Midnight Sun - First Chapter Preview...
They should've let him go.
They should've let him retire in peace.
They should've left his woman out of it.
Kharzai Ghiassi has served the US Government his entire adult life. The best infiltration agent they've ever had. Death is not just his business, death is his life. He’s gone off the CIA’s radar and all they know is that someone is in danger.
When a former soccer star turned Islamic terrorist shows up in Anchorage Alaska, retired Marine Corps Special Operator Marcus ‘Mojo’ Johnson and his State Trooper wife Lonnie team up with the FBI’s Mike & Hilde Farris to put a stop to the threat that hangs over the city like a hammer about to fall. No one is safe. No on can hide in the Land of The Midnight Sun.
Check out the sample 1st chapter of MIDNIGHT SUN.
Southwestern Punjab, Pakistan
“Ali aga, how long will the meeting be today?” Kharzai fidgeted as he spoke, looking out the window at the dusty landscape that passed them by.
Ali turned in the front passenger seat and glared at Kharzai over the top edge of his mirrored sunglasses.
“Al Gul, your wedding plans will be as scheduled.” Ali used the cover name Kharzai was known by among the Taliban and allied organizations. “The old man made that very clear.”
“How did you know that’s what I was thinking?”
“Because that girl is the only thing you have been talking about for a week.”
“I’ve talked about more than Leila this week.”
“No.” Ali shook his head. “No, you have not.”
“I did too.” Kharzai looked indignant. “I told you we needed to resupply the ammo cache at Bahawalpur.”
“That was business. I mean, other than business, you have not brought up any other subject but this girl you want so bad. If you were so horny, you should have just gotten a prostitute. Hell, get a young boy to take around as your pupil…at least you won’t have to worry about making more kids that way.”
“You Arabs are sick."
"Arabs? You Persians have no room to speak. What's his name...” Ali tapped his temple to draw up the memory. “Iraj Mirza, the poet, diddling boys was all he wrote about.”
“Apparently I do not read the same poets as you,” Kharzai said. "That stuff never happened in my family. Our fathers made us iron chastity belts with razor blades around our bung holes."
"Yeah, they had a hole for us to let out waste, but blades around the rim of the hole to protect us from any wrong-way traffic. It was hell on the furniture, but any man who thought he could enter me or my cousin's back door would've enjoyed a second circumcision."
Ali chuckled. "You are a strange man, Seirim Al Gul. Very strange indeed."
"All right, time to get serious," barked the driver. Kharzai's face reflected back at him in the rearview mirror. The driver's eyes were shielded by silvered aviator sunglasses as well. "We are here."
The column of vehicles pulled into a cluster of single-story mud-brick houses and animal pens that played at being a village. Children scuttled between the houses in some sort of game, and a herd of goats looked up at the vehicles with the blank stare of bestial curiosity. Before the vehicles came to a complete stop, a cluster of laughing boys surrounded them, chattering all at once like a gang of monkeys, wide expressions of innocent joy on their faces, ignorant of the cold violence embodied in these men to whom they clamored for attention. Ali and the others pushed the boys out of the way, projecting a cruel terrorist persona. Some of the boys cowered and shrank back. Others ignored the mean men and homed in directly on Kharzai.
In spite of his reputation as a cold-blooded killer—Seirim Al Gul literally means Hairy Demon—Kharzai loved and was loved by children. He trotted into the mob of boys and with the toe of his shoe, snatched a soccer ball from one of them, starting an instant game of keep away. Boys chased him, tripping over each other, laughing at Kharzai's silly faces as they tried in vain to get the ball back.
