Dick Couch The Mercenary Option

ISBN 13: 9780743464246

The Mercenary Option

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9780743464246: The Mercenary Option
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When the U.S. announces plans to construct an oil pipeline across Afghanistan, a Saudi prince, determined to deter further Western involvement in Central Asia, retains former KGB terror broker Pavel Zelinkow who plots to use stolen nuclear weapons against the U.S., prompting the use of IFOR (the Intervention Force), a supposedly rogue operation manned by mercenaries, to stop him. Original.

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About the Author:

Dick Couch is a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, serving aboard ship and with the Navy UDT and SEAL Teams. While a platoon commander with SEAL Team One in 1970, he led one of the only successful POW rescue operations of the Vietnam War. On release from active duty in 1972, he served with the Central Intelligence Agency as a case officer, retiring from the Naval Reserve in 1997 as the senior reserve SEAL officer with the rank of captain. He has written four previous novels, SEAL Team One, Pressure Point, Silent Descent, and Rising Wind, and a nonfiction work, The Warrior Elite. He lives with his wife, Julia, in Ketchum, Idaho.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Early Thursday afternoon, February 21, 2002,
Martha's Vineyard

A tall, sparse man stepped slowly from the limousine. A blowing northeaster tugged at his thick, well-groomed hair, occasionally pulling the silver thatch away from his ample forehead. It had snowed the previous night, but much of that had melted, leaving scattered patches of soggy, wheat-colored grass pushing through the icy crust. Light rain and large flakes now slanted down from the brooding sky. A somber, well-tended man in an expensive topcoat and bowler hovered at the tall gentleman's elbow.

"This way, please, Mr. Ambassador."

He proffered a large umbrella and, walking slightly ahead, led his charge from the limousine up a shallow rise through several rows of granite markers. Another man, a clone of the one with the umbrella, quietly closed the door of the limo and followed a few steps back. Barnett & Sons had handled these affairs for the Boston Brahmins for close to two centuries. The firm was by no means an inexpensive funeral director, and had the reputation of always being discreet and thorough. Joseph Simpson, former Ambassador to Russia, now made his home on Martha's Vineyard, but he was still considered a Bostonian. Barnett & Sons had known of the death well before most in Boston; they made it their business to know when there was a death in a wealthy or important family. When the call from Simpson's office came, they asked a few polite questions and then quietly set themselves to making the arrangements.

Joseph Simpson was an impressive man in his late fifties. Normally, he exuded confidence and authority, but not today. His features were drawn, and his blue eyes, usually sharp and highly focused, were now clouded and myopic. He moved stiffly, as if with great difficulty, and he looked old and vulnerable. If Simpson seemed lost and lacking direction, the man from Barnett & Sons did not. He guided Simpson to the open grave and stepped quietly to one side. The careful distribution of artificial turf around the rectangular opening in the earth did nothing to blunt the coldness or finality of its purpose.

At Simpson's request, there had been a simple burial mass and now a small graveside ceremony at the family plot. There was no striped awning to protect close friends and business associates of the bereaved. They gathered around the grave site under a sea of umbrellas. Moments later, Simpson was joined by a stunning young woman, dressed in black. She stood near Simpson, but not too close, and clung to the arm of another man who bent to comfort her. Then six men, all but one in their mid-thirties, struggled forward with a polished walnut coffin and slid it onto a trolley at the foot of the grave. After they had joined the band of mourners, two Barnett men guided the casket smoothly over the opening. With a faint creaking, the nylon lowering straps took the strain. For several moments, the water-beaded wooden box claimed their attention. Then an elderly priest at the head of the grave cleared his throat.

"May the good Lord God bless you and keep you," he began in a thick Irish brogue. "We are gathered here to commit the worldly remains of Joseph Patrick Simpson, Jr. Please join me in prayer."

The old priest's voice strained to be heard above the wind, but true to his heritage and calling, he was most eloquent, and his words came from the heart. He asked a merciful God to receive the immortal soul of the departed and to bring comfort to the family. Joe Simpson Sr. heard almost none of it. While he stared at the box that held his firstborn, his mind flashed back to better times -- his son's first communion, teaching him to drive long before he was of legal age, fishing for stripers around Buzzards Bay, shooting ducks together along the Chesapeake, his graduation from Phillips Exeter, the commencement in Harvard Yard. The images flipped through his mind like a jerky, silent black-and-white film. These reflections were punctuated by lengthy gaps of time, for Joe Simpson was a man whose business interests kept him away from home much of the time. I'm sorry, Joey. Dear God, why couldn't it have been me instead of you? You had so much to look forward to, and I have so little. Why was it you?

