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Memorial day, p.8
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       Memorial Day, p.8

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  * * *

  Twelve

  Circling directly over the town at 10,000 feet, Rapp watched the fight taking shape on the screens and resisted the urge to ask Rattle Snake One for an ID on the prisoners. Right now the Delta boys were busy using their well-honed skills to make sure the engagement didn't turn into their own private Alamo. General Harley's plan was proceeding as they'd expected, but military engagements had a way of changing in the blink of an eye. If the enemy could get organized, there was still a very real possibility that they could overrun Rattle Snake One and his men, but Harley had bet the farm that the enemy would opt for another strategy, especially now that the other assets were joining the battle.

  For thousands of years the people in the village below and their ancestors had used the mountains to hide from invaders. They were masters at guerilla warfare. Hit the enemy and then disappear into the mountains where the inhospitable terrain and climate could wear down the best that the conquering armies could throw at them. Most recently, the Soviet Union had learned this modern military axiom: don't use conventional forces to fight a guerilla war. There was a major difference, however, between the war with the Soviets and what was going on now. Back in the eighties, the CIA and U.S. Special Forces provided crucial training and supplies that helped turn the tide against the communist aggressors. Most notably the mujahideen was given the highly effective Stinger surface-to-air missile.

  The Taliban and al-Qaeda had the misfortune this time of going up against the same benefactor who had supported them against the Soviet aggression. Those high-tech Stinger missiles were now old technology. Every helicopter and plane under Harley's command was equipped with state-of-the-art missile countermeasure systems more than capable of defeating all but the newest and most advanced surface-to-air missiles. The few Stingers that were still in the Taliban's arsenal had deteriorated over time and were highly unstable.

  That meant the enemy had to try and use more antiquated methods to bring down the American helicopters-antiaircraft guns and RPGs. Both were all but useless against the sturdy American helicopters unless they were caught in a low hover, and even then, with the firepower the helicopters could bring to bear, it was all but suicide for the man firing the weapon. Harley had no desire to lose a bird, so he constantly changed tactics and kept his helicopters above two thousand feet and moving at a good clip whenever possible.

  The general and his task force were beating the Taliban at their own game. They were using guerilla warfare tactics coupled with air mobility and firepower to choose the time and location of the battle. They harassed their opponent, and then retreated to their base hundreds of miles away, frustrating the enemy and inflicting massive casualties. Harley and his warriors were wearing the bad guys down.

  Rapp listened to the chatter amongst the various officers in the command-and-control bird who were directing the action below. The Apache flying cover had destroyed another mounted gun and several buildings at the far end of town, and the Ranger's mortar barrage had just commenced, peppering the southern edge of town with bright flashes. After another minute the Rangers would begin marching their mortar fire through the village in a slow methodical pounding, intersection by intersection. The idea was to leave the enemy only one direction to flee-toward the mountains. The homes were not to be targeted unless individual Ranger units called in a strike. The Rangers would then sweep in and take the entire village one block at a time. General Harley wanted, if at all possible, to separate the terrorist and Taliban thugs from the noncombatants.

  Harley knew his enemy, and had told Rapp they would do what they had done for centuries-they would flee to the mountains, and that was where the general had one more surprise waiting for them. Rapp couldn't help feeling satisfied at the hand he'd had in bringing this about. These were the fighters who smuggled weapons and explosives and fresh recruits across the border. These were the men who ambushed U.S. troops who were building roads and hospitals and bringing sanitary drinking water to people for the first time in their lives. These were zealots who hated America, and hated freedom whether it was religious, political, or otherwise.

  They had miscalculated, thinking they were safe sitting on the Pakistani side of the border. Once again they had underestimated their enemy. They thought America lacked the courage and resolve to take them on. They were bullies and thugs blinded by their misguided righteousness. War was the only thing that would ever dissuade them of their ways, and they'd picked a fight with the wrong enemy.

