Oh, dear God, how I do love pain. In fact, those of you who have read the previous eight books in this series understand all too well that I have an ongoing, enduring, even unique relationship with pain. For those of you who haven't, let me say that pain and I enjoy a symbiotic bond, a fundamental, intrinsic link, a basic and perpetual connection. The gist of this link is that whenever I endure pain, I realize I am guaranteed to still be very much, very Roguishly, alive. In fact, my life is the perfect articulation of an essential, Froggish precept taught to me during Hell Week by an old, grizzled pipe-smoking UDT chief boatswain's mate named John Parrish. Chief Parrish's theory goes: no pain...no pain.
And so, friends, I can report to you with no hesitation whatsoever that right now I was very much...alive. And where was I, you ask? Where, precisely, was I experiencing so much life?
I was flat on my back, punctured by an irregular bed of nails. Big nails. Sharp nails. Many of them antique nails -- the old-fashioned, hand-wrought kind of nails. I was stuck, arms and legs akimbo, in a crawl space between the second and third floors of a Victorian-era mansion that had been turned into a series of flats (which is how the Brits refer to apartments) in Hammersmith, one of Central London's closest-in suburbs, trying not to make a sound as I made preparations to use a silent drill to install a flexible, fiber-optic cable attached to a fish-eye lens through Victorian hardwood subfloor, 1930s asphalt tile, and 1950s carpeting that sat precisely seven inches above the ol' Rogue snout.
Except -- there's always a catch, isn't there? -- to get to the target area, I'd had to wriggle on my back across seven feet of nail-enhanced, back-lacerating crawl space. Why were the nails there in the first place? Who the fuck knew, and who the fuck cared. I hadn't seen them at first because I hadn't used any lights as I made my way into the crawl space because light might give away my existence to the six armed and dangerous IRA splinter group tangos just above me. Oh, I had a tiny, red-lensed flashlight that would assist me once I was ready to do the drill bit, but that was it. I'd do my drilling, install the fish-eye lens, and then retreat, unspooling fiber-optic cable as I did, so it could be plugged into our TV screen, allowing us to see the bedroom of the flat above, and see what they were doing in there. We already had video of the living room and kitchen areas. But when it came to the bedroom we were blind.
Yes, I see you out there. You're saying, "Hey, what the fuck? Why not use all those techno goodies in your arsenal. Like micro thermal viewers that can pick up human beans from across the street, and state-of-the-art X-ray glasses, and all that shit. It is the twenty-first century after all."
Well, friends, "all that shit" is dandy if you are a cardboard-and-meringue Hollywood adventure hero whose action toys are made in China by slave labor. But me, I'm the old-fashioned real thing, and unfortunately the real action adventure hero doesn't get to play with gadgets that work in movies but not real life. In the movies, there are always timers on bombs to tell you how many seconds are left before the hero's gonna get blown up. In Hollywood, the good guy always manages to crack the computer password in a matter of seconds. In Hollywood, they never count the rounds they shoot.
Not us. My men and I do things the old-fashioned way. We count rounds. Why? Because most SEALs go into combat with only three hundred of 'em, and you can't fucking afford to waste a single shot. And in all the years I've ever played with explosive devices, I have never, ever, even once, seen a bomb that had a digital or analog timer courteously counting down the seconds for me so I'd know precisely when the sucker was gonna explode. No fucking way. And last, I leave all the serious computer shit to the professional hackers. Sure, I can tell you all about sniffers and protocols. I can program in COBOL. I can even write UNIX code if I have to. But these days everything computerwise changes so fast that I'd rather hire some nineteen-year-old PO3 puke who knows it all, rather than have to spend twenty hours a week trying to keep up with the latest developments in bits and bytes.
Nope, I want to save my time for what I do best: killing tangos and breaking things. To wit: I sneak and I peek, and then I hop and I pop, which I almost always follow with the ever popular shooting & looting.
