Debt of Fear: Book one of the Logan Falcone Series

 

Prologue  

 

            The glass building glistened like a waterfall reflecting hues of orange, red, and yellow in the early morning sun. The eastern side of old hotels came to life revealing details that had been painstakingly completed by artisans long since forgotten. Streetlights adorned with Saint Louis Rams’ banners danced slowly to the inaudible melody of the morning breeze. The American flag at the Edward Jones Dome was also dancing unpredictably, quickly whipping up into the air on surprise gusts of wind. A man jogged past the stadium and crossed the intersection without looking for traffic. The white cord from his headphones bounced up and down as sweat accumulated on his shirt.

In his hotel room, Amir allowed himself to look away from his small, focused world through the rifle’s scope and check his watch, 0800. Like clockwork, Amir thought, as he looked down the street at the man barely visible without the scope’s 10x magnification. Amir placed his head back down onto his rifle, looked through the scope, and focused on the runner. The rifle muzzle was eight feet from a window that stretched from floor to ceiling. He had the shades drawn back just enough so the main entrance of the Edward Jones Dome, as well as the street leading south from the stadium, could be seen without obstruction. Amir used the beanbag he bought two days earlier to support the rifle’s forearm. Pillows weren’t allowing him to pivot the gun side to side or up and down. The new rig was working perfectly as he continued to track the jogger. The man turned south and continued running after he glanced left and right to mind the traffic. Amir placed his finger on the trigger watching the man coming closer. The jogger bounced all over Amir’s field of vision through the small scope with each stride. “Boom,” Amir said softly just before the man left his field of vision continuing his morning workout.

Something about the last week had not felt right. Amir had learned long ago to listen to his sensations. He was waking up several times a night with a nervous stomach. Even in his hotel room he tiptoed around methodically making sure every moment was consciously thought out. He went through the operative plans in his head several times a day. The plan was flawless and thorough, just as all his missions were.

Amir began prepping himself by taking slow, controlled breaths. Looking down the scope he felt the stress melt down into the bed, his breathing became more regular, his shoulders relaxed and the world shrunk down to a small, defined area. He was myopic, focusing only on the current task. He observed the American flag at the Edward Jones Dome and gauged the wind speed. He checked his range and scope calibration one last time. Amir purchased his M24 sniper rifle from a local who “knew a guy” and loved the extra cash Amir gave him. The rifle came with ballistic tables and a data book of every cold bore shot it had ever taken. Amir had studied the book for the last two days and knew how it should respond. The rifle had a bolt action so he needed to make the shot count.

Click, the safety was toggled off. He continued to breathe and watch. He scanned the area knowing that soon he would see his special operations team enter the event. Several moments passed and the first of four team members went through the gates. Amir glanced at his watch. Then a second, third, and fourth team member entered the venue. He took a few mental notes of individuals who seemed to stand out. The most noteworthy was a wide, muscular man who was wearing a brand new Saint Louis Rams’ hat and hoodie.

An hour passed and Amir found himself blinking hard and rubbing his eyes repeatedly. He tried to keep himself looking through the scope but eventually he would pull back and reset himself behind the scope. Suddenly his body sharpened. The blurring was gone and his hand was steady. The hum of the air conditioner and the smell of stale cigarettes were no longer perceived. All his cognitive force diverted toward what he was seeing. It was the muscular Rams’ fan.

It would have been insignificant if he’d seen the same man for a second time any other day. He focused on each detail in the target, from his Rams’ hat that still had a shiny sticker on it, to the small white blemish on his cross-trainers. Amir slid his shooting finger from the gunstock down into position at the curved, worn trigger. Tracking him for 30 seconds the fan made two distinct and calculated directional changes in order to follow Amir’s accomplice. The Rams’ fan was singled out. Amir took one long breath in . . . then out.

The target paused. For the briefest of moments Amir lay prone, subtly bouncing on the bed to the rhythmic lub-dub of his heartbeat. He extended the trigger finger and began to put it back onto the stock of the gun. His eyes blurred again as his focus changed to his inner doubt. His body stiffened as he blinked several times trying to clear his eyes. Amir pivoted the barrel away from the target to see what caught his focus. The large man turned and began walking toward a cab arriving just outside the venue. A man in jeans and a black shirt came out of the cab and walked quickly toward the large Rams’ fan. The man from the cab turned around looking high into the buildings all around him, motioning with his hands he told the large Rams’ fan to run.

Amir wasn’t sure who to shoot. He lost control of his breathing and his hand began to sweat. It was obvious he had two targets and a cumbersome bolt action. He scanned left to the man in black and then right toward the muscular fan. Back and forth he scanned as they approached each other more quickly. Amir’s heart raced. A car’s horn from the street startled him, causing him to slightly squeeze down on the trigger. The world was coming back full scale and he felt the air conditioner turn on bringing a slight chill to the room. The smell of stale cigarettes returned and a solitary drop of sweat accelerated down to the tip of his nose.

