Authors: Suzanne Brockmann
For Ed, Eric, and Bill. Thank you for letting me be a witness to your solid, special, funny, sometimes rude, and always loyal friendship. Jenk, Izzy, Lopez, and Gillman’s banter might sound familiar at times. Thanks for that, too.
Thank you, first and foremost, to everyone at Ballantine Books for allowing me to push back my deadline and take some desperately needed time off. Extra-special thanks to Gina Centrello, Linda Marrow, Dan Mallory, and my wonderful editor Shauna Summers, for going the extra mile to get
Into the Storm
into readers’ hands as quickly as possible.
Eternal thanks to home team: Ed Gaffney and my monkey-dog, Sugar, the world’s greatest schnauzer. Thanks, also, to my daughter Melanie, an aspiring author in her own right, and to my son Jason, who is Broadway bound. I’m so proud of both of you.
Thanks, as always, to Steve Axelrod and Eric Ruben—for way too many things to count—and to my parents, Fred and Lee Brockmann.
Thank you to real-life hero Tom Rancich for cold weather survival information, as well as your friendly presence on the BB. You continue to be an inspiration. Finish writing your book already, will you? I can’t wait to read it.
Super snaps to everyone who helped with my July 2006 reader event in Atlanta: Maya Stosskopf of EMA, Gilly Hailparn and the publicity team at Ballantine Books, and my wonderful guests Alesia Holliday, Virginia Kantra, Catherine Mann, and Tom Rancich. Thank you, too, to my hardworking, brainstorming volunteers: Elizabeth and Lee Benjamin, Suzie Bernhardt, Stephanie Hyacinth, Beki & Jim Keene, Laura Luke, Jeanne Mangano, Heather McHugh, Peggy Mitchell, Dorbert Ogle, Gail Reddin, Erike Schutte (Hah! I spelled it right this time!), and Sue Smallwood. Thank you, too, to everyone who attended the event! You know I’d list you all if I could—I so enjoyed hanging out with each and every one of you!
Check my website at www.SuzanneBrockmann.com/appearances.htm for information about my next readers weekend. You’ll also find the schedule for my August/September 2006
Into the Storm
Thank you to Stephen Syta for lending me his name. (My apologies to Stephen’s mom!)
Last but never least, thank you to my readers for giving me this crazy, exciting, wonderful career that I adore. I hope you enjoy reading Mark and Lindsey’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
As always, any mistakes I’ve made or liberties I’ve taken are completely my own.
ark Jenkins was having a meltdown.
It was not a particularly good emotional state to be in right now. It was not helping him hide in the cool autumn night just a few shadows away from the valley where the enemy was setting up camp.
He double-checked his MP4.
It was locked and loaded.
His hands, however, were still shaking.
Jenk used sheer will and several dozen steadying breaths to try to bring himself back.
Some guys in the SEAL teams, like Izzy Zanella who was eyeing him now from several yards away, operated in a perpetual state of pissed. Izzy set his anger on simmer and used it as fuel. Jenk had always thought that was dangerous—until tonight.
Because simmer was a million times better than the rolling boil of rage that had hit him at the sight of those familiar black running shoes hanging limply, lifelessly above his head.
God damn it.
He forced himself to breathe. In. And out.
Smooth, not ragged.
He smelled the smoke before he saw the flicker of flames in the distance.
Someone had lit a campfire—proof that the enemy believed they owned this godforsaken patch of dusty land, that they thought they were alone out here in the night.
That was good.
It was also good that the new guy, John Orlikowski, was RTO for this SEAL patrol, a job Jenk himself usually handled.
Being radioman would’ve required Jenk to glue himself to Lieutenant Jacquette’s mountainous side.
Which would’ve made it hard for them both to pretend Jenk’s hands weren’t shaking.
Not that the lieutenant hadn’t already noticed.
On the other side of Izzy, Jenk could see Jacquette and Orlikowski fading back, away from the enemy’s camp. The lieutenant motioned to Izzy, who followed.
Jacquette then glanced at Jenk, signaling for him to hold his position.
Yeah, perfect. You, over there, with the emotional diarrhea: Stay put, don’t move, don’t mess this up by tripping over your no doubt equally shaking feet.
It was weird not to be in the thick of things, not to know what the lieutenant was planning.
Although, if Jenk knew Jacquette—and he most certainly did—the lieutenant was going to send someone to check out the encampment.
Which was why he’d pulled Izzy over. Irving Zanella may not have been anyone’s first choice for taking tea with the queen, but he was fast and silent and, despite his tall, lean build, he was invisible, especially after the sun went down.
Jacquette’s goal would be to find out how many of the enemy were out there. Were any of the leaders identifiable as being on the current list of top al Qaeda terrorists, wanted by the world in the GWOT?
Could the SEAL team get away with killing them all? Just gunning them down—ending their miserable lives a whole lot less painfully than the motherfuckers had done to those civilians when they’d tortured and hanged them—
No, wait. That last bit was Jenk’s own personal goal.
