“Contact left!”

Carlo Santelli’s bellow was cut off a moment later by a crackle of gunfire that echoed off the forested hills, as the lead element turned and poured bullets into the targets arranged along the hillside.

After the first burst, Joe Flanagan, lean and black bearded, rose, turned, and dashed for the opposite hill, sprinting almost exactly three seconds before he turned, dropped to the prone, and picked up the fire again.

The rest of the element, consisting of Kevin Curtis, John Wade, Tom Burgess, and Ignatius Kirk, followed somewhat more raggedly. In Curtis’s and Wade’s case, they’d simply held and kept up the fire a little bit longer, while Kirk was moving a little slower these days. The retired Special Forces soldier had been through the wars, and while he’d mostly recovered from wounds taken on an earlier job with the Blackhearts, he still didn’t have quite the speed or the endurance of his younger days.

Tom Burgess, his salt-and-pepper ponytail waving behind him, was almost right behind Flanagan.

Outside of the kill zone, the second element, with Miguel Gomez taking charge, had immediately taken cover and then started to maneuver around to the flank. Vincent Bianco, as massive as ever, moved the shortest distance, though it wasn’t because he was slow. While they only had rifles at the moment, he and Curtis were usually the team’s machinegunners, and so Bianco was simply setting up a base of fire.

As Bianco opened up, his bullets tearing through the targets, Doc Puller, Hank Brannigan, and Dan Tackett fell in behind Gomez, finding cover and getting down before adding their own bullets to his, as the lead element fell back toward the trees.

Santelli, short, stout, and balding, watched from the tower over the range until he was satisfied. “End-Ex!” He had to roar louder than usual to be heard over the gunfire, but the shooting died down after a moment.

Flanagan and Wade were picking themselves up. Wade looked around the range with his icy stare, evaluating how they’d performed.

This entire little kinetic get-together had been Wade’s idea, after all. It had been a little while since the Blackhearts had been out on a job, and the big, intense former Ranger had decided that they needed to knock some rust off. Santelli suspected that Wade had mainly been bored, especially with running this range—it had once belonged to a fallen Blackheart named Don Hart, who had left it to the team when he’d been killed in action—and had just wanted to do something more high-speed than teaching basic pistol and carbine classes to civilians.

Knowing Wade’s temper, Santelli often wondered just how well some of those classes really went.

He could already hear Curtis bitching. “I know some of us have belt-feds. Why didn’t we bring a couple of them out? Completely destroys the training value.”

“Ammo costs money, Kevin, and I wasn’t going to pay for your machinegun budget out of my pocket.” Wade didn’t look at the short, fireplug of a man as he spoke.

Of course, Curtis being Curtis, that only got him more spun up. “This was your idea, John. I thought that, since you put so much value on a training exercise, that you’d at least make the extra effort.”

Wade did start to turn to glare at him then, only to pivot back toward Flanagan as the quiet man started to chuckle. “What?”

Flanagan just shook his head. “I just think it’s funny that somebody else has to put up with him for a change.”

Curtis looked at his old friend with an exaggerated pout. “That is hurtful, Joseph. How boring would your life be without me? ‘Put up with him,’ indeed.”

“It would involve fewer fistfights with gangbangers at midnight in Vegas, that’s for sure.” Flanagan let his rifle hang on its sling, brushing dried grass off his gear and his trousers. “Not sure that would be a bad thing.”

“Pfft.” Curtis turned toward the shelter where the ammunition was staged. “Never thought you’d turn into an old woman, Joe.”

“Well, I never thought you’d grow up, Kev, and it looks like I was right.”

Curtis just sputtered, as Wade pushed past him, unable to keep a faint grin off his face.

Santelli mirrored that grin as he climbed down from the tower. It was good to have the band back together again.

Doc Puller stepped up beside Kirk, who looked like he might be limping slightly as they all got back to the overhang. “You okay, Kirk?” There was a slight hesitation before he said it, which was somewhat understandable, given Puller’s history. The Blackhearts had recruited him out of necessity and a little desperation, but Flanagan had found him drunk and despondent after being fired from an ambulance job. He’d been on tenterhooks ever since, trying desperately to prove himself and fit in. Unfortunately, it tended to just make things awkward.

Fortunately, Kirk just waved him off. “Just stiff. I’m getting old. This shit is still fun, but damn, I ain’t moving as well as I used to.”

The team gathered around, empty magazines coming out to get refilled, while Santelli looked over his notes. He really didn’t have much. They might have come together to knock the rust off their skillsets, but they’d all been in the profession long enough that there wasn’t actually that much rust to knock off.

That didn’t mean there was no need to train, nor was there no room for improvement.

His debrief points would have to wait, however. As he looked up from the notebook, he heard the rumble of a pickup pulling into the parking lot on the other side of the tire barrier that separated the range itself from the rest of the property. He thought he knew who it was; there weren’t usually many visitors to the old Hart farm who weren’t previously scheduled.