Boom! Amir’s finger acted on what his mind was so hesitant to do. A concussive wave vaporized the bead of sweat and the rifle kicked back into his right shoulder. The smell of gunpowder quickly filled the room as hot, humid air rolled in from the broken window. Amir cycled the bolt and looked down the barrel at the venue below for his second shot. He looked down the scope, past the broken glass and into the face of the man with the black shirt. People were running in all directions crossing in front of his targets at unpredictable intervals. Amir was shaken. The man in the black shirt stared directly into his room through the broken glass, between the curtains and completely ignored the chaos that was surrounding him. The hair stood up on Amir’s arms and a chill went through his spine. He fought off his body’s urge to shudder. The man in the black shirt then scrambled to pick up the large Rams’ fan.

Boom! A second shot rang out splintering concrete and ricocheting toward the stadium, missing its mark. Quickly the man in the black shirt ran east with the large man on his shoulders, and out of Amir’s shooting view. Amir was frozen. For the first time he was not in control. He continued to lay on the bed and allow his thoughts to overwhelm him. He no longer looked through the scope but at the white linen bedding and a bullet casing that had been expelled from the M24. His thoughts were coming fast and furious and it was impossible to process them all individually. One common theme began to emerge: to run.

His heart raced and he became lightheaded as he leaped up from the bed. He dashed over to the desk. He fumbled with the rifle, trying to break it down and place it into a case but his hands were shaking uncontrollably. Emotions that were foreign to him began to take over, frustrating him even more as a tear fell from his eye. A knot in his stomach became crippling as he reached for the door. Not knowing what would happen or if he was making the right choice caused him to pause. Fear aggressively shook his entire body. For the first time in his life he was on the other side of terror. He ripped open the door and ran to the stairwell.

 

Chapter 1

 

            “Why would you want to be in the Army young man?” the recruiter asked.

“I want to do my part as an American,” responded the Pakistani teen.

“Good enough for me. Why the Army?”

“I’m talking to all the branches. I just want to serve. Whoever wants me can have me.”

“Why so eager to serve?” The recruiter looked at the young man with a smirk.

The teen sat for a moment fighting an internal battle, trying to hold back the real reasons. He felt embarrassed, he felt anger, he felt nobody would understand the real reason why he wanted to wear a uniform. He didn’t want pity, nor did he want yet another racist comment or obligatory apology from a white American. He wanted a uniform so people would see him as an American hero, not a first-generation Pakistani, or worse, a “terrorist.”

“It’s a good opportunity to travel the world for free,” responded the teen.

“Well I’m looking at your ASVAB scores here and I must say, you could probably choose your branch. You scored in the top one percent. Have you thought of going to Army, West Point or the Naval Academy? I feel with these scores and a senator’s letter of recommendation you could get into all of those schools. Wow . . . your GPA was a 4.3. Is that accurate?”

“Yes sir. I just want to enlist and become a member of the armed service now. I’m ready.”

“Well Sumeet, we’ll just read through all this paperwork and get you going. Do you have any more questions I can answer?”

“How soon till I go to boot camp?”

“It will likely take a few weeks to months.”

“The sooner the better.”

Sumeet went back out into the parking lot where his father sat waiting for him in the car. “I still don’t understand why this is so important for you Sumeet,” his father said, staring at the steering wheel. “Son, I love you and we moved to this country so you have more opportunities than I had. I wish your mother was still here, I think she would have been able to talk sense into you . . .”

“Don’t say that!” Sumeet said sternly, cutting his father off and turning to face him. “Nobody would have stopped me. She understood what I wanted. She had the same vision as me. She blessed it last year before she died—you were there.” Sumeet rounded his shoulders and looked as though he would melt right through the seat.

Sumeet and his father sat in silence. In their minds, both had gone back to the moment they said goodbye to the most important woman in their lives as she lost her battle with cancer.

“I support you, son,” his father said as he started the car. “I just can’t imagine losing the only thing I have left.”

Fourteen weeks passed quickly for Sumeet as he went through basic training. There was no racism here. Everyone was being broken down equally, and Sumeet had an unfair advantage. He had already dealt with verbal assaults for years. He excelled in every way. He was always in the top five percent for physical readiness training. He even received top marksmanship awards and was asked about sniper school. He turned it down because he wanted to stay in the infantry. For the first time he was part of a brotherhood: Army 25th Infantry Division, Second Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, the Wolfhounds.

