Wickham's Firefight

by Eric Helm

ISBN 0-934523-49-5

© Copyright 2010 by Eric Helm

“Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this our battle cry may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons.” Ernesto “Che’” Guevara – Marxist Architect of Revolution

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War Fighter Harry Wickham infiltrates a latin country bent on revenge It wasn’t about money. It wasn’t blood lust. It was revenge.

From inside the wire Wickham peered out towards the flat-black painted C-130-J cargo plane parked on the tarmac. It was waiting for him. Years before when the CIA had given up on harassing Fidel Castro the backwater airstrip on Blackwater Sound had been abandoned. The facility remained on the GSA books for years, but without a dime in the budget for even the most rudimentary upkeep, it deteriorated. Sun-weathered grass sprouted between the expansion joints separating the big concrete slabs of runway. Not even drug smugglers touched down. Gone was the massive antenna farm formerly used to eavesdrop on Cuban military radio operators. Scavengers had trespassed in broad daylight and stolen the thick gauge copper antenna wire from the AN/FRD-10 high-frequency direction-finding arrays and sold it for scrap. Over the years the buildings were shot-up by drunken gator hunters passing through on their way home from the river of grass.

It wasn?t about money. It wasn?t blood lust. It was revenge.

From inside the wire Wickham peered out towards the flat-black painted C-130-J cargo plane parked on the tarmac. It was waiting for him. Years before when the CIA had given up on harassing Fidel Castro the backwater airstrip on Blackwater Sound had been abandoned. The facility remained on the GSA books for years, but without a dime in the budget for even the most rudimentary upkeep, it deteriorated. Sun-weathered grass sprouted between the expansion joints separating the big concrete slabs of runway. Not even drug smugglers touched down. Gone was the massive antenna farm formerly used to eavesdrop on Cuban military radio operators. Scavengers had trespassed in broad daylight and stolen the thick gauge copper antenna wire from the AN/FRD-10 high-frequency direction-finding arrays and sold it for scrap. Over the years the buildings were shot-up by drunken gator hunters passing through on their way home from the river of grass.

But with changes in global politics the covert facility was born again. At the southern end of the runway, immediately adjacent to the recently refurbished hangar where the C-130-j was parked, resided a newly constructed isolation compound. Its whitewashed concrete block buildings were surrounded by razor sharp concertina wire reflecting shiny and bright in the South Florida sunshine. The perimeter was patrolled by trigger-happy rent-a-cops riding four-wheel camo-painted ATVs who were just itching to set free their vicious dogs on anyone stupid enough to ignore the warning signs: US Government Property No Trespassing.

Nestled inside the five-acre barbed wire enclosed compound Wickham and five other men were isolated from the outside world. No one came in. No one went out. There were no cell phones, no land lines and no radios. In isolation Wickham and his team meticulously planned the details of the assassination.

The powers that be had decided there was a serious problem with General Rolando Torriente. His impoverished Latin American country, La Republica de Moncado, population three million, boasted no crude oil reserves, no gold ore and no chromium. And unfortunately, because his land was situated on the wrong side of the mountains there was no coffee crop, and no sugar cane. So the General generated revenue for his Swiss bank account by laundering money. When the General began taking payment in Swiss Francs in return for providing a safe haven for terrorist training camps it raised more than a few eyebrows. For this most recent peccadillo it was decreed that he must die a violent death.

Gathered together in the airplane hangar Wickham and associates poured over topographical maps and quizzed each other on all of the grid coordinates they had memorized, along with radio call signs, frequencies and station times. Every single member of the team had gone through the isolation phase hundreds of times before in U.S. Army Special Operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and other lesser known low intensity conflicts around the world. Desert warfare, winter warfare, jungle warfare and urban warfare were all a comfortably familiar experiences.