“Keep topping off mags.” He started toward the gate. “I’ll be right back.”

The gate itself creaked open before he could reach it, and Brannigan loomed in the entryway. “Who all’s here?”

“Everybody.” Santelli fell in beside the colonel as they moved toward the shelter.

An eyebrow went up. “Everybody?” Brannigan’s eyes went toward the group gathered around the wire spool tables, jamming mags. Specifically to the brown-haired man who still kept to himself a little, though he had integrated with the rest of the team seamlessly during the drills they’d been running for the last two days.

“Tackett made his decision. Seems that getting a taste of the action again finally got to him.”

Brannigan nodded. Dan Tackett had contacted the Blackhearts a while back, looking for help to get one of his old comrades from a job with Mitchell Price—former SEAL and PMC magnate—against a group of Chinese pirates near the Straits of Malacca. He’d been hesitant to get back into the game. Santelli still didn’t know all the details of what had happened in the Anambas Islands, but it had clearly left some deep scars.

Still, Tackett had insisted that he be called if a job involving the Humanity Front—which had kidnapped his friends and Price, as well—came up. The Prague job had, indeed involved the Front, a shadowy terrorist organization hiding behind the façade of the biggest and most respected humanitarian NGO on the planet.

Now, it seemed, Tackett had decided to throw in with the Blackhearts all the way.

“Good. He’s an asset, and I’m glad to have him along.” Brannigan nodded as they came up to the pair of cable spools that the mercs were using as ammo tables.

“So, we’ve got a job?” Hank had seen his father coming and moved around to meet them. He’d missed the Prague job, and he was eager to get back in the action.

“We’ve got a job.” Brannigan set the packet of papers under his arm on the table as Burgess and Gomez moved some of the ammo cans out of the way. “There are some reservations, though.”

“What else is new?” Wade snorted, shoving his last magazine back into his battle belt and folding his arms. “We live in Sketchy World.”

Brannigan laid out the events of the meeting with Senator Braxton and opened the file folder to bring out the collection of photos and dossiers. Leaning on the edge of the spool, he looked around at the now-familiar faces. “There’s a lot that’s not here. A lot. I’ll be honest; I hadn’t even heard of this flyspeck of a country until yesterday. This packet includes almost nothing on Costa de las Joyas itself. There’s some—mostly reports of the military junta’s brutality—but not much that’s going to help us plan.”

“A military junta in South America is a brutal dictatorship?” Bianco put his hand on his chest. “Color me shocked.”

Brannigan ignored the interjection. “We have a list of the six generals who are a part of the junta, but aside from names and a couple of very pixelated photos, we don’t have much more than that. Supposedly the junta came to power back in the eighties, shortly after Costa de las Joyas achieved its independence, and they killed the package’s father. Other than that, there’s nothing.”

He glared down at the dossier for a moment before turning his eyes back up to his boys. “I don’t like that. We’re in the dark, and it looks like Braxton and whoever else is working with him on this wants it to stay that way.

“We don’t have a hard and fast timeline on this, but there is definitely going to be pressure if we dawdle too long. However, travel arrangements will take some time, and I want us all to do some digging during that time. There has to be something out there about this little country and its military government. Furthermore, there should be something about Hierro and this reform movement.” He looked pointedly at Bianco, who winced slightly. “Yeah, Vinnie, I’m afraid you’re getting tapped for this one.” He smiled evilly. “You’re good at putting the pieces together. Put that to use in some intel collection.”

Bianco still looked pained. “Worldbuilding for a role playing game is different from doing an actual area study, particularly remotely, Colonel. I can make most of that stuff up.”

“I know. You’re still the team intel guy.” Bianco looked a little crestfallen, but he knew better than to argue. “Now, right at the moment, logistics are limited to getting into the country. We have a contact over the border in Colombia who is supposed to be able to get us weapons, ammo, and gear.” When he looked around at the reactions, he nodded. “Yeah, I’m a little sketched out about that, myself, since it seems that this guy is a local, not an American. Unfortunately, unless we can work out a way to smuggle what we need into the country, we may be stuck there.” He turned to Santelli. “Carlo, I’ll leave it up to you to do your magic with transportation.” Another glance around the team. “Who’s going to volunteer for advance recon?”

 

Legacy of Terror comes out on Kindle and in Paperback on March 29.

Legacy of Terror Chapter 3

Peter Nealen

Peter Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006, and again in 2007, with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Bn. After two years of schools and workups, including Scout/Sniper Basic and Team Leader's Courses, he deployed to Afghanistan with 4th Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Company, I MEF. Since he got out, he's been writing, authoring many articles and 24 books, mostly Action/Adventure and Military Thrillers, with some excursions into Paranormal Fantasy and Science Fiction.

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