Two years had passed since 9/11. Sumeet knew their deployment must be on the horizon. The training had morphed from being very generalized and mundane, to getting more detailed and focused with each passing day. They had traveled to Georgia for the most difficult training to date. He was confident in his abilities as a leader, but something was draining him. He was sick of not knowing what was coming next. Daily time seemed to go by slowly, but soon a month passed, still with no hints at where they would be going. He wanted an assignment sooner than later and so did the men of his squad.

Whenever Sumeet walked into the barracks, conversations stopped and everyone sat still in anticipation of possible news. Often he was disappointed having nothing to say to them but this time he was excited. “Listen up,” Sumeet said smirking at the squad. “We got news. Debrief at 2100 hours in the mess hall.” The men all quickly jumped to their feet yelling and giving high fives. The long, dark faces the men wore for weeks had tightened up and seemed alive again. They were laughing, joking, wrestling; for the moment, it was great.

The mess hall was standing room only. The tables were folded up and stacked in straight columns against the wall. The hundreds of chairs had filled in 30 minutes ago. A few stragglers jammed themselves in against the wall, creating a rippling effect of other soldiers moving to accommodate them. The yellow glow from the lights above gave the men a green hue as they all talked and joked before the colonel entered to address them.

 “Listen up men!” Lieutenant Colonel Hardy said as he addressed his regiment. The colonel began speaking as he entered the room with large, powerful steps. “We’ll be deployed, and we’ll see action. We’re going to war; in Afghanistan. We WILL be fighting on OUR terms, on their land. We know quite a bit about the terrain, we know very little about their alliances with local communities. Your training will get you through this, and we already have some men on the ground gathering more intel as we speak. Trust your leaders, leaders trust your men. We WILL succeed, and we WILL come home. Our deployment will be six to nine months, but count on it being longer if needed. We’ve got a job to do so let’s all get that job done right and come home.” The colonel saluted the men and they all stood and saluted at attention while he left the microphone.

Colonel Hardy made eye contact with Sumeet and called him over with the slightest head nod. Sumeet caught up to the colonel as he was leaving the mess hall. “Sumeet, I’m trusting you will continue to impress me son. I think you’ve got a rare gift and a need to prove something. Prove it to your men. Prove it to us all.” The colonel finally stopped and faced Sumeet looking him in the eyes. For Sumeet it wasn’t common to look up in order to see a man’s eyes, but with Colonel Hardy it was a must. A heavy hand slapped down onto Sumeet’s shoulder and a moment later the loud thud of Colonel Hardy’s boots pounded down the smooth concrete outside in the humid Georgia night. Thunder echoed in the distance, but for the moment, the sky was clear; and little twinkling lights in the heavens acted as confetti for the twisted celebration of going to combat.

Paktika Province, Afghanistan

The assigned location for 27th Infantry was the Paktika Province along the violent border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sumeet had mixed feelings about this. It was the first time he had ever set eyes on his parents’ country and it was during an act of war. He knew that someday, and possibly soon, he would have to fire upon Pakistanis. He didn’t know that it would be less than a week before his first live fire action.

Afghanistan was a dream. Sumeet felt at home in the rolling hills and short vegetation his dad had often described when talking about “home.” The wind was a mix of sensations, mainly warm and constant, but occasionally with a brisk shot of air. A fire burning in the distance was riding the wind and Sumeet was reminded of a few long-forgotten memories of youthful naivety. Conversely the smell of rotting animals and dung brought him back to reality. He was here to fight. The smell of death could become all too familiar.

His squad was tasked with taking a ten-kilometer hike to patrol the most northern edge of the 27th’s post under cover of darkness. Prior to the Infantry’s arrival, it had been a highway for terrorists traveling through small towns that harbored and supported them. The area had been dead for a few days, but a recent upsurge in vehicle traffic, as well as aerial night reconnaissance has indicated possible border jumping from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

“OK guys, it’s 2300 hours. Check your gear. Leaving in 15. Make sure you have your NVGs, water, and stripped packs. We’re gonna be 12 hours. You’ll have second squad relieving your post tomorrow. I want radio checks every 30 minutes for location and intel. Sumeet, first squad is yours. Let’s see you take care of business. Your call sign tonight is Lone Wolf; we’re Big Dipper. Anything suspicious is a shooting star.”

“Yes sir, Lieutenant,” Sumeet said saluting. “Alright guys gear up. Face paint on tonight. Check your mags, and bring some for your brothers. Let’s get it on.”

The air was calm and very quiet. The moon was full, and straight up in the night sky. Everything was visible, so first squad needed to be as stealth as they could be. Sumeet made quick work of navigating the terrain and within two hours they had reached the ridge-line overlooking a dirt road into a small city just on the Afghani side of the border. It was their location of interest.

