by Mike Bond
First 2 chapters
From its terrifying start in the night skies of Afghanistan to its stunning end in the Paris terrorist attacks, Assassins is the story of the last 30 years of war between Islam and the West, seen through the eyes of an American commando (Jack), a French woman doctor, an Afghani terrorist, a Russian major, a British woman journalist, and a top CIA operative.
Drop by parachute into the deadly mountains of Afghanistan, fight door to door in the bloody cities of Iraq and the lethal deserts of Syria, the Sinai and North Africa, know the terror of battle inside a Russian tank, feel the power of passion and love when at any moment you both can die – it’s all there, all real, in Assassins.
Did the Saudi government finance 9/11? Did GW Bush let Osama bin Laden escape Afghanistan and then lie about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq? Did Obama’s decision to leave Iraq in 2011 lead to the rise of ISIS and its worldwide fanaticism? It’s all there, all real, in Assassins.
Multiple thrillers and love stories, a dissection of our present geopolitical tragedies and a meditation on the deepest duties of a military man toward those he commands, those he loves, and the nation he serves, it’s all there, all real, in Assassins.
Assassins begins very peacefully with a man and woman having dinner in a Paris sidewalk café, not knowing what is about to happen to them. It then reverts to the hero’s drop by parachute into the lethal mountains of Afghanistan thirty years before. The story progresses through war and peace, through the deadly failures and political disasters on each side, and through the lives and personal joys and sorrows of the people caught in this tragedy.
An Evening in Paris
IT WAS WARM for mid-November. They sat on the terrace of a little restaurant. Anyplace in France, she said, how wonderful the food, the delicious wine, the gentle harmony of others there for love, food, friendship, ideas, freedom, the joys of life.
They had been through the wars together, fallen in love amid the hail of bullets and thud of explosions in cities drenched with blood. Knowing, as the cliché put it, any moment could be their last.
It gave an intensity to love, that this person dearer to you than life itself could be extinguished at any instant. Someone you cherished so completely, composed of neurons, cells, muscles, bone, tissue and memories, could be blown apart, riddled with bullets, any second.
“I love you so much,” she said. “But I think I love you even more in Paris.”
“France does that to us all. What was it Hemingway said –”
“Paris is a moveable feast.”
“Yes, and we will happily feast, in whatever life brings us.”
“As you’ve said, to follow the path with heart?”
“Yes.” He caressed the back of her hand. “For us, the wars are over.”
“For us the wars will never be over. You know that.”
He looked out on the quiet street. “Let’s take time out. Then we decide.”
“Whether we keep fighting or run for cover.” He smiled at the thought. Not once in all these years had he ever run for cover. Nor had she.
“Your buddy Owen said that people like us, once we’re in, we can never get out.”
“Look where it got him. You want that?” Again he checked the street. It was automatic, this watchfulness. On the edge of consciousness.
He scanned the passing pedestrians – happy couples hand in hand, an old man with a wispy beard, a little girl walking a black poodle, an ancient limping Chinese woman, a kid on a skateboard.
But it worried him, this something; he wished he’d brought a sidearm, but Home Office didn’t want you carrying one here. And everything seemed so peaceful. He sipped his wine, the raw ancient roots of Provence…
A black Seat slowed as it came down the street. A grinning face full of hatred, an AK barrel aiming at them out its window, a blasting muzzle as he leaped across the table knocking her to the sidewalk and covered her with his body amid the hideous twanging hammer of bullets and smashing glass and screams and clatter of chairs and tables crashing and the howl of the Kalashnikov and awful whap of bullets into flesh as people tumbled crying.
It couldn’t be, this horror, he’d left it all behind.
HE GRABBED FOR THE RIPCORD but it wasn’t there. Icy night howled past, clouds and black peaks racing up. Spinning out of control he yanked again at the ripcord but it was his rifle sling. He snatched for the spare chute but it wasn’t there. I packed it, he told himself. I had to.