Already garbed in the camouflage fatigues they would wear on the covert mission, they checked and doubled check the SSB radios, the GPS waypoints, the M-112 blocks of C-4 plastic explosives, the electric detonators and their shunts, the M-26 fragmentation grenades, rifles and ammunition, MREs, rucksacks and toilet paper. None of the rifles had serial numbers. The identifying marks had not been removed. Instead, they had been manufactured without any telltale stampings. Sterile, the weapons could not be traced to any sovereign nation. It was the same with all of the web gear and ordnance. They would bring nothing along with them that would allow point of origin to embarrass or betray. Clipboard in one hand and a plain black plastic ball point pen in the other, Wickham stood in the middle of the group checking off inventory. 7.62 ammo, he called out. He was tall and rangy His booming voice echoed off the walls of the room.

One of the men answered back, Basic load times twelve, 2880 rounds. Yo. Wickham made a checkmark in reply. He looked up to see Karl, his second in command bend down to tear the top off an open wooden crate and pluck an M-26A1 hand grenade out of its protective black cardboard tube. Holding it in the palm of his hand, Karl reverently studied the grenade?s squat green body, playfully flick-flicking the pull ring. The hand grenade was a one-pound mass of segmented wire tightly wound around a big chunk of high explosives. When detonated it would work is magic by scattering a million white hot steel fragments in an impressive killing radius.

Wickham had chosen Karl to partner with him on the mission because Karl was a man who was at peace with himself. They had met in the Army when both had intentions of making a career out of Special Forces. Both diligently attended all the right schools: HALO, SCUBA, and Jumpmaster. Good with foreign languages Wickham had learned Farsi, Pashto and Spanish well enough so that he would never go hungry in South Central Asia or the Americas. And the only reason Wickham was working as a civilian contractor was because U.S. Army Special Operations wouldn?t have him anymore.

Karl was unique. While most soldiers fight to live, Karl was a natural born warrior who lived to fight. While mere mortal men hunkered down in a firefight, Karl returned deadly accurate fire. Adrenalin pumping, he would charge an ambush in a flanking maneuver, shoot all of the ambushers where they stood and when the dusty settled regret the combat was over. He craved to feel the vibration from helicopter rotors beating the air overhead, accompanied by the crackle of small arms fire stinging his ears and incoming mortar rounds bouncing him around in the mud while he low crawled to an objective. Being close to death made Karl feel very much alive. These days, working as a civilian contractor with Wickham, Karl felt very much alive.

Wickham, on the other hand, fought for an entirely different reason. The clock was ticking. Wickham was about to call out another inventory item when he heard the SUV?s basso profundo exhaust. He turned to see a shiny black Ford Explorer heading very slowly for the gate, escorted by two of the four-wheeler ATVs. One ATV lead the way, the other one rode a discrete distance behind the SUV?s bumper. Two men rode on each ATV. One steered, the partner riding shotgun was aiming a Dragon anti-tank missile at the SUV, just in case.

The SUV driver slowed his vehicle to a crawl and rather wisely came to a full stop in front of the hardened gate inset into the concertina wire. One of the guards standing watch in the sandbag emplacement racked back the bolt on his tripod mounted .30 caliber machine gun. As the shucked round arced out of the gun the brass cartridge case reflected in the sun momentarily before landing on the sand with a dull thunk. There had already been an unfired round in the chamber. The gunner had gone to the trouble of ejecting a live round to emphasize to whoever was riding in the SUV that he had absolutely no compunction about firing a long burst of ammo-piercing-incendiary ammo into guts of the passenger compartment. The gunner, a former coastguardsman, had performed the role of intimidator during boardings of drug boats on the high seas. But back then, instead of a machine gunner, he played the role of crazy kid up on the bow cradling a Mossberg stainless steel shotgun loaded with double-ought buckshot. Of the two he liked the machinegun better. Either way he definitely liked playing the crazy kid.

A stern faced guard with a sunburned face walked up to the driver side window. Without uttering a single word he held out his hand in a gimme gesture. A full minute passed and nothing happened. He stood perfectly still, waiting . Back in Iraq, with the U.S. Army, he had presided over checkpoints in 120 degree heat, dust storms and bitter cold, day and night and had never lost his sense of humor or his patience. Which is why he had secretly worn an ROE T-short beneath his BDU.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT 1. Shoot First. 2. Ask questions. 3. Reload. 4. Eat pork.