Sumeet had his men lay prone for the moment as he worked out the landscape and quickly determined the most strategic formation to take. He had one LMG, an M249, and the rest were riflemen carrying M16A4s, two of which had M203 under slung grenade launchers. In total, there were ten men. Sumeet set the LMG on top of the hill at the L-shaped turn in the road that entered the town. He placed two riflemen with the LMG looking down toward the town and called them Alpha team. He placed the remainder of the force looking down the other side of the L-shaped road that led toward Pakistan, and called them Whiskey team. Sumeet decided he would rove between the teams making sure their backside was watched.

“Big Dipper this is Lone Wolf checking in, over,” Sumeet said into the radio. It was 0400 and there was no sign of anyone entering or leaving since they had arrived.

“Go ahead, Lone Wolf.”

“No sign of shooting stars tonight. I have the kids all tucked into bed.”

“Uh, Roger that Lone Wolf.”

Sumeet decided to take a patrol, he approached Alpha team. “Stay alert, make sure you are scanning the horizon, too. Look for silhouettes. They probably won’t be taking the roads in and we have to expect that.” Sumeet then went back down the hill and into the shadows. He moved quickly to Whiskey team to relay the same message. Just as he finished the message, he heard footsteps.

“Ramirez, White, on me,” he said to two of the men in the rifle squad. Sumeet had heard the noise coming from the shadows about 40 meters behind the LMG location with team Alpha. The three men all moved methodically through the light vegetation trying not to make a sound. The rubber on their boots was softer in the heat, so they seemed to gently kiss the ground rather than scrape against the rocks and hard earth beneath their feet.

“Sims, this is Sumeet. We heard a noise about 40 meters to your six o’clock and are investigating. Stay put, but you may want to have one of your riflemen turn around.”

“Copy that sir, already doing it,” Sims replied as he signaled his rifleman to turn.

Sumeet halted the other two men. He had heard a rock fall across the ground and roll down the hill in darkness behind Alpha team. Sumeet’s hair stood up on his neck. He heard a whisper.

“Alpha group I’m hearing whispers 20 meters behind you, turn your second rifleman. First squad double check safeties are off.”

“Big Dipper this is Lone Wolf, possible shooting star, over.”

“Lone Wolf, we hear you, any chance you caught the color?”

“Negative, we are looking into it. Stand by.”

“Do you need us to send another set of eyes? Over.”

“If there are some in the area it would be appreciated. Over.”

“You’ll have them in two minutes.”

Sumeet’s heart was pounding. He signaled Ramirez and White to continue to follow. The three of them were now 30 meters from the noise. “NVGs on, first squad.”

As Sumeet placed his NVGs on, it was immediately apparent that these noises were not friendly. He saw four men carrying AK-47s, and they were in two-by-two formation. They seemed to be making a direct line toward Alpha team.

“Big dipper we have four confirmed red shooting stars. Over.”

“Roger that Lone Wolf, handle at your discretion, we have our own eyes on location as well.”

“OK. Out.”

“White, Ramirez, double back and get around behind them. I want them in the bottom of the ditch between you and Alpha team. I’m staying here. We’ll have them in a three-way cross fire. You’ve got one minute. Call when set on target.” The two men moved like ghosts in the night.

“Whiskey team stay put, we’re about to make a tactical takedown on four tangos approaching Alpha squad. Two of you watch your flanks, one watch the town, and one watch behind you to the west. The other three will continue to look down the road to Pakistan. Sims, you stay focused on the city.”

“We’re in position,” said White into the receiver.

“OK, we’re gonna mark up. Sims has the man at rear and east, Ramirez, you have rear and west, I will take front and west, and Alpha you have front and east. All copy, over.”

“Copy. Sims, over.”

“Copy. Ramirez, over.”

“Copy. Alpha, over.”

“On my count,” Sumeet said. “Three . . . two . . . one.”

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop! Five shots rang out into the night. It took less than two seconds.

“First squad eyes on your positions. Ramirez, White, up to Alpha and support Sims. Alpha stay in your current configuration, Ramirez and White are moving up to your position. Whiskey I’m coming to you.”

“Big Dipper shooting stars are down. Four confirmed. Over.”

“Lone Wolf we have second squad coming to you now for assistance, over.” Sumeet looked up toward the road leading to Pakistan. A truck was racing down the road emitting flashes like a strobe and deep guttural booms from the back. It was the unmistakable sound of a 50-caliber machine gun.

“We are being fired upon!” Sumeet exclaimed into the receiver.

“First squad, open fire!” Sumeet yelled into the night air.

“Three tangos in the truck, one on the gun!” yelled Sims as he turned his LMG in the vehicle’s direction and began to clink off rounds.