The sneaking and peeking part of this particular goatfuck was long finished. We'd deployed a piece of National Security Agency eavesdropping gizmo known as a Big Ear to monitor the apartment the tangos were in. Big Ears are laser microphones with a throw of about 150 yards. But our twenty-million-dollar gizmo could not tell me whether or not the tangos inside had finished assembling the weapon they were working on. That called for what the military bureaucracy formally refers to as "eyes on."
After all, no piece of equipment, no matter how much it costs, can force people to talk if they're security conscious. And these tango assholes understood the rudiments of surveillance. So they never spoke to one another about what they were doing, or how it was going. Instead, they spoke in generalities. If there was anything to say about the weapons they were building, it was most certainly done by sign language and notepad. They'd obviously seen all the current action adventure movies, too, and they were taking no chances. So I was stuck here, doing my snoop & poop the old-fashioned -- by which I mean painful -- method: creeping, crawling, and bleeding.
Now, I'm sure you want me to explain why I, a humping, pumping, cap-crimping, deep-sea-diving SEAL, whose proper element is H2O, was flopping around like a suffocating flounder in the first place. Hey, asshole -- there's water in those copper pipes over there, and that's close enough for me. So shut the fuck up, sit the fuck down, pay some attention, and I'll give you the sit-rep -- or at least as much of it as time permits.
I was here because I'd been assigned to a clandestine, patchwork, multinational, joint counterterrorist task force known as DET (for DETachment) Bravo. DET Bravo was headquartered in London. It was made up of Americans and Brits and assigned to deal proactively with the no-goodnik splinter groups who were trying to wreck the Good Friday peace accord, which was bringing reconciliation to Northern Ireland in fits and starts. By no-goodniks, I mean those few hard-line terrorist groups, both IRA and Unionist, that had decided the best way to bring the agreement to a screeching halt was to target Americans and Brits in London and in Northern Ireland.
As you probably know, one of the by-products of the Good Friday Accord was the immediate expansion of American multinational companies into Northern Ireland to bolster the economy. Corporations -- from Dell Computer, to American Express, to Intel, to Cisco Systems, as well as scores of other cutting edge businesses -- moved some of their operations into North-ern Ireland. There were enormous tax advantages for doing so, not to mention a large and well-educated labor pool.
But all of that economic expansion and growth had come to a full stop. The Good Friday Accord had come unraveled because groups of hard-line tangos were targeting American executives in Belfast, Derry, Portadown, Newry, and Ballymena in Northern Ireland, and -- more to the immediate point -- right here in London. Half a dozen American businessmen had been killed in the past four months alone. The result: the corporations were shutting down offices and pulling their people out.
With the economic situation deteriorating and the political polls hitting rock bottom, our government and the Brits finally decided to form a joint task force to deal with the tangos targeting Americans. The Irish would not stand for any armed Americans on their soil -- and the Brits weren't about to push the issue. But London was open turf. And so, working out of a suite of MI5's former offices on the fourth floor of Curzon Street House, a six-story office building located at the top of Curzon Street in London's fashionable Mayfair district, was DET Bravo, a unit composed of FBI and CIA counterintelligence analysts, elements from Scotland Yard and Special Branch, as well as NSA and its British equivalent, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), based in Cheltenham. Finally, exiled to the dank, bomb-proof basement of Curzon Street House (and at the fist, or business, end of a largely analytic and bureaucratic arm), was an unwieldy patchwork of British military units, American SEALs, and a working group from SO-19, Scotland Yard's armed, special-operations unit.
Being part of DET Bravo hadn't been my idea. I was happy doing what I'd been doing: troubleshooting for General Thomas E. Crocker, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But after a series of misadventures in the Caucasus, and the direct intervention of a politically appointed ambassador whom I'd embarrassed, I'd been unceremoniously yanked off General Crocker's staff, assigned to a soon-to-be-defunct security program, and assigned an office sans phone in an unoccupied warehouse deep within the Washington Navy Yard. If that wasn't being put on the shelf, I don't know what is.
