Bart Doherty looked at Colin Jameson. The two men had known each other almost every one of Colin’s twenty-eight years. From his early visits to his first trip to Minnesota in 1999, there was a mythology of his great uncle. After that, there was a hidden reality. Now, there was only the secrets that the two men shared about their combined S1 realities and all they had been through.
“Do you know any of these other guys, Colin?”
“Well everyone knows the Chief.”
And it was true that everyone did know Anthony Williams by his reputation and his appearance. Williams was a six foot four brute of a man who took on many of his mother’s Italian traits in both skin color and temperament. More importantly than those things, however, he took on his father’s muscular status.
Like his father, Anthony’s size was meant to be protective and there to enable an NFL quarterback in the entire scope of his offensive attack, but also like his father, life had taken him other ways than to do battle on the gridiron.
Anthony’s father’s fate was sealed when his offensive line wavered, and instantly, two hulking Notre Dame players blitzed the University of Texas quarterback into the ground. Normally, this would be a cause for celebration, but both men saw that Anthony wasn’t getting up right away, and they apologized to him profusely as he regained consciousness on the ground.
“Don’t sweat it. It’s the rules of the game,” he said, but he still couldn’t move, so he just waited for the athletic trainers, medics, and the stretcher crew to take him off to get x-rays to determine the extent of the damage.
The damage to this senior offensive juggernaut wasn’t catastrophic, but it was severe enough that no pro team would take a chance on the once great candidate for the Heisman. Instead, Anthony, as he insisted on being referred to, went to work for a trucking company out of Austin, where he never had problems with his back or spine again, but by that point, it was too late to be an NFL great.
Sadly, no Kurt Warner would rise from the ashes of the elder Tony Williams’s failed opportunities in football.
As he got married and older, Tony dreamed many things for his son. Some of these were the fulfillment of his football dreams, but where he saw himself leading a sports team, his son saw himself leading a military unit, so as soon as he could, he enlisted.
For years, this was serving as a US Marine. Then, fate, as it does in many things, intervened and led the man and his fellow USMC sergeant, Samuel Lucas, to Bart Doherty’s attention. Within hours of being introduced, the three men were together within the confines of an exploding Fallujah.
“Gentlemen,” Doherty said as he met the two Devil Dogs for the first time. “We have received word that something bad is going to be going down today. We have credible information, though we aren’t sure where. We only know that it is a deal struck between the Brigades of Martyr Ahmed Yassin and some very motivated ‘accumulators’ to make some bad things go down as a diversion while these looters, if that’s what you would call them, try to ransack certain historical and art collections in the city.”
“So you need a Marine to protect sculptures?” SSGT Lucas asked with obvious disdain for being relegated to a job he felt wasn’t far away from being a mall security guard.
“No, I need a pair of well-trained jarheads to help execute some serious art thieves who are looking to profit on the black market with priceless artifacts of cultural, religious, and historic significance. This will be completely off the record, so you don’t have to worry about some of the legal entanglements from Switzerland that would otherwise dictate the rules of this engagement.”
“So what does that mean for us?” Williams asked.
“It means that you will drop all rank and insignia from your uniforms. It means that you will go in with me in temporary ‘civilian’ capacity. Unfortunately, it means if you get caught and shit happens, well, shit really happens and you are officially missing in action never to return to the fold again.”
“Who are you in the employment of? You look too old to be military unless you’re a four-star general out of uniform,” Gunnery Sergeant Williams questioned the old man.
“Don’t worry. You never heard of the unit that I’m serving with, but I assure you all three of us take our ultimate orders from the President of the United States for this mission.”
“We get to hear GW’s voice?” Lucas asked.
“No, his handlers rubber-stamped this years ago, just in case.”
“Plausible deniability,” Williams added.
“Fair enough, Old Man,” Lucas said, and then he asked, “You got a rank even if you can’t wear it?”
“I did. It was a full bird colonel. Now, I gave that up to get even with the nastiest of bad guys and things that go bump up in the night before they started pulling some serious shit.”