“We have tangos coming out of the village!” yelled White. “I am counting ten!”

“Alpha team fire down on tangos in the city, Whiskey team take out the truck!” Sumeet yelled to the men.

The truck was driving erratically and the gunner was firing wildly into the hills where first squad was buried. Sumeet was trying to get his 4x scope fixed on the shooter but the driver was so erratic he couldn’t keep him in the reticle. Sumeet set his M16 to single shot and laid prone. He took two deep breaths and held the third. Pop, ping! One shot fired, and one shot deflected by the steel shield at the front of the 50-caliber. Two more breaths. Pop, ping! again. Sumeet blinked heavily, took one more breath, pop!

This time he hit. He saw the machine gunner’s head immediately snap back, opening his forehead wide as red mist filled the bed of the truck. Sumeet then turned his attention to the driver, pop! again it was a hit with immediate results. The truck slowed to a stop.

“Whiskey team fire on town!” Sumeet said taking quick mental note of all four tangos dead at the truck.

“Lone Wolf this is second squad, on your site approaching from the south over.”

“Second squad is coming up from the south! Alpha team everyone shoot down onto the city!”

“Second squad we have ten tangos engaged into the city to the north. Alpha squad has best line-of-sight and are at the crest of the hill. Recommend getting up and fire down toward the city!“ Sumeet yelled into the radio.

“Copy that Lone Wolf. I see Alpha squad. We’ll be there in ten seconds over.”

“Can we use part of second squad to set a perimeter watching our east, south and west? I don’t want these assholes creeping up behind us! First contact was from the south!”

“Lone Wolf, copy that. We’ll take six guys and set that up. Over.”

Time stood still as tracers danced through the night toward the town. It only took a few minutes for first and second squad to eliminate the ten tangos that emerged from the city.

“Lone Wolf this is Big Dipper. Over.”

“Big Dipper this is Lone Wolf, haven’t seen any more shooting stars in the last hour. Still fully aware, perimeter set and holding.”

“Lone Wolf we need first squad to come back in for a debrief. Third platoon is coming out to relieve you. They will be onsite within the hour. Set your IR beacons on so third platoon sees you. Over.”

“Will do.”

“First and second squad, we need IR beacons on. Third platoon is coming to relieve us for a debrief. Watch for friendlies coming in, they’ll have IR beacons on.”

The hike back was uneventful and numb. First squad was silent as they entered camp. Lieutenant Colonel Hardy was waiting at battalion headquarters to talk to Sumeet directly. “Corporal,” Colonel Hardy said to Sumeet as he entered the HQ. Sumeet stood at attention and saluted. “At ease son. You’re going to debrief me directly. I want to hear all the details. We’re going to record it. Have a seat son.”

The sun was rising quickly over the horizon as Sumeet walked back to his barracks following the debrief. He began to shake and feel lightheaded. His pulse raced and darkness began to close in around him. He took off his gear, his clothes, and wobbled his way into the bathroom naked. He nearly fell over and caught himself several times along the way on bunks. Eventually he collapsed on his knees face first over the toilet. He began dry heaving until his abdominals began to cramp. With each heave he closed his eyes and saw the faces of the men he shot. He became so frustrated with the cycle he squeezed the rim of the toilet with all his remaining strength. Somehow it helped stop the dry heaves and his breath leveled. He stood up and washed his face with cold water and walked back into the barracks and crawled into bed.

He wrote his father a letter with shaking hands.

 

Dear Father,

As I sit here looking upon the country you knew so well, I am distracted by the overwhelming urge to hear your voice. I miss you, Dad, and hope to make you proud. I unfortunately stand united with my brothers against the enemy near a place you so recently called home. I’m afraid I’ll achieve the goals I set out to do by joining the military, but it will leave me scarred in deeper ways I never imagined. I pray to see you soon. Pray for me.

Sumeet

Chapter 2

 

Logan Falcone sat on his bunk cleaning his pistol for the third time that day. Before that, he had gone to the gym with Sherman, his sniper teammate. The two of them had been inseparable since Logan enlisted after the attacks on 9/11. They went through boot camp together, both qualifying as sharpshooters, then into the sniper school. The instructors saw how close the two of them were, so it was natural to place them together as teammates in the squad.

Logan was frustrated. It had been three years since his enlistment and the anger still burned strong within him. To date, his recon company had been deployed twice, and balked at two additional times. None of which allowed him to face the enemy. He was like a hungry tiger in a cage ready to kill; but there was nothing to eat.

“Looks like we’re shippin’ out,” Sherman said while standing in the doorway of the barracks, catching Logan off guard.

“About time,” Logan responded, still cleaning his pistol.