  THE FIRST60MMmortar shell came inbound, its high-pitched, ominous whistle giving anyone experienced enough in battle a second or two to find cover. Corrigan was one such man and he got small quick, hitting the ground and curling up in a ball. The Ranger mortar teams were good, but until they were zeroed in on a target anything could happen. Fire support and close air support were the number one cause of fratricide amongst American forces.

  Thankfully the shell exploded three full blocks away. There was a brief pause followed by the cry of a second round on its way in. This explosion was a bit closer and was followed a few seconds later by yet another one. Corrigan raised himself up to one knee and looked out the window in time to see the light show swing into full gear. The mortar teams were zeroed in and were bracketing his position with lethal indirect fire.

  For the briefest of moments the sergeant felt sorry for the men on the receiving end of the barrage. War was infinitely unpleasant with all of its hardships and death and mayhem, but to a foot soldier, there were few things more frightening than being shelled. The entire method of indirect fire was frustrating. Someone who was far away, too far away to shoot back at, was dropping high explosives on your position. With no way to fight back, your instinct for survival kicked in and your brain told you to run.

  There was only one problem, however. If you tried to run you'd almost certainly get cut to shreds by shrapnel, if not pulverized by a direct hit, so you were left to wrestle with one of your strongest survival instincts. You had to learn to ignore and override thousands of years of human evolution and stay right where you were. If possible, you had to try to squeeze your body into some depression or behind a heavy object. Crawl if you must, but never stand up and run.

  Corrigan saw a muzzle flash across the street and down a ways. He shouldered his rifle and looked through his night vision sight. The scope was able to pierce the shadows just enough to catch some movement, and he let loose with a three-round burst, knowing that the guy on the receiving end was either dead or seriously wounded. Not wanting the same thing to happen to him, Corrigan moved to the other side of the window.

  Over the rooftop of the building across the street the sky was alight with strobelike flashes from the mortar barrage that was hitting the southern edge of town. Between the explosions he could make out the building staccato of gunfire that meant the Rangers were joining the battle.

  Corrigan relaxed just a notch, taking comfort that things were proceeding as planned. Then his momentary relief vanished when he heard one of his men let loose with a string of expletives. The sergeant craned his neck skyward to look up at the ceiling. The swearing didn't sound like it had come from inside the house and he thought he recognized the voice. "Brian," he called out over his radio, "what's going on up there?"

  The reply came back as a torrent of profanity that ended with the dreaded phrase, "I'm hit."

  Before Corrigan could respond, Danny Goblish, one of the two medics that was with the team said, "I'm on it, Cor."

  "How serious is it?"

  "Direct hit to the shoulder. I'll know more in a minute."

  "Roger. Keep me in the loop." Corrigan took a sip of water from his camel pack and walked back to the front door.

  "Hey, boss, it's Lou."

  "What's up?" asked Corrigan.

  "I think one of these tangos was trying to get at a trap door in the floor before I pasted him."

  Corrigan frowned, momentarily wondering if any of these houses were connected by tunnel. That could be a pr
oblem. "I'll be right there."

  The master sergeant looked at the other troopers in the front room. All three of them flashed him the thumbs up sign. "I'll be back in a minute," he snapped, as he headed down the dark hallway.

  * * *

  Thirteen

  Rapp watched as the rifle teams moved into the city, leapfrogging their way from one building to the next. The forty-two Rangers that made up the first platoon were in the middle, out in front of the other two platoons. Their mission was to head straight for Rattle Snake One's position and secure a perimeter. In the process they were also supposed to secure a two-block corridor from the target house to the southern edge of the village. The other two platoons were to act as flanking forces driving just one block into the village and then digging in. Each platoon had one squad in reserve to use as a reaction force if a particular area of the battle got too hot, but ideally the mortar teams would take care of any stiff resistance.

