The desert felt downright cold in the hour before dawn. Hank Foss drew back the cutoff sock cuff on his wrist just far enough that he could make out the faintly luminous hands on his watch dial. Five more minutes. He slipped the cuff back in place and looked over at Cole Spencer, who lay in the shallow wash next to him. Spencer’s pitch-black face was obscured by a mottled pattern of sand and loam camouflage paint, just as Hank’s considerably lighter complexion was. He met Hank’s eyes and nodded. Hank nodded back, then started double-checking himself. He’d handed his rifle, a thoroughly customized 7.62 battle rifle that had started its life as a DPMS Oracle, off to Spencer, along with his assault pack. All he had left on was his chest rig, his belt kit, and his pistol, a suppressed SIG Tactical 1911. The holster was a miserably large chunk of nylon strapped to his thigh, but he found it preferable to any of the other carry options, and he couldn’t just carry the damned pistol as his primary. At least, once he was done with this first phase of the operation. Every strap had been taped, every buckle
John Brannigan was not a happy man. The fact that he was wearing a tux, sitting at a very expensive table in a very expensive, very exclusive restaurant, high atop a luxury hotel in the middle of San Francisco, would have been bad enough. Ever since his forced retirement from the Marine Corps and the death of his wife, Rebecca, of cancer a short time later, he’d essentially retired to the mountains, living not too differently from an old-time mountain man. Fancy restaurants, fancy clothes, and big cities put his teeth on edge. He’d gotten a haircut and shaved his cheeks and chin, but his massive, bristling handlebar remained, setting him apart even more than his broad shoulders and six-foot-four-inch stature from the soft men around him. But all of that was only a minor annoyance compared to the woman sitting across the table from him.
Special Agent Vito Castiglione looked up from the spotting scope as the door opened behind him. Special Agent Cara Hernandez walked into the room and stood next to him, peering out through the black mesh laid over the gap in the curtains. “Aren’t you supposed to be keeping eyes on the objective?” she asked. “Nobody’s budged out of that place in the last thirty-six hours,” Castiglione said dismissively. “We’ve got the whole place tied up tight. Besides, have you seen the pictures of this guy? I don’t think we really have much to worry about.” The fact that he was admiring the view presented by the willowy, olive-skinned Special Agent next to him was beside the point. She was much more interesting to look at than the dull, expensive house across the street. She rolled her eyes at him, exasperated. He just leered back. “Yes, I have seen the photos,” she said. “Still, you should at least pretend to be taking this warrant seriously.” “What’s to take seriously right now?” Castiglione replied. “He’s a pasty-white billionaire wanted for bribery, money laundering, and influence peddling. He’s hardly Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. The whole point of putting an Enhanced SWAT team on him
The abandoned farm sat right at the no-man’s land between the Belgian peacekeeping sector and one of the few, small, Loyalist Slovak Army sectors. While what was left of the Army that hadn’t gone over to the Nationalists after the initial riots was still outwardly loyal to the shaky government in Bratislava, that loyalty was in question among many of the peacekeepers, especially the Germans and Belgians. None of this would have been happening if the Slovaks hadn’t already had enough of both Brussels’ financial demands and the forced immigration, mostly of young Kosovar, Bosnian, and Syrian men. To that end, most of the EDC peacekeepers made no secret of the fact that they didn’t trust the Slovak Army.
The sound of crying echoed through the house. The place wasn’t even fully furnished yet, and Carlo Santelli had to cringe a little at just how loud Carlo Junior could get, particularly in some of the emptier rooms. He almost didn’t hear the phone. Part of that was because of Carlo Junior’s wails, part of it was his own deafness in the aftermath of trying to walk the little tyke to quiet again. He’d failed miserably, and Melissa had come and taken the baby, leaving Santelli feeling frustrated and helpless again. So, he wasn’t in the best frame of mind when he snatched up the phone and answered it without looking at the screen. “What?” “Rough day, Carlo?” Brannigan asked dryly. Santelli pressed his lips together and cussed himself silently but thoroughly. He really wasn’t cut out for this family life, and it was taking its toll. Or so he told himself. “Sorry, sir,” he said. “The baby’s colicky, and he’s being a royal…a handful.” “You’re even trying to watch your language,” Brannigan said, sounding congratulatory. “You’re truly becoming a family man, Carlo.” “I’m afraid I’m not doing that great a job at it, sir,” Santelli said. “Knowing you, you’re
“You’ve been rather elusive lately, John.” John Brannigan cupped his hands around his coffee mug and looked across the table levelly at Mark Van Zandt. General, USMC, Retired Mark Van Zandt. “I live in the mountains, Mark,” he said. “It’s not like cell service is all that regular up there.” Van Zandt didn’t react, at least not by much. He’d gotten better at that, but Brannigan could still read him like a book. He was pissed. It was written in every faint line of his movie-poster Marine face, above his usual polo shirt and khakis. Unlike Van Zandt, Brannigan had shed most of the Marine Corps’ appearance upon his forcible retirement several years before. A forcible retirement, he remembered all over again, that had been enforced by the very man sitting across from him at the table in the Rocking K diner. Still big and powerfully built, Brannigan had let his hair get shaggy and grown a thick, graying handlebar mustache. He looked more like a mountain man than a retired Marine Colonel, while Van Zandt looked like he’d just taken his uniform off to come to the diner. “We’ve heard some…faintly disturbing things lately, John,” Hector Chavez said carefully.