“You gonna ask where?”

“Don’t care. I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“Fuck off little man, you care. It’s Iraq. We’re leaving tomorrow. Let’s hit the bar,” Sherman said and threw a clean shirt at his scout, Logan.

“Ooh Rah!” Logan yelled as he pulled the slide back on his pistol and took a dry shot.

The bar was full. It had reached capacity an hour ago and the foot traffic had spilled out in to the parking lot. “You need one yet?” Logan asked Sherman as they stood talking to a group of recon men.

“Might as well,” Sherman said looking sideways at his beer, then raised it to his mouth and chugged the rest.

“Be back in a minute,” Logan said and walked back toward the bar through the gravel parking lot. “Hey! Stay the fuck away from the sluts while I’m gone!”

“I’m good man. Just get me a beer,” Sherman yelled back and pointed to the bar. On more than one occasion, the handsome, drunk Sherman was approached by a young woman and he had given her a bit too much attention for a man who was engaged to a girl back home.

Logan came back out with beers in hand and quickly spotted the group of recon men, minus Sherman. “Where the fuck is he guys?” Logan asked annoyed as he reached the men.

They shrugged, gave each other looks, and smirked. “I’m not gonna sit here and beg, assholes.”

Logan searched for Sherman through the large parking lot full of people. It took close to 30 minutes, and two beers, but Logan eventually found him checking under the hood of more than a car. Logan pulled Sherman away from a young woman and pushed him onto the ground. They wrestled in the parking lot for several minutes while the young blonde screamed. Sherman struck Logan hard on the face and then, somehow, Logan turned Sherman. Logan was straddled over the much larger Sherman. He grabbed Sherman by the shirt with both hands and lifted his torso off the ground bringing Sherman’s bloodied face close to his own.

“What’s that black ink say on your chest?” Logan spat through his teeth. Sherman softened. Ashamed, he wouldn’t look Logan in the face. Logan shook him once. “What’s it say?” he asked more loudly. This time the young blonde heard what Logan said and adjusted her purse, bit her lip, and snuck away to her car.

“I love you brother,” Sherman said. “Fuck, I’m so stupid.” He wiped his hands over his buzzed head and down his face. “Let me buy the next one man. Seriously, you’re my brother. I never had one . . . I’m so hammered.”

“Damn straight,” Logan said finally dropping Sherman to the ground and walking back into the bar.

“I miss Heather man. I don’t know why I do that shit,” Sherman said as they supported each other, arms slung over shoulders.

“At least you have someone to remember you when we’re out in the shit,” Logan said reflecting on his current romantic situation.

“Don’t get soft,” Sherman said and stumbled away from Logan, punching him on the shoulder as he did it.

“Oh shit. Maybe we’re done. Come on buddy let’s call it.”

“Ooh Rah, Marine,” Sherman said and collapsed to the gravel below, groaning and laughing.

Mosul, Iraq

Iraq was a difficult country to enjoy but Logan and Sherman were not there on vacation. They spent hours looking over aerial reconnaissance photos and talking to SEALs who had been on the ground in their next hot zone, Mosul. The target was an Iraqi colonel set on murdering anyone, including his own men, who opposed Hussein. The colonel had already murdered hundreds of civilians as well as five of his own soldiers he suspected of giving information to the Americans. His assumptions were right, all five soldiers had been giving the U.S. intelligence, and now it was getting harder and harder to find Iraqi soldiers who were willing to help.

Sherman and Logan were dropped at a location 20 kilometers northwest of the city. They spent two days infiltrating the city and setting up a shooting nest high in an abandoned building the SEAL team had secured earlier that week. Sherman and Logan were just less than 1,000 meters west of where they suspected the target to be.

“Target acquired, mobile on foot. Range 750 meters,” Logan said looking through the spotting scope. “Wind . . . five knots right to left.”

Sherman turned the dial on his scope three clicks for distance, and two clicks for wind-speed to calibrate for the shot based on shooting tables. Sherman had logged thousands of cold bore shots with this rifle. He didn’t need to reference the chart anymore. Sherman began to take long breaths in through the nose, out the mouth as he lay prone in the back corner of their hide.

“Exterminator two this is the Roach Motel, how copy?”

“We’ve got our target in sight. How would you like us to proceed?” Logan said into the radio, with his range finder raised to his eye as he tracked the target.

“You have a green light. Proceed as indicated.”

“Roger Roach Motel. Exterminator two out.”

“OK, fire when ready,” Logan said as Sherman turned off the safety on his M40. The target stopped and turned around, walking at a much faster pace.

“Breathe Sherman, wait for a steady shot.” Sherman slowed his breathing once again. The target continued his walking for several seconds then paused just before leaving the sniper team’s narrow visual window.