Falling out of the dream he felt a surge of joy it wasn’t real, that he was safe in his bunk. Then waking more, he realized he was in a thundering tunnel, huge engines shaking the floor, the aluminum bench vibrating beneath him. The plane.
“Jack!” The Jump Master in a silvery space suit shook him. “Going up to drop height! Twenty minutes to the Afghan border.” The Jump Master bent over the three others and gave them a thumbs up: The mission is on.
He took a deep, chilled breath. The engine roar loudened as the two Pratt & Whitneys on each wing clawed up through thinning air. He bent his arm, awkward in the insulated jump suit, to check his altimeter. 8,600 feet.
“You’re falling at two hundred miles an hour,” Colonel Ackerman had reminded them last week in Sin City, “at sixty below zero. Guys die if they wait one extra instant to deploy their chute. Always remember, Maintain Altitude Awareness.”
Tonight anything could happen over the Hindu Kush. MiGs, high winds, tangled chutes, enemy waiting on the ground. Hindu Kush – Death Mountains. He thought of his father’s last Huey into Ia Drang twenty years before, the green hills below the chopper’s open doors, the rankness of jungle, guns and fear. Do you know when you’re about to die?
Glancing around the rumbling fuselage he was stunned at how lovely and significant everything was: a canvas strip dangling from a bench, the rough fabric of his jump boot, a rifle’s worn stock, the yellow bulb dancing on the ceiling, the avgas-tainted air. Next to him Owen McPhee stood up, awkward and bearlike in his Extended Cold Weather suit, smiled at Jack and shrugged: Never thought we’d get to do it.
“They might still abort,” Jack yelled over the engine noise.
McPhee grinned: Stop worrying.
Jack turned to Loxley and Gustafson. “Time to get ready, girls.”
Bent over his rucksack, Sean Loxley gave him the finger. Beyond him Neil Gustafson glanced up, his broad face serious. “I was fearing,” he called, “we’d get scrubbed.”
Jack tugged his kit bag from under the bench to final-check its contents: two goatskin bags of grenades and AK cartridges, a padded wool Afghani jacket, long wool shirt and trousers, a blackened pot of rice and dried goat meat, two Paki plastic soda bottles of water, a woven willow backpack, a Soviet Special Forces Spetsnaz watch. He slid on his parachute, nestled the canopy releases into his shoulders, secured all the straps and turned to help Loxley. “If these chutes don’t open,” Loxley yelled, “we’ll never have to do this again.”
At first Jack had been put off by Loxley’s California surfer cool, his gregarious grin and jokes about Home Office and military politics. But Loxley had always backed it up, always put his buddies first. And he made them laugh; even tough-faced sarcastic McPhee with his small hard mouth, tight on the balls of his feet as a welterweight, couldn’t keep from grinning. “You dumb hippie,” he’d growl, trying not to laugh.
The Jump Master raised both arms sideways, bent his elbows and touched his fingertips to his helmet. Jack nodded and slid his padded leather helmet over his head, tucked the goggles up on its brim, settled the Makarov pistol on his thigh. Now the JM raised his right hand, thumb to his cheek, and swung the hand over his nose. Jack took a last breath from the plane’s oxygen supply and slipped on his radio unit and mask, gave the JM a thumb up to say his own oxygen was working.
“To avoid Soviet and Paki radar,” Colonel Ackerman had said, “it has to be a Blind Drop.”
“No marching bands?” Loxley had snickered. “No girls waving panties?”
“We’ve calculated your Release Point based on your DZ,” Ackerman said. “And where we think the wind’ll be.”
“In the Hindu Kush,” Loxley added, “I can’t imagine wind will be a problem.”
“Shut up, Sean,” Ackerman said. “And there’ll be no external resupply. No exfil. We’ve devised an Evasion and Escape but you may want to change that on the ground.”
“You’re making it sound like we’re not really welcome.”
