Angel: An SOBs Novel

Prologue

It was an ordinary day. Weather was good and skies were clear. The operation was supposed to be hands-down easy. Retrieve the package. Waste any and all tangos on the way in. Bust ass to the extraction point on the way out. Exfil in record time. Job over. Go home. Kick your boots off. Kill a few beers.

Wasn’t working out that way.

Chief Chance Sinclair and his eight-man SEAL team had been tasked to retrieve a kidnapped missionary, a woman, Gillian Enright, from a band of Shining Path guerillas outside Lima, Peru. Where once the Shining Path wanted world domination and communism, now they wanted control of the country’s drug trade. Being converted to Christianity by bible thumping do-gooders from the heart of North America wasn’t on their agenda.

Mrs. Enright’s husband Reed had died fast and hard, but they’d taken Gillian hostage instead of hacking her to death by machete. They wanted three million from the Peruvian government for her release. Since the Enrights were Americans, the President of Peru contacted the President of the United States. In turn, he called an admiral friend.

When talks between the guerillas and the United States disintegrated, Chance’s SEAL Team won the lottery—and a CIA escort to Peru. There hadn’t been sufficient time to rehearse this extraction like they usually did, not with the woman’s life on the line. Chance had done enough of these rescues. His team knew what to do. So why was his gut pulling a U-turn on him when they had maybe twenty yards left to engage the tangos?

Because he had yet to spot any.

One step on dry land, and he’d already fisted his hand, signaling his men to stand fast. They’d just climbed out of the murky, snake-infested river at their rear. Geared-up as only Navy SEALs could be, with grease paint, waterproof grenades dangling from their belts, enough weaponry to start a war, waterlogged and crawling with mosquitoes and flies, they snapped to and held position.

Chance popped one of the peppermint candies he always packed around with him into his mouth to negate the after taste of the dirty river. He couldn’t shake the prickly sensation of spiders crawling up the back of his neck. He and his men were being watched. He was sure of it.

One quick look at the three POS shacks straight ahead made the sensation worse. No concertina wire. No lookout towers. No guards. Not even a curl of smoke from the fire pit to prove this band of Shining Path guerillas had recently been here. Yet this was the place.

“Something’s up, Chief,” Jimmy Superman Olsen whispered at his six, his voice of steel as firm as if this mess were just another bump in the road. “She was supposed to be here. A couple dozen assholes, too.”

“Then where is everyone?” Gerard Hot Shot Rowe bit out. Hot Shot was forever short on patience, hence the nickname. Both men had served with Chance for years. They knew each other’s moves, brews, and whether the other wore boxers or briefs. He owed them to do this right and to get them home safely, but Chance was no quitter like his old man. He owed that sister missionary safe passage out of Peru, too.

“Our fuckin’ intel’s wrong,” Kevin Chill Frost advised. The blood ran as cold as ice in the team’s best sniper’s veins.

Possibly.

It shouldn’t be wrong. It came straight from their missing CIA Agent Card, aka The Dick, not his real name. Assigned by higher-ups beyond CO Tom Bratton’s pay grade, this op had been screwed from the get-go, once the spook got involved. Central Intelligence didn’t play well with others. Neither did The Dick.

Like a privileged frat boy off-campus, he came and went as he pleased, offered random updates at the last damned moment, then ghosted when the going got tough. He’d been late for take-off, too. Made Chance’s team wait two hours on the tarmac for his sorry ass like they had nothing better to do. Like now, when seconds counted. When lives hung in the balance.

“Where’s Card?” Chance asked, his eyes still parsing the scene ahead.

“Said he had to take a leak a mile back,” Merrick Ears Wong, his communications guy, reported. “You were underwater by then, or I’d have told you. Thought the shithead’d be back by now.”

“What? He couldn’t pee in the river like everyone else?” Darrell Texas Contreras grumbled.