But I don't have a whole lot of shelf life. In fact, I don't have any fucking shelf life. When I'm ambushed, I do what Warriors do best: I counterattack. Just because my shirtsleeve is five inches longer than my inseam, don't think I'm just another knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. I speak five languages level four fluently. I have an MA in political science from Auburn University. I have one-on-one briefed the president of the United States. And I know how the game of hardball is played in Washington.
So, I went on the offensive. I made sure that friendly staffers on the House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services committees knew who was doing what to whom. I exposed some long-closeted skeletons inside the Pentagon's E-ring, including a 1999 tit-tweaking episode concerning one of the Army's highest-ranking female ossifers and the Air Farce's vice chief of staff. And finally, thanks to General Crocker's influence (and the balls to make politically incorrect decisions and ram 'em down the Navy's throat), I was "exiled" to London, to head the American military element of DET Bravo.
And so, here I lay in P condition: pricked, pierced, punctured, and perforated. My basic black BDU shirt (the upper portion of that ever-oxymoronic battle dress uniform), was shredded. My jeans were in no better shape. My back resembled something out of one of those Freddy Krueger scarification movies. But I'd managed to make it all the way to my objective, and even -- ooh, it felt so g-o-o-o-d -- insert the drill.
Now came the hard part. All drills, even the so-called silent ones, make some noise. I flicked the "talk" switch on my radio three times to say I was in position. Then listened to the radio receiver in my ear, through which my Brit comrade in arms, brigadier Mick Owen, would give me the "go." Mick, who was in overall charge of this op, had arranged for a crew of Scotland Yard's finest undercover operators masquerading as electric utility workers to jackhammer the street in front of the flat as I drilled.
I lay silent, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. WTF. I hit the switch again. Nothing. Nada. Bupkis. I reached around and tried to trace the radio wire from my ear to the miniature transceiver that sat in a pouch on my CQC vest, and discovered that the wire itself had been shredded along with the vest as I'd crawled into position.
Oh, great. But I had no time to lose. And so, jackhammers or no, I withdrew the drill (I can tell you it resembles a multispeed Dremel Tool and still not violate my security clearance) from the specially constructed pouch on my chest. C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y, I set it up, attached the drill head, switched the power on, and began to work.
Have I told you the subfloor above my nose was wood? I have? Good. Because minuscule shavings from the subfloor started to drop into my eyes. No, I wasn't wearing goggles. Don't ask why. Now, I really was working blind. I tried to shift my head but I couldn't do that if I wanted to use my miniflashlight. And so, I blinked the fucking shavings out of my eyes and just kept drilling.
The good news was that it didn't take long. I had a tiny hole in a matter of minutes. Quickly, I disassembled the drill and packed it up securely. I took the fiber-optic cable with its fish-eye lens and worked it up, up, up into the hole, then took out a pocket viewer, attached it to the cable end, and peeked.
The brightness of the image made me blink. I'd drilled the hole in an exposed position. The damn thing had to be concealed to work properly, and I'd missed the fucking couch. I focused my eyes and risked taking a peek, exposing about an inch and a half of fiber-optic cable. Shit -- I was about six inches too far to the starboard. I coitus-interruptus'd the cable, reassembled the drill, shifted my body a foot to the right, and s-l-o-w-l-y started the whole process, including the fucking sawdust in my eyes, over again. Then I stowed the drill, reinserted the cable, attached the eyepiece, and carefully worked the lens up into position under the narrow bed, where it would not be so obvious.
Bingo. Now I saw the whole room, distorted in the two-hundred-degree wide angle lens. I disengaged the pocket viewer, screwed on a coupler, tacked the cable in position so I wouldn't pull it out as I exfiltrated, then attached the 150-foot roll of fiber optics I carried to the coupler.
Now came the fun part. I scrunched my shoulders and tried to turn around so I could make my way back, those two painful-plus yards, to where I could swing down from the crawl space and work my way into the air shaft, then drop nine feet into the apartment where we were staging our assault.