“Remember up there, Maintain Altitude Awareness.”
“That’s right, girls. Know when you’re high…”
Ackerman glared at him. “If this mission were to exist, its purpose would be to build an Afghani guerrilla movement against the Soviets, not tied to the Pakis but on your own. By themselves the Afghanis can’t beat the Soviets. But with our help – your help – we might just reverse the Soviet conquest of Asia and get the bastards back for Vietnam. But we don’t intend to start World War Three or fuck up our relations with ISI. So once you drop out of that plane we can’t help you.”
Slender and rugged with a black moustache and graying curly hair, Levi Ackerman had lost his right forearm in the same Ia Drang battle that killed Jack’s father. Ever since then Levi had watched over Jack, got him into West Point, then after that fell apart and Jack had finished at University of Maine, Levi got him into the military ops division of Home Office – “I want you near me, kid,” he’d said. Would Levi now send him to die?
In the thundering airless fuselage the JM swung up his left hand and tapped the wrist with two fingers of his right, opened and closed his palms twice: the Twenty-Minute Warning.
“When I was a kid,” Loxley said, “my Grandma use to make Afghans–”
“Your Grandma,” McPhee yelled, “was a chimpanzee –”
Jack plugged in his backpack oxygen and checked his AIROX on/off valve.
“Whatever you do, guys,” Ackerman had added, “don’t get separated from Jack. He’s your squad leader, knows the lingo, the country. Lose Jack you die.”
The Red Light over the rear ramp flicked on. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, their weapons trainer, Captain Perkins, used to say in Sin City, but action despite it.
They could still abort. The JM would give the abort signal if an Unsafe Condition existed either in the aircraft, outside it, or on the DZ. As if the whole damn mission weren’t insanely unsafe.
Haloed in the Red Light the JM gave the Ten-Minute Warning. Eight times his hands closed and opened: Wind speed 80 knots.
Way too fast. They’d have to abort. But the JM swung his arm outward, the command to check their automatic ripcord releases. Jack slid his combat pack harness up under his parachute, its seventy-pounds added to the chute’s forty-five making him stagger backward. He checked that the sling of his AKMS rifle was fully extended and taped at the end, that the tapes on the muzzle, front sight, magazine, and ejector port were tight and not unfurled except where he’d folded over the ends for a quick release.
“Strela?” Jack called. McPhee lifted up a long heavy tube wrapped in sheepskin and lashed it vertically on one side of Jack’s combat pack. Jack helped Loxley and McPhee lash two more Strela tubes to their packs. Jack secured his rifle muzzle-down over his left shoulder, the curved magazine to the rear so it nestled against the side of the chute and wouldn’t tangle in the lines.
With a fat gloved thumb he pushed the altimeter light. 39,750. The JM gave the Two-Minute Command. Jack tightened his straps, checked everyone’s oxygen pressure gauge, patted their shoulders. Be safe, he told each silently.
His breath was wet and hot inside the mask; his beard itched. His goggles fogged, the Red Light danced. Buzzing filled his ears, his stomach was an aching hole. The plane shivered, the ramp cracked open, began to drop. Air sucked past. Beyond was black. A styrofoam cup scuttled down the fuselage and blasted out the ramp. The JM gave the Salute Command: Move to the Rear.
Jack switched on his bailout oxygen and disconnected from the plane’s oxygen console. This was what happened when you got executed, you numbly stood up and let them put a bullet through you.
The JM gave the thumbs up Stand By Command and Jack gave it back. He thought of his father in the chopper, his father’s Golden Rule: “Do what you say, and say what you do.” Keep your word, and speak the truth. So when you die you’ve lived the way you should.
The Green Light flashed on. The JM swung his arm toward the hole and Owen McPhee dropped into the darkness. A second later Neil Gustafson. Then Sean Loxley.
Jack halted on the ramp. You’re going to die. That’s all. The JM swung down his arm. Jack arched his back and dove into the night.