Chance understood why Ears hadn’t reported sooner. Helmet mics might be waterproof, but a man still couldn’t speak underwater. It figured Card would wait until then to take off. “Contact him, Ears,” Chance ordered. “I want his ass with us when we go in.”

Ears adjusted his headset, and dialed The Dick. A grim shake of his head told Chance all he needed to know. Card wasn’t answering. As usual. A man could only hope an anaconda or something just as lethal had swallowed the sniveling bastard whole for all the good he’d been. Not that it mattered. The primary goal of this mission was to rescue this lone woman from the Shining Path, not to save Card’s ass. Chance didn’t intend to deviate.

Superman cleared his throat, an outright question in spec ops lingo: Are we going in or bugging out?

Chance stalled, still quarterbacking the scene, second-guessing and not willing to risk his men for what sure as hell felt like an ambush. He damned well knew it, but this crap was what SEALs did every single day. The impossible.

“Move out,” he ordered, “but keep it tight. We’ve got ten minutes to get in and get out. Keep your eyes open. This one stinks.”

“To high heaven,” came back from Texas.

Infiltration went as smooth as grease through a fully automatic, pneumatic grease gun on a hot day. While Texas and Ears circled the camp to intercept any strays, Chance and Superman took the hut at the far right, weapons drawn. Hot Shot and Stokes Gun Powder Remington zeroed in, center stage. Pete Ducky Newton and Walker Crack Martinez rushed left. Two shots rang out.

“All clear,” Hot Shot reported.

“Targets neutralized,” Ducky seconded.

Chance plowed straight through his assigned target with Superman on his rear. They’d encountered no dirtbags, but found Mrs. Enright beyond the hut, damn it. She’d been crucified, nailed to a dirty wooden cross and left in the open like a door prize. Blood still dripped from the palms of her punctured hands and feet. Chance’s gut churned at this obvious trap. “They’re still here,” he growled. “I know damned well they are.”

“Copy that,” Crack hissed. “I can smell ’em.”

“Just can’t see ’em,” Ducky growled. “Want me to shoot the trees to see what falls out.”

“Or who,” Superman said.

“Later,” Chance growled. The package was in critical condition. Her open shirt flapped at her sides like a dirty rag. Swarms of black flies feasted on her bare, bloodied chest.

Superman spit to the side. “Fuck. They carved her up.”

“Heads on swivels, boys,” Chance warned as he and Superman eased the wooden beam holding Gillian Enright out of its hole and to the ground. Once down, Chance jerked the extra T-shirt he always carried from one of his many pants pocket. Ripping it from its sealed plastic bag, he draped it over her for modesty’s sake. The poor woman’s eyes flashed open. A wretched growl began deep in her chest and quickly graduated to a blood-curdling scream.

“Medic,” Chance ordered even as his hands came forward to placate the traumatized woman. “Take it easy, ma’am. We’re Americans and we’re taking you home,” he told her, keeping his voice low and his tone level. She was a tiny, blonde thing, no more than college student age. Shit. Just looking at her hurt.

She blinked as if she didn’t trust her eyes. “A-Americans?” God, the torment in her voice.

“SEALs,” Superman hissed. “We’re SEALs, ma’am, America’s best. You’re going to be okay.”

Chance wasn’t so sure about her being okay or that they were America’s best, but that was what SEALs did. They took out the bad guys and one-by-one, they gave the world hope when it needed it most.

Those words seemed to calm her, while Ducky administered a tiny hypo of morphine. He’d gotten his nickname because he was good with emergency first-aid, like some dude on some NCIS show. The moment she slumped into oblivion, everything got easier.

Chance scanned the immediate area for the hammer used to do this dirty work, but came up with nothing. “Find me something to pull these nails out,” he snapped at his guys.

Hot Shot shook his head. “Told you. There’s nothing here. Use what you’ve got.”

Superman already had his Leatherman in hand.

“Jesus Christ, we don’t have time for this,” Chance hissed to himself. “Get it done.”

