Check out the sneak peek of Donovan’s War, a military thriller, coming soon from W.J. Lundy…
Syrian summer was harsh for those not used to it. The dry heat and the stifling winds could become unbearable. Years of living in Europe and the luxury lifestyle lessened Ziya Fayed’s tolerance to this part of the world, a place he once called home. Syrian by birth, he had attachments here, but many of those were gone now. His family moved to Europe long ago, and he had no romantic aspirations for this land, nor was he eager to stay any longer than he had to.
His nose hadn’t stopped bleeding from the dry winds since his arrival in the land that God forgot. He looked from the sedan window into the night, the full moon hanging low on the horizon of a cloudless pre-dawn sky. White Toyota sport utility vehicles lined a back alley while a tan Humvee, a relic of the war in Iraq, sat idle in the dark. He grinned, the moonlight reflecting off his bleached teeth. It was time.
He exited the sedan and approached the group of men from the back, not happy to be leaving the cold air of his leather-dressed Mercedes. He wore a loose, face-concealing scarf and dark leather jacket, his body dressed entirely in black. As he walked, bodyguards exited the surrounding vehicles, quickly flanking him. Fayed didn’t know the bodyguards, but he was always provided with protection when he went into the field.
Fayed glared harshly at a group surrounding a fat, thick-mustached man with a scar across his forehead. Those in the scarred man’s party noticed his approach and snapped to attention, parting to make room for him. He laughed under his own breath, both appreciating and resenting the signs of respect he was given by the hired thugs of the Badawi Brigade.
These men were weak and uneducated. They called themselves soldiers, but they were far from it. They disgusted him—their eagerness to please, fighting for someone else’s ideals, not a single free thought in their heads. Fayed didn’t bother speaking with them, he knew they had no question of what they were fighting for. The scarred man saw his approach and pulled his face from a mobile phone. He waved a free hand to Fayed, smiling gleefully. He turned toward him, nodding as he abruptly ended the call.
“Good evening, Abdul,” Fayed said.
Abdul Nassir smiled, revealing badly stained and chipped teeth. Lowering his phone, he leaned in close to Fayed and pointed far down the alley. The mustached man edged uncomfortably closer, the stench of tobacco causing Fayed to grimace. That he had to work with the man disgusted Fayed. He knew that Abdul considered himself an equal and sometimes even a superior to Fayed. As a former member of Syria’s security establishment, Abdul had made a name for himself in the chaos of the civil war.
Even though technically a traitor, the man commanded respect by his reputation alone, and as long as he stayed on the right side of the government, the Syrian forces ignored him. Abdul was once a high-level agent, so high that the Americans had a code name for him. Now he was nothing more than a renegade bandit, having gone rogue from the government after the start of the civil war, switching sides for profit but still walking a fine line to keep himself off the target list of the Syrian forces.
Nassir made his money as a trafficker. Having connections and access to the border routes, he could get anything in or out of Syria. It had started with guns when they paid well, but eventually moved on to drugs and human trafficking. Establishing covers and contacts with outside parties, he was now well armed and always well informed. Fayed swallowed hard with revulsion and followed Abdul’s arm. At the end of the street stood an ancient monastery where a lone street lamp illuminated an iron gate guarded by a solitary uniformed officer.
“But one man?” Fayed asked.
“Yes. Your intelligence was good. Tonight, we make them pay.”
“Insha Allah. If it is God’s will, it will be done,” Fayed said.
Abdul grinned. The scar across his forehead tightened with his brow, seeming to catch the light. It flickered with moisture as sweat dripped from his slicked-back hair. He snapped his fingers. “Yes of course,” he laughed.
Men scattered and rushed back to their waiting vehicles. Abdul held the phone to his ear and spoke low commands into the receiver. He turned back to Fayed and shot him another rotten-toothed smile. “And now you will see how it is done.”
The vehicle engines amongst the convoy roared to life and thundered down the alleyway. Fayed watched intently, his own excitement building as a number of men dressed in black with full chest rigs approached the distant gate from out of the shadows. Fayed enjoyed this part of every operation, watching Abdul’s soldiers in action, witnessing the destruction that he himself took part in planning.
The monastery guard immediately stiffened, his posture changed to alert. He readied his rifle just as the first of several volleys of fire erupted from the approaching men. Rounds slammed into the gate guard’s chest as he staggered back and fell to the ground. Gunfire echoed over the city. Fayed smiled to himself, knowing that help would not be coming tonight. The bribes had been paid, the paperwork filed. Even in a place like this, forms must be signed and stamped, fees paid to conduct such an operation. There would be no police on duty tonight, no hired militias to protect the people inside the walls of the monastery. Fayed had used all of his connections to ensure it.
The column of vehicles lurched forward. The engine of the Humvee revved and a man in the vehicle’s turret let loose a barrage of heavy weapons fire into the stone wall as the military vehicle charged forward and rammed through the gate of the ancient church. The Humvee continued into the monastery grounds, followed closely by the white sport utility vehicles.
The thundering explosion that trembled through the ancient stone structure shook her awake to find bits of dust and plaster crumbling from the ceiling, covering her bed. This city was used to war, and it wasn’t the first time the fighting woke her from her sleep. But the noise was different tonight, closer and absent of the warning sirens that usually preceded the bombings. She opened her eyes, listening to the screams coming from the hallway while a staccato beat of automatic weapons fire sounded from the courtyard beyond her chamber window.