Except I couldn't move. I was hung up, like a crab in a trap, unable to get my fucking BDUs unsnagged from the goddamn nails. But time was a-wasting. The clock was ticking, and there were a dozen shooters waiting for me in the apartment below and its immediate environs. And so, I operated by the same rule by which I have lived my entire professional life: I Didn't Have to Like It, I Just Had to Do It. To wit: I wrenched my shoulders and back and butt and legs off the nail points and muscled my way back to the air shaft, leaving shreds of cloth and scraps of skin (or maybe it was the other way around. I was beyond caring at that point) as I did.
Exhausted and bleeding, I rolled into the air shaft, caught the toe of my Size Extra-Rogue assault boot on the wooden frame, and pulled my body off the nails. God, it felt good to be so...alive. Carefully, I climbed down the air shaft, unspooling cable as I went. It was only another three yards to the apartment below. I backed through the two-foot-square hole in the wall that we'd cut six hours earlier, handed off the cable reel to a Special Branch intel dweeb named Roger, and went down on my hands and knees as if I'd been gut-punched. "Shit, that hurt."
The master chief I call Boomerang, who knows that sympathy is the word that sits in the SEAL dictionary between shit and syphilis, reminded me that if we were going to take the fuckin' tangos down, I'd better stop wasting time, get off my hands and knees, and get into my gear. But then he brought out a couple of antiseptic swabs from the first aid kit in his fanny pack and wiped my back down. At least I'd stave off infection for a while. I'd complete the treatment later with a healthy dose of my favorite cure-all gin, Bombay Sapphire.
Besides, Boomerang was right, of course. Master chiefs most always are. So, I pulled myself to my feet and started shrugging into my CQC gear.
While I'm making ready to go over the rail (meta-phorically speaking), I'll explain the dynamics of today's Murphy-wrought tactical problem. We had those six armed and dangerous tangos in the apartment. They, in turn, were in the final stages of assembling what we knew to be a trio of portable, powerful bombs. That's why we had to go in during daylight, instead of waiting until night to hit 'em. We couldn't allow even the remotest possibility that they'd slip away and set off a bomb somewhere in London.
How powerful were the bombs? Well, the tangos had somehow managed to get their hands on 550 grams of Cubanol, the U.S. military's latest generation plastic explosive. Cubanol is octanitrocubane-based, which meant that with their one pound plus of plastic, they could make up to three bombs capable of blowing fifty-meter-by-fifty-meter holes in the ground. Octa-nitrocubane, you see, is 25 percent more powerful than C-4 plastic explosive, and twice as powerful as TNT. It is also totally shock-insensitive, which means that unlike C-4 you can smack it with a hammer and it still won't explode. But most revolutionary, at least so far as the EPA tree-huggers assigned to monitor the Pentagon are concerned, Cubanol was designed to be environmentally friendly.
Yup, octanitrocubane may blow you to the well-known smithereens, but it won't release greenhouse gases or fluorocarbons into the air, or damage the ozone layer. No, I am not kidding.
The former Leader of the Free World and my ex-commander in chief, the selfsame individual I consistently refer to as Blow Job Bill, may not have given a shit about protecting our nuclear secrets from China, or our diplomatic secrets from Russia. But by God, he was going to make damn sure certain that our bombs didn't cause global warming. And so, BJB signed an executive order back in 1998, directing that all the bullets, bombs, and other ordnance developed during the remainder of his administration conform to "green" regulations laid out by a cabal of tree-hugging political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency.
That's right, folks: you might have thought that our military was under the control of the National Com-mand Authorities. You would be wrong. I can tell you definitively that is not the case. Our military is really run by...the EPA. Go figure.
Digression aside, we had to hit the apartment, take down the tangos, and capture the bombs. And we had to do it all without having isolated the immediate area beforehand, because according to our intelligence assets, the tangos had already managed to assemble the first of the bombs, and they were perfectly capable and willing to set it off inside the apartment, immediately making this densely populated area a lot less densely populated (but still safe for the ozone layer).