Which was why he was sitting over here in the virtual corner, taking a time-out, trying to turn his grief and rage into something useful.
Not that it mattered. With an eight-man platoon—larger than usual—Jacquette could simply ignore him until it was time to exfiltrate.
As it was, Jenk’s job was to carry the backup radio, in case Johnny O. fell prey to Superman Syndrome. As a newbie, John still felt compelled not to pancake when bad shit started to fly. Like he had to prove to his teammates that his
Fucking new guys took a while to learn that getting their balls shot off didn’t make ’em bigger. It made ’em gone.
If it weren’t for the fact that Jenk had been determined to be part of this op, he wouldn’t be here right now. He was only along for this ride because two was one and one was none. Because being suddenly ball-less tended to make a newbie’s voice go up about seven octaves. Dogs everywhere would come running, but talking on the radio would become a challenge, and someone else would have to do it.
Of course, the flip side of Superman Syndrome was the possibility that young John would become ball-less sans altercation—unlikely, but not impossible. Jenk had seen it happen. A guy who aced the intense BUD/S training could become immobilized when out in the real world for the very first time.
Their voices wobbled and their hands shook.
It was flipping unfair that anger and fear were manifested in such similar ways.
Izzy elbow-crawled over to him. “Y’okay?”
Iz was looking at him with the strangest expression in his usually mocking eyes. Coming from anyone else, Jenk would have called it concern. Sympathy. Maybe even compassion.
“Sorry about Suhayla,” Izzy said nearly silently. “That
Jenk nodded again, a curt affirmative.
It had indeed been Suhayla’s body hanging, with three other civilians, from the bridge that had been rebuilt after American troops had come in last year and liberated this remote mountain town.
For the third time.
Jenk had been there. He’d seen the Marines set up camp and believed what Suhayla and her friends had believed—that real assistance was finally here to stay.
Suhayla Naaz—a medical doctor educated in London—had been brave enough to step forward and help organize the local government after the first invasion, at the very start of Operation Enduring Freedom. She’d been forced to go into hiding the first two times the Americans had pulled back to Kabul, barely escaping with her life.
She hadn’t been as lucky this time around.
“That’s rough,” Izzy said. “Seeing her all dead like that.”
Jenk managed another terse nod. Yeah.
“Don’t go and get yourself killed, Marky-Mark. I don’t want to have to lug your body all the way back to Jalalabad.”
Typical Izzy. He couldn’t just say, “Dude, I’m worried about you.”
Jenk changed the subject. “You going out for a look?” Normally he would’ve used a hand signal to ask the simple question. Instead, he kept his fists tightly clenched.
Izzy nodded. “In a sec.” He paused. “Fishboy said you’ve known Suhayla a coupla years now. That you got e-mail from her just last week.”
And Jenk knew why Izzy had crawled over here. He was on a fact-finding expedition.
“Were you really banging her all that time?” Iz asked. And yes, that probably
admiration in his voice.
Izzy’s world was a simple one. He believed that a man and a woman couldn’t possibly have a relationship that didn’t include—in Izzy-speak—bumping uglies.
Jenk stared into the night.
“I’ll take that as a no. But you wanted to, right?” In Izzyland, there were only two types of women. Those you wanted to have sex with and those you didn’t.
Suhayla Naaz was, before being cruelly murdered, a beautiful, articulate, intelligent woman. She was also forty-seven years old and married to an English doctor who lived with their three children in Liverpool. In the course of the fourteen days Jenk had spent in her remote hometown last year while ridding the surrounding countryside of various bad guys, she had noted that he was very good at getting things done.
He’d managed to help her gain possession of a truckload of medical supplies and generators. Food. Blankets. Clothing and shoes for children who’d lost everything.
They’d recognized that they were kindred spirits and had become friends.
“That’s why we’re here,” Izzy continued. “Isn’t it? You pulled your usual voodoo and set it up for us to get this assignment.”
Jenk shook his head. “You’re an idiot.”
“Seriously,” Izzy said. “I don’t know how you do it, Eminem. But Gillman said he saw the e-mail—your ladyfriend said there was some serious problem, but no one would listen to her. So, you, I don’t know, mind-control some admiral so that we all come running, and you get to save the day. She’s so grateful, next thing you know you’re boldly going. Only bad luck. We get here too late. No wonder you’re freaking.”
was why he was freaking. Because now that Suhayla Naaz had been brutally tortured and killed, her body hung from a bridge to warn others against working with the Americans, Jenk was never going to get a chance to boldly go.
And just like that, the game was over. Izzy had pushed him too far.
an asshole. You have no clue,” Jenk whispered through clenched teeth. “Dr. Naaz was amazing. She was smart, she was brave, and she was dedicated to democracy. She was everything all the fucking politicos say we need to find over here, and they left her to swing while they sit in safety and agree that war is hell. You can tell the lieutenant I’m okay,” Jenk told Izzy. “I’m not going postal. But I’m
at the ineptitude. Why build a bridge if we’re just going to let the sector fall back into the insurgents’ hands?”
