said, that is the official report. But there’s also a story, completely unsubstantiated, that it was not the terrorists who killed the locals, but a few rogue SEALs from that same team who went off the reservation and committed the atrocities.”

Indy paused. The office was so quiet Jackson could hear his own heartbeat.

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“There have been no charges brought,” she went on. “No formal investigation. Right now there is nothing but a vague cloud of suspicion.”

“This SEAL platoon,” said Jackson. “Would that happen to have been Chief Finn’s unit?”

“It was.”

Another silence.

“So I’m guessing you’re going to tell me what Chief Finn’s role may have been in all this, if anything?”

Indy looked up from her notes. “Nobody is drawing that connection, at least not that I’ve been able to find.”

Jackson sighed. “You used the word, atrocities.”

“Yes. There is one more ugly detail. Whoever it was that killed these families, the rumor is that they took trophies. Ears. Scalps.”

Jackson closed his eyes. “Let me guess,” he said quietly. “And fingers.”

“And fingers,” said Indy

Finn opened his eyes.

He was on the floor of his cell, back against the bulkhead, where he’d been sitting all day with the light switched off, looking for lost memories in the dark. He took a slow breath, shut his eyes again, and once more slipped back into July 28…

A flicker of heat lightning rips open the sky, a flash bulb instant.

He is somewhere else now, standing by himself in front of a small dwelling of plaster rubble and sun-baked mud bricks, facing a wooden door. He waits a moment for the flash’s night blindness to fade.

It feels all wrong. He shouldn’t be alone. This is what a squad is for. Like the civilian police: always call for backup. But he hasn’t. He doesn’t.

His eyes regain their sensitivity, and now the darkened scene in front of him starts to resolve.

Now he sees the door clearly.

Shattered to pieces. Someone has smashed it in.

And then? Only disconnected fragments.

A flickering light bulb, skips in an old vinyl LP.

He pushes aside the shattered wooden fragments and steps through the mud-brick doorway —

Skip.

Now he’s walking through the house, entering a room —

Skip.

Now he’s inside the room, sitting on the earthen floor, his back to the wall. A few feet away, a shape on the floor, too dark to make out. A sleeping child? boy? girl? — another lightning flash illuminates the room — the child’s eyes stare sightless, blood oozing from both ears, blood pooling black on the floor in the strange light —

Finn’s eyes snapped open, his heart racing in the dark.

The massacre.

He was there.

 

SOFREP is releasing one excerpt a day until publication day next week, 7/13. Please consider pre-ordering the book here and becoming eligible for a private fireside Zoom chat with the authors Brandon Webb and John Mann who spent more than 10 years bringing this story to life. Pre-orders make a huge difference. 

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