The Raptor Force Trilogy, Book 1
A Novel by Bill Yenne
Copyright © 2006, 2013 by Bill Yenne
When there was nowhere else to turn, President Tom Livingstone called his old friend General Buck Peighton, and from the shadows, Peighton called on the Raptor Force. . .
3:55 p.m. Ankara Time
The vehicle disappeared out of sight around a bend, and the Raptors urged their horses to a trot until at last they saw the SUV again. It was parked near a small cluster of sorry-looking shacks. Just as they were dismounting to make a more cautious approach on foot, they heard a shot.
Brannan quickly crept to the crest of the ridge with his binoculars, while the other men tethered the horses. As he looked down into the valley, he could see four men in heavy winter coats. Two of them appeared to be looking for something or someone. Some distance away, the other two were shouting at a fifth man who was sitting on the ground.
“Look over there,” Jack Rodgers whispered.
They watched as another figure emerged from a small hovel and began creeping toward the men who were shouting at the sitting man.
Suddenly there were two more pops, and two men went down.
“Good shot, whoever he is,” Jason Houn observed.
“Let’s get down there,” Brannan said as he rose to his feet.
They spread out and slipped quietly down the hillside. There were more shots. A real gun battle was now raging down there. The men in the SUV were almost certainly the Mujahidin Al-Akhbar, but who were others – and how did they get here?
Dave Brannan reached the main building first and pressed himself to the side as he crept toward the rear. The shooting stopped. He peeked around and saw one of the men from the SUV advancing toward two people who were next to a pile of cinder blocks. The one who was standing looked like a woman!
Dave knew that the Mujahidin Al-Akhbar didn’t recruit women, so he raised his Heckler & Koch MP5, put a short burst into the man and moved in closer.
The woman came slowly toward him, holding a rifle in one hand, its muzzle pointed toward the ground. She wore a pair of substantial, but heavily scuffed boots, dirty khaki trousers and a close-fitting, long-sleeved t-shirt. It was evident from the enormous knife in the scabbard strapped to her thigh that she was not someone to be trifled with.
She was a small woman, about five-foot-five, with dark wavy hair and dark grey eyes that cast a riveting gaze. The streak of grey in her hair and the lines around the corners of her eyes told Dave that she was probably in her forties, but her lean, well-formed body was that of woman of 25. She was slender, but well toned. Her hands were perfectly proportioned, but her nails had the nicked and worn look of someone who worked with her hands.
“Merhaba,” she said cautiously.
“Merhaba,” he replied, repeating the Turkish word for “hello.”
He was trying to place her accent. She wasn’t Turkish, but there were an infinite number of nationalities and dialects in these mountains and plateaus.
“Do you speak English?” she asked hopefully. “I really am not very conversant in Turkish.”
“Yes ma’am,” Brannan replied. “I do know a word or two of English.”
“American?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am, American. It sounds like you are as well.”
“What are you doing out here?” She asked pointedly.
“Well, we’re just doing a little hunting here today,” he replied after a pause to decide exactly what to tell her. He couldn’t tell her exactly what they were doing, but he imagined himself to be an old-fashioned gentleman to whom lying to a lady came hard. In fact, she looked like someone who could probably figure out what they were doing, and she probably already had.
“Hunting? With that?” she said skeptically, pointing to his submachine gun.
“What are you doing out here?” Brannan asked cautiously, observing how she handled weapons. “Are you with Special Forces?”
“You have got to be kidding me!” Anne said emphatically. “My name is Anne McCaine. I’m a professor of archaeology at the University of Colorado.”
“You’re studying archaeology with those?” Dave said, pointing to the AK-47 in her hand and the knife with the ten-inch blade that was strapped to her leg. “Who’s kidding who?”
4:07 p.m. Ankara Time
Anne McCaine took a sip of water from the plastic bottle and looked across the dusty patch of ground in the middle of godforsaken nowhere on which she had just killed three men. The experience of killing four people in fewer than four days had been numbing. A few days ago, the very thought of such a thing would have torn her apart. She was surprised that the reality had not. More numbing than the fact of having killed was the experience of nearly being shot to death herself. Had it not been for the tall man with the reddish mustache, that probably would have happened.
