By the time everyone was buckled in, the chopper was rocking and bouncing in place like a hyper child on a trampoline. With the clock ticking toward the call to prayer, it seemed to take years for it to finally lift off. The wind from the rotors kicked up a dust storm all around the helipad as the Chinook got airborne.
The pilot, Wade Haugen, had once flown Harriers for the US Marine Corps. Since transitioning to a paramilitary career, he had mastered a variety of fixed-wing aircraft and added choppers to his repertoire. After being hired by SSI, he converted the old Chinook into a combination troop carrier and gunship. There were rocket pylons on both sides, topped by miniguns. He had flares and chaff, too—not that he should need them on this sortie.
The fuel tanks were full. Every weapon system was go. Haugen was primed to deliver these ground-pounders and get waist-deep in some close air support.
Underneath the reaction force, the land gradually transformed from the fertile ground of the Euphrates Valley to dry, harsh desert.
The Chinook (an ugly beast resembling an old telephone receiver upside-down) was a fairly fast bird, stable and tough, mostly due to its absence of a tail rotor. It got the QR force to its debark point quickly. The ramp dropped as it settled onto the ground just long enough for the light platoon to pour out, then the chopper tilted nose-down and accelerated to max speed at low altitude.
Leon, his spotter, Warner and his gun crew remained on the bird.
Up in the cockpit, the target compound came into view. As the chopper neared, Figures came into view—several men, bowing toward the east in an open area between buildings. But several rose from their penitent positions and scattered.
“Guess they hear us coming, eh?” Ryan Flees, the British copilot groused. “And that looks like a lot more than ten hostiles.”
Haugen shrugged. “Intel is sketchy—based mostly on what the Iraqi cops can see from their location.”
“Which apparently wasn’t too bloody much.”
“Patch my mike through to the loudspeaker,” Haugen said.
Flees did so and said, “You’re live.”
They were close enough now to make out faces on the men running, pointing, and leveling weapons at the helicopter. Haugen popped his bubblegum and keyed the mike. “What’re you all looking at me for? You’re supposed to be facing Mecca!”
The miniguns opened up and Haugen raked fire across the compound as he came over, banking left to catch a concentration of fleeing hostiles…and to avoid the building where the women were supposed to be. A few hostiles were shredded by the streams of 7.62mm rounds.
Down below, the first squad was moving into position to take their first building, trusting the bedlam caused by the gun run to divert attention from them. By the time the Chinook cut loose the miniguns on its second pass, they were ready. During the BRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAPPP!!! of Haugen’s burst, the lead man used a shotgun to breach the door and First Squad burst in to sweep and clear, room by room.
They encountered no hostiles in the building, and declared it secure. Now watching key avenues of approach from in and around the building, First Squad held their position while Second Squad took the adjacent building.
Only one hostile was found inside—an armed adult male trying to escape the big, ugly gunship. He lost a quick draw contest with Chris Reecio and the second building was soon secured. One fireteam from each squad was left to hold the two buildings and the rest of the force linked up, preparing to move to the next position.
On the ground, with eyes on the small building where the cops were trapped, Mac keyed his radio mike. “Double Dragon, this is Hudson Hawk. We’re ready for Santa Clause…Mechanic, over?”
“Roger, Hudson Hawk,” Haugen replied. ”Santa Clause One coming in.”
The Chinook came around again, this time settling into a hover low over the roof of the first building. Leon and his spotter dropped down onto the roof. Flees told Haugen they were off, and the chopper slid over to drop the machinegun crew on the second roof.
Small arms fire was incoming now, but poorly aimed and sporadic. Haugen swung wide out to the northwest and charged back into the thick of it. His amplified drawl echoed throughout the compound over the noise of the rotors, “Out on the streets, they call it MUUURRRDEEERRR!”
Flees put hands to both sides of his helmet as if covering his ears. “Oh, bloody hell, Wade! I’m sure that must be against the Geneva Convention. Open fire already, and put them out of their misery.”
So instead of singing it again, or worse: trying to rap the lyrics; Haugen opened up with the miniguns.
Leon and Anwar, his spotter, dropped to the prone at the edge of the roof. They were down less than a second when a man popped out of a doorway, shouldering an RPG and pivoting to track the Chinook.
“RPG!” Anwar cried.