“On it.” Superman put one boot to the crossbeam, got a good grip with the multi-tool, and jerked a long rusty nail out of Gillian’s left hand. He tossed the tool to Chance, who freed her right hand while Ducky began a temporary saline drip to keep her stable during transport. Once in the air, he could commence better treatment, but they were running out of time.

Carefully, Chance tugged the three vicious nails out of her feet, damned sorry he’d hurt her. If he lived to be a hundred, he’d never understand what drove some men to brutalize the fairer sex. It made no sense.

Getting her across the river and back to the Army Blackhawk was another problem, but Ducky was one step ahead. He wrapped her in waterproof plastic, then sealed the edges with duct tape to keep her wounds as clean and dry as possible.

“Contact Gleason,” Chance ordered. “We’ll be coming in hot.”

Ears cursed under his breath. “Been trying, Chief. No answer.”

That brought everyone’s heads up. Without Chief Warrant Officer Gleason, the Blackhawk’s pilot, they were screwed.

“Try again,” Chance snapped. Shit! Could anything else go wrong?

While Ears complied, the others reported their findings. No beds or mats. No food on site. And no guerillas. “There’s a shithole that direction,” Crack chin nodded to the jungle north of the huts. “Smells plenty fresh. They haven’t been gone long.”

The targets he’d eliminated earlier ended up being two large rats the size of small dogs, which explained some of the wounds on the lady at hand. She’d been imprisoned with them, poor thing.

“Gleason’s still MIA,” Ears reported, his head cocked and waiting on Chance’s order.

Shit! No tangos, no Card, and no Gleason. Didn’t matter. Their ten minutes were gone. “Pack her up and let’s roll,” Chance told his men, his gut on fire with a steady ‘get-the-hell-out-of-there-an-do-it-right-now!’

Moving fast, Gun Powder cradled the package like a baby, his eyes wide at what was left of the woman in his arms. She’d been stronger than most to have survived thus far, but she’d have to be stronger still for what lay ahead. Chance had his doubts. Gillian was in obvious shock and she’d lost a lot of blood. He didn’t want to think what those rats had infected her with.

Back to the river they went, then straight across with Gun Powder floating Gillian on her back in a lifeguard grip. Superman and Hot Shot hung close by to assist. In thirty minutes, Chance and his team stood on the opposite shore within sight of the Blackhawk.

Once again his men waited on his decision. The Army’s stealth modified bird rested one klick ahead, its skids planted in knee-high grass, its rotors as still as the suffocating humidity. Chance had yet to receive a ‘Copy that’ from his calls to Gleason for assistance.

Jesus Christ, what now? Rescue Gleason and Card?

The muddy ground beneath their boots had been recently chewed up by heavy machinery. Metal track marks led everywhere, but they were old news. They’d been there when they’d landed. Chance hadn’t cared then, but he did now. Logging trucks and tanks left those kinds of tracks, so why were no trees in this area cleared? He motioned Crack and Texas to scout right while Chill and Ducky went left.

Gun Powder knelt to Chance’s right, Gillian secure in his arms, her head against his chest. Chance had to look twice. Gun Powder held her hands together with one hand so her arms wouldn’t flop at her sides. That was thoughtful. He held the pistol in his free hand ready to protect her. That was smart.

“Get Bratton on the line,” Chance told Ears while the rest of his guys waited on intel, their rifles ready. CO Bratton needed to know what they were up against.

“Look,” Gun Powder hissed. “There. In the tree.” He tilted forward. His knee barely slid forward in the mud when—

BOOM!

The Earth lifted beneath Chance, rag-dolling him end over end into a massive tree trunk. He hit hard. The leafy jungle toppled around him like dominoes. Stinging blood and gore splashed into his eyes. A blinding shockwave rippled over him as a swarm of killer bees nailed his face. Stinging the shit out of him. Biting. Chewing through his scalp.

His last thought? ‘Mom!’