Leila came out of a nearby house and stood at the edge of the play area. The loose end of a clean white dupatta draped around her shoulders and head fluttered in the warm breeze. The sunlight set her unblemished face aglow like a goddess. Like a manga artist's dream of beauty, large almond eyes peered at him from beneath the fringe of her dupatta, pools of deep brown that drew him in. Her bright orange loose-fitting shalwar kameez made him think of sunrise and fresh fruit. The baggy Pakistani clothing was not nearly as formless as the infamous burka, and while being modest by western standards allowed her vivid femininity to remain apparent as she moved. Around her neck hung a thin gold chain with a heart-shaped pendant Kharzai had made from a twisted braid of gold wire. His mouth stretched with a huge smile and he winked at her, flashing bright white teeth through his thick black beard. She giggled in response.
“Al Gul,” one of the men from the convoy called from the door of a house.
He kicked the ball over the heads of the boys, sending them on a chase as it bounced into a goat pen. A few of them followed behind Kharzai like a gaggle of goslings as he jogged toward the house. The man at the door snarled at the boys, stopping them short in fear.
"Go play," Kharzai said with a swoosh of his hand as he entered the house. They ran off. He glanced over to Leila as she walked into one of the other houses. A jolt of nerves wriggled through his belly as the door closed behind him. He mused how funny it was that al Gwahari's daughter could make him feel so giddy, especially in light of the fact that he was going to kill the man within the week. Then a different thought hit him: He was going to kill his fiancée’s father.
What if she doesn't like me after?
But then he remembered that although she could never say it aloud to anyone but Kharzai, whom she, like the others, only knew as Seirim Al Gul, she hated her father and everything he stood for. He was a companion of men like Osama bin Ladin and Iman al Zawahiri, mass murderers who controlled the population with terror. On the day he proposed to her, Leila confided to Kharzai that she hated the jihad. She hated the war and the fighting and the killing and wanted to run away from everything. She wanted to move to Australia or the United States and make a new life where she could be free from the fear that always surrounded her home.
When he asked how she could trust him with such words when he was a fighter like her father's men, she told him that he was different. He was not just another crazy jihadist. Something set him apart, but she could not put her finger on it. They would marry, then disappear and live happily ever after.
Kharzai entered the house and was led to the room where al Gwahari sat on a carpet, his war chiefs in a circle around a small table.
"Al Gul." His voice came in a gravelly rumble. "My son-in-law, please sit. Join us for tea."
Kharzai sat on the floor across from the older man. Al Gwahari did not look the part of a terrorist warlord. He lacked the evil sneer of bin Ladin and the dull-eyed mask of al Zawahiri. His grandfatherly appearance had worked in his favor to acquire alliances, but those who crossed him soon learned that it was a ruse. The kind-looking old man had no qualms in ordering, and overseeing, the wholesale massacre of villages that refused his demands. He had personally executed two ISI agents and Kharzai’s CIA contact—luckily, the latter died without revealing Kharzai's duplicity. Al Gwahari still trusted him, as far as he knew.
"Thank you, sir. I am flattered you would invite me in." Kharzai bowed his head, his gaze focused on the floor in a gesture of humility.
"No, it is I who am flattered that a famous warrior of Allah like you would marry my daughter."
"I look forward to being your son-in-law."
"The ceremony begins tomorrow, and the rest of the guests will be here by morning," al Gwahari said. "The next four days and nights will be for celebration, but now there is work to be done."
"Then I will not waste your time, sir."
Ali motioned to Kharzai. "Al Gul, bring in the case of surveillance information we left in the car. After that, you may go to the mosque and begin your purification while we discuss the mission schedule."
"Thank you, Ali aga."
Kharzai stepped out the door and back into the bright sunlight. The boys had given up on their soccer game and sat on the shaded side of the house playing with marbles in the dirt. Leila approached holding a tray of cups and a pot of steaming tea. Her head bowed in modesty, she turned her eyes up to him and smiled when he looked back at her, adding an exaggerated swish to her hips as she drew near.
"Three more days, my love. Only three days and we will be one," he said.
She twisted her face into pout. "I don't know. I think I might change my mind."
Kharzai raised an eyebrow and forced his face into a serious expression, "If you change your mind now, I’ll strap on a shaheed vest and throw myself into a train."
"Then I will have to marry you. You're too cute to blow yourself up!"
