End game, p.4
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       End Game, p.4

         Part #5 of Will Robie series by David Baldacci
 

  Four of the other team members had optics on the target zone. They were also commed together and following over their headsets what was happening inside the compound.

  A minute later the all clear was given. The mission was a bust. There was no one inside.

  As quickly as they had come the SEALs departed. The stealth chopper disappeared over a sandy ridge and was gone.

  Reel and her team were packing their gear and about to board two Humvees when explosive rounds hit both vehicles. Secondary explosions came when the hardened fuel tanks were punctured and the gas vapor inside was combusted.

  The twin explosions cremated the driver and the grunt riding next to him in one vehicle and burned alive the driver in the second Humvee. The concussive blast ripped limbs off another team member, and he bled out seconds later.

  Reel and her spotter rolled to the left and sighted their weapons in the direction from where the rounds had come.

  Another explosive hit behind them, sending three more team members to the hereafter, in pieces.

  “We’re fucked,” screamed the spotter as incoming fire poured in from behind them as well. “This was a setup!”

  Reel already knew this. She spun her weapon around and crab-walked over so it was pointed at their rear flank.

  That was when she saw what was coming.

  Into her headset she said, “Get air support in here. Now!”

  There were three lightly armored Toyota pickup trucks carrying maybe twenty-five fighters in total. Another dozen armed men were hustling behind the cover of the trucks. Mounted in the beds of the Toyotas were .50-cal machine guns.

  Fifty-calibers didn’t wound when they hit you; they pretty much vaporized whatever they touched.

  Reel looked behind her as another round struck. Two more of her team were dismembered, their helmets spinning through the air before coming to rest as mangled composite a hundred feet away.

  And one of them was their communications person.

  Reel turned to her spotter. “Use your phone. Call in our coordinates. And we need some—”

  The .50s opened up again and the decibel-shattering barrage canceled out whatever else Reel was going to say.

  Two rounds hit her spotter, and Reel was instantly covered in blood, brains, and guts. The spotter’s right arm flew through the sky in a long arc before plummeting back to the sand.

  Now, with less than a minute having passed, there was just Reel and one other man left alive, a Brit named Hugh Barkley.

  Reel waited until the .50s ceased firing to reload and then she sighted through her optics.

  Three quick trigger pulls, and each ISIS member manning the machine guns toppled off the back of the trucks.

  Reel had bullets and she had enemies, and she set out to merge the two forevermore.

  Three men tried to take the place of the machine gunners. And three men caught Win Mag rounds in their heads for the trouble.

  Then the ISIS force wised up and the trucks went into evasive maneuvers, with the lead truck providing cover for the other two.

  Reel grabbed her spotter’s weapon, and without taking her eyes off the targets, her fingers snagged the ordnance she wanted to deploy next.

  She fed the rounds into the rifle, took aim, and fired.

  The incendiary round found its mark, and the gas tank of the lead truck was pierced. A split second later the ordnance ignited and so did the vapor in the tank.

  The concussive force lifted the Toyota pickup straight off the ground, like a rocket taking off. Then gravity took over and the truck flipped and came to rest on top of the second truck, crushing it.

  Reel sent another incendiary round into the third truck. The gas vapor detonated and also caused the .50-cal ammo stacked on the truck beds to explode, turning the night sky bright as day. Bodies and weapons and pieces of Toyotas hurtled across the sand, some landing as far as a half mile away.

  When the smoke cleared, Reel could not see one living person in front of her. Just wreckage, flaming objects, and burned corpses.

  She had not a second longer to dwell on this, because firing came from behind her. She saw Barkley strafing the ground in front of him with rounds from his MP5.

  Reel sprinted that way, planted her weapon on the sand, slid into firing position, and sighted through her scope and fired. And kept firing.

  But bullets were coming at them far faster. And then grenades landed and started exploding all around them.

  Barkley moved to his left, which was a mistake. The heavy round sliced right through his body armor and blew out his back. He moaned once, gurgled twice, and fell facedown in the sand.

  Now it was only Reel left.

  She sighted through her scope looking for targets, when it emerged out of the smoke, dust, and darkness.

  “Shit!”

  It was an American M1117 armored security vehicle. A bunch of them had been captured by ISIS from the Iraqi army. It was heavily armored, weighed thirty thousand pounds, and had a top speed of seventy mph. It had a grenade launcher and a .50-cal machine gun in addition to a second machine gun, all mounted on the rotating turret. That was what had been firing at them. That was what had rained grenades on them, and a round from the .50 had just killed Barkley.

  Reel grabbed the other rifle she always brought to battle, the Barrett M82. It was already chambered with the most powerful ordnance Reel had to combat the armored rhino coming for her. She would only use it if everything had gone to shit.

  Now seemed the perfect time.

  The round she was about to fire was technically known as the Raufoss Mk211, developed by a manufacturer in Scandinavia. It was so devastating that, under the Geneva Conventions, it was not supposed to be used against humans.

  Right now Reel knew it was her last chance to survive. She didn’t try to change locations. If she got up and ran, they would simply mow her down with the .50-cal like they had Barkley. She didn’t move a muscle. They might assume she was already dead.

  Reel aimed her weapon, centered her breathing, and let her finger slip to the trigger. The M1117 had good armor, but armor needed to be maintained. And she had spotted some missing plates on the front underbelly of the vehicle, probably from a previous run-in with an IED when the metal beast was still working for America.

  Yet Reel didn’t aim there. Her muzzle was pointed at the front window of the ASV. The glass was multi-layered ballistic glass, but the Raufoss’s tungsten core could punch a hole in eight inches of concrete at four hundred meters or an inch of steel at two thousand yards. Well, she was a helluva lot closer than that. And glass, even ballistic glass, was not steel or concrete.

  “Do it, baby, do it,” she murmured as she slowly pressed the trigger.

  The round blew right through the glass, probably killing one of the crew on contact. And she followed that up with two more rounds where the missing armored plates had been.

  Its ability to pierce armor was not the reason she’d selected the Raufoss. Like the rounds she’d used to take out the Toyotas, the Raufoss had an incendiary component. But the Raufoss also had a high explosive charge built in. It could take out aircraft, choppers, and ships.

  And, as it turned out, M1117s.

  The trio of explosives detonated and the ammo and the fuel in the vehicle ignited a millisecond later.

  Reel had to look away and bury herself in the sand to escape from being blinded by the flash. Debris, flaming objects, and body parts rained down all around.

  She finally leapt up, sprinted away, and threw herself under one of the destroyed and still smoldering Humvees as large objects struck it and the ground all around.

  After a minute things stopped falling and it grew quiet.

  Another minute passed, and Reel dragged herself out from under the Humvee.

  She looked around at her destroyed team.

  She looked at the body parts of her attackers.

  She looked at all the burning vehicles.

  She was still sitting there when a chopper fl
ew over and swept a light over the area.

  When the SEALs fast-roped down to her she didn’t acknowledge them, though she did let them attach a harness to her. The winch was engaged and she was swept into the air and hauled aboard the chopper.

  A minute later they were heading back to base, and to safety.

  Jessica Reel didn’t say a word the whole way.

  Chapter

  6

  “TRAITOR IN THE ranks, I’m afraid.”

  The dour-faced colonel looked across the desk at Reel.

  “One of the Iraqis. We traced some communications. False intel on the ISIS leader at that compound. They were going to hit the SEAL team, too, but apparently they were in and out too fast. That left your team as the sole target. They obviously wanted to take you out as our primary sniper. It was amazing that we didn’t pick up their presence on the earlier recon. They were quite well hidden. But it was night and that area is hardly secure, not that any place here really is.”

  The man fidgeted with a pen on his desk as he shot glances at Reel, who had said nothing the whole time.

  “We never received a distress signal from your team. I imagine you hardly had the chance. But the battle was seen and reported. And the SEAL team that had deployed to attack the compound was sent back to help. I’m sorry it came too late to help your team.”

  He glanced at Reel to see if these words had dented the invisible armor that seemed to surround her.

  They hadn’t.

  He had been fully briefed on Jessica Reel, to the extent that he was cleared for it.

  He knew some of what she had done in the past. He well knew what her lethal capabilities were. The colonel had a ballpark understanding of how many people she had killed over the course of her career. And he knew what she meant to a certain intelligence agency whose sole mission was to keep America safe.

  But what he didn’t know, what he could never know…was Jessica Reel. And what made her tick. Here, clearances didn’t matter, because there was no file and no briefing that could fill in those blanks.