  The first sign of an exodus was reported by the Apache pilot as he made a quick pass over the northern edge of the town. Men were seen moving on foot for the mountain pass. Rapp checked one of his monitors, and could just make out the shapes of people walking up a trail. As he looked at the streets of the village he counted another dozen or so individuals making their way toward the mountains. The general's prediction was proving true.

  Rapp watched his monitor as the lead element of the Ranger force cut through the village with little trouble. It took them no more than two minutes to reach Rattle Snake One's position, where they quickly set up a perimeter. Rapp smiled with satisfaction. If things stayed on course, they would begin evacuating the prisoners shortly.

  Individual units began reporting in that their sectors were secure, and as the enemy resistance began to fade, the exodus for the mountains gained momentum. Rapp was caught slightly off guard when he heard himself referenced over the command net. It was Master Sergeant Corrigan talking to General Harley.

  "Eagle Six Rattle Snake One here. We've found something down here that I think our visitor might want to take a look at."

  General Harley looked at Rapp and asked, "What've you got, Rattle Snake?"

  "We found a room under the house. A couple of computers, a lot of videos, some files, and a couple of maps."

  General Harley was surprised by none of this. They almost always found stuff on these raids. As to why the master sergeant thought Rapp would want to take a look, he was not sure. "Why would our visitor be interested in what you've found?"

  Corrigan's answer caused Harley and Rapp to exchange nervous glances. "Say again, Rattle Snake."

  The Delta trooper repeated himself more loudly this time. As soon as he was done Rapp covered his lip mike and yelled at the general, "You need to set this bird down right now."

  Harley didn't argue, and within seconds the Blackhawk was headed for the landing field.

  BY THE TIMEthey touched down the two Fast Attack Vehicles were waiting for them. Rapp hit the ground and Harley followed him. The two men ran clear of the spinning blades to the waiting vehicles. Rapp jumped into the recently vacated passenger seat of the second one. The Navy SEAL standing next to it offered Rapp his helmet. He declined the helmet but took the man's clear ski goggles. While Rapp buckled himself in, General Harley leaned on the cage.

  Shouting above the noise of the idling Blackhawk, Harley said, "No dicking around, Mitch. You get in, take a look and then I want you the hell out of there. I've got a schedule to keep. The sun's going to be up in a couple hours, and I want all of my men back across the border before then."

  Rapp nodded. "Don't worry, general, I have no intention of hanging around."

  Harley stepped away from the vehicle and yelled, "And don't get shot!" He jerked his thumb toward the village, "Now get the hell out of here and hurry up!" With that the two vehicles tore off across the field and onto the main road.

  The mortar teams had taken the fight out of the enemy and they were in a full retreat toward the mountain pass where a very nasty surprise was waiting for them. A platoon of Navy SEALs was lying in wait ready to spring an ambush. Individual Ranger units were reporting sporadic potshots from the enemy, but any concerted effort to try and launch a counterattack was gone. The Rangers had created a safe corridor around Rattle Snake One's position that they alone controlled. This made the ride into the village very uneventful. Neither of the Fast Attack Vehicles drew or fired a shot.

  They stopped in front of the bullet-riddled house, and Rapp was met immediately by Corrigan. The master sergeant brought him inside. Rapp ignored the bound-and-hooded prisoners on the floor and followed Corrigan down the hallway to a bedroom. The Delta trooper turned on a flashlight and pointed it into the subterranean room.

  "We gave it a quick check for booby traps, but be careful."

  Rapp nodded and took the flashlight from Corrigan. Dropping to the floor he swung his feet into the hole and took one last look before putting the flashlight in his mouth. Leaning forward he grabbed onto the other side of the opening with both hands and let himself drop down until his feet found the damp earth floor. Rapp grabbed the flashlight and slowly did a full turn. There were several computers, along with a number of boxes and files stacked haphazardly all around the room. He found what he was looking for on the last wall and froze, a combination of fear and disbelief coursing through his veins.