"...dust to dust, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen."

"Amen," murmured the group of mourners. There was a collective motion as a number of the bundled forms crossed themselves.

"Good people, thank you for your prayers at this difficult time. And now, the family would like a few moments to themselves."

The gathered mourners moved away quickly, for the weather was every bit as bitter as the event that had brought them there. In pairs and small groups, they made their way to the line of limousines that stretched along the paved access road. The priest watched them go, then moved around to the three figures who remained. He first took Simpson's hand and squeezed it with both of his own. There was surprising strength in the old man's cold, bony fingers.

"I'll pray for him, Joe, and for you." He said no more. Experience had taught him that grieving fathers have little interest in hearing that the loss of their sons is God's will or part of His divine plan. He moved on to the young woman.

"Annie, dear, I'm so sorry," he said, also taking her hand. "I loved him, and I love you. We'll miss him." Words like these, often difficult between family members, are quite natural for an Irish priest, spoken with absolute and complete sincerity.

"Thank you, Father. Uh, Father Kelly, this is my husband, Matt."

He grasped the offered hand once again with both of his own. Father Kelly had a need to touch people. "Matthew, even at this difficult time, I'm happy to meet you." Kelly had baptized and confirmed Anne Simpson, but he had not married her. He also knew she had left the church and married away from it. Still, there was not the least hint of censure or judgment in the old cleric's voice. The priest stepped back from the three, mentally embracing them for a moment. Then he blessed them with the sign of the cross: "May Almighty God be with you and ease your burden." He raised a wide-brimmed hat, the kind worn by rural clergy in the old country, and set it firmly on the nearly bald pate, graced only with translucent wisps of white hair. Then he took his leave.

For a while, no one spoke. Then Joe turned to his daughter and son-in-law.

"I have to go, Dad," she said before he could ask her to stay. "We have to catch the next ferry if we're going to make it to Logan in time for our flight."

He started to speak, to say that if she wanted to come back to the house for a while, his helicopter could easily get them to Logan International for their flight. Or for that matter, his private jet could take them back to St. Louis. Instead, he just nodded, knowing in his heart that nothing had changed. In most ways that counted to a father, he had lost his daughter as well as his son.

"I understand, Annie. Thank you for being here."

"Good-bye, Dad." She stepped forward, kissing him lightly on the cheek, and walked away.

Joe Simpson held himself erect with some difficulty and extended his hand. "Take care of her, Matt, please." There was a pleading in his voice, and Joseph Simpson was a man who seldom had to ask for anything.

"Yes, sir. You have my word on it." Matt looked Simpson straight in the eye as he spoke, then followed his wife to the waiting car. Strangely, amid the torrent of sympathy that had washed over Joseph Simpson during the past several days, these were the only words in which he took any measure of comfort. Simpson turned and nodded to one of the many, but seemingly invisible, attendants from Barnett & Sons.

"Now."

"Now, sir?" Family members customarily left at this time.

"Now."

Simpson watched impassively as the coffin was lowered into the ground. The spools of strapping paid out evenly so the casket remained level in its slow descent. The squeal of a single faulty roller bearing was the only sound, save for the persistent howl of the wind. This accomplished, two of the attendants returned to the waiting hearse. The others waited at a discreet distance. Joe Sr. stood there without moving, long enough for those attendants who remained to begin to lose feeling in their gloved fingers.

"Good-bye, Joey," he said, quietly enough for only the wind and the spirit of the boy at the bottom of the grave to hear.

Simpson turned and walked a few feet to a nearby marker. He stood for a moment at the base of the small monument, then dropped to his knees. His wool trousers immediately wicked the melting snow up around his knees and shins. It was a simple granite slab with deeply-carved black lettering: "Prudence Simpson, 1944-2000." The stone engraving continued, "Beloved Wife, Loving Mother," but the words remained blurry, no matter how much he blinked. As if he no longer had the will to remain upright, he sat back on his heels and bowed his head. Tears cut parallel tracks down his smooth cheeks, gathering briefly at the corners of his mouth before continuing down around his chin. There were no sobs or cries of anguish. He simply folded his arms across his chest and wept quietly, and as he allowed himself to cry, he finally allowed himself to grieve. Joe Simpson remained that way, kneeling at the grave of his wife, for perhaps a half hour -- long enough for the day to sink into deeper shades of gray and for the wet snow to begin to collect on the shoulders of his wool topcoat.