“Got ‘im,” Leon said, taking up trigger slack. “Welcome to Jam-Rock, baby.” The Monolith SWAT spoke, and the man with the RPG nearly folded in half backwards as he fell.
Three men, who had been hiding behind a wall, ran for the building where the women were, once the chopper had passed by. The assistant gunner yelled and pointed. Warner traversed the Vektor SS77 on its tripod and put the trio in the dirt with a couple of eight-round bursts.
On the ground below, Mac led the bulk of the QR force out and around the back of the compound. They came at the third building from the flat desert, bounding forward by fireteam.
A figure appeared behind the scratched, dusty glass of a window. The mercs caught the movement and dropped in their tracks. Fire crashed through the glass to the familiar tune of an AK47 on full auto.
A gunner in Second Squad ripped a burst through the window, and the man. Mac shot to his feet and closed the rest of the distance to the building’s wall. The other shooters did the same, as the SS77 laid covering fire. One merc cooked off a frag grenade and dunked it through the shattered window. When it detonated, the covering gun crew rushed to join their comrades.
Ideally, the mouse hole should be blown in this back wall. But the wall was the only cover they had, so they couldn’t go somewhere else when the charge went off. Around the corner seemed the best plan, since not that much enemy fire was concentrating there.
Mac peeked around the corner nearest the second building and yelled to get the rooftop crew’s attention. “Warner! Yo! Warner!”
Warner’s ammo bearer heard him, looked down and to the right until he spotted Mac. “Yo!”
Mac pointed in the general direction of the rest of the compound and yelled, “Cover!”
The ammo bearer nodded, turned to Warner and the assistant gunner and said something inaudible from where Mac was. Warner poured it on, raking fire back and forth across his sector.
Mac turned back to his men, holding out one hand, palm-up. “Demo!”
Barry Teor, the new demo guy, slapped a crude shaped charge into his hand and Mac rounded the corner. He slammed the charge against the wall facing the second building and got back around the corner with no new bullet holes in him.
“Fire in the hole!”
The charge blew. He allowed time for the dust to settle, then peeked around the corner again. The outside wall now sported a four-foot-diameter mouse hole. He turned back to his men. “Breach!”
The lead fireteam plucked grenades from their vests. There would be no flash-bangs on this sweep. They knew there was opfor (opposing force) in the building and they could afford to take no prisoners until they broke through to the besieged police. Hopefully there were no women or children inside.
The lead team stacked on the corner while other shooters got out of their way. With a strangled grunt the team leader rounded the corner, lurched sideways and tumbled through the mouse hole. The second man went through almost on top of him. A short burst from an AA12 sounded inside, then one of the mercs called back through the mouse hole, “We’re in a hallway! We’re going left; next pair go right!”
The next two men jumped through the breach. The next fireteam stacked on the corner, waiting for their turn to go in.
Inside, the shooters cleared each room methodically: kick in the door, toss in a grenade. After the blast, the first man entered the room and buttonhooked left; the second man entered, buttonhooking right. Anyone still moving or breathing got a double tap. In fact, they got a double tap even if they weren’t still breathing. Mark the room secure and move on to the next door.
It was the kind of overkill professional soldiers hadn’t employed probably since Stalingrad or Kassino. Fragmentation grenades in every room; universal double taps…
But SSI’s quick reaction force believed in overkill. Big Jake McCallum swore by overkill.
The building was secured quickly with no friendly casualties and six opfor dead. By now it was obvious, even to the mercs at ground level, that enemy strength had been underestimated.
With a team pulling security outside to the rear, the remainder of the force gathered inside the freshly-cleared building. Now four of them, including Mac, positioned themselves at doors and windows facing the inside of the compound. The windows were smashed out with rifle butts. They yanked pins and hurled smoke grenades into the gap between their building and where the police were holed up.
“Litter teams up!” Mac barked.
Six men moved toward the front door and readied their litters—still collapsed so far. Mac glanced outside several times to assess how the smoke was spreading. Second Squad’s gun crew set up their SS77 on an old desk, poking out the front-facing window. The litter teams assumed the ready-scat position.
Mac switched his radio to the Iraqi Police frequency. In Arabic, he said, “This is Hudson Hawk. We are coming to get you in one minute. I say again: 60 seconds. We have litter teams for your casualties. We’ll be coming from the building west-southwest of you. Do not fire at us! I say again: do not fire on us. Do you copy, over?”