Her door burst open and a small man pressed into her modestly furnished room. Ignoring pleasantries, he rushed to the bedside and grabbed her by the wrist, trying to pull her from the bed. She recognized the man as Ishmael, one of the guards assigned by the state to guard the monastery. Normally quiet and reserved, tonight the man’s eyes were filled with fright and panic.
“Sister Sarah, please come quickly!” he shouted.
Sarah pulled her arm away, lifting the bedspread to cover herself. “How dare you enter my chamber like—”
“Excuse me, Sister, there is no—” Another blast of weapons fire interrupted him. He dropped her wrist and ran to the window. For the first time, she noticed the man’s rifle; he was armed, and even in a war zone she’d never see a weapon inside the monastery grounds.
“Ishmael, weapons are not allowed inside the church. What’s happening?”
He turned away from the window, his face pale and his eyes filled with fear. He looked at her in despair. “God forgive me, Sister.”
“For what, Ishmael?” Sarah scrambled from the bed, searching for her clothing in the dark.
Ishmael stepped back from the window and ran to the door, stopping to look back at her a final time. She could read the horror on his face as his lip quivered and his voice cracked. “Forgive me, Sister; there is no time. May Allah protect you.”
Ishmael slammed the chamber door shut behind him. Then she heard the lock tumble and click home.
“No!” she shouted, knowing that the doors of the monastery were all locked and unlocked with ancient skeleton keys. Sarah looked at the hook next to the door and noticed her room key was missing. Ishmael must have swiped it and locked her into the chamber room. Lights flashed from outside her window. The weapons fire and screaming grew louder.
She heard the shouting of men’s voices, the thud of their boots stomping through corridors of the building. Doors were kicked in, and women screamed as they were dragged from their chamber rooms. Bursts of weapons fire followed a terrified wailing from the sisters of the monastery. The heavy boots moved along the hallway and stopped just at the other side of her door. Her heart raced in crippling fear as the handle rattled. Sarah cowered to the furthest corner of her room and shielded her face.
A man pounded at the door, shouting instructions in a language and dialect she didn’t understand. Then the lock and handle exploded with the deafening sounds of rifle fire. Before she could look away, the destroyed door was kicked in and men rushed forward—filthy men, stinking of unwashed bodies and tobacco smoke. They had long beards and wore black clothing under military vests heaving with equipment. A man grabbed at her and pulled her forward. She struggled helplessly to resist and looked into the man’s soulless eyes. He smiled back with a jagged grin and swung a closed fist that caught her square in the front of her teeth.
She tasted the blood and felt the pain reverberate through her body, the whiplash straining her neck and causing her muscles to go slack. More men rushed in and grabbed at her. They tore at her nightgown, and Sarah felt the cold air hit her bare flesh. The men pulled her in every direction then dragged her limp, nearly naked body through the hallways. Her mind lulled as she passed over cold stone floors, down ancient staircases, and finally into a courtyard, where she was dropped heavily to the ground. She tasted the dirt as her face hit the crushed gravel. The spinning world finally settled, her vision focusing on a tall block wall. Other women surrounded her, whimpering and crying, some trembling with fear.
The gunfire faded then halted. The women clustered together, trying to find safety in their closeness. Sarah brought a finger to her lip and quickly pulled away from the sting of her open cut. Her front teeth were loose from the man’s blow. She tried to look beyond her group to survey the surroundings. They were in the outer yard of the monastery, a little-used place where vehicles were kept and the grounds were patrolled by armed guards.
Men in state uniforms lay dead on the ground all around them. Just in front of her, she saw the bodies of the monastery priests. Vehicles were riddled with bullet holes and broken glass. The buildings beyond the vehicles began to smoke as flame filled the windows. She saw men dressed in black running along the front of the buildings, tossing fire bombs through windows.
Sister Sarah heard a scream, and she turned her attention toward two men who were dragging a limp body. They tossed the man against the hood of a car. She saw that it was Ishmael. His head hung to one side as he briefly made eye contact with her. A man drew a long, rusted blade from his belt and without any word or warning, he cut a long gash through Ishmael’s throat. Blood filled the exposed space and foamed as Ishmael gasped for air. The man let the body fall to the dusty ground. More men surrounded the women. One by one, they pulled the women away from the group and forced them to kneel with their heads pressed against the stone wall. A man grabbed Sarah by the hair. She yelled, pleading for him to stop, and he quickly loosened his grip.
The men on the grounds fell silent as they stopped what they were doing and looked down at her crumpled form. A man lurched forward from the dark sidelines of the chaos. She looked up at his smiling stained teeth resting under a thick mustache. He moved slowly toward her, the other men clearing a path for him. The man knelt down and locked his eyes on hers.
“American?” he asked, his voice suddenly soft and compassionate.
Afraid to speak, Sarah held her tongue. The man stooped over her. He gently helped her rise to a sitting position and adjusted her torn clothing to cover her bare shoulders “You are American, yes?” he said in accented English, brushing the hair way from her blue eyes. “We were told all of the Americans had left.”
Sarah hesitated and looked at him, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. She wanted to reason with this man’s merciful side; maybe if she answered his questions he would call off his men. She looked him in the eyes. “I am Sister Sarah Donovan,” she responded in a clear voice.
The man grinned, exposing his rotten smile, then struck hard with a closed fist.