No, we're not talking about Muslim fundamentalists here. But you're right: the thinking is very much the same. In point of fact, according to the intel squirrels at Scotland Yard, these assholes were from a small but dangerous group calling itself the True IRA, or TIRA. TIRAs were hard-liners, most of whom had served long terms in Northern Irish prisons for assassinations, car bombings, and revenge killings. For years, the True IRA had scrounged for funds: they'd robbed banks and jewel couriers, they'd stolen cars, they'd even stuck up grocery stores to finance their operations. But about nine months ago, TIRA had received an influx of cash from sources unknown that had allowed the group to expand its operations. They'd bought new explosives and arms. They'd also shifted ops to London -- the belly of the British beast. And that was bad news, because the intelligence available to DET Bravo indicated that these TIRA assholes were just as willing to die for their cause as any Hamas, Hezb'allah, or Islamic Jihad martyrs were to ride the magic carpet ride to Allah for theirs. Just so long, that is, as they could take me and my DET Bravo shipmates, plus a bunch of innocent Brit victims, along with 'em. Which explains our desperate need to see inside the entire apartment, so we would know where each and every bad guy was as we hit the place. If we didn't take 'em down in one fell swoop, one of 'em might set the fucking device off, in which case a sizeable portion of Hammersmith would be vaporized.
So here we were, operating in total stealth -- and worse, in daylight. Even so, we'd managed to make our preps without, apparently, sending the tangos any bad vibes. We'd made our way to the flat where we'd stage our assault in pairs and threes. We had managed to stash a four-man element from SO-19, Scotland Yard's armed counterterrorist squad, on the roof of the apartment house, and another sextet of DET Bravo personnel -- SAS shooters from 22 Regi-ment dressed in civvies -- cached in an alley on the far side of the building, to make sure no one absquatulated out the back door. But there was no overt police presence: no Special Branch roadblocks, Metropolitan Police cars, or other signs that the authorities -- that's us -- were in the neighborhood.
Why? Because neither the Metropolitan Police nor SO-19 was able to say for sure whether these TIRA assholes had mounted a countersurveillance operation, watching us as we had watched them. Which meant we had to act as if that was exactly what they'd done.
So, we'd gone the covert route, which was risky, but could be effective in the long run. Our radios were ultralow frequency and secure so they wouldn't betray us either to the news media, or the bad guys. We dressed in civilian clothes, and what combat gear we'd carried in had been concealed by long overcoats.
Here was the good news: Special Branch had managed to clear out the flat directly to the right of the tangos, and had planted listening devices and cameras in the walls. We'd slipped into the flat directly below courtesy of a lovely old couple who didn't mind our cutting through the wall so long as we promised to patch the hole and match the paint. Now for the bad news: instead of using us SEALs to hit the tango apartment, today's assault team was made up of one Royal Marine named Andy, two Paras -- Bill and Gill -- and four of us SEALs: Nod DiCarlo, Butch Wells, Boomerang, and me.
What's so bad about that, you ask. I mean, aren't I talking about seven people who know how to shoot and loot and do it full-time for a living? Well, yes I am. But there's a factor about dynamic entry that must be explained right now for you to understand my considerable concern about the success of this op. Dynamic entry has to be flawless. It has to be smooth. My men and I work twenty hours a week on entry techniques. That time and energy gives us our seamless and seemingly effortless choreography, which allows us to move with the precise violence of action, surprise, and speed that are imperative to close-quarters-combat entries if they are to succeed.
But today, over my strenuous objections, my guys and I had been paired up with a trio of strangers. They may indeed have been the three best shooters in the world. But we'd never worked with them before. We hadn't had any opportunity to cross-train. We didn't know their moves, and they didn't know ours. There was none of the physical shorthand that goes on in all dedicated assault teams, whether they are SEALs, or Delta shooters, SWAT cops, or DEA takedown squads. And that, my friends, was, so far as I was concerned, a recipe for disaster.
If I'd had my way, the assault element would have been either all Brits, or all SEALs. But despite my protests (not to mention Mick Owen's as well), this was the Labour Party administration here in Britain, and the veddy tony PM (that's the prime minister, for those of you who don't follow British politics), is slavishly Clintonesque. No, that doesn't mean he spends his afternoons getting blow jobs from the Downing Street interns. It means he likes to be politically correct at all times.