“We copy, Hudson Hawk,” a quavering voice replied. “We are ready.”
Mac switched back to the QRF frequency. “Double Dragon, this is Hudson Hawk. Are you ready to bring smoke, over?” He could hear the Chinook hovering outside and knew it was in position, but had to be sure its weapon systems were still functioning.
“Hudson Hawk, this is Double Dragon,” Haugen drawled. “We are guns-up and awaiting your verbal, over.”
“All shooters…all shooters,” Mac broadcast. “Covering fire initiates on Double Dragon’s gun run.” He glanced once more at the smoke, now probably at its maximum spread. “Double Dragon: execute!”
The turbines throttled up and the pounding of the rotors grew louder. Mac turned his back to the door, making eye contact with the litter teams.
The QR force opened up with everything they had, and the noise was terrific.
“GO! GO! GO!” Mac bellowed, running to get out of the litter teams’ way as they charged through the door and across the open ground. Tracers streaked over their heads in such volume that nothing downrange of them could possibly survive.
Atop the roof of Building One, Anwar screamed to be heard above the din. “Target two o’clock, 90 meters, window!”
Leon’s peripheral vision had already caught the jihadi popping up in the window. His cross hairs centered on the head—a chip shot from this range—and he tickled the trigger. The man disappeared from view, leaving a splatter of blood and brain on the wall behind him as a memorial to his curiosity.
Below, the litter teams reached the small building. The door opened. Verbal conversation impossible at that location in the circumstances, the litter bearers pointed, gesticulated, then finally yanked and shoved the cops into motion. Three cops dashed for the secured building across from them as the litter teams entered the building.
When they reemerged, the litters were deployed, bearing three human figures. The litter teams sprinted back across the open ground. When they reached cover, the firing slowed to a trickle.
At the same two-o’clock building from Leon’s position, a jihadi appeared on the rooftop with an RPG.
“See that?” Anwar asked.
Leon could barely hear him over the ringing in his ears, but nodded and said, “I see him.”
“How did he get up there?”
“Your guess good as mine,” Leon drawled. “But I got a hunch how he gonna get back down.”
The Les Baer rifle fired. The man spun half-around and tumbled over the edge of the roof, the RPG flipping up in the air like a baton during a majorette’s juggling trick.
As the litter teams burst back in the doorway of Building Two, Mac examined their cargo. Thankfully, the wounded cops were still alive. He turned to the three still on their feet. “What can you tell me?” He asked, in Arabic.
One of the men in plainclothes pointed back the way he had come. “As you were laying down fire, most of them gathered in that building.”
“What building?” Mac demanded, unslinging his fag-bag. He extracted the aerial photo and held it out.
“That building!” The cop said, pointing to Building Seven.
Mac stared at the photo for a minute, thinking. He turned to his men. “Weapons check, reload and head count! Get ready to move!” Hey keyed his radio. “Santa Clause One and Two: exfil in two mikes. Over.”
“Wilco, Hudson Hawk. Santa Clause One out,” Leon replied, and Warner replied right after. “Roger: exfil in two. Santa Clause Two out.”
Mac pulled out his cell phone and texted Haugen about the concentration of opfor in Building Seven. His following text said, “Whatever u do, don’t violate R.O.E.”
After a few seconds, he heard Haugen’s voice on the radio. “Hudson Hawk, this is Double Dragon. I’m afraid we must have taken some hits. We seem to be experiencing a weapons malfunction.”
And then the rockets fired—three in rapid succession. Through the window, Mac and his men watched Building Seven obliterated in a strobing flash, quickly replaced by a tremendous cloud of dust and smoke.
Two of the Brits grinned at each other. “Weapons malfunctions are such a nuisance,” one of them said.
“I just hate it when the Rules Of Engagement are blown to hell and gone,” one of the Americans added.
The squad leaders reported to Mac with head counts and ammo inventory. None of the mercs had been lost or even wounded. He would celebrate later, but for now he didn’t want to wear out his welcome with Lady Luck.
“Alright, move out!” Mac bellowed. “Rally Point Echo!” Then, supervising the exfiltration by squads, Mac muttered, half under his breath, “They can stick the Rules Of Engagement where the sun don’t shine.”