The Cessna 208 dropped like a stone and hit the runway in Abeche with a hard jolt that almost threw Dr. Elisa King into the back of the seat in front of her, despite the seatbelt. For a moment, she thought that something must have broken. The pilot immediately slammed on the brakes and reversed the props, further throwing her and everyone and everything in the cramped cabin forward as the engines howled, trying to slow the plane down. She hadn’t thought that the runway at Abeche was so short that a relatively small plane like the Cessna would need to decelerate that hard, but given what she’d seen of the pilot, maybe she shouldn’t have been surprised. It wasn’t her first time in Africa, but her first time in Chad. The World Health Organization had often sent observers to document the almost routine cholera outbreaks, but this was the first time someone with her specialty had been called for in the Sahel. The plane having finally slowed to a reasonable pace, the pilot taxied toward the low, one-story terminal. King looked out the window, taking in a part of Africa she hadn’t seen yet. It looked an awful lot
John Brannigan sank the bit of the double-bladed ax into the log round he was using as a chopping block and lowered himself painfully to sit on a bigger log nearby. His breath was steaming in the cold air, and looking down at his bared forearms, he could see steam rising from the graying hairs there, as well. It was well below freezing, but he was sweating and stripped down to his shirt. He gulped air, wincing slightly at the stitch in his side, as he critically looked at the woodpile. He might have gotten a quarter of a cord split. It wasn’t bad, given how long he’d been working, but it wasn’t up to snuff in his mind, either. Stretching, he felt the scar tissue on his side pull. It had been months since he’d been shot out on the Gulf of Mexico, and the wounds were healed, but it felt like it was taking forever to get his conditioning back. His leg and his side were tight, and his leg especially didn’t seem to want to work quite right. Getting old, John. He was further reminded of the fact as the cabin door swung open and Hank walked
“You’re imagining things, Eugen,” Cezar Lungu said. He was leaning back in an overstuffed easy chair with a massy, polished wooden frame, a blond, vacant-eyed Ukrainian hooker on his lap. He was fully clothed; she was in her underwear. He picked up the shot of Kvint and tossed it back with a grimace and a loud, “Pah!” “We have an arrangement! And with what we’re paying the Russians and the Transnistrians both, we should at least get a warning if anything has changed!” Eugen Codreanu did not turn away from the window, but continued peering into the night. He wasn’t looking out toward the Dnieper River below the dacha, either. He was looking back toward the wrought-iron gates and the guard posts, through the trees. He was looking back toward the city of Ribnitza, which was throwing its glow against the near-perpetual pall of smoke and steam coming from the steelworks. When Codreanu still hadn’t replied while he poured more Kvint, Lungu tried again. “You’ve been jumping at shadows for four months, Eugen,” he ventured.
Brannigan’s Blackhearts #3 – Enemy Unidentified is up for Kindle pre-order, due out the 15th. So, here’s the first preview chapter. Officer Lou Hall had been on the San Diego PD for about a year. He’d just gotten off night shift, and frankly wasn’t sure whether the tradeoff had been worth it. Sure, he got to see the sun a lot more, and with the sun, in San Diego in the summertime—the winter tended to be pretty gray and damp—usually came the California girls, dressed in as little clothing as they could get away with. But his partner, Fred Dobbs, was a surly, balding cynic, he wasn’t getting paid that much more, and most of those same attractive California girls turned up their noses as soon as they saw his badge. He’d even gotten berated by one for, “just wanting to shoot minorities.” He was half Mexican, himself, so he didn’t know where the hell that had come from. Then he looked on social media, and didn’t have any more questions. Dobbs was grumbling, as usual, and Hall had tuned him out after about the first five minutes, as usual. It was always the same thing. Dobbs was in the