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Thanks so much for purchasing The Callsign, my first ebook short story. Every Special Operations unit has a history that's unique, along with an evolution that's not necessarily all honey and rainbows. I thought it would be fun to delve into the Taskforce at its creation and get a brief glimpse of its early players and their first mission. As an added bonus, you'll find an exclusive preview of my next book, Enemy of Mine, included at the end. This extended preview is only available to readers of The Callsign. I hope you enjoy them both!
Charleston, South Carolina
"Lima Echo just turned around. I say again, Lima Echo headed back toward target."
It was the absolute worst call I could have received, because it meant the cop law enforcement, or Lima Echo had seen something he didn't like. Which was probably related to our be.ing in the process of breaking into a building on Broad Street.
Retro was in a vehicle providing outer security, precisely be.cause he blended in to the current environment. Actually, he blended in to just about any environment. He was a plain-look.ing guy, not too tall, not too short. A gray man that you tended to forget as soon as he'd passed you. The only thing that stood out was his clothing. He'd quit buying civilian duds the minute he entered the Army, and everything he wore looked like he was going to a flashback costume party. Hence his callsign.
"Retro, this is Pike. Was it a hard turn, or is he just doing a routine patrol? Did we spike?"
The dumbest thing we could do was panic simply because a random patrol car had decided to turn around. Something I wanted to convey over the radio to the man doing the B&E to keep him from executing an action that would elevate the situation unnecessarily. Which was a trait I was beginning to worry about in my second-in-command.
"Pike, Retro. I can't tell. He definitely picked an odd road to do the U-turn on, but it is four blocks away. Nothing on the radio, so he didn't think enough about it to call it in. All I can say is, he's headed back."
Cop's coming, and a timeline I can't meet. This is bullshit.
I had no idea if the policeman was real or if he was roleplaying. I'd never conducted a live exercise in an actual, real-world city, and the distinction had the potential to be catastrophic. If this guy was paid by the City of Charleston, and not read on to the exercise, I could possibly make the news in a big way as a member of a new counterterrorist unit that operated outside the bounds of any legal chain of command, answering only to the national command authority.
The B&E was just an exercise, but its outcome held much, much more risk than any other I had ever participated in. Certainly more than any exercise I had been in charge of. Back then I'd always had the big Army to fall back on, so I felt distinctly out of my element here. I couldn't shoot my way out. Shit, I couldn't even threaten violence. I was supposed to be in and out without anyone knowing, a mission that wasn't playing to my strength of breaking things.
"Kranz, Reaper, this is Pike. Break contact. Get out." "Screw that. We don't have the time. Don't get your panties in a wad. I've been here before. Nothing to worry about."
I recognized Kranz's voice. My know-it-all second-in-command. A guy from the CIA's National Clandestine Service that had apparently seen more Jason Bourne-type action than Matt Damon himself something he loved to share at every opportunity. I had my doubts, since he had a little bit of a gut and smoked cigarettes like a chimney. I couldn't see him running more than a block before putting his hands on his knees, no matter what skills he professed to have.
"Jesse, give me a status."
"Car's still creeping, but no flashing lights or anything."
Jesse had also come over from the NCS, but unlike Kranz he showed some serious talent. He was the youngest on the team and looked like a college student, but he was a smart problem solver who was ice under pressure. I was pretty sure Kranz embarrassed him.
The rest of the team was pure commando. Retro and Bull were Special Forces, and both had worked with me in my last unit. We'd all been recruited together as a package. Reaper was a SEAL, and appeared to be okay.
Kranz was the issue. He seemed to have little-dick syndrome, and he was always trying to prove he was as big of a badass as the military guys.
"Kranz, get your ass out of the building. You still have time."
I heard nothing for a moment, and then Reaper came on. His voice sounded clinical, but I could read the underlying anger.
"Pike, we've penetrated the office, but we left evidence."
That jackass broke a door or a window.
Then the situation got worse.
"Pike, Pike, lights are on. Lima Echo is coming hard."
I started moving immediately, trying to get a read on the approaching vehicle. "Reaper, Kranz, you hit an alarm. Get out. Get out." Kranz said, "Five seconds. Might as well get what we came for."
The police car swung into an empty parking space right out front, hitting the building with its spotlight and causing patrons from the local bars to become a gaggle of onlookers. I saw the officer in the driver's seat shouting into a radio, scared.
Not a roleplayer. We're in deep shit.
The mission just went from exercise to real world because there was no way I could allow the police to compromise our fledgling little unit. After 9/11 my boss, Kurt Hale, had realized the limitations inherent in our own government's fight against radical Islam and set out hell-bent on making drastic changes. With the new administration he'd finally succeeded. We'd only been up and running for four months, and it was looking like we were going to end up on CNN as a bunch of clowns. Which would more than likely cause the resignation of the president of the United States.
I slipped into the shadows, heading away from the target building. "Retro, what do you have on the scanner?" "He's talking. Calling in backup. He's been told to hold fast until it arrives."
So I had maybe a minute to solve the problem.
"Kranz, Reaper, status?"
Reaper came back, running somewhere and panting, "Got the target package. Headed to the roof. We'll escape through the cemetery on the north side. Pickup on Church Street."
"Roger that. You got about a minute to hit the ground before they lock this place down. Jesse, you got exfil. Retro, what do you have?"
Before he even answered, I heard the sirens then heard more bad news.
"Pike, on the roof and there's no fire escape. We can't get down."
What the hell?
"Reaper, climb the damn building. It's granite stone with ledges at each floor. Nothing to it." "Uhh… Roger. I can do it, but Kranz can't."
That damn liar.
Kranz had been placed as my second-in-command by Kurt, a little bit of forced love between the military guys and the CIA. I understood the reasoning; the Taskforce was supposed to be a blending of elements that was legally stove-piped by United States code. But somebody should have done some fact checking before Kranz was allowed to go operational. I had no idea how the CIA had picked the men to participate. Clearly Kurt trusted them to use some selection process, but he had been relying on his own experiences. Each of the military members had been handpicked from special mission units in the Department of Defense. In effect, we were already the cream of the crop. Though it was looking like that wasn't the case on the CIA side.
Two patrol cars, sirens blaring and lights flashing passed me in my little hide site on Meeting Street and kept going.
My mind switched into high gear, leaving the quandary of the exercise behind, moving seamlessly into combat mode. Some.thing I knew a little about. Something that was distinctly in my element.
Solve the problem.
"Reaper, find an anchor point for a rope. Jesse, meet me at the north cemetery gate on Meeting and Broad. Bring the exfil vehicle with the kit. Retro, you there?"
"Hey, bud, hate to do this to you, but we've got two ways to go here. Either we get Reaper and Kranz out quickly, or we slow down the response. And getting them out quick doesn't look like an option."
I heard nothing for a second, then, "Uhh… yeah. I don't like the sound of that. How am I going to slow down the response?" I poked a feeble beam from a penlight at the map affixed to my forearm and said, "See the art gallery two buildings over
from the target?"
"I need you to make them think they're at the wrong target. Make them think we're after the art and used the real-estate
building to penetrate."
"I need you to do a B&E. Right now."
"Pike, I've got a view of the street," Retro said. "There are people all over, staring at the show. I can't pick a lock on the front door in full view of everyone."
I saw Jesse with the exfil van round the corner and shot my penlight at his windshield to get his attention. "Get to the back. There's an alley between the buildings. All I need you to do is trip an alarm."
I heard the skid of the police vehicles from a hundred meters away and knew I had about a minute before they coordinated and began a search.
"Retro, we're out of time. I need that alarm right now."