Sherman let out a long breath and held it. One . . . two . . . three seconds. Boom! A shot rang out as Sherman pulled the trigger and the M40 pushed firmly into his shoulder. The recoil caused him to lose sight of the target for a moment, but Logan had seen everything. Just as Sherman shot, the target moved. By the time the round traveled the 750 yards, the target had taken one step forward and the bullet hit the street behind him. The target heard the shot ring out and echo through the street.

The streets were still active. It seemed as though nobody else heard the shot. Time was moving slowly and the target looked from building to building trying to see where the shot came from. In that brief period of time Sherman had targeted and sent another round down range striking the man in the face. As the target fell, Sherman was processing all the sensory input that was entering his mind. As the echoes from the second shot left his ears, Sherman heard a woman scream in the distance and the metallic clacking of guns being snapped to attention. A storm of voices—yelling, shouting—thundered as he watched the life drain out of the man and onto the street.

“Targets on the rooftops,” Logan said as he picked up his rifle.

“Call ’em out,” Sherman said with his eye still frozen on the crosshairs. It was odd how calm Sherman was in the situation. Typically, it was Logan who was collected.

“Right side of the street, rooftop. 500 yards. Wind five knots right to left. Don’t fire, they have no idea where we are. We’re dug in well here. Don’t think they’ll see us. Just take it easy, don’t get trigger-happy. We’re out here alone, let’s not stick our ass out,” Logan said.

“Roach Motel, this is Exterminator two. Target’s down. We’ve got too many secondary targets. Unsafe to fire. Requesting air support. Over.”

“Uh, that’s a negative on your Bug Bomb, Exterminator two. We cannot afford to put birds in the air. We have no intel on enemy anti-air equipment in the area. Sit tight in your hide. Let the situation die down, we’ll pick up and rally point Bravo at 0100. Over.”

Logan looked again into the range finder. “Sherman we are still looking good. They have no idea where we are. HQ wants us silent then exfil at Bravo 0100. That’s nine hours, and ten klicks. Rah!”

“Ooh Rah,” Sherman said not looking away from the scope.

Three hours passed. “They are starting to put shit together Logan,” Sherman said as he looked down on the dead target. “They figured out the direction the shot came from. We’re in the tallest building. Only a matter of time before they get here and go room to room. I think it’s time to move.”

“OK,” Logan said. Sherman drew back the M40 and retracted the bipods. Logan continued to scan the streets, buildings, rooftops. Logan saw a flash from a rooftop.

Crack! A bullet came ripping through curtains veiling the window then back into the wall behind them. Then, a second muzzle flash from a different rooftop.

“Move!” Logan yelled to Sherman. The second shot came ripping through the curtain but this time with a much different sound. It was more of a thump as the round entered Sherman just below his eighth rib on the right side of his body. Sherman let out a low involuntary groan and took three steps toward the door feeling no pain for the moment.

Logan quickly ran to his teammate. Logan threw Sherman, his weapons, and pack over his shoulder. He immediately began the descent down six floors and out the back of the building into a much quieter street. Logan made no attempts to check his corners and ran as fast as he could through the alleyways out of the city and into the desert. He now had five hours to move ten kilometers with Sherman on his back.

As the time passed the shadows became longer and Logan was able to hide better. He ran into little resistance and was about two kilometers from the exfiltration site Bravo.

“Ahrg,” Sherman said as Logan lowered him down to the dirt onto his back as gently as his exhausted muscles would allow.

“Damn it Sherman you better make it. I’m not doing this shit for nothing,” Logan said as he opened up Sherman’s field kit and began searching for the bandages.

“Grrrrr,” Sherman grimaced as Logan applied the dressing to his wound. “Shit that’s a lot of blood Logan.” Sherman’s head dropped back onto the dirt as he took deep, calming breaths.

“It ain’t so bad,” Logan said as he reached back taking his own pack off for more dressings. Logan’s entire pack was sticky and red. Sherman had been bleeding out all over Logan as he carried him for the last several hours. Logan didn’t allow himself to think about it. Maybe it was the training, but he stayed calm and focused on the task at hand. He placed the second bandage on the wound.

“I’m never gonna drink again Logan. They got my liver. Haha,” Sherman said deliriously as Logan picked him back up.

“Quit being a pussy. We are almost there.”

Logan arrived at Bravo with 20 minutes to spare. He began hearing the rotors in the distance. The sounds were bouncing all around the hills and he could barely make out which direction they were coming from. “Hang on you bitch. We are almost there,” Logan got no response from Sherman. “Did you hear me? Come on asshole not now they’re here!” Still no response.

