Author:William Johnstone

    When Brad Parker was a kid, he had read adventure stories about this region by authors like Talbot Mundy and Robert E. Howard. He would have given a lot to have some guys like Athelstan King—“King of the Khyber Rifles!”—or Francis Xavier Gordon with him 48

    tonight. Gordon, also known as El Borak, Howard’s Texas gunfighter turned American agent in the Hindu Kush, would have known how to handle terrorists. Hell, he probably would have been able to ferret out Osama bin Laden.

    But that was fiction, and long-ago fiction at that. This was real. This was now.

    This was the time when the killing was about to start again.

    Parker and Odie and twenty-two other men were pressed against the wall of the compound. Millions of stars glittered in the frigid heavens above the village.

    The light from those stars failed to glitter on the barrels of the M-4 rifles the men held, because the metal sur-faces of the weapons had been rubbed down with soot.

    They could be cleaned up later, when this early morning’s work was finished.

    Odie had led Parker to the house where the tribal f ighters were gathered. They were f ierce, dark-faced men. Most sported jutting black beards. Black cloaks concealed their lighter-colored clothing. Their eyes had burned with hatred in the lantern light inside the house.

    The only electricity in the village was in the compound, powered by a generator. But that allowed the whole place to be lit up with floodlights whenever danger threatened, Haj al-Barmuz explained to Parker. Haj was the eldest son of the man who had been beheaded at the orders of the foreign sheikh.

    “The first thing we’ll need to do is knock out that generator,” Parker had said in the local tribal dialect to Haj and the other men. He wasn’t as fluent in that tongue as Odie was, but they didn’t expect him to be. They knew he was an American and were willing to forgive that, since he was also the enemy of their enemy. Nor had JACKKNIFE


    the older men among them forgotten how the Americans had helped the mujahideen in neighboring Afghanistan fight back against the invading Soviets, more than a quarter of a century earlier.

    Of course, the mujahideen had repaid the Americans for that aid by fostering some of the most virulently anti-American terrorists to be found anywhere, and Parker hadn’t forgotten that. These men who were his allies tonight might want to behead him as a godless infidel tomorrow . . . but he would worry about that once the Hizb ut-Tahrir training compound had been destroyed.

    Odie had referred to the place as Jihad U., and that was a good description of it. Fanatics from all across the Middle East and even as far away as Europe came here to learn all the skills necessary to carry out terrorist strikes anywhere in the world. Hizb ut-Tahrir meant

    “the party of liberation,” and while the group’s original purpose had been to assist the Palestinians in driving out the Israelis, in recent years their goal had grown to include forcing all the foreign devils off Islamic soil.

    These efforts were aimed mostly at the American military, which still had a considerable presence in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East, but some of the European countries, notably England and France, had come in for their share of grief. Members of Hizb ut-Tahrir had their bloody hands in all sorts of pies; even when other groups claimed responsibility for terror attacks, like the recent deadly bombings in Liver-pool and Marseille, the operations had been financed by Hizb ut-Tahrir and the suicide bombers had been trained in their grisly work right here at this very compound.

    When Parker had mentioned taking out the generator, Haj had grinned and motioned for a couple of his men to open a wooden chest in a corner of the room. From it they 50

    took a pair of RPG launchers. Parker recognized the weapons immediately. They were older models, but the rocket-propelled grenades they fired still packed a punch.

    Parker gave Haj an approving nod, and didn’t bother asking where the men had gotten the launchers. He didn’t care, as long as the damned things worked.

    “We know the building in which the generator is located,” Haj had explained. “Two of my men will blow it up, and then the rest of us will attack.” Those two men would be taking a big chance, Parker had thought, but he didn’t bother saying it. The guys would know what they were letting themselves in for.

    The group had a three-quarter-ton truck. The plan called for that truck to crash through the gates of the compound, carrying a driver and the two men who would handle the grenade launchers. As soon as the gates were breached and the generator had been knocked out, the other men would enter the compound and begin killing everyone they could find before placing explosive charges to level the place.

    The current class of trainees gave the enemy a numer-ical advantage, but the would-be jihadists hadn’t been there for very long. They were raw, mostly untrained, and untested when it came to their fighting skills. The odds against Parker’s group of ten were not insurmountable.

    Death and destruction were the main goals, but ac-quiring intel was always vital. Parker planned to scour the place from one end to the other as soon as all the occupants were dead and see what he could find before they blew it up. You never knew what a raid like this might uncover. The plans for 9/11 had been floating around for quite a while before the day itself arrived. All those deaths could have been prevented with a stroke of luck here and there.


    Odie touched Parker’s arm and leaned close to his ear in the darkness. “The truck’s coming,” Odie said.

    Parker heard the low grumble of the engine, too, and thought that if he could hear it, so could the guards inside the compound. But they wouldn’t think anything of it, he told himself. This was an agricultural area. The guards would think that one of the local farmers was coming in early to get a jump on everybody else at the market.

    Parker squeezed Odie’s shoulder. “Pass the word,” he whispered. “Tell everybody to be ready to move.” Parker’s heart slugged hard in his chest. After all this time, all the covert actions, all the firefights, he still felt adrenaline coursing through him and was grateful for it.

    If he ever reached the point where his heart didn’t beat fast before going into battle, it would be time to give up this job. Go back to Langley and stand in a classroom and teach other agents how to carry out ops like this.

    Yeah, like that was going to happen.

    Like he would ever live that long.

    The truck rounded a corner, starting to pick up speed as it came into view, and headed straight toward the gates. The guards inside tumbled pretty quickly to what was going on. Parker heard them yelling to each other in Arabic. Floodlights mounted on the walls blazed into life, illuminating both the interior of the compound and the area outside the walls. Parker squinted against the glare. Guns began to pop and bullets pinged off the front of the truck, which had steel plates bolted to it to serve as primitive armor. Men inside the compound screeched in surprise and outrage.

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, boys, Parker thought as he tightened his grip on his rifle.


    The truck never slowed down, even though several bullets found the windshield and spiderwebbed the glass. That meant either the driver wasn’t hit or if he was, he was still able to keep his foot on the gas pedal.

    The truck hit the gates with a shattering, rending crash of metal and wood.

    The volume of fire from inside the compound increased. Even though Parker couldn’t see what was going on from where he was, he had been over the plan enough times with Haj and the other tribal fighters to know what was happening. The two men with grenade launchers were drawing beads on the building that housed the generator, exposing themselves to the fire of the guards so they could get a clean shot . . .

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