Almost out of ammunition, but not resolve, the Department operative is pinned down by Taliban fighters deep in the barren terrain outside Kandahar. He swears that if he escapes this firefight he will visit vengeance on the man who betrayed him ... at the top of his own organisation. Then a grenade lands at his feet...
Six years later, Gabriel Wolfe stands with his new bride - a former Mossad agent - on the brink of a new life. There are snipers on the roof and armed agents in the crowd. What could possibly go wrong?
Fans of this all-action series know that nothing ever runs smoothly for former SAS member and now govt. assassin Gabriel Wolfe. If you're new to the series, buckle up because you're in for a rough ride.
The action hurtles from London to Jerusalem then onto Vietnam before a final, breathtaking showdown on a remote Hebridean island.
Release date: April 27, 2022
Publisher: Tyton Press
Print pages: 345
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Reaching for the small brass cylinder saves his life.
The sudden rightwards move means the incoming sniper round doesn’t explode his head like a ripe melon.
He plucks the scorching shell casing from the blood-soaked earth on which he lies. Raises it and stares down into its unblinking black eye.
The dark-filled circle grows until it fills his vision.
The payload, a curved lead projectile, scored that it might burst open like a flower, is long gone. Whether it blossomed on impact, or withered in the sand, he has no way of telling.
But he could ensure the last of its brothers will find fertile soil in which to bloom. Take up the pistol. Place it in his mouth. Pull the trigger. All would be simplified. No more pain. No more doubt. No more anger, fear or regret.
No one to mourn him. Not now. No chance of completing the mission.
The heat no longer bothers him. It has sucked the last of the moisture from him so that even the small flies have abandoned his eyes and nostrils, searching elsewhere for a few precious sips of water.
His right ankle is a mess: blood spilling over the top of his boot, shards of bone poking through his shredded trouser leg.
No pain, though: that’s good. Adrenaline is the soldier’s friend. He knows it won’t last, though. Soon, Sister Agony will come a-knocking with her leather roll of instruments: the saws, the pincers, the needles, nippers, pliers and drills. But for now, just a dull ache a thousand miles away.
Ah, Jesus, is this it, then? The end of his career as a fighting man? The end, full stop? After all the war-fighting, the battles, the insertions, the covert ops, the knife fights, fire fights, fist fights. The throat-slittings, neck-breakings, dealing death a thousand different ways; all over in this shit-hole country composed of nothing but pink rock, dead-looking scrub and a million different biting, stinging creatures ready to devour you whole?
No! Not if he can help it, it isn’t. He hasn’t come this far to die behind a heap of rock. The sun is irradiating the top of his head, burning his skin to an even black. His headdress is long gone, torn off in the sandstorm that choked the life out of his 4x4 and left him stranded fifty clicks from his Forward Operating Base.
He flicks the shell casing away and levers himself up on his elbow, rolls to his right before peering over the low wall of bullet-holed sandstone blocks. The Taliban fighters are two hundred metres out now and closing. He fires a burst over the top, more in hope than expectation.
An answering salvo blows chips off the edge of the stones. One spins up into his eye and slices across the lid. Freshets of blood turn half the world red before blinding him altogether.
He wipes the blood away and squints down at his ruined ankle. Small brown flies have found it and are swarming over the already blackening wound. He kicks at them with his other boot, misses and connects with the side of his shin. Now the pain does arrive: searing hot and driving stiletto blades through the skin, fat, muscle, nerves, blood vessels and bone all the way to his hip joint.
He bites down on the scream that threatens to split his cracked lips apart. Tears squeeze out from between his eyelids and just as quickly evaporate in the bone-dry heat.
The bleeding starts afresh, a steady flow that drains over the side of his boot and runs into the gritty sand.
Bullets whine overhead and the Taliban’s assault rifles bark, louder than before. They’re close now. He can hear their conversation in between the bursts of gunfire.
He raises a hand to the equipment pouches slung across his body beneath the filthy off-white robe. His scrabbling fingers find a single magazine for the AK. He pulls it free and readies it. Then shuffles up against the stones and raises the rifle’s barrel up high enough to empty the rest of the mag.
It is hopeless to shoot like that, but he has no choice. As well as their Kalashnikovs and captured American Colt M4s, the Taliban have a guy with a sniper rifle. Something heavy. Maybe a captured Barrett Light Fifty from the Americans, or a vintage Dragunov from when the Soviets were having a crack at the Afghans.
Every time he’s popped his head up, a supersonic round has whined towards him. So far either he’s been lucky, or the Taliban sniper has been off his game. No self-respecting British or American sniper would miss from that range. But he knows his luck can’t last.
He is down to the thirty rounds in the fresh mag and six left in his sidearm. The Sig Sauer P226 has been with him on half a dozen ops all over the world from Mozambique to Venezuela. It lost its factory shine a long time ago, but it still works every time he pulls the trigger and it never, ever jams. You can’t really ask for much more.
Altogether that leaves him with thirty-six rounds. A pathetic number against half a dozen Taliban fighters draped in bandoliers, pockets stuffed with enough spare mags to take out ten operatives.
He drops out the empty mag and tosses it over the makeshift wall he is leaning against. Let them see he is reloading, at least. Maybe they’ll stay cautious if they think he isn’t out of ammo just yet. In goes the new one, slotted home and pushed into the latch with a quiet click. No palm-slapping heroics that might result in a mislocated catch.
He shuffles sideways on his belly, heading for the far end of the wall. So far, he’s been shooting over the top. His plan is to regain a tiny element of surprise and shoot from a different spot. Hopefully their sniper is still focused on the original point he’d popped up from.
The sniper needs to be killed first. Get the accuracy guy and the rest will be easier game. Despite their advantage in numbers, he reckons he can take them out.