He quickly lowered Sherman down to the ground. From the faint light that was cascading from the moon, he could tell that the bandages were no longer white. They were dark red, and saturated. He checked for a pulse. He checked for breath. Neither was present. “Damn it Sherman you better start breathing,” Logan said through clenched teeth into Sherman’s lifeless ear. Logan began performing CPR compressions for two minutes then rechecked the vitals. Still nothing. This went on for what seemed like an eternity. Logan’s whole body was numb and he could no longer lock his elbows straight. Logan continued to try and depress Sherman’s chest, but with each compression it became shallower.

Logan was grabbed from behind and lifted off of Sherman. “Get the fuck off me!” he yelled and threw an elbow into the face of the Marine who grabbed him from behind.

“Settle down Sarge. We got it from here,” the Marine said. Two other Marines got to Sherman and put his limp body into the helo and they took off.

The flight team worked with Sherman and placed an AED on his bare chest and abdomen. “Clear!” one of the medics said as they shocked him over and over again. There was no saving him. They turned their attention to Logan who sat in the helo, numb to his surroundings, entering shock as he stared blankly at his teammate. The medic took Logan’s arm and struggled to find a vein. Logan was severely dehydrated. They poked Logan several times but he didn’t care. It wouldn’t have bothered him to die with his partner.

Logan sat alone in the medical tent for two hours before a lieutenant came and got him. He was no longer in shock and drank water sip by sip. He was allowed to see his partner. Sherman was no longer bloody and his once bronze skin was now rather pale. The dark tattoo on his chest, “Heather,” was contrasted by his pasty skin. Logan touched Sherman and he was cold and tacky. He moved the sheet to look at the wound. The entry wound was smaller by tenfold compared to the exit wound on the posterior side of the torso. Hard to believe Sherman was able to hang on for five minutes let alone six hours. “Sergeant, the captain wants a debrief,” the lieutenant said placing his hand onto Logan’s right shoulder blade. Logan nodded, placed his own hand over the tattoo on Sherman’s heart, then turned and walked away.

The days passed slowly following Sherman’s death. Logan was a shell of himself and rarely said hi to people he typically spent hours socializing with during the many down times. Now, most of his time was spent in his bunk staring at the ceiling, or cleaning his pistol when he couldn’t sleep. His eyes would often refuse to shut. It became motor memory just to snap his eyelids open as soon as his head hit the pillow because whenever he closed them, he saw Sherman. In the rare moments when he did sleep, a running loop of the events following Sherman’s last shot played in his mind.

Logan would talk to one person, his commanding officer Captain Stevens, who sat, listened, and rarely spoke. When Stevens did speak he didn’t try to comfort Logan. Instead he always gave the same party line of “you’ve gotta get back out there.” Stevens had been there once before. He lost a few close brothers-in-arms on a previous tour. His own survival had showed his leadership potential and earned him his captain stripes.

One afternoon Captain Stevens felt as though he had nothing left to say to Logan. Options were thin and Logan continued to fall further and further into his depressive state. “Logan, I’m going to have to talk with Colonel Jenkins back stateside. See if he has any options for you. I think of you as a younger brother and I’m concerned.”

Logan rubbed his eyes and remained focused on the floor for a moment while he slouched deep into a wooden chair. He sighed, sniffled, and looked up at Captain Stevens. With desperate eyes Logan nodded, yes.

Camp Lejeune

“Logan. How are ya’ son?” Colonel Jenkins asked as he stood up from behind his desk at Second Battalion Headquarters at Camp Lejeune.

“I’m good sir,” Logan said at attention. Logan was pristine from head to toe, shoes shined, buttons and fly all in line, and corners crisp on his pants and shirt.

“You can relax Logan. Have a seat.” Both men sat down. “I’ve heard differently Logan. Your CO says you have not been able to perform well at all this last month. We’ve paired you with several other members of your sniper platoon and you just, well, fuck it up son. We’re looking out for everyone here, your platoon, your battalion, and you yourself Logan. If we can’t trust you to do the job, then we can’t have you out there.”

“It’s different working with anyone other than Sherman. He was me, I was him. All the simple nuances I look for are gone. I can’t get a good read on anyone else,” Logan said looking down at the colonel’s desk.

“Well I have given it some thought. Captain Stevens will keep me informed and depending how the next few weeks go we have a couple options. Option one, you get folded back into Marine Recon and step away from the sniper post. Option two, you work for me and run some covert black ops recon. I was damn impressed at how you got outta’ there with Sherman undetected and hotfooted it to the pickup point. That’s exactly what I need. You take these next few weeks and let me know.”

Logan walked out of the office and looked at his watch. It was 1500 hours and he decided that he was going out tonight to Hooligans for some live music and to clear his head. 

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