"Outstanding . . . This military adventure thriller deserves to become a genre classic."Publishers Weekly, starred review
New York Times bestselling author Col. David Hunt and R. J. Pineiro have teamed up for a second action-packed, Hunter Stark thriller steeped in authenticity: Without Fear.
Southern Afghanistan, 2005. NATO forces are battling the Taliban across Kandahar Province. In a terrifying twist, the rebels unearth a tactical nuclear bomb lost in the final days of the Soviet occupation. The years buried in the sand have damaged it, so the Taliban seeks the help of al Qaeda to secure replacement parts through its contacts in Saudi Arabia, the Opium Cartel, and the Russian Mafia. Doing so, however, inadvertently alerts the Americans, the Russians, and the Israelis.
Hunter Stark and his team of CIA contractors are on the chase, dispensing explosive waves of violence to track where the Taliban is hiding the weapon. But Russian Spetsnaz and Israeli Mossad operatives are also in the region following their own agendasas is NATOtriggering chaos and confusion.
The stakes skyrocket when a courier delivers the components and the weapon becomes functional, forcing Stark to drive full throttle, without fear, into a world of terror, going beyond duty and honor to prevent the unthinkable.
About the Author
COLONEL DAVID HUNT has spent almost thirty years fighting our nation's wars. He is a New York Times bestselling author and has been a commentator with Fox News for more than sixteen years. Hunt lives in Maine with his family.
R.J. PINEIRO is a thirty-year veteran of the computer industry as well as the author of many internationally acclaimed novels, including Shutdown, Cyberterror, Firewall, 01-01-00, and The Fall. Pineiro makes his home incentral Texas with his wife, Lory.
Read an Excerpt
No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.
— General George S. Patton
COMPOUND 45. NORTH OF LASHKAR GAH. SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN.
Colonel Hunter Stark used an ATN DNVM-4 digital night vision monocular to follow the movements of his sniper, Sergeant Major Ryan Hunt, who advanced methodically, almost imperceptibly, under a quarter moon.
Like a predator, Ryan crept through the thicket in search of the perfect vantage point on the hill overlooking the compound designated by their CIA employer as a Taliban IED factory.
A ghillie suit, a net garment covered in loose strips of burlap designed to blend its user with the environment, broke up Ryan's slim physique.
Stark frowned. The same camouflage suit that helped keep Ryan hidden made it difficult for him to track the sniper's movements, even with the night vision gadget.
"Where the hell's Pretty Boy, Colonel?" whispered Master Sergeant Evan Larson, his large frame kneeling next to Stark on a wide ledge protruding beyond the rocky hill, roughly a hundred feet above their target. The windowless one-story structure surrounded by a six-foot-tall mud wall had a single access point wide enough for a truck. But it lacked a gate or outside guards. About a hundred feet separated the compound from the perimeter wall, forming an inner courtyard that Stark viewed more as a buffer zone, a place for those inside the compound to fire on anyone approaching the premises unannounced.
"It's okay to be jealous, Chief," replied Ryan over the secure channel.
Prior to the start of the raid, Stark had made sure his team switched off all sat phones and muted the sounds on all electronic equipment, including the black Casio G-Shock watches everyone wore. Only the AN/PRC-148 Multiband Inter/Intra Team Radios, the MBITRs, remained enabled, though connected to earpieces and voice-activated throat mikes designed to pick up the slightest of whispers.
"Not my fault you look like Steroids-R-Us and can't get dates," Ryan added. "At least from two-legged species."
Stark glanced over at his second-in-command and watched him grin. Even on his knees Larson's bulk rose above him ominously, his head wrapped in a desert camouflage bandanna, his eyes hidden behind a pair of PS15 night vision goggles. He held a massive M2 Browning .50-caliber air-cooled machine gun that made Stark's Heckler & Koch MP5A1 suppressed submachine gun look like something from aisle three at Toys-R-Us.
"He's almost in place," the colonel said, stretching a gloved finger toward an outcrop roughly five hundred feet to their right. "I'm more worried about those damn dogs by the entrance."
"Yeah," Larson whispered in his baritone voice, before pointing to their left. "And the goats."
"These hags aren't stupid when it comes to simple security," said Stark, shifting the DNVM4 to the large clearing separating the compound from the foot of the hill.
The goats and dogs roaming around by the gateless entrance to the courtyard and inside the grounds served two purposes: to sustain those who cared for them with food, and also with money, once they were sold, and as an early warning system. Dogs and goats possessed great senses, barking and bleating when something bothered them.
Excellent proximity alarms on four legs, Stark thought, which also explained the lack of outside guards. As long as the animals remained quiet, there was no reason for anyone to venture out. But the presence of the animals meant there were no IEDs buried in the area.
