Author:William Johnstone

    His coworkers would wonder why he didn’t show up at the office in the morning. He had been an exemplary employee, right from the start. But he didn’t care anymore, now that he had gotten the summons he’d been waiting for ever since he came to this despicable nation.

    Those godless infidels at the Midwest Regional Transportation and Freight Division of MegaMart, Inc., would just have to get along without Hamed al-Bashar from now on.


    Brad Parker crouched behind a large rock and peered down at the village, which was little more than a cluster of mud huts sprawled at the base of the hillside . . .

    except for the large, stone-walled compound at the edge of the settlement. Parker’s eyes, normally a light bluish-gray, darkened to the color of steel in moments of stress, tension, or anger.

    They were the same shade as a battleship now as they narrowed in concentration.

    “That’s the place?” he asked the man hunkered beside him.

    “Yeah, dude, that’s it.”

    The tone of voice sounded odd coming from a man who looked even more like a native of these hills than Parker did—and Parker was burned so dark by the fierce sun that he could pass for a Pakistani hill man when he had to. His companion really had been born and raised in these hills, but Oded Hatali—“Call me Odie, like that dumb dog in the comic strip, man”—had spent years in California working in the computer industry before being recruited by the Company. He had taken to American life 44

    like a duck to water, too, finding himself right at home in the Granola State.

    Odie was a natural linguist, speaking not only Urdu and Punjabi but also a dozen different tribal dialects and variations on Pakistan’s two main languages. When he put on the loose trousers and the long shirt common to Pakistani men, the outfit known as the shalwar-qamiz, and pulled a fur cap onto his head, he blended right in with the rest of the country’s teeming population.

    Brad Parker wore the same sort of garb, only he had a turban wrapped around his dark blond hair, conceal-ing it. His face, all hard planes and angles, was dark enough for him to pass as a native if not too much attention was focused on him. He usually let Odie carry the ball whenever they had to talk to anybody, although technically Parker was the senior member of the duo.

    He was thirty-five, had joined the Marines at eighteen, fought in Desert Storm, moved over to SpecOps when he was twenty-five, joined the Company at thirty.

    So he had spent nearly half his life in the ragtag backwaters of the world, doing the dirty jobs that kept not only the United States but also the rest of the Western world safe—or at least, safer than it would have been otherwise. If the details of some of his missions had ever been made public, the crybaby left-wing politicians and the equally whiny news media would have pitched a shit fit . . . even though some of those self-righteous sons of bitches would have died in terrorist attacks, too. They had no clue how close to disaster they had come at times, no idea how things would have gone straight to hell without Brad Parker and a lot of other men and women like him, nameless, faceless heroes who fought the good fight in the far corners of the world, knowing all the JACKKNIFE


    while how reviled they would be by certain elements of society if the truth about their activities ever came out.

    Parker didn’t give a rat’s ass about any of that. He just wanted to protect his country from the bad guys, whatever it took.

    And if what he and Odie had discovered was true, there were some mighty bad guys down there in that compound.

    “The villagers you spoke to can be trusted?” Parker asked now.

    “Yeah, I think so. It’s not like they don’t have an ax to grind, though. From what they told me, the headman at Jihad U. down there had one of his merry little suicide bombers kill one of the village elders. Sawed the poor bastard’s head right off with a knife. The sheikh said the guy was working for the CIA.”

    “Was he?” Parker asked.

    “No, dude, that’s what makes it so bad. It was just a mix-up.” Odie grinned. “It was another of the elders who was passing intel to us. But he’s dead, too, now. Accident. Rock slide got him.”

    “You sure it was an accident?”

    “Yeah, there were witnesses, and I trust ’em.”

    “What’s the connection between the man who was decapitated and the ones who told you about all this?”

    “They’re his sons,” Odie explained. “So they’ve got a blood debt marked up against the Jihadists. They’re not crazy about Westerners, but they hate the sheikh and his people even more.”

    Hatred was the fuel that ran this entire part of the world, Parker reflected. The feel-good liberals back in the States insisted that everybody was alike under the skin, that there were no real, fundamental differences between people from different cultures. Deep down 46

    everybody was human and wanted the same things, said the doctrine according to the Sixties, still the religion of the left.

    But that was bullshit, Parker knew. Sure, the people of this region loved their families. But they loved hating their enemies even more. The smallest grudge could bring on a bloody, lifelong war between two factions.

    How the hell could you even hope to deal rationally with somebody who hated their neighbors and wanted to kill them because of something somebody’s ancestors had done to somebody else’s ancestors a thousand or fifteen hundred or even two thousand years ago?

    The answer was, you couldn’t deal rationally with them. But you couldn’t let yourself be seduced by their culture of hatred either. You just did your job. Pragmat-ically, even ruthlessly when you had to, but you didn’t let yourself hate these people.

    Because that would make you just as bad as they were.

    The bleeding hearts had that much right anyway, even though they would never understand the realities behind it.

    “How many men in the compound?” Parker asked.

    “The sheikh went back to France and took his entourage with him. But they’ve got a new crop of homicidal-maniacs-in-training down there, plus the instructors . . . say thirty to thirty-five, give or take a few.”

    “And how many fighters can your contacts muster?”

    “Twenty-five tops.”

    “So we’re going to be outnumbered.”

    “Yeah, but we’ll have the element of surprise on our side,” Odie said. “Those guys think they’re safe since the Americans gave Afghanistan back to the Taliban.” JACKKNIFE


    “The Americans didn’t give Afghanistan back,” Parker growled. “One woman did.”

    “The people put her in office.”

    “Yeah, and they’re already damned sorry they did it.

    I’ve got a hunch they’ll be even sorrier before it’s all over.” Parker shook his head. They weren’t here to talk politics. “I could call in some air support, but then the Pakistani government would get its panties in a wad.

    Anyway, if I did that, then it would look like something we’ve done. I want those people to do it.” He pointed at the village.

    “Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizb ut-Tahrir . . . those are all local cancers, when you get down right to it,” Parker went on. “If we cut ’em out, they’ll just grow back, more malignant than ever. But if the locals rise up and get rid of them, maybe then we might see some real progress.” Odie nodded. “A holistic approach to the war on terror. I like it.”

    Parker’s hand tightened on the rifle he carried and his expression grew solemn. “Pass the word to your contacts. We’ll hit the compound an hour before dawn.” The night was cold and quiet. It sometimes snowed in these hills during December, but that was rare because overall the climate was too dry for much precipitation to fall. The temperature could get bone-chillingly cold, though, especially when the wind swept down from the Hindu Kush and whistled through the Khyber Pass.

Most Read
Top Books