The End, страница 1
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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2017 by James Patterson
Cover design by Kapo Ng; photograph by Mark Owen / Arcangel Images
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Letter from James Patterson
About the Authors
In a remote hangar at the Aviano NATO air base in northern Italy, I’m holding my government issue SIG Sauer P226 9mm pistol in my right hand, hammer pulled back, finger on the trigger, deciding when and how I should shoot the intelligence field officer standing before me.
Dunton is skinny, with thick brown hair, round wire-rimmed glasses, and a snippy attitude. He’s wearing a BDU, a Kevlar vest, and heavy boots.
He says, “I’m telling you, Taylor, I don’t care what the weather reports are saying for tonight, you and your buds are ‘go’ for this mission. The diplomats in Geneva are in a delicate position. Your successful op could tilt things to a satisfactory conclusion.”
I keep quiet. I’m sure he thinks I’m pondering his warning, but what I’m really pondering is the best place to shoot him. Dead center in the chest would break a couple of ribs and knock him flat on his ass, but a round to the center of that shiny forehead would get the job done in a final and spectacular fashion.
But killing him would mean lots of paperwork and embarrassing questions, and I have no time for that.
I say, “Dunton, you may have operational control, but I have tactical command of this op. It’s my job whether to say go, not yours. Or anybody in Geneva. Or Washington. Or Langley.”
Dunton says, “Deputy Director Hunley has expressly—”
“You say he’s a deputy,” I point out. “Does he get a nice five-pointed star to go along with it?”
I sense the other four members of my team standing behind me, giving me quiet support, and Dunton glares at me before stomping toward one of the hangar’s side doors. “I’m off to the weather office,” he shouts back. “You better be ready when I come back!”
I try to be helpful. “Don’t get lost.”
The door slams and my teammates chuckle for a moment and wander away, their current mission achieved. It’s still raining. I slowly draw the hammer down on my pistol and return it to my side holster, taking in the miserable weather. We’ll wait for the final weather report, and that will tell us if we can go out on this rainy night to kill somebody in another country we’ve never been to before.
My teammates—Borozan, Sher, Garcia, and Clayton—now keep to their own routines, talking or smoking or reading from battered paperbacks. I just wait, looking out at the rain coming down and hitting the windswept runway, not wanting to think, just waiting for that one last weather report so I can complete my final mission.
We’re all dressed nearly alike, with custom helmets, camouflaged BDUs, heavy boots, knee pads and elbow pads, body armor, MOLLE vests with flashlights, knives, survival packs, compass, encrypted handheld devices, and holstered pistols. Our assault packs and parachutes are carefully stored in the corner of the empty hangar. We each carry a modified Heckler & Koch HK416 rifle with a 10-inch barrel slung over our shoulders.
Occasionally air force personnel wander in and just as quickly wander out, knowing they shouldn’t be here, not wanting to be in the same area with who we are: stone-cold killers ready to do a job.
I pace some more, feeling the wind hitting my face from the Southern Carnic Alps. On my BDU, my name tag, TAYLOR, is easily removable with one swift tear of Velcro, which I’ll do once we illegally cross into Serbia. And that’s it for any kind of identification in case I get wounded, killed, or captured.
Oh, and who are we, my four teammates and I? I’m sure you’ve heard of Rangers, SEAL Team 6, Special Forces, Marine Recon, Delta Force, and other elite secret units. Well, we’re not any of them. For what use is an elite secret unit if its name is known to the outside world?
One of my crew comes up to me. It’s Clayton, who looks like the cliché surfer dude from California, which is pretty much the truth.
“What do you think, Gramps?”
I wince at my nickname, knowing if I were to complain about it, my guys would use it more. My fault. Last time around with these special operators, I let slip that I was on active duty during the first Persian Gulf Wa
“Gonna be tight,” I say. “Dunton has his pressure, his boss Hunley has pressure, his boss’s boss has pressure, and it all comes down to us. You know the drill—shit rolls downhill.”
“Always nice to know we’re here to catch it.”
The door slams open and Dunton strides back in with a sheet of paper in one hand. Clayton says, “What do you think? I know he talks the talk, but is he really CIA? Or Defense Intelligence Agency? National Reconnaissance Office?”
“Probably NSA, son,” I say to Clayton. “No Such Agency.”
Dunton steps forward, thrusts the sheet into my hand. I glance at the map, seeing the weather report, the prediction for the next six hours. Iffy. It’s up to me, the team leader. My last op, and I’d like to make it a successful one. But the bad weather could force us down over the Adriatic Sea or into the Carpathian Mountains. I could kill myself and these guys with one second’s worth of decision.
Some last op. Even if I were to pull the plug, I’d be done, and these guys would be up to bat again at some later date. In other words, I’d finally be safe, and they wouldn’t.
Dunton says, “Well? Well?”
I crumple up the sheet of paper, toss it at his chest. “We go.”
Dunton smirks while I head over to our gear, and Clayton is behind me. He says quietly, “A question, Gramps?”
“I saw you draw on Dunton before he left to get the last weather report. Were you really going to shoot him?”
I pick up my assault pack and parachute. “We’ll never know, will we?”
Clayton grins, which is a nice memory for me, because in three hours and eleven minutes, he’ll be dead.
Time for one last briefing before we fly into harm’s way and get dropped out of a perfectly good helicopter in the process. We’ve trained and briefed so much we don’t need this final step, but them’s the rules. The room is small, bare, and fits its purpose. A series of photographs of a bearded man is on one whiteboard, and next to the photos is a detailed topo map of where we’re going to end up, if the army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment—more commonly known as the Nightstalkers—doesn’t screw up and drop us off in Monaco or on the Riviera.
Which wouldn’t be that bad, all things considered.
I slap the center photo as my four guys settle into standard classroom chairs. “One last thought to bounce around in those thick skulls of yours. Our target for tonight. Darko Latos. Ever since the Balkan wars have heated up again, he’s been one of the leaders stirring the hate. He made his name back during the first Balkan wars when he ran a paramilitary unit of snipers in the hills above Sarajevo, shooting kids in the head.”
I touch the map next to the photo of Darko. “His house, more like a mansion, has two support buildings—here, and here—along with this adjacent warehouse. Just like the mock-ups we trained on back in North Carolina. Darko used to make his living the old-fashioned way, smuggling drugs and young Balkan sex slaves up to truck stops in Germany, France, and Belgium. Now he has the opportunity to go back to his first love, killing innocents, and we’re going in tonight to stop him. After our insertion, at 0200 hours, we’re to meet with an intelligence operative—code-named Alex—at this place, called Point Q. He’ll lead us to Darko’s compound. Any questions?”
My team is good, and they know better than to ask anything at this point, so I continue.
“The negotiations in Geneva are meant to halt this war before it gets worse, but the word is that those talks are in a delicate stage. First we zap Darko. That will disrupt operations in his region, give a little more momentum to the peace talks. If those negotiations fail, the Balkan wars will spread. Last time that happened there was a little misunderstanding called World War I that ended with seventeen million getting killed.”
Sher says, “Hell of a thing, to have preventing World War III on our shoulders.”
Garcia grins, kicks his leg. “Then that’s why we’re heading out, homie, ’cuz we’re the best.”
Borozan leans over, slaps Garcia on his thick shoulder. “Then how the hell did you end up here?”
A couple of laughs and insults, and Garcia says, “At least I passed the initial physical, niñita.” More laughs but it’s all in good fun, because niñita means little girl in Spanish, and there’s nothing little about Borozan. She’s in great shape, passed every qualification without having it watered down, and she’s had my back on a number of very bad occasions.
Oh, yeah, she’s a woman. Pretty observant. Sure, most militaries in the world don’t allow women on special ops missions like this, but we’re not most militaries, and if the person can do the job, I don’t care if that person goes to a restroom marked M or W.
I say, “Okay, saddle up.” I strip down the photos and the map and find a metal wastebasket in a corner of the room. I pull free a hose from my water pack, cover the bottom of the wastebasket with some water, and drop the photos and paperwork in. In four seconds they become indecipherable sludge.
That’s it. No record. Just like us, if we don’t come back.
Outside the rain is coming down even heavier, but we don’t run. What’s the point if we’re going to end up soaked anyway? Dunton, standing under a light-orange umbrella outside the door, gives us a thumbs-up and says something to Sher as we walk in a line across the airstrip. I move so I can talk to Sher. “What did the civvie say to you back there?”