He had lost the T-shirt one day by the side of the road when medics frenetically cut it off so they could stop the bleeding caused by the improvised Explosive Device. Sometimes he remembered lying flat on his back in horrible pain wondering whether he would live or die, and hearing the voice of a scared medic reciting the litany drummed into him in Basic Training. ?Stop the bleeding, check the airway . . .?

Presently the SUV window whirred down.

Cold air conditioned air billowed out the window washing onto the guard?s sweat-streaked face. Like a speeder getting a traffic ticket the SUV driver obediently handed out credentials, only instead of a driver?s license and proof of car insurance he gave out what looked like a big laminated orange card with psychedelic purple smears on it.

The guard scanned the card with an electronic wand and then scanned a second time, just to be sure. Satisfied with the validity of the credentials he waved for one of the other guards to open the gate and let the SUV through. He handed the orange card back to the driver, but holding it just beyond reach, so the driver was forced to clumsily lean out for it. Rather wisely he did not complain, nor mutter an insult under his breath. The kid with the machinegun in the gun sandbag emplacement relaxed, letting go of the machinegun and reaching for his bottle of spring water. He took a long swig and watched the SUV motor creep ever so slowly through the gate. <p>

On the other side of the wire Wickham watched the arrival with some interest, knowing that if the SUV had driven all the way down from Miami then the coup de etat in Moncado had failed, and the mission was on. Driving down to tell him in person was simply a polite formality. The brotherhood of the blood. The SUV cleared the gate but came to a halt just a few feet inside, stopped by an array of thick steel posts set in concrete guaranteeing no vehicle could travel any deeper into the compound, not an SUV, not a dump truck, not even an M1A1 main battle tank. After a moment the horn honked impatiently, summoning Wickham to the SUV. Wickham ignored it determined to make the messenger get up out of the car and come to him. Finally the car door opened. A man about the same age as Wickham got out wearing a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses and a YSL tie, He looked like the kind of man who could have been an IBM executive or a high dollar criminal defense attorney. The pretty, pretty boy stretched his arms to shake off the stiffness of an hour long ride. He smoothed out the wrinkles in his jacket as he walked over. He stopped, whirled around and went back to his car. This time he was carrying a newspaper under his arm. Karl walked over still holding the grenade he had been playing with. He jabbed Wickham in the ribs. ?That him? That Myke Shane?? ?Yep.? Wickham knew that besides the expensive clothes Myke Shane would also be wearing a genuine Rolex watch, a blue sapphire ring and would reek of too much cologne, also expensive. ?He?s one of those metrosexuals you read about,? he commented to Karl. ?Sumbitch, ?said Karl. ?Heard he doesn?t even carry a weapon anymore.? With a big broad smile, Shane?s whitened teeth gleamed in the sunlight. He held out a hand in a gesture of friendship. ?Just stopped by to wish you guys luck.? Wickham ignored the intended handshake. Angrily he asked, ?Why?d you violate security? This better be good.? Shane handed the newspaper to Wickham, showing him a front page above the fold story. ?New development,? he said. While Wickham read the story Karl stared intently at Shane?s neck. Self-consciously Shayne stroked his fingers across the pink-tinged scar scribed across his throat, from one ear to the other. Everybody in the organization knew that in his day Shayne had run plenty of covert action missions. But nobody seemed to know which one of them it was that had left him with the disfiguring scar. No one except Wickham. Wickham shook his head in disbelief as he read the newspaper article:

<p>MOSCOW (Reuters) ? Russia agreed on Friday to build the Republic of Moncado?s first nuclear power station after talks between President Boris Andreivitch Pasternak and General Rolando Torriente in the Kremlin. The two countries signed an agreement on "the construction and use of an atomic power station on the territory of Moncado." After the talk Torriente said he wants the nuclear power station to reduce his nation?s reliance on fossil fuels. Pasternak hinted that Torriente's foe, the United States, might not like the deal, but said that it was peaceful. "A deal has just been signed that I already know will make someone shudder. I would like to underline that our intentions are clean and open: we want our partner, the Bolivarian Republic of Moncado, to have the full range of energy choices, to have energy independence," he said. (Reporting by Alexei Vorobyova) <p>