“I wish I knew more, but it works for me,” Williams said. “If these things are enemies to the world, I’m in it to kill it.”
“What kind of serious shit do art thieves get into?” Lucas asked.
“Mostly, desecrating religious artifacts in the name of a different sort of religion, which is a looser term than you might think of. I don’t know if I’d call them a cult, but they aren’t far removed. They believe in the power of certain things in the past in an all-too dangerous way, and the sad part is that they’re right about these special powers that they are trying to accumulate. As they do this, other collectors are trying to get ahold of stuff with special powers in other places. That’s where my group comes into the equation,” Doherty informed the men.
“Like killing the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, who were on the hunt for paranormal and metaphysical objects,” Lucas added. “I’d like to get my hands on Belloq or Toht. I’d mess those dudes up.”
“Yep. We have orders to shoot these terrorist piece of shits on sight. We don’t need to wait to be engaged. We aim for the center of the skull, and kill the brain. We kill ‘em like zombies. The messier the better,” Doherty added.
“Right through the eye socket, Colonel?” Williams said, making a gun out of his hand and pretending to fire it.
“Exactly. My employers want these guys dead in the most definite of ways. They do, however, expect the artifacts to stay safe.”
“They’re not zombies are they?” Lucas asked.
“Not that I know of, nor are we worried about them coming back to life after death, though we are worried about them bringing something in a chest back to this world. As it never was alive, we aren’t sure exactly how to kill it, so we can’t let it happen.”
“So we’re dealing with real undead shit?”
“Those are your words, not mine, Sgt. Williams.
“That could be a tall order,” Lucas remarked.
“It usually is, but I have faith in you. Your C.O. does, too. He promised me the two baddest mofos in the business. I trust you are worthy of his compliments.”
The two Marines smiled.
“Let’s roll, home skillet,” Williams said. “We’ve got a job to do.”
Driving through Fallujah, there was a palpable air of a revolution waiting to decimate everything in its path when whatever had accumulated into this festering riotous attitude took over.
“Who are these pricks, Colonel?” Lucas asked.
“Ghazi Nasser is the name of the man who is orchestrating everything. Everyone with him is hired muscle. They plan on hitting the collection of a wealthy businessman named Kawi Nader. He’s been buying historical statues and trinkets off of random dealers and thieves for years. He generally seems to care about the materials he’s preserving. Before everything happened with the coalition forces going after Saddam, he had dreams of building a museum to showcase the history of Mesopotamia, at least he felt he could if Saddam ever ended up dead. I’d like to think he still does, but with all of the damage done to this city,” Doherty paused. “I don’t think this shithole will ever be livable again.”
“So who are these people looking to hit him? Private collectors or opportunistic suppliers who want to make money off of creating a museum?” Williams questioned the Colonel.
“Some of the items will be resold for funding, but mostly this is about the Following of Praznok, who was reckoned to be a vicious demon who existed in the days before the Prophet Mohammed.”
“So he was associated with Islam?” Williams asked again.
“Not at all. These guys hated all three branches of the tree. No Christian, Muslim, or Jew was safe from their wraith. Fortunately, long story short, a brave group of men in the Crusades era captured Praznok and were said to place his spirit in a chest.”
“So they’ve got a demon in a box. Well, ain’t that special?” Williams laughed.
“You could say that, but the good news is that they need to have a key to that chest as well as a stone tablet that reveals how to release Praznok.”
“Do they have the key?” Lucas said.
“Not on them or even in this country. However, we believe they are aware of where the key to open the box is located.”
“You believe that?” Lucas asked, smiling as he did.
“I’m here, ain’t I?”
“I guess we all are. Here’s to being a comic book hero,” Williams said.
“I already am one,” Doherty said. “You’re an American hero, but you’re not on my level, at least yet.”
“What do I need to do to get on that level?” Williams asked.
“Shoot a demon’s skull at close range so the beast incinerates into a white light explosion. Then you walk away and live to tell about it.”
“You have us killing demons?” Lucas said.
“Maybe someday,” the ex-Colonel said, smiling mischievously at his two companions.
The Marines smiled at their potential inclusion into Doherty’s ranks.
Twenty minutes later, the men were parking their truck behind a building that had never seen good days, and it was even worse now since it was crumbling under the weight of its own poor construction and lack of upkeep. As a result, it was abandoned by even the filthiest rats of the city.
“This is where we wait,” Bart told the Marines.
“For what?” Lucas responded.
“All Hell to break loose.”
“Then what?” Williams asked.
“Then one of the three snipers on the roofs above us will alert me to Ghazi and his crew coming to that building across the street. At that point, they will start shooting down everyone they can. Our job is to use our M-16s and Beretta 9mm pistols as well as a few well-placed grenades to keep their escape route in one direction, which is out the way it came. If it becomes necessary, we’ll have to call more of your Jarhead friends on the ground to intercept them up there. I was even promised air support and tanks if it came to that.”
“That’s a well-thought out contingency plan, Bart,” Williams replied.
“I’d say so. I designed it myself.”
“So were you a Leatherneck when you were a Colonel?” Lucas asked.
“Army all the way.”
“You should have been a Marine,” Lucas said.
“You should be one of my guys. Well, if you’re as good as your C.O. says. We need people who know how to go door to door and keep their cool when they’re facing out of this world dangers.”
“Where else you been in combat?” Williams said.
“Vietnam, Panama, and Iraq on official orders. All over Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, Central America, and even some unpleasant situations in America.”
“You had to take out Americans?” Williams asked, thoroughly surprised.
“Mostly, we take out people who infiltrate the country. If we take out Americans, they were collaborating with some serious bad things and needed to go.”
“No Bill of Rights concerns?” Williams added.
“They forfeited them.”
“Home grown terrorists do that?” Lucas chimed in while he was still surprised to be looking out at the emptiness of the street.
“Not really. We tend to fight against things with less of an earthly origin or master. Any American conjuring these creatures is considered dangerous and a high-value target that has no business discussing their concerns in a military or civilian courtroom.”
“So do you also hide UFOs after killing aliens?” Williams said jokingly.
“Only once. It happened in a small town in Pennsylvania. Now that was some stuff,” Bart said. “For the most part, we fight against what you might call pagans and Satanists, but these aren’t bullshit kids looking to piss off their parents. These are people unleashing demons after swearing allegiance to destroy all of mankind.”
“I think I prefer crushing the insurgency,” Lucas said. “Marines were trained to be able to be especially dangerous at messing these wannabe martyrs up. We’ll send them to their seventy-two virgin camels.”
“I know you will. That’s why I like working with you guys on missions like this, but it’s also why we need more of you who have the internal fortitude to go to the next level with our missions.”
“Yeah,” Williams nodded, contemplating the thought.
“That’s the thing about Marines. We make the best teammates around because we’re focused on unit, trust, and the mission. My brother is learning that now,” Lucas said.
“Your brother joined up, too?”
“No, he’s a police chief in Blanding, Utah.”
“Where the hell is that?” Williams asked his colleague.
“Middle of nowhere, but since they gave Tony a chance to run the show he moved from our home in Naturita, Colorado, with his wife Katie to have a chance to get some leadership experience. He finally got to hire his own men, now that the old timers retired. His pick was a guy named Littleman who served in the Marines as a military policeman. He won’t regret that choice. Our guys have some serious presence and skill.”
“Not to interrupt you, Sammy, but it sounds like Colonel Doherty’s phone is going off,” Williams said.
“Give me a second,” Bart said, and with that he walked off to answer the phone while both men watched him.
When he came back, he looked into their inquisitive glances.
“We need to get our stuff ready to move. There is word that the diversion is started. People are rioting. They are up at one of the bridges on the Euphrates with a crew of contractors that they captured and killed. Word is that they’re desecrating the bodies.”
Immediately, both men looked at him stunned.
“This is war. The bull is bucking back. It doesn’t want to be sat on. This is how it wins. You had to expect shit like this no matter how much you don’t like it.”
Lucas looked at the men and interjected the remark, “I don’t dislike it. I loathe the hell out of it.”
“There will be time for justice later,” Bart said. “Be patient.”
“I know, but I just think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” Williams said. “Should we be there helping?”
“No. You need to be here. Where we’re going is it getting much worse before it gets better. You have to know this. Nevertheless, what I need to know is if you feel that you don’t have the heart for this,” Bart asked him.
“I’m saying that I want to know how much your promise of immunity comes when I offer some serious payback to these dirt bags.”
“When it’s all over, you’ll be OK to put a series hurting on the Brigade. Trust me. Besides, you don’t have a uniform on, do you?”
The Marine looked at the civilian who had mysteriously come into his life and now changed it so much with such a bizarre mission. Could all of this really be true?
Sammy looked over, and he spoke out, “Where do you want us when we need to give these bastards the hot lead injection?”
“They’re going to be coming for this building,” Bart said pointing again to the warehouse. “Let’s set up in the front room of that building over there. Nobody fires until we get everyone into position to open up on them, all at once. Let their fear of the rooftop triangulation scare the shit out of them. We’ll add in to the mix by gunning the masses down and blocking their escape.”
“Works for me,” Williams said.
“Now grab the extra duffle bags, and let’s hurry. That bridge situation is going to last a while, but it’s not forever. Ghazi will be working out of a limited time frame.”
The men did just what Doherty asked, and with the time that was left, they moved furniture and other objects in the way of the door to block any attack that might come through the door. Fifteen minutes later, the next call came from the rooftop crew.
“They’re about to come into the kill zone. Trucks are moving, and radio chatter is coming on. The streets around here are emptying and quieting down for a reason,” the comlink blared.
“So we’re about to fire. Ready?” Bart asked his men rhetorically.
“When you give the order,” the lead sniper on the roof said.
“You didn’t need to answer. You’ve been down this path before. Have at it. Terminate with extreme prejudice.”
With that, the first of the gunshots ripped out silently through the tense heat of Fallujah. Soon, more of the silenced blasts from above claimed lives in the convoy of trucks, of which there were two Hemmet 8WD troop transports. In addition, there was a large moving truck, and there was a Chevy Impala wedged in between. Under the extreme time constraints, shot after shot rang out rather quickly, smashing into the drivers of the two troop transports and the moving truck, which were forced in the vice with nowhere to escape to.
The scene on the ground was absolute chaos as at least twenty men poured out of the transports and four more ran out of the back of the moving truck, firing upward at the tops of the buildings, blindly, as they fought back to keep the snipers down. All the while, the two men in the Impala dodged through the whole scene to find cover down toward the building they were headed toward.
“Can you see anything down there?” Bart radioed.
“Not in this mess of gunfire,” the radio chattered.
“How about any of the rest of you?”
“Negative,” a different sniper stated.
“I have movement down the street. I think that’s Ghazi and his bodyguard. I didn’t expect to see him here. What’s he risking his life for?” the sniper asked while staring through the scope at the unknown man running between the transports and the car.”
“Do you have a shot so we can end this?”
“Negative. It’s too uncertain with the angle I’m looking from.”
“Well don’t let that stop you, Wilson. You’re a good shot. Light this bastard up.”
And with that, the.50 caliber shot went off, missing the position the men were hunched in by mere inches.
“Did you get him?”
“Negative,” the radio crackled.
“Well, at least he’s pinned down. Fire again.”
Continued firing erupted. While it wasn’t finding a target, its routine presence scared everyone on the ground.
Nevertheless, despite their fear, the hordes of other terrorists who minutes earlier were set to be acting as moving men were still firing up at the rooftops, however randomly and scattered that their firing was.
In the building, SSGT Lucas looked at GSGT Williams and Doherty, and he spoke, “I’m not sure how long our guys on the roof can wait. I’m thinking it’s time to bring on another avenue of fire.”
“We’re quite a distance from those guys. We’ll be making noise and wasting ammo instead of dropping thugs in their tracks,” Williams explained.
“What do you suggest?” Lucas screamed.
“Let’s move our show up from behind. We can move up a good block or so by going out the backdoor of this place and winding up from the street behind here to sneak attack them there. If we can move back left toward this street and hide behind those broken down trucks, we can relieve a lot of pressure on our sniper team,” Doherty added.
“This will still leave us exposed. Is it a good thing to put us all in danger?” Williams said.
“You got a better idea?” The former Colonel added.
“Their eyes are on those buildings, so yeah. Well, let’s take your plan, but instead of hitting them from the street, let’s get up on the rooftop, too,” Lucas said.
“That will give us a clear opportunity to throw grenades down on them while pulverizing them with a lot of 5.56mm hugs and cuddles,” Williams explained to the men.
“That could work,” Bart said, feeling uplifted by the prospects of the Marines’ understanding of how to control the situation definitively.
“Damn right it will,” Lucas said. “That’s Marine Corps know how. OOH RAH!”
With this, the men proceeded to grab their gear and head out the back of the building. As they moved out the back of the house into the street, which had been abandoned for the entire time that the men occupied the building beside it, they walked out and found themselves face to face with the building that these terrorist forces were coming to loot.
“So this is what we’ve been protecting,” Lucas mumbled.
“It seems so,” Williams began to say.
“Nondescript,” Doherty said, finishing up his sentence. “I’ve got a feeling I don’t trust guys.
The Marines nodded in agreement. At first, it was an inconspicuous feeling regarding how abandoned that the streets were, but for the most part, there weren’t even birds peeping anywhere.
Now, they saw their first person on the street, who was a younger boy who was down the street about forty feet from them as he came out of another building that also appeared to be abandoned. The body of the person in question wasn’t tall or muscular, but it was definitely male from how he was dressed, though his clothing appeared bulky at first.
“Hey, you!” Williams screamed out in Arabic. “What are you doing here?”
The boy turned around to face the men. Even though he was a local who would know the language that was spoken, he didn’t seem to understand the words the men were saying.
“I think he’s autistic. Look at the way his hands are stimming,” Lucas said. “My friend has a son who does that.”
“But what’s he doing out here in the middle of a war zone?” Williams asked.
“He’s not meant to be stuck inside, Colonel. He can come and go as he pleases,” Lucas responded to Bart until he was interrupted.
“No, I’m not trying to be an insensitive asshole. I mean we’ve got no other people wandering around out here. What’s a kid, much less a boy with autism, doing on this street?”
“Let me go see, guys. Out of all of us, I’d say that I’m the most used to working with kids with these problems. I know some tricks that might help him relax a little bit,” Lucas said, immediately walking up to the boy.
“Friend,” Lucas said in Arabic, pointing to himself and then smiling.
The boy continued to flap his hands while making repetitive sounds that appeared to show he was frightened.
Lucas stepped back and reached into his pocket, and he produced a Hershey’s chocolate bar, and then he took a bite before he spoke again, saying, “Mmm… good stuff.”
Instantly, he smiled again, and then he broke off a piece of the bar and handed it off to the boy and repeated the Arabic word for friend.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Sam. You need to,” Williams said.
“Get the hell away from that kid!” Bart screamed. “He’s rigged with a bomb!”
“What?” Lucas said, obviously confused, but Bart and GSGT Williams didn’t take the time to hear since they were now immediately running away from the heinous trap that was left for them by the dastardly terrorists who would use an unsuspecting person with disabilities as a vehicle for their evil intentions.In the instant of panic, SSGT Lucas looked at the boy’s loose fitting clothes and he saw what appeared to be a metal box on the child’s chest. Instantly, he knew why the boy was here. These inhuman bastards had taken this child and converted him into an IED. It wasn’t something that happened all the time, but terrorists had been known to be using children with disabilities as delivery devices in their insidious plans for quite some time. Now, the Marine was face to face with the boy...