"Joey's coming, Pru. Look after him," he said finally, realizing that if this were indeed true, Joey was probably already there. Then he added, "Please, God, in your world, let neither of them know the loneliness I now feel without them." It was the first time Joseph Simpson had asked God for anything since he prayed for the repose of his mother's soul.

With that he leaned forward and began to push himself to his feet. It was a difficult task, as he had almost no feeling below his waist. One of the attendants started forward to help, but Simpson waved him away. Then, with as much dignity as he could muster, he methodically made his way across the soggy ground toward the single waiting limousine.

On the way out of the cemetery, he glanced from the limo window at the well-known grave of John Belushi, perhaps the Vineyard's most celebrated decedent. Another time, any thought he might have had for the little cemetery's most famous resident would have been distaste for the careless manner in which he felt Belushi had lived and died. Simpson cared little for celebrities; he himself was a very private man and anything but careless. Joey and John Belushi had lived very different lives, he reflected, and yet here they were, sharing the same fate and small plot of land on a little island off Cape Cod. Just what the hell is it all about anyway? he thought. Is this all it comes down to? To be put in the ground and forgotten? I'll be damned if that's the end of it! It's not revenge I want; it's justice. There needs to be a reckoning.


Late Thursday afternoon, February 21,
Coronado, California

The tall man at the end of the bar sat hunched over his glass, staring straight ahead. He was in his late thirties, but looked much younger. There was an intensity and presence about him that suggested he might have been a trial attorney or corporate executive, but neither description really quite fit. When he leaned to one side to fish a twenty-dollar bill from his jeans, his movements were smooth and economical. He had large and powerful hands, with heavy knuckles, yet he moved with a great deal of natural grace. His thick brown hair was freshly barbered -- clean, short, and neatly parted. He had handsome, open features, yet he possessed a certain aloofness that invited neither contact nor conversation.

Along the bar, an agreeable banter rose from those who had just left work and those who didn't have to work. The Brigantine was a semi-local Coronado watering hole that attracted a brisk five-o'clock crowd. Some were there for the generous shots the bar poured, and some came for the half-price fish tacos served from the bar menu during happy hour. A few of the Brig regulars made the drive over the bridge from San Diego, but most were Coronado village regulars. It was not a young person's place, and several middle-aged men scanned the growing crowd, making no attempt to be subtle. The divorcees made their way in, hoping to find an empty table so they wouldn't have to float along the edge of the bar. They came in twos and threes, some apprehensive and ill at ease, and some not. The man at the end of the bar was aware of all of this, for he had highly developed situational awareness skills, but he remained detached, isolated.

I still can't believe it. I simply can't believe I'm out. Master Chief Garrett Walker tapped the empty glass in front of him, and within seconds the bartender slid another tumbler of Johnnie Walker Black Label in front of him, neat with a splash and a twist. He nodded his thanks. Holding the base of the glass delicately between his thumb and middle finger, he began to make slow wet circles on the polished wood surface. Normally, he drank very sparingly, but this evening he was feeling anything but temperate. He smiled wryly; he had never been one to feel sorry for himself, but that was exactly what he was doing now. In fact, it's downright ironic. All things considered, I'm better now than I was five or even ten years ago. He smiled again. You'd think all those years of training and time on deployment -- all that experience -- would count for something. Especially now -- now I'm really needed. But the doctors, the first, second, and then third opinions, had been unanimous; he was finished. Of course, there were the not-so-strenuous, nonoperational options, but the thought of riding a desk while others went off to do the real work did not sit well. For me it would be damned insulting, he thought; that's not who I am. I'm not a goddamn cripple, and I'll not have people treating me as if I were.

It had been ten months since it happened, nine since the last surgery. An Iraqi bullet had taken him in the side and clipped the lower portion of his right lung. The reconstruction had cost him two inches of that lung, but no more. The surgeons who had operated on him pronounced the operation a success and released him for light duty. Light duty for Garrett Walker was easy conditioning runs on the beach. Only ten days after he left the Balboa Naval Hospital, he seriously began working out -- not just running and calisthenics, but a training regime carefully designed to allow his injuries to heal while he hardened other parts of his body. Then when he had fully mended internally, he began to push himself: open-ocean, cold-water swims in the cove at La Jolla, forced marches with combat load in the mountains in the La Posta Mountains, and sand runs in combat boots. He had a reputation for being hard, and he was fiercely determined to bring himself back stronger than ever. And he had done just t...

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