The colonel fingered the adjusting wheel on the DNVM-4, scanning the edge of the trees until he spotted two more ghillie suits, worn by his last two operators, both former Navy SEALs, Michael Hagen and Danny Martin, the latter also a heck of a pilot. But on this pitch-black night they did not hold MP5A1s. Their suppressed weapons were slung behind their backs, freeing their hands for the bags they carried. Martin was after the Afghan shepherds, locally called Kuchis, and was armed with bags filled with chunks of raw beef laced with etorphine, a semisynthetic opioid one thousand times more powerful than morphine. Hagen had goat detail, carrying two bags of Manna Pro treats made with real anise, delivering a licorice flavor goats found irresistible — and also spiked with the powerful tranquilizer.
Stark watched the green images of his men, which the DNVM-4 amplified from the available starlight, toss their goods into the clearing before retreating into the forest.
"You guys missed your calling," said Chief Larson over the secure channel. "Petting zoo specialists."
Stark shook his head.
"Hey, Ryan," said Martin. "Didn't you tell me that using steroids shrinks the Big Dipper?" "Yep. Turns it into the Little Dipper," replied Ryan. "I keep telling the chief that."
"Ahh," said Martin. "That explains the Browning."
"Think a mustache will help?" asked Ryan. Martin had recently grown one that made him look like a 1980s porn star.
"Nah," Martin replied. "You need the rest of the package to go along with it."
"Screw you both," said Larson. "I'll have you know I'm proportionate everywhere."
"Knock it off," said Stark, focusing the DNVM-4 on the animals sleeping along the perimeter wall surrounding the dark compound.
Slowly, like ghosts materializing out of thin air, four Kuchis stood by the entrance and took a few tentative steps toward the lure. They were large, white dogs, measuring almost three feet at the withers and sporting massive jaws. Intrigued, they moved gradually — and most importantly, quietly — alerted by their olfactory receptors and possessing almost three hundred million of them, compared to the six million in humans. Primal carnivore instincts overpowered their normal reflexes to protect the grounds. Ignoring the goat treats, they went straight for the beef.
It took the strong narcotic less than a minute to drop the dogs as they walked back to the perimeter wall.
The goats came into view a moment later from inside the patio, dark green shapes appearing by the entrance and venturing beyond the wall, grazing about, pausing to test the air. Their sense of smell, although quite keen, was more optimized to detect predators than treats, so it took just a bit longer for the herd to pick up the licorice scent. Stepping around the sleeping lumps of their shepherd friends, they foraged the clearing quickly, and also quietly, and within a minute all movement ceased on the grounds.
"Hey, look, Chief," Martin said. "Sleeping goats. Maybe you'll get lucky."
"Nope," Ryan chimed in. "There will be absolutely no patronizing with sedated goats."
"That's okay, boys," Larson replied. "Sooner or later you will have to sleep."
Stark looked at his large second-in-command and sighed, focusing his energy on the task at hand by asking, "How's the range, Ryan?"
"Comfortable, Colonel. Five hundred yards. In position."
The instant the sniper signaled that he had set up his McMillan TAC-50 rifle fitted with a sound suppressor on a rocky ledge, Stark put away the monocular and lowered his set of PS15 goggles.
"We're live," he said, starting the digital stopwatch on his Casio while giving the order to start this CIA-financed raid. According to satellite and UAV images, plus an earlier recon of the target in daylight, a dozen men occupied the compound, some as guards and the rest as explosives technicians. Improvised explosive devices were the number one cause of injury reaching the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield, or KAF, and the U.S. government had launched a covert campaign to eliminate them at their origin.
The team advanced in almost total darkness, reaching the edge of the clearing and pausing in the waist-high brush. Stark had considered a diversion, perhaps a car crash on the compound's north wall, but he feared telegraphing his position and having the rebels inside blow themselves up — and his team along with them. And besides, it was so damn dark that unless the residents had night vision equipment, all they'd see would be the muzzle flashes of his team's suppressed weapons before their brains were ejected from their skulls.
So stealth was the name of the game, and Colonel Stark left that in the capable hands of Martin and Hagen, who advanced first. The former SEALs covered the couple hundred feet of dark expanse in under thirty seconds, stepping around the still figures of dogs and goats with the grace of NFL running backs, finally reaching the perimeter wall just to the right of the entrance.
"Still clear, Romeo?" asked Larson.
"Crystal," replied Ryan.
Stark checked his watch. Fifteen seconds.
Larson took off next while Stark brought up the rear, using his MP5A1's sights to scan the top of the compound's wall, the entrance, and the tree line behind them.