Thus, the PM gave in to the Royal Navy paper warriors and the British Army's memo-writing officers at the Ministry of Defense who demanded that elements from their uniform services should be able to claim a share of the glory. They threatened to go public if it didn't happen -- and the PM buckled. No thought was given to unit integrity or tactical cohesion. It was politics all the way. I guess I should be happy that they hadn't assigned me a squad of Royal Air Farce runway cops in the bargain.
Now let me give you the kicker: Detachment Bravo was not even a military operation. Mick didn't report to the Ministry of Defense. DET Bravo had been placed under the command of the home secretary who, not giving a shit about what he referred to as "a bunch of armed thugs," assigned one of his junior political appointees to keep an eye on us. Which said JPA did, by second-guessing and/or countermanding every fucking move we made. And thus, under the jurisdiction of idiots, we'd been ordered to operate with people whose techniques were unfamiliar to us, no matter what the consequences to the mission's success might be.
That, folks, is what happens when you are being governed by alleged leaders who see the military as yet another opportunity for social experimentation, or simply a bureaucratic entity. These types never understand that the only reason to have an army (or a navy) is to kill people and break things.
But like I said, I hadn't been given a vote. Neither had Mick. So, here we were: politically correct, nationality diverse, and neatly balanced by service. But we were probably going to get ourselves killed. And then guess who'd take the blame. Not the fucking prime minister, the bloody home secretary, or the idiot JPA. No: Mick and I would take the fall. It was our ears and balls they'd hold up for the crowd to see.
Roger the intel squirrel screwed the end of the fiber-optic cable into the viewer, and I was finally able to peer at a trio of screens whose fields of vision now surveyed the whole apartment except for the long hallway leading from the front door. The images were slightly fuzzy, but at least we had 'em. I picked up a grease pencil and marked the position of the bombs on the white board Mick had used to diagram the flat. The assembled bomb was in the bedroom, which made my lacerations worth the pain. The other two sat in pieces on a table in the living room.
The flat was laid out in a rough T-shape. You came in the front door and immediately hit a fifteen-foot-long hallway, off of which were two doors (one was a walk-in closet; the other led to a loo, which is how Brits call the head. As you can see, Britain and America are two friendly countries separated only by their common language). At the end of the hallway was the rectangular living room. To the left side of the living room was the bedroom. To the right sat a small kitchen, with no door. I checked the screens and understood from what I saw that these TIRAs were professionals. They had one man stationed at the front-door end of the hallway, and another behind cover at the far end. They'd put heavy drapes over the windows to preclude flashbangs coming through or surveillance catching them from the outside. This was going to be one hard, hard fucking target. And so, even though every one of us could allegedly shoot a twenty-five pence coin at fifty yards with his MP5, I understood only too well that the goatfuck potential for this little exercise was very high, given our lack of unit integrity.
I peered at the screens and made Xs on the white board where I saw tangos, then diagrammed the moves I wanted our assault team to make. It didn't take long to come up with a game plan, because like those all-star football games, we'd have to stick to the most basic plays. So, I'd KISS this op off by keeping it simple, stupid: we'd blow the door, hit the hallway, wax the first two bad guys, then swarm the living room, split into three two-man groups with Butch Wells our rear safety, and take the rest of the bastards down. We'd have it AODW -- all over and done with -- in sixty seconds, and then it would be off to the Goat, my favorite London pub, for a half dozen rounds of the SEAL's favorite bitter -- Courage.
I went over the plan three times. Shit. The Brits were shaking their heads up and down like the fucking toy dogs that sit in the back of car windows. But there was no choice here: the music was playing, and we had to dance with these assholes. Well, at least I'd do the leading in this little waltz. I caught a glimpse of Boomerang's expression. It told me he understood this op was as full of big, loosely basted seams as Herr Doktor Frankenstein's monster. But then, WTF, this was only rock and roll, right?
Copyright © 2001 by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman