‘State of Honour’ (Book Excerpt) by Gary Haynes

Gary Haynes

Gary studied law at Warwick University and completed his postgraduate training at the College of Law. As a lawyer, he specializes in commercial dispute resolution. Gary writes cinematic-style, fast-paced, action-packed political/military/spy thrillers. His debut work, State of Honour, Tom Dupree #1 is an Amazon and Barnes & Noble best seller. Tom Dupree #2 will be published in January 2015 by Harlequin. Read his interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from his novel, State of Honour. Courtesy: Gary Haynes.

Prologue
Hindu Kush. North-west Pakistan.

The shoot-to-kill order came through at zero one fifteen, relayed over a satellite radio. It’d been just three hours since the two-man reconnaissance team had reported the sighting.

They lay in a shallow dugout on a windblown ridge, the leeward slope falling away steeply to an impassable boulder field. A desert-issue tarp all but covered the hole, protected from view on the flanks by thorny scrub. Shivering, they blew into their bunched trigger-finger mitts. The daytime temperature had dropped twenty degrees or more, and fine sleet was melting on their blackened faces.

Darren Proctor extended the folded stock of his L115A3 sniper rifle. He split the legs of the swivel bi-pod and aligned the swivel cheek piece with the all-weather scope. Flipping open the lens cap, he glassed the terrain cast a muted green by the night vision. The tree line was sparse, a smattering of pines and cedars shuddering in the biting wind. Glimpsing movement on a scree slope fifty metres or so beyond, he focused in. The eyes of a striped hyena shone like glow sticks. He watched as the scavenger ripped at the carcass of an ibex or wild sheep. A second later it sniffed the air, ears pricked, and scampered off.

Too late, you’re dead, he thought.

Lowering the stock onto a wrapped poncho liner, he glanced to his left. “You see anything, Mike?”

“Nothing apart from that weird-looking dog,” Mike Rowe replied, his eyes fixed to a LION, a lightweight infrared observation night-sight. “This place goes into lockdown after dark.”

He’d served alongside Proctor in Iraq and Helmand Province; elsewhere, too. But their presence here, a few miles east of the Af-Pak border, was illegal. The drone strikes had ceased three months ago in response to the spike in civilian casualties, and the withdrawal of all but advisory ISAF personnel in neighbouring Afghanistan had been implemented as planned. With the West resorting increasingly to using private military contractors for black ops in the region, they now earned ten times what they had as regular British soldiers. If they died in the process, the politicians wouldn’t get flak from the media, or have to answer difficult letters from grieving parents. They were deemed to be expendable shadows, and they knew it.

Proctor shook his head. “It’s a hyena, genius.”

“Whatever. Fucking thing looks like it crawled up from hell. Even uglier than you, and that’s not easy,” Mike replied, snickering.

“Thanks, mate.”

They’d grown wiry beards and wore local tribal dress beneath their ghillie suits: baggy pants, long cotton shirts and sheepskin vests. Otherwise, the two men were physical opposites. While Proctor was six-two with a clean-shaven head and bull-like shoulders, Mike was five-six and bony, his matted brown hair reaching past the nape.

Mike placed the LION onto a kitbag, took off his camouflage helmet and picked up a Gerber tool. Using the small blade, he began to strip the bark from a twig, clearly bored.

They’d been on an unrelated mission, shadowing a small group of Haqqani network fighters suspected of the murder of a US diplomat in Islamabad. Once that operation had been aborted, they’d maintained their position high up in the foothills. The target was a priority. But they’d agreed that it could take days before he showed again.

Proctor grasped the bolt-action rifle once more, his eye glued to the scope, scanning.

The target – a phlegmatic Muslim cleric called Mullah Kakar – was hiding out in a cave complex a mile away. The area was riddled with them, used for decades as bombproof bolt holes. Earlier, they’d seen frail plumes of light-grey smoke curling over the craggy overhang above the mouth. Now there was nothing. If he’d been alone, they’d said they’d have risked an assault. But he was protected by four Afghan bodyguards and hadn’t come out since they’d spotted him. When he did, they’d decided to take out everyone, using fragmentation grenades, if necessary. They had to authenticate the kill. That meant close-up digital photographs, and mouth swabs and blood samples for DNA. With a seven-figure reward on the mullah’s otherwise elusive head, Mike had commented that this was going to be the last time he slept in the open.