He pressed his back against the mud wall next to Larson, across the entrance from Hagen and Martin, whose camouflaged faces stared at him, MP5A1s held tight against their chests, bulky sound suppressors pointed at the ground.
Stark looked up the hill in Ryan's general direction.
"'Twas the night before Ramadan," the sniper began, "when all thro' the IED house, not a creature was stirring, not even a hag."
Stark pointed the index and middle fingers of his left hand at Martin and Hagen, before stretching his thumb toward the interior patio.
The two SEALs moved at once, covering each other while zigzagging across the courtyard, before settling on a spot to the right of the compound's metal door.
"Behind me, Chief," Stark said, also going through the entrance, taking fifteen seconds to cross the patio and reach the other side of the door, back pressed against the stone wall. Larson joined him a moment later.
There were a number of options available to Stark at that moment, including setting off a shaped charge to take off the door, getting Chief Larson to blast its hinges with the Browning, or even having Martin pick the latch, which appeared simple enough. But all of those options carried the risk of his team rushing into the business end of a half dozen AK-47s if the interior force was somehow aware of their advance.
Or worse, setting off a chain reaction of IEDs.
So the colonel chose another way, nodding to Martin, who produced a smartphone.
"Play it," Stark said, checking the Casio and reading forty-eight seconds.
"Play what?" asked Larson, obviously confused.
"Your girlfriend, Chief," whispered Martin. His thick blond mustache shifted as he added, "Taped her while you were tapping her."
Before Larson could reply, the audio clip of a couple of goats bleating broke the silence in the patio.
Even Hagen, who never smiled, could not hold back a grin while Larson gave Martin the bird. Stark kept his eyes on the door, MP5A1 ready.
The trick worked. Within thirty seconds the door swung open and three men hauling AK-47s rushed out.
But they didn't get very far.
Stark shot two in the back of the head, the suppressed mechanism absorbing the reports while exit wounds vaporized their foreheads. Martin took care of the third one as the hag realized the ruse and tried to pull back, putting a 9mm round through his left temple, dropping him right over his fallen comrades.
"No other hags in sight," reported Ryan, who had line of sight into the compound's open door. "Must be nestled, all snug in their beds."
The group went inside, Stark now leading, the MP5A1 up by his face, shooting eye scanning the foyer with Larson, Martin, and Hagen in tow.
Stark surprised two more guards drinking from cans of Coca-Cola in the hallway, and another one just beyond them, sitting by a pair of double doors with his head back against the wall, eyes closed, his AK-47 resting by his feet.
Two shots to the head each and the front of the factory was secured.
Stark pushed the dead guards aside and kicked the doors open, surprising six technicians, each huddled behind a worktable under bright fluorescent lights, surrounded by what had to be at least several thousand pounds of Semtex. Shelves and tables were jam-packed with aluminum pipes, detonators, timers, coils of wire, assorted tools, and other hardware — all the necessary ingredients to separate NATO soldiers from their limbs.
The air was thick with grease, solder, and body odor. The techs glared at Stark and his men in disbelief, their wide-eyed stares telegraphing the horror they felt when facing four armed men in full tactical gear, including body armor and goggles.
One of the techs tried to reach for something under his table. Stark shot him twice in the face and he collapsed right over his work.
The remaining five quickly raised their hands when their colleague's brains splattered across the mud floor.
"Looks like the spooks were right for once," Stark mumbled, checking the Casio. Two minutes, to the second. They had found an IED mecca as well as several computers, tablets, and a dozen smartphones. "Call them, Chief."
Larson took off to contact the CIA contingent standing by a mile away.
Once the compound was secured and all technicians were flex-cuffed and hauled to the front of the building, Stark and team were to pull back to perimeter duty the moment the CIA showed up. Their goal this evening was to neutralize the site so that Langley officers could collect laptops, phones, and other gadgets that could be used to help locate other such facilities.
"Looks like we get full bonuses tonight, boys," said Ryan.
Their contract included a clause for cash — and therefore tax-free — bonuses for every live tech they could deliver to their CIA employers. And since they had caught five techs, it meant each member of the team would get a full share on top of their regular pay. Stark had Martin use his smartphone to snap photos of their captives to include in his report.
"Vegas, here I come," said Martin, popping one of his watermelon-flavored lollipops into his mouth before snapping images of each tech. The man had managed to quit smoking a year ago and now sucked on the damn things constantly. He rejoined Stark and Larson, who stood just beyond the entrance, by the comatose goats and dogs.
Hagen, the quiet one of the group, caught up to Martin while producing a pack of Sobranie Classics, a heavy-tar brand of the legendary Russian cigarettes, and a lighter. Always a heavy smoker, Hagen had gotten hooked on the strong brand during a short mission in Moscow back in 2002. He lit one up and blew the smoke in Martin's face as they walked side by side.