“Good question. I’m sure some desk jockey somewhere back in the States has what they think is an answer.”
“The thought that these bastards”—Jenk pointed into the night toward that campfire—“are the ones who killed her…But we helped. God
it.” He let out a stream of profanity that would’ve made even his father’s eyebrows curl.
Izzy, however, was unperturbed. “Maybe after we neutralize these scumbags who murdered your friend, I’ll go to DC, find the policy makers and ask some pointed questions.”
Yeah right. Jenk made a disparaging noise.
“You don’t think I’ve got the balls?” Iz shrugged. “Hey, I’m not the chickenshit whose hands are shaking.” He held out his own to demonstrate.
“Fuck you.” Jenk accompanied his words with a flip of the bird—with a hand that was finally steady.
Izzy nodded, clearly pleased that Jenk was solidly back in control. Which, more than obviously now, had been the real reason he’d slithered over here. He patted Jenk’s shoulder. “Venting, even just a little, keeps the apeshits away.”
Words of wisdom from Irving Zanella, psychotherapist.
It was a new one for the Iz—three additional syllables added to his usual descriptive postname suffix.
“So come on,” Izzy said. “You and me, Marky. Lieutenant Jacquette wants us to take a little midnight stroll. He thought the brisk night air would cure your girlish vapors.”
And Jenk knew that even though his shaking hands were gone, they wouldn’t ever be forgotten.
No doubt about it, he would be reminded of this night right up until the day he left the Navy.
Of course, he wouldn’t need any reminders from his teammates. He was never going to forget Dr. Suhayla Naaz, who should never have died.
“Although, word of advice, Mark?” Izzy stopped him.
Jenk couldn’t quite see his eyes in the darkness of the night—but he knew that the taller man was deadly serious.
“It won’t help,” Iz said quietly, definitely. “Even if we find out this is a terrorist cell with direct ties to Osama bin Laden? Even if we have proof these are the mothers who strung Suhayla up and left her hanging…Even if we make sure none of ’em ever hurts another human being again…” He shook his head. “It won’t really help.” He smiled then, morphing back into his usual irreverence, as if suddenly aware he’d given too much of himself away. “Of course, Auntie M, it sure as hell won’t hurt.”
There were too many of them.
It was unreal. Insurgents usually knew better than to occupy the same small piece of real estate, for fear of airstrike. Yet here so many of them were, like some kind of Taliban reunion.
Izzy had gone farther north, leaving Jenk to count heads and scan faces and…Wait a sec, wasn’t that…?
Jenk tightened the focus of his night-vision glasses.
Yes, it was definitely Yusaf Ghulam-Khan. The interpreter who’d worked for both the SEALs and the Marines, back when Jenk was here last. He’d been on the Americans’ payroll.
What was it Suhayla had said about him? “I wouldn’t trust him any farther than I could pitch him.”
She’d been a baseball fan.
Back when Jenk had known him, Yusaf had been privy to all sorts of information. He’d sworn an oath of loyalty—not that that meant anything.
Currently, he wasn’t a prisoner. He was walking around, clearly a popular guy, being offered what looked like congratulations…?
And just like that Jenk knew.
This massive gathering was the trouble that Suhayla had written about. She’d sent her brother into Kabul, where there was Internet access, to send an e-mail to one of the few people she still trusted.
Knowing that Suhayla would try to warn the Americans, and not knowing that he was already too late, Yusaf had helped to silence her. At the very least, he’d identified her. It was entirely possible, though, that he’d tied the rope around her neck.
Jenk’s hands were shaking again.
What was it Iz had said? Vent.
“Motherfucker, motherfucker, motherfucker,” he muttered.
Izzy reappeared, materializing from the night as if summoned. He silently signaled Jenk. He’d counted 112 men. Jenk flashed his number—147. Combined, that was nearly 260 enemy combatants.
What the hell was going on?
The insurgents weren’t amassing in preparation for a coming battle. There was nothing out here in the freaking middle of nowhere to attack.
At least not since the Americans had pulled out. Again.
Jenk faded back, far enough away from the encampment to speak, and Iz followed him.
“It’s a supply drop,” Izzy confirmed. “Ammo, weapons, explosives—they’ve got an arsenal in that cave.”
And there was the answer. A resupply. The big question about why the insurgents weren’t running out of ammunition and explosives hadn’t been a mystery for a while. It came in over the border with remarkable ease.
But this ballsy gathering was troubling. It was a show of power—a clear message to the people of this region. It was a clear shout out that the insurgents no longer considered the Americans to be a threat.
Izzy kept moving, heading back toward Jacquette. It was obvious, to him, what needed to be done. They had to report to the lieutenant, who would call in an airstrike while the supplies were still at these coordinates.