“He said to make sure Darko’s head came back on a stick,” he says, gently scratching at his close-cropped brown beard.
“What did you tell him?”
Over the sound of the helicopter’s engines winding up, Sher raises his voice. “I told him this was typical government op bullshit, ’cause none of us were issued a stick.”
I slap him on his helmeted head as we get closer. The rotors of the highly classified and secret Stealth UH-80—the Invisible Hawk—start to turn, and as I climb into the open side of the chopper, I recall a mission one of my navy buds did a few years back in Pakistan, killing the one and only Osama bin Laden. That was the official story. The unofficial and very dark story is that there were two missions that night: one to kill that son of a bitch OBL, and the other to have an “accident” in the compound so the Chinese and Russians would recover our helicopter wreckage, thinking they had secured the latest in Stealth technology.
Which they hadn’t, but which gave them the excuse to waste years and billions of dollars in research, duplicating something we were never using. Still, as cool as it sounds, it complicated an already complicated op, which happens when people higher up the food chain want to get their fingers into all the supposed fun.
The rest of my crew gets into the helicopter, and Borozan holds onto my hand for about two seconds longer than she should, which is fine by me. I like the sensation. The last in is Garcia, and over the sound of the Stealth’s chopper engines—they quiet right down once we get to cruising speed—Garcia leans into my ear and yells, “Got a problem, abuelo!”
“Forgot my lucky rosary beads back at my bunk.”
I shake my head. “No time for that.”
“But it’s my lucky rosary beads. I never leave without them!”
“Always a first time!” I yell back and push him in.
The Stealth chopper starts to move, and about a hundred meters down the runway, our backup helicopter’s rotors are working as well, ready to follow us out of Italy and across the Adriatic in case we have mechanical difficulties and have to land somewhere.
One way or another, I think, this is my last op, and I’m gonna make it work.
The Stealth chopper starts to rise, and I find my spot on a canvas seat and pick up the headgear and microphone so I can talk to the lead pilot. The interior suddenly lights up, like someone is pointing a spotlight at us.
I quickly turn and see a yellow-red blossom of flame grow and then get smaller, down there back on the runway.
Our backup Stealth chopper, its four-man crew and everything else, is instantly being turned into cinders and ash.
Three of my guys say nothing and just look out the open door, but Garcia manages to get to me and yells, “Told you I should have gone back!”
I say nothing, because what’s there to say? We’re all professionals—including the army guys who have just seen four of their friends turn into charred bones and flesh—and we get back to the job. The two crew chiefs help us get settled, and I take off my helmet, put on the headset, and switch it on. Up forward, the pilot and co-pilot look like gaunt insects with their oversized helmets. I say, “This is Wallaby One, Wallaby Strike.”
Through the static I hear the calm and professional voice of the lead pilot. “Wallaby One, read you five by five.”
There’s a pause, and then he continues, “Tower tells us we lost the other Hawk to apparent mechanical malfunction. No word on survivors.”
Any word won’t be a good word, and I hate to say it, the Invisible Hawks are an ungainly beast to fly. Like the first couple years of the V-22 Ospreys, which had their share of accidents due to pilots getting used to the flying characteristics of something so new and complicated.
The pilot clears his throat. “Ah, so you know, Wallaby One, the only other available Hawk is at NAS Sigonella.”
Sigonella. In Sicily, about as far away as possible, and where they speak Italian. Which means no second Stealth chopper is ready to help us out. Which means I now have to decide once more what we’re going to do.
It’s a quick decision. “Hawk, we’re go.”
“Roger that, Wallaby One, we’re still go.”
“All right, then.” I keep quiet, letting this crew of Nightstalkers do what they’re very good at doing, bringing people in and out of very dangerous places, and the troubled Balkans and the remote village we’re going to in Serbia—southwest of Belgrade—certainly meets that definition.
My guys settle in and I leave them alone. We all have our own ways of getting in the zone, and I’m not for any of that “rah rah rah, band of brothers” pep talk. We don’t need it, which is another reason why in picking our op name, I chose Wallaby Strike. Why not? Too many ops have been named Desert Storm, Desert Sabre, Neptune Spear, Desert Shield, rough-and-ready names like that.