Wickham handed the newspaper paper back. ?Now I really don?t like this guy.? Shane agreed. ?If he gets nuclear material it won?t be for electricity.? ?Moncado doesn?t have the technology base to build a nuclear weapon. So Torriente?s going to sell it? None of this makes sense.? In silence the Wickham, Kasrl and Shane watched while the other four members of the team divided up yellow blocks of formaldehyde-smelling plastic explosives among the rucksacks. Besides apportioning the explosives, between them some would carry the radios; the others would carry the batteries for the radios. Wickham and Karl would carry the detonators. A frowning Shayne broke the silence. ?Harry. Why you still run these missions? I could arrange a cushy job in one of the embassies. Maybe even a first world country.? Wickham had an impressive r?sum? beyond military accomplishments: A graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy, the University of Paris and West Point. He would have been an asset to the State department, but he wasn?t interested, ?Like I told you last time, I like killing bad people.? Karl nodded in silent agreement. ?My God,? said Shane, shaking his head, ?What?s to like about any of these dirty little wars?? There was an awkward silence. This time, when Shane spoke, his voice had taken on a compassionate tone, ?No matter how many of them you kill, Harry. It?ll never be enough.? Wickham?s said, ?I promised I?d avenge her. I?m not done yet.? Shane proceeded cautiously. ?What they did to her . . . Even after she was already dead ? Can?t imagine how hard it?s been . . . to see her like that . . .? Wickham jabbed a single finger in the air in a gesture that told Shane to stop. Shane knew when to shut up. Wickham turned to Karl, ?When he talks like that I can never tell whether he?s trying to rub salt in my wounds or be a brother. What do you think?? Karl decided to change the subject. He rapidly closed the distance between himself and Shane and began to paw the man?s neck and started to trace the scar?s proud flesh. Angrily Shane smacked the violating hand away. ?Never touch me,? he warned. But Karl wasn?t through. He still had the hand grenade. Smiling peacefully he brought it up to his chest and pulled the pin. Just like that. Holding the arming lever very tightly against the grenade body, he grabbed Shane?s wrist and slapped the live grenade into the palm of his hand, curling his well-manicured fingers around it for him. Karl took a step back. Without an ounce of humor in his voice Shane said, ?Very friggin? funny.? Karl grinned broadly, playfully dangling the arming ring with the pin hanging from it. Each time Shayne reached out to grab it, Karl stepped out of range. All three men knew that if Shane?s hand got tired and he lost his grip the spring-loaded safety lever would catapult away. The detonator?s hammer, also spring-loaded, would snap down hard, igniting the percussion cap that started the five-second long fuse burning. And then there would be a powerful explosion. Surveillance videos would later show the misty edges of the shockwave emanating out in an ever enlarging circle at 24,500 feet per second. And because the new GSA budget had allowed for color video it would show brilliant bursts of red as the multitude of fragments tore into the three men. CLIFF HANG HERE The squat, green grenade grasped in Shane?s hand felt heavier and heavier. Angrily, he shook his fist in Karl?s face, the fist with the grenade in it. ?I?m not playing this game.? Then he changed strategy. Like a Zen master he inhaled a deep breath and closed his eyes. A moment later he was calm. He opened his eyes and reached out with his free hand, telling, Karl, ?Game over. Give me the pin. Now.? But instead, Karl grabbed the grenade back from Shane and re-inserted the pin into the fuse body, disarming the grenade. He looked Shane squarely in the eyes. ?How was it, a live grenade in your hand? Deep in your bones feel anything stirring? ? Shane glowered for a moment before shaking his head in disbelief and starting his walk back to the SUV. ?I was about to shove that grenade up your ass and run like crazy,? he called out over his shoulder. ?Maybe, maybe not,? mused Karl. Wickham walked him to the car, ?Got an extra set of fatigues and rifle. Come with,? he offered. ?Like back in the good old days.? Shane leaned against the open back door of the SUV and shook his head. ?Not after Afghanistan. Not on your life,? he muttered, getting in. He could feel his scar burning like it was fresh cut. The door thudded closed and Shane was safely cocooned. He breathed a sigh of relief. ?Animals,? he muttered. The big Ford V-8 engine thundered to life and the SUV went out the way it came in. In half an hour he would be back in Miami far away from the craziness.