- Author: Ernest Dempsey
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The Relic Runner Origin Story
A Dak Harper Thriller Anthology: Books 1-6
Out of the Fire
A Dak Harper ThrillerErnest Dempsey
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Hamrin Mountains, Iraq, 2015
Dak stared through the night vision goggles at the terrorist camp on the opposite ridge. He and his team had been sitting there for over an hour, waiting until it was dark enough to move without being easily detected. Their window was short due to the cycle of the moon. In thirty minutes, the earth’s satellite would start climbing into the sky and cast its eerie glow onto the desert mountains. It would still be dark enough to carry out the operation, but the light of the moon would make Dak and his team much easier to spot as they navigated up the slope toward the terrorist’s camp.
“How many you count, Haus?” a man named Bo Taylor asked crouching next to Dak. He was about the same height as Dak, around two inches past six feet, but his hair was blond, cut short in the military fashion, but his tanned face was wrapped by a thick beard. Four of the six men on their team had grown beards during their time in the northeastern mountains of Iraq. The only two that didn’t sport beards were Carson and Luis. Carson, a black man from the Bronx, had worn a beard for years before joining the military and eventually Delta Force. But he cut it off when he signed up and never grew it back. No one was sure if Luis could even grow a beard or not.
“Hard to tell which ones are going in and out, or if it’s others who were already inside,” Dak answered after several seconds of watching the entrance into the cave. “Details like that aren’t as easy to make out from this range.”
“I’m having the same issue,” Bo confessed. “But if you had to guess?”
“Fourteen. Not counting any that might be inside we haven’t seen yet. I’d go ahead and plan on double.”
“Better to plan on too many than not enough.”
Bo snorted. “I guess. Sounds pessimistic to me.”
Dak didn’t reply, instead tightening his focus on the camp.
Several canvas tents dotted the top of the hill around the cave’s entrance. Fires burned outside of some, where men tended them while doing their best to keep warm. Taking watch at night in the Hamrin Mountains was a cold, thankless task, and one that the men in Dak’s sights didn’t seem to be diligent in performing.
“I like those odds,” Carson quipped from Dak’s left.
Carson Williams, a tall, muscular black man, was about one inch taller than Dak. His head was shaved clean, same as his face, and he spoke with a deep baritone.
“I bet you do, weirdo,” Luis said. His voice contrasted the big man’s with a tinny, higher pitch. He was the shortest of the group, around five feet and nine inches. His thick, black hair fluttered in the chilly mountain breeze. Luis Martinez may have been lacking in the physical size department, but the man was resourceful, cunning, and a bulldog in a fight.
Billy Trask and Nathan Collier rounded out the remaining members of the six-man team. They were in a back position, about fifteen yards up the hill from the other four. Billy, a gangly sniper from Western Kentucky, was in a ditch with his MK 21 ASR rifle propped up on a tripod. Nathan squatted next to him, an M249 aimed into the darkness toward the terrorist camp. The light machine gun was better suited for covering fire in this situation, where the sniper rifle would provide accurate elimination of enemies.
Billy had used this very model of the weapon to take down targets from twice as far away, so to say he was comfortable shooting from this distance was an understatement.
“Always better to be safe than sorry,” Billy said into the radio upon hearing Dak’s comment.
Dak Harper had a reputation for doing things by the book, but he also wasn’t afraid to go with his gut when the instance called for it.
He knew that, based on their surveillance of the enemy camp, things would settle down about this time, which made their entire operation a waiting game until the word go.
Nathan said nothing. He was always the quiet one, sometimes in a disturbing way. There had been more than a few occasions where Dak found the bulky man sharpening the twin knives he always kept on his belt. The way he went about honing the blades was disconcerting. Dak witnessed him sliding the weapons back and forth, watching them like he might a dancer with ribbons floating and twirling around her body. Dak never mentioned it, though he’d considered many times asking about the fascination with knives. Husky and built like a tank, Nathan was the heaviest of the group. He could carry more than anyone else, which was why he was assigned to the light machine gun, though the term “light” didn’t accurately describe it in terms of weight.
“Looks like all the hens are home to roost,” Dak said as he watched two guards disappear into the cave entrance two-thirds of the way up the other hillside.
“I still see four guards stationed outside of the tents above the cave,” Bo said.
“We eliminate them first,” Dak answered. “Then we go in. Everyone ready?”
“Yes, sir,” the group answered as one.
“Okay, then. Let’s do it.”
The group maneuvered silently up the hillside, split into two groups to flank the encampment at the top of the hill. Billy remained in his sniper nest, while Nathan pushed up the center, heading down into the ravine and then making the exhausting trek upward toward the shrouded entrance of the cave, covered by desert camouflage nets to keep it