Dragging his ankle brings it into contact with the dust, grit and stone chips littering the desert floor. A fresh wave of agony ignites like petrol being trickled onto a smouldering fire. He hisses with the pain of it and continues working his way along to his new firing position.
Shouts go up from the Taliban on the other side of the wall. Christ! They sound so close. It’s now or never.
He rolls sideways, onto his back, bringing his rifle over with him. Upside down, his aim is wild, but with the fire selector set to full auto he doesn’t believe it will matter. He presses the trigger and sends 7.62 mm rounds spraying out in a fan towards the advancing Taliban.
A head blows apart in a pink mist. No time for even the beginnings of a scream. Fragments of bone and scraps of bearded face spin away into the dust. Another one bites the dust! Ha! He isn’t finished yet. Come on, you bastards! Let’s see what you’ve got.
He rights himself and squeezes off another burst. Two more of the bearded fighters fall, one with a gaping cavity torn into his side from which viscera spill; hot, wet and red. His comrade staggers on for another step despite missing the top of his head.
That still leaves three fighters advancing, machine guns levelled at him. The answering burst of automatic fire is deafening. Blue gun smoke tints the air and seems to shatter it into its constituent atoms. Every searing breath he draws into his protesting lungs brings with it the acrid smell of burnt propellant and the metallic stink of the red-hot ejected brass casings.
He rolls back into cover and gets ready. The firefight has reached that point they all do in the end. No quarter expected or given. Everyone down to their last reserves of ammunition and adrenaline. But not courage. No. Never courage. He is ready to die here if that is what the mission – and the fates – demand of him. But he is sure as hell not going to go alone.
More sniper rounds smash into the wall. It is thick enough to withstand them, but even so, he feels each kinetic impact thrumming through his body as if he is taking tackles on the rugby field.
The reports are enormous. The sniper is close. Maybe now is the time to put him out of action.
He bunches his muscles and balls himself up, ready to attack. He pats his waist. The long curved dagger in its tooled leather sheath is still there. If he gets the chance, a hand-to-hand exchange with blades will suit him just fine. Last thing, he switches the fire selector to semi-auto.
Chest heaving, he forces himself to take a couple of long, controlled breaths. Come on, come on, this is it, we’ve survived worse odds than these. Let’s go!
Pushing off his good foot, he lunges up and onto the top of the wall, finger already curled round the AK’s trigger. He spots the sniper at once. A hundred metres distant, standing in the back of a shit-coloured pickup.
He doesn’t have time to aim. Not really. He is relying on his training and his instincts. One, two, three, four, five shots ring out as he lines up the AK’s iron sights centre-mass on the Taliban sniper. The first four shots miss, but the fifth hits him over the heart. Red blossoms on the front of his camo jacket and he topples sideways into the truck bed.
But as he is killing the sniper, the other Taliban answer with a salvo of their own, catching him in the left arm, chest and right shoulder. He feels the impacts as percussive jolts to his flesh. Something has switched off his pain receptors. Probably a good thing, given the amount of blood that seems to be spraying out of him, turning the air around him red.
He thinks of her. How she looked when he proposed. So happy, her skin glowing, her hair shining in the spring sunshine. It wasn’t fair. They barely had six months together before Webster called him in for a briefing.
‘Sorry about this, Old Sport, but needs must, eh?’ Don said. ‘Spot of bother in the mountains northwest of Kandahar. You leave tomorrow, oh-four-thirty. RAF transport from Brize Norton. Nice and simple op, though. You’ll be in and out in a day or two. Extraction from this location.’
Don had passed a sheet of paper across his cluttered desk. He’d looked down, noted the contents, then simply left it there amongst the requisition forms, strategy documents, printed-out spreadsheets and personnel files. And he remembered thinking, From running the regiment to this? Really? Not much fight left in the old warhorse was there?
His breath is coming in gasps. The mission was compromised before it had even started. Ha! Scrap that. Forget the strategy-speak. The mission was fucked six ways from Sunday.
His time is almost up.
Betrayal. That is the only word for it. Betrayed by the very man who sent him out here. The Department claimed it would look after its operatives until death. But Don Webster had cut him adrift at the first sign of trouble. And as for his partner, he’d never even made the rendezvous. Probably reassessed the threat level and bottled it. Another cowardly betrayer, just like Webster.
He grits his teeth. Well, fuck The Department and fuck Don Webster. He makes a solemn vow, forged in blazing brass and the heat of the merciless Afghan sun. If he ever gets out of this, there will be bills issued and falling due as soon as he gets back to England. Each one stamped in blood-red: OVERDUE.
He doesn’t know how long it will take before he is in a position to collect. Months? Years? Decades? It doesn’t matter. One day, Don Webster will find out that debts always have to be paid.
The last thing he sees before his eyes close and the world turns red, then black, is an olive-green metal sphere arcing in towards his position. The clarity is amazing. He sees the spoon spiralling away, glinting against the sapphire-blue sky, the way the grenade spins lazily on its axis like a miniature planet, with the firing mechanism at the north pole.
The olive-green sphere hits the ground, bounces twice in lazy slow-motion, and rolls to a stop.
A movement, fast, blurry, catches his eye. His focus shifts to his right boot. A scorpion has mounted the toecap: it stops and faces him. With a jerky little movement it raises its pincered forelegs above its head.
It remains motionless for a few seconds.
‘You’re fucked, mate,’ it says, then scuttles away.
He returns his gaze to the olive-green sphere. Fissures appear in its curving sides. Orange light spills out, dazzling him. It begins to fragment, tectonic plates slipping apart from each other, no longer holding back the molten ocean of pain that awaits.
He hears a great swell of voices, clamouring to be let out: the dead speaking.
The world turns black.
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