“You know,” Black said as I walked into his small room/cell, “if you’d taken me along it could have worked out a lot simpler. I could have gotten us in as Project contractors, then we could have either started schwacking ‘em from the inside, or walked out if it was too hot. You guys keep up this kinetic door-kicking shit and there aren’t going to be many of you left before long.”

I studied him impassively. Unfortunately, he had a point. I just hated to hear it from a guy who had been paid to support our sworn enemies. “What’s your deal, Black?” I asked. “We capture you fighting with ISIS, but now you want to be all buddy-buddy?”

He spread his hands. “Put yourself in my shoes. Not only do I finally get offered work—and you guys should know how hard that is to come by these days—but it’s a chance to deal some hurt to some real bad guys. We got to see some really scary shit intel-wise about what the IRGC is up to. Hezbollah moving CBRN materials into the US from Mexico, nuclear and missile deals with not only North Korea but the Russians and Chinese, too…it’s getting pretty hairy, man. I know you guys know this just as well as I do, otherwise you wouldn’t have sided with Al Hakim.

“But when we get here, we get thrown in with ‘militias’ that are pretty obviously Al Qaeda or similar Salafist jihadis. Collins denied it at first, but finally just answered our concerns with ‘shut up and do what you’re told, or I’ll leave you to them.’ I want that fucker’s head on a plate just as bad as you do. Getting captured was the best thing that’s happened to me since I set foot in this shithole, and that includes if you shoot me in the head and bury me in a shallow grave.”

I just looked at him with narrowed eyes for a moment. “What about the rest?” I finally asked. “How many other Project personnel feel the same as you do?”

He shrugged uneasily. “Not as many as you might hope. He vetted most of us pretty well; he found the guys who didn’t give a fuck, but just wanted to kill shit. Sunni, Shi’a, whoever, doesn’t matter a fucking bit to them. They get to run and gun and kill motherfuckers, and they’re happy. Some of them would probably think twice about trying to take you guys out, but some of them…they really don’t give a flying fuck. There are probably a dozen like me who got trapped and don’t know how to get out.”

He must have read the skepticism in my expression. “Look, I know you guys aren’t the most trusting bunch.” That drew a snort. “From what little I’ve been able to see, you don’t even trust Al Hakim.”

“This is a tribal part of the world,” I said. “Trust outside your own tribe, and you’re asking to get burned. And by ‘burned,’ I mean beheaded on the fucking internet.” I cut the conversation short by tossing the handful of photos of the dead men in the target house in front of him. “Any of these look familiar?”