“You want a brew?” he said.

Proctor put an open hand to his ear. Freeze and listen. He chambered one of the five rounds and flicked off the safety.

“Ninety metres at three o’clock. Rocky outcrop,” he whispered, aiming the seven kilograms, long-range weapon.

Mike snatched up the LION. “Terry?” he asked quietly, army slang for Taliban.

Proctor raised his open-palmed left hand across his chest and pointed to the right. Move there.

Mike slipped the LION into a cargo pocket, picked up a suppressed Heckler & Koch HK416 assault rifle fitted with a thermal imaging sight, and eased himself out of the hole. Proctor followed him with his night-scope. The body moved in a low crawl, inching diagonally towards a cluster of stunted bushes; a vantage point from which he could spy behind the mass of jagged rock. Proctor lay perfectly still, controlling his breathing. He should have had his scope trained on the outcrop, making sure Mike wasn’t in danger. But he’d lied to him. When he was some ten metres away, Proctor fixed the illuminated mil-dot reticle onto the back of Mike’s bare head. At this range, the 8.59mm round would pulverize the skull.

“Sorry, Mike,” he whispered.

He placed the ball of his forefinger on the trigger as he prepared to squeeze. A second later there was a muffled discharge, the noise and flash minimized by the fixed suppressor. Mike’s body bucked as if he’d been Tasered, a thick spray of blood erupting from his head. He didn’t move again.

Proctor removed his camo suit and put on a pakol, a woollen round-topped hat. Crouching, he sent an encrypted distress message to a Special Forces signaller in Kabul. Decoded it read: Target down. Spotter down. Situation critical.

Once sent, he wrapped up the tarp and shut down the portable SATCOM, GPS and VHF radio. Using a short-handled shovel, he hacked at the plastic and metal until he was sure the systems were inoperable, and shoved them into two canvas kitbags. He scooped them up and began filling in the hole with the relatively loose earth they’d dug out earlier. When he’d finished, he shouldered his rifle and walked slowly to the corpse. Kneeling down, he removed Mike’s two-way radio, sidearm, and wristwatch. He thought about his friend’s four kids, and his wife, Debra. Then, pushing aside the HK, he zoned out.

He spent the next half an hour digging a grave. After heaving the body in, he covered it with stiff clods of soil. That done, the equipment and gear had to vanish, too. He trudged along the ridge to a remote crevice, just wide enough to swallow the bags, and flung in all trace of their existence. Exhausted, he crouched down and lit a cigarette with a silver Zippo, telling himself that he’d earned it. He glanced up. The sleet had turned to snow. Trembling, he inhaled the smoke deeply, felt the frigid wind slice to his bones. The overcast skies rendered high-altitude recon drones useless, and it could be hours before a rescue team could be put together. He had time to spare.

A few minutes later, he zigzagged down the windward slope, using the metre-long rifle to steady him. Below, the land was farmed in terraced plots. He’d seen the hamlet on the drone feeds, the timber houses stacked one above the other. But Mike had been right. The place went into lockdown at night.

Reaching flat ground, he walked to the bank of the turbulent river, the rapids exploding like geysers against domes of smooth rock. It was warmer in the valley floor and the wind had dropped to a cool breeze. He bent down, cleansed his hands of bloodstains and cupped the icy water onto his face. Lighting another cigarette, he heard the vehicle before he saw it. Braced himself. As it pulled into the hamlet along a mud track peppered with potholes, the lights were killed. He made out a red Toyota pickup truck with five men hugging AK-47s sitting in the rear. It stopped a couple of metres from him. He let the cigarette fall from his fingers, stubbed it out with his boot.

A man opened the passenger door and strolled over. He wore shabby sneakers and a dark-green flak jacket. His face was pitted, the grey beard extravagant. Proctor thought he looked older than the photograph of him he had hidden in his pocket. Being a fugitive doesn’t suit him, he concluded.

They shook hands.

“Asalaam Alaykum,” Proctor said. Peace be upon you.

“Wa’Alaykum Asalaam,” Mullah Kakar replied. And peace be upon you also. He looked up at the surrounding foothills, as if he were recalling time spent here. “Are we officially dead?”

Proctor nodded.

“Then get in. We ghosts have much work to do.”

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