  He cleared his throat. “I have to say, your performance was truly remarkable, Agent Reel. You single-handedly took out three attack vehicles, and an M1117 and about forty enemy fighters. I’ve never seen anything like it. Frankly, I’m not sure we have enough commendations to award you,” he added with a nervous chuckle. “If you were military they’d be talking about the Medal of Honor. I’m certain of that.”

  Finally, Reel stirred and looking directly at him said, “I would have thought, since I failed to save a single member of my team, that any talk of commendations or medals would be complete horseshit. And the Medal of Honor is not given out for saving your own ass, sir.”

  The dour face now turned red. “That was hardly your fault, Agent Reel. What you did was indisputably heroic.”

  “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.” Reel stood. “Is that all, sir?”

  “What? Oh, um, yes.”

  As she headed to the door he added, “You’re heading back stateside. Not my call. Above my pay grade.”

  She didn’t turn or answer him. Reel just shut the door behind her and kept walking.

  * * *

  Reel had boarded a jet in Iraq, flown to London, and boarded another jet there. The plane she was on now quickly shed altitude as it passed over New York City en route to its final destination right outside of DC.

  Jessica was not the only passenger on the government wings, but she was the only one to look out the window at this point. Though she really couldn’t make it out clearly at this altitude, in her mind’s eye she took in lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers had once stood. Now One World Trade Center soared 1,776 gloriously symbolic feet into the air like a defiant fist upraised to the clear sky. Fittingly, it was the tallest building in the city, and also in North America. Indeed, there were only three other buildings taller in the world. And none of them carried the gravitas of the one she was visualizing now.

  Horrible memories tagged to hopes for a better future were represented down there.

  Yet right now Reel did not hold out much hope for a better future.

  War kind of did that to you.

  It messed with you in a way that not much else ever could.

  Later, on final approach into Dulles, the jet passed by the airport and banked to the east so it could land into the wind.

  Reel was the last passenger off. The rest were a mixture of uniforms and civilian contractors all deployed or employed in the fight against terror.

  It was a war Reel had finally realized halfway over the Atlantic her side could never really win.

  We kill ten and twenty more take their place.

  It was an even more insidious version of Medusa that had leapt from the pages of mythology and landed squarely in the twenty-first century.

  It was the works of George Orwell and Franz Kafka smashed together and then spun out into the worst nightmare of all time.

  She carried her small bag and took a cab to a hotel in DC. She checked in and went to her room.

  She tossed her bag in the corner and fell back on the bed. She felt like she hadn’t slept in a month. And in a sense, she hadn’t. Snipers didn’t really sleep, even off duty. You just…existed…until the next shot.

  She rose, popped open the minibar, chugged a ten-dollar bottle of Fiji water, ate a six-dollar candy bar followed by four Advil, and lay back on the bed.

  She closed her eyes.

  And the whole damn thing was replayed in her mind. And the outcome was always the same.

  Everybody dies except me.

  Enemy and ally.

  She went through each step, wondering what she could have done differently to change what had ended up being a slaughter.

  For both sides.

  Sole survivor. She didn’t wear that label well.

  She thought of her spotter, a man two months away from being a father for the first time. She thought of Hugh Barkley, married with three children back in Birmingham, England. She thought of all the rest, including the man who had betrayed them.

  What could I have done better? How could I have prevented this?

  She had no answers to these questions. She would never have answers to these questions for the simple fact that there were none to be had.

  Humans were imperfect beings operating in a world over which they had diminishing control.

  Particularly in the parts that were at war.

  Giving up the possibility of sleep, she opted for a shower instead, letting the hot water pour over her, while her forehead was pressed to the tiles.

  She wanted to cleanse Iraq from her being. Reel wanted every molecule of sand lurking on her skin to vanish.

  Like finding answers to her questions, it was really an impossible task. The mission that night would be with her always, joining a legion of others where things did not always turn out right.

  She dried off, wrapped a towel around her, went to the window, and peered out. It was cloudy in DC. The seasons were in flux, warm giving way to less warm, and then eventually ceding to quite cold.

  The knock on the door brought her back.

  Her hand automatically pulled the Beretta from her bag. Her finger disengaged the safety without her even having to look because the Beretta was as much a part of Reel as was her hand.

  Holding the pistol behind her, she padded to the door and looked through the peephole.

  She sucked in a breath and then let it go.

  Her nightmare had just ratcheted up a notch.

  She opened the door and looked up at him.

  “What the hell are you doing here?”

  Will Robie looked down at her and said, “We need to find Blue Man.”

  Chapter

 
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