"You know, Mickey," Martin said, as they reached Stark and Larson, pointing at him with the lollipop before shoving it back in his mouth, "for being a damn mute you can certainly be an asshole."
"Cover the perimeter," Stark told them, while Larson stepped aside, the bulky satellite phone pressed against his right ear, the Browning slung over his left shoulder.
Hagen and Martin walked away, their MP5A1s at the ready as they disappeared beyond the outer wall's entrance.
Stark kept his weapon pointed straight at their line of cash cows secured next to the building's entrance. Their hands were flex-cuffed behind their backs, with the same large black zip-ties securing their ankles. And just for added security, Hagen and Martin had zip-tied the left ankle of one tech to the right ankle of the guy next to him.
They were all quite young, probably in their late teens, barely able to sport some semblance of the Sharia law mandatory beards. Three had already pissed their baggy pants from the same raw fear that glared in their wide-eyed stares, and based on the pungent smell, at least one of them had taken a shit.
Like most Taliban recruits, these kids were probably plucked straight out of farming villages or the back alleys of Kandahar or Lashkar Gah and forced to work at gunpoint or out of fear of retaliation against their families back home.
But to Stark, young or not, forced or not, afraid or not, the hags at his feet were directly responsible for the dismembering or deaths of American fighting personnel.
And today was judgment day.
Chief Larson kept the sat phone pressed against the side of his face, listening for about a minute. Nodding twice before saying, "Roger that," he hung up and clipped the phone to his utility belt before walking back to Stark. "Colonel, the spooks are on their —"
"Chief! Behind you!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Without Fear"
Copyright © 2018 David Hunt and R. J. Pineiro.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
2. Divine Sign,
5. Alternate Plan,
6. Thumb Drive,
7. Rules of Three,
8. Red One One,
9. Battlefield Promotion,
12. Simply Irresistible,
13. Janki Mishka,
15. Reversal of Fortune,
16. Tribal Warfare,
17. The Enemy of My Enemy,
18. No Honor Among Thieves,
19. The Tip of the Spear,
20. The Ba'i,
21. Piss and Vinegar,
23. A Pound of Flesh,
25. Second Fiddle,
26. Spooks, Feds, and Grunts,
27. Light My Fire,
28. A Pinch of Luck,
29. Sharia Law,
30. Military Intelligence,
32. Straight From The Horse's Mouth,
33. Let Them Come,
34. Six Six Zulu,
35. Rules of Engagement,
36. Bounding Overwatch,
37. Into the Fray,
38. Fire and Movement,
39. A Fair Fight,
40. Jarhead Justice,
41. Sweet Point,
42. Come Back to Me,
44. Doer of Deeds,
45. Narrowing Choices,
46. Lady Luck,
47. Trading Value,
48. Flash of Destruction,
49. Delivery Service,
50. Every Last One of Them,
51. Muy Caliente,
52. Portrait of a Bully,
53. Family History,
56. Knife to a Gunfight,
57. Role 3,
58. New Mission,
60. Heart of a Smuggler,
61. One Good Point,
62. New Faces,
66. A Bloody Mess,
67. Fire at Will,
68. The Loo,
69. Good to Go,
71. Close Encounters,
75. Dirty Business,
76. Not This Time,
77. A Means to an End,
79. Coping Mechanism,
80. Compromising Position,
81. Bloody Winch,
82. Bloody Fool,
83. Following Orders,
85. Miss Cruz,
87. The Throne of Solomon,
88. The Color of Islam,
90. Final Fight,
91. Hasty Retreat,
94. So Be It,
95. Lock and Load,
96. Bad Omen,
97. Hold Your Breath,
98. Grand Scale,
99. Ladies First,
102. Whatever It Takes,
104. Bird in Hand,
106. Mexican Standoff,
107. Speedy Delivery,
108. Pissing Contest,
110. Déjà Vu,
112. Eye in the Sky,
113. Thermobaric Reaction,
114. The Hot Gates,
115. Back Door,
116. You're It,
118. Night of Nights,
119. Every Last One of Them,
121. Into the Fire,
122. Back in Business,
123. Picks and Shovels,
125. The Stars,
129. Night Moves,
131. No Entry,
134. Running on Empty,
135. Around the World,
136. Religious Beliefs,
137. The Plane,
138. Hand Grenade,
139. Short Field,
140. Firing Blindly,
141. Fighter Jock,
142. Lonesome Dove,
143. At Gunpoint,
144. Knock Knock,
145. Judgment Day,
146. Elevator to Hell,
147. The Favor,
148. The Gift,
Forge Books by David Hunt and Christine Hunsinger,
About the Authors,