They laughed. He held the door open and she walked into the house. Their eyes locked as she passed, like magnets unable to resist each other. The door closed behind her, breaking the bond. He walked to the car, practically floating above the ground, opened the trunk, and retrieved a suitcase of files and photos. Most of the images were already in the hands of the CIA and ISI, and counter-ops were already working on defensive measures.
As he lifted the heavy case, his cell phone bleeped with an incoming text message. Kharzai set the case on the lip of the open trunk and pulled the phone from his pants pocket. He thumbed the text message button and read the words on the screen.
A bright hiss screeched in the distance, growing louder fast. His heart leaped into his throat and he started for the house. He opened his mouth, shouting for the boys to run, but the words were shred in midair, his breath torn from his lungs as the house erupted with an earth-shattering roar. The force of the explosion threw him back and over the car, and he landed in the dirt with a brain-rattling impact. He willed his stalled lungs to expand and suck in air, then pushed himself onto his feet and stumbled forward.
Where the house had stood was a heap of shattered bricks and splintered wood. Clouds of dust slowly settled over the rubble. Terrified villagers peeked from inside their homes, looking first at the destruction then up to the sky, praying more bombs were not on the way. Dazed, Kharzai stumbled into the ruins searching, praying that she had stepped out the back door, or by some miracle had been protected. He froze, his eyes locked on a piece of bright orange linen that glowed in sharp contrast to the shattered brick and charred wood. He moved toward it and saw her stockinged foot twisted beneath a large mass of crumbled stone. He started to reach down, to dig her out. A glimmer of gold sparkled two meters away—her necklace. He stepped toward it and reached down to pick it up, hands trembling, tears welling up in his eyes. As he pulled on it, a stone rolled aside, revealing strands of long brown hair that wavered in a breeze that kicked up low to the ground. He glanced back at her foot and instantly realized that Leila's hair and necklace were entirely too far from her feet. His stomach lurched and he struggled to force himself to a place of detached calm. He pulled a folding knife from his pocket and cut the hair as close to the source as he could, refusing the urge to dig her body out, not wanting to see her face, only moments before full of life and beauty, now mangled in death. He would only hold on to the memory of the living woman he loved. He tied the lock of hair into a knot around the gold chain and pushed them into his pocket.
Kharzai walked into a Lahore coffee house, the acrid smell of tobacco smoke and strong coffee stinging his nostrils as he crossed the mostly empty room to a table in the far corner. A deeply tanned Caucasian man looked up from the table and acknowledged Kharzai's approach. He started to rise, but Kharzai's expression advised him to stay seated.
"You were supposed to wait for my signal, Michael," Kharzai growled.
"We had the house on satellite,” Michael said, “and knew we would only have one chance."
Kharzai grabbed him by the collar and wrenched him up from the chair.
“We gave you a warning message,” Michael sputtered.
“You killed a bunch of kids!” Violence punctuated Kharzai's voice.
The CIA man's face twisted in expectation of getting hit. Kharzai dropped him back into the chair.
“Blame the Taliban, not me!” Michael straightened his collar, looking nervously around. “They’re the ones who hide among civilians!”
“You could have waited until my signal.”
The man rose to his feet. “Al Gwahari would have slipped away again. It was worth...”
Kharzai rammed his fist straight into the man's nose. Blood sprayed across the man's white shirt and he stumbled backwards, knocking the table over and falling to the floor.
"You killed my wife, you bastard!"
The man rose to his knees and touched his face. He winced and looked down in horror as blood continued to pulse from his nose and spread over his hands.
"Jesus! You broke my nose!"
"You’re lucky you still have testicles, you son of a bitch.” Kharzai picked up a napkin from the table and wiped the blood from his knuckles. “Tell your boss that I’m out."
"You can’t quit.” Michael said in a liquid , nasal voice. "You’re in too deep—they won’t let you go."
Kharzai stared down at him in a barely controlled rage.
"Tell them I am dead. And if anyone comes to find me, they will be too."