  He moved closer, studying the map that he knew all too well. The rivers, roads, parks, and landmarks were all infinitely familiar to him. Finding such a map in this remote village was enough to give him pause, but in and of itself, it was not enough to explain his growing alarm. That was caused by what had been drawn over the map. Concentric circles emanated from the center, each one with two numbers written next to it. One was a temperature and the other a body count. The margins were filled with notes written in Arabic analyzing the weather patterns for the region in question.

  Rapp stepped back, wondering how much time he had, his head swimming with disastrous possibilities. He had seen this type of map before. It was used to measure the destructive power of a nuclear weapon, and it appeared Washington, D.C., was the target.

  * * *

  Fourteen

  FLORIDA STRAITS

  Some 8,000 miles away, as nightfall descended on the eastern coast of Florida the forty-four-foot power yacht made its way between the channel buoys and headed for the inlet of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It had been a long day for al-Yamani. After killing the captain of the boat, he'd traveled 360 miles, stopping only once in Fort Pierce to top off the fuel tanks. Fortunately, the weather had cooperated and he'd been able to engage the autopilot for at least a third of the journey. Still, the bright sun and wind had beaten his senses relentlessly for twelve hours straight and left him a bit off-kilter.

  Now with the boat moving at just under five knots through the calm narrow inlet he was met with an eerie silence punctuated only by the occasional nocturnal cry of animals he couldn't even begin to identify. Al-Yamani was not a man of the sea. He'd grown up in the al-Baha Province of Saudi Arabia, and until recently, he couldn't even swim. His knowledge of boats had been gained entirely in the last year as he'd helped transfer his martyrs on the Caspian Sea from Northern Iran to Kazakhstan. He'd paid close attention to their Iranian captain and how he maneuvered their decrepit flat-bottomed barge. After much cajoling, the captain had agreed to teach the Muslim warrior the ways of the sea, for even then al-Yamani knew he would have to find an unconventional way to enter the United States.

  The twin diesel engines purred while the exhaust ports gurgled at the water line and al-Yamani prayed yet again that he would avoid running into any alligators. The thought of such an encounter sent a shiver down his spine. He was a brave man, but he had grown up in the barren landscape of Saudi Arabia and such reptiles gave him near fits. He'd already heard several splashing noises and could imagine the scaly beasts following him up the narrow canal.

  He had the running lights on but resisted the urge to
use the bright search light. He would have preferred dousing the lights entirely, but if he by chance happened to stumble across some local law enforcement officer, or worse, a DEA agent, he didn't want them to think he was running drugs. His purpose was far more noble than the importing of an illicit substance. It was part of an ongoing battle between his people and the nonbelievers. A battle that had been waged for more than a thousand years.

  Al-Yamani kept one hand on the throttle and the other on the wheel while he consulted the GPS readout on the dash. He had memorized all the coordinates. Satellite maps had been purchased on the black market from a retired Russian intelligence officer in the northern Pakistani town of Peshawar. The Russian even helped him pick the point at which he should come ashore. The 140,000-acre refuge was owned and operated by NASA. For years the KGB had moved people in and out of the refuge so they could monitor what the Americans were up to in the race for space.

  Mustafa al-Yamani was a cautious man by nature, but when he was pitted against an enemy with almost endless resources, like America, his instincts bordered on paranoia. Before embarking on this mission, he had sent encrypted e-mails to followers who had been in place for years. None of them knew the face or name of the man they were told to meet, only a time and place and that their mission was of the highest order. There were two more locations to be used as backup if something went wrong.

  The FBI had increased its surveillance of American Muslims significantly, so they had to be careful. That meant using contacts who did not adhere to the strict Islamic teachings of the Wahhabi sect, which was most unfortunate. Al-Yamani was used to working with those who were truly devoted-men who were willing to martyr themselves without question. He had known many such men over the years and in the past months he had seen dozens of them forfeit their lives to a silent killer they could neither see nor understand. It had happened in a God-forsaken land on the northern edge of the Caspian Sea where the earth was so poisonous only a few mutated forms of life could survive.

 
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