The men who had been with this man had descended on the small complex of buildings in a flurry of activity. One of them had wrapped Robert’s ankle, given him a couple of painkillers and pronounced him “good to go.” He wasn’t, but he was limping around the place as though to prove that he soon would be. Others busily removed the bodies and picked up shell casings that were strewn across the ground after the shoot-out.
She hadn’t asked any more questions, but it was clear to her that these “hunters” were not hunting the bezoar ibex that were so plentiful in these mountains. They were American, and they were part of some sort of military operation. She had seen the artifacts on the wall, and she was left with little doubt that these hunters were hunting the people who had murdered her husband.
Inside the building, Brannan and Rodgers studied the map and took pictures with their digital cameras, while Jason Houn studied the Arabic text of the manuals. What they found was information that confirmed the supposition that the Black Sea site was where Al-Zahir had his headquarters. More ominously, the maps told the story that Mujahidin Al-Akhbar planned much more far-reaching mischief than they had suspected from what they had found at Rancho de los Bichos.
As they studied the ephemera in the small house, Dave Brannan couldn’t stop himself from thinking about that woman. Maybe it was the brisk country air, or maybe it was the thought of an attractive woman close to his own age who walked around with a goddamn sword strapped to her leg, but he was feeling unnaturally happy. Maybe it was just the exhilaration – for the first time in many years – of being hot for a woman while he was in the middle of an operation.
Finally, he couldn’t stand it any longer. He had to talk to her.
“How’s your friend?” he asked, nodding at Robert as he approached the woman.
“It wasn’t too serious,” Anne replied. “but your man fixed him up.”
She caught herself smiling as she spoke. The big man with the red mustache was what a girl might find ruggedly attractive. He wasn’t smooth and well groomed like her husband, but in another lifetime, she might have been attracted to him. He had huge hands, but they had seemed gentle when he had shaken hers when he introduced himself. She found herself wondering whether he had killed people with those bare hands, but caught herself, realizing that she had killed a man with her own hands.
“You guys look like you’re planning to leave pretty soon,” Anne said, nodding toward where the Raptors were tightening the cinches on their horses.
“You’re very observant, doctor,” he replied.
“Full professor,” she said. “Not a PhD. It’s easier to get out into the field without those initials.”
“How long were you at Teshub?” he asked. She had earlier told the story of what had happened there.
“Since the summer. The plan was to stay until late December and come back in the spring if there was continued funding.”
“You crossed to here on foot?” he asked.
“Yes we did, Colonel.”
“Sounds like you can take care of yourself pretty well outdoors,” he said nervously. He knew that they would have to leave these two Americans out here. He didn’t like that idea, but he was trying to rationalize that in her hands, they would be all right until they could be picked up.
“You mean `pretty well for a woman,’“ she said stifling a smile.
“When we leave, we’ll give you rations for four days. I’ll see that someone picks you up as soon as possible.”
“You’re not going to leave us out here,” she said angrily.
“I’m sorry,” he argued. “We have things to do. We can’t. . .”
“Well, I’m sorry. What you can’t do is leave us here. What happens if more of those guys come up here? I know what you’re doing in Turkey. Any fool could figure that out. I’ve been inside that shack over there. I’ve seen what’s on that wall. I know what you’re `hunting’ in Turkey. I want to go with you.”
“We can’t. . .”
“Of course you can,” she demanded. “You have four packhorses. They’re packed light. Obviously you did that so that you’d be able to double up the loads if you needed to. Well, now you need to. You can put us on two of the horses. Robert may be a full load, but I don’t weigh very much.”
“If you’ve figured that out, you’ve probably figured out that where we’re going, it’s not going to be a classroom environment,” Brannan cautioned.
“I’ve already been outside the classroom, Colonel,” she said, pointing to where she had just shot three terrorists. “I know where you’re going, and I want to be there. Those bastards murdered my husband!”