Books 1 -3 of the gripping Paddy Regan thrillers in the CodeName: Orcus series in one boxset.
The reddish-brown walls rose up to about eight feet, surrounding an area the size of a football field. From their hide, the two men could see the majority of the enclosure. A steady breeze lowered the heat a little, stirring up small dust-devils. In the distance, the hot sun reflected from the metal panels of the few vehicles parked in the compound, giving rise to a shimmering haze.
To those inside the compound, the hide was all but invisible at nine
hundred yards distant, perched atop an outcrop of rocks that stretched for three hundred yards and rose to a height of forty feet. Their desert digital camouflage tunics blended perfectly with the scrubby brush adorning the top of the rocks.
Regan wiped away a bead of sweat from his brow, then dropped his hand back to the butt of his sniper rifle. He swung the barrel slowly until the telescopic sight of his L115 rested at the centre of a group of men inside the compound. Despite the distance, the faces of the suspected Taliban fighters were clearly visible through the rifle’s high-powered scope.
This had been their routine for the past three days; Regan scanning the compound while Lucas rested, then the changeover.
Regan had just begun to move on to another cluster of men when one of them turned, giving him a full-face view. Regan froze, the man’s face
centered in his sights. Without taking his eye from the scope, he reached over and tapped on Corporal Lucas’s helmet.
Lucas pushed the helmet up off his face and rubbed his eyes. ‘What’s up?’
‘I’ve got one. I think it’s Abdul Kabir… he’s standing a yard to the right of the white Mercedes truck and on the left of the bunch of other rag-heads.
Looks like he’s armed, too. I can just see what looks like a gun barrel sticking out from under his clothes.’
‘Hang on.’ Lucas rolled over and put his eye to his spotting scope. He
scanned the distant clusters of men, adjusting the scope’s focus as he found the group Regan had pinpointed. With a little more adjustment, the face of Abdul Kabir appeared in sharp detail. ‘It’s him, okay—Abdul Kabir,
wearing a black dish-dash, a turban and yeah… I’m seeing the gun too.’
Abdul Kabir appeared to be listening to one of his fighters. The man, visibly agitated, made animated gestures suggestive of machine gun fire and explosions going off around him.
Lucas scanned through the picture book of known Taliban leaders active in Afghanistan until he found Abdul Kabir and his identification sign. It
seemed that the ops group were using a similar ID system as applied in Iraq, where Saddam had been the Ace of Spades. Lucas keyed up the radio and
called headquarters. ‘Alpha-Zero-One, this is Alpha-One-Five, how copy?’
‘Alpha-One-Five, reading you loud and proud. What’s on, Dave?’ replied the sergeant manning the base radio.
‘Chalky, this place we’ve been monitoring for the past few days—looks as if it’s definitely a Taliban camp of some sort. Right now we have eyes on the Jack-of-Clubs. We believe he’s armed.’
‘Okay Dave, copy that. Eyes on the Jack-of-Clubs. Give me a grid reference.’
Lucas read out the six figures and waited for Chalky White to relay each one back to him.
‘Okay. Wait one.’
A few minutes later, Chalky came back on the air. ‘Dave, we have a Predator a few minutes out. It’s already used its stores, but the CO wants the yanks to agree the sighting of weapons before deciding what to do next, so stand by.’
‘Okay Chalky, standing by.’ Lucas looked at Regan and rolled his eyes ‘What’s up, Dave?’
‘All this politically correct fucking bullshit, Paddy. I remember when we used to have the authority to select targets and take them out at our own
‘No… don’t tell me, let me guess. Would this have something to do with a Predator?’
‘Ta-da! And the prize goes to Sergeant Patrick Regan of her Majesty’s Royal Marines.’
Regan chuckled. ‘They’re scared shitless in case of a fuck-up. They don’t like collateral damage these days, so they make sure all the i’s are dotted, mate.’
Two minutes came and went, along with another twenty, before White came back on. ‘Dave, that’s confirmed. There are concealed weapons on nearly every male in the compound.’
‘There’s a shocker,’ Lucas muttered.
‘We have a couple of Dutch F-16s inbound to strike the camp, ETA nine minutes. Dave—can you confirm you’re not danger-close for a two- thousand-pounder?’
‘Roger that, Chalky. We’re well outside the area, but if you get their
attack to come in on a southwest to northeast run, the blast debris will get ejected away from us. I’m just setting up the laser painter now, over.’
‘Copy that Dave, attack run southwest to northeast. Don’t worry about painting the target though.’
Lucas put down his Laser Target Designator, frowning. ‘We’re good to stay and mark the spot.’
‘Not the issue, Dave. The only weapon they have left is unguided.’ ‘Shit!’
‘What’s up Dave?’
‘Fucking dumb bomb is what.’
It was Regan’s turn to roll his eyes and he was quietly proud of his
corporal for keeping his cool instead of rapping out at Chalky, who was just passing on the good news. Lucas settled for kicking a few rocks down the
hill from the back of their hide. Regan nodded in acknowledgement at their frustration. Now was not the time for reduced accuracy. The laser-painter
would guide a missile right to the Mercedes truck, taking out every man in a ten-yard radius. The unguided or dumb-bombs relied on ballistic trajectories and didn’t always hit where they were supposed to. They needed the damn thing to land on target. Not near it.
The radio crackled in Lucas’ ears. From the other end, Chalky piped up again. ‘Dave?’
‘Copy that. Incoming unguided munitions so keep our heads down,’ Lucas confirmed.
‘I’ll call when they’re sixty seconds out. Get this, though—they’ll be running on fumes by the time they hit the target. They’ll have to bug-out as soon as they’ve done the delivery, over.’
Lucas signed out and released a long sigh. ‘Does this remind you of anything?’
‘This whole business of being dumped somewhere and expected to cope while only getting half the infor—’
‘We’re not going to talk about Northern Ireland.’
‘Official Secrets Act? Who’s going to hear anything out here?’
Regan snorted. ‘Fuck the Official Secrets Act. I’m more worried about my blood pressure.’
Lucas laughed as Regan went back to his scope, continuing to watch the camp—Abdul Kabir in particular—while waiting for the inbound air strike. Regan was glad to have Lucas’s company on this job, not just because of their history, but because they were usually on the same page in terms of how to get things done. That said, situations like this just meant that they
were both hanging around, both writhing with impatience, both waiting for other people to make things happen.
The minutes ticked slowly by until Chalky White came back on.
‘Ghost-Rider four is sixty seconds out.’
‘Roger, Chalky. No change, friendlies—he’s clear hot,’ Lucas said, confirming that they hadn’t moved position and that it was clear for the aircraft to attack.
Kabir hadn’t moved over the last twenty-five minutes, or so. He was still by the truck, taking reports from different men.
Regan ducked down reflexively as he heard the soft, droning approach of the F16s. As a sniper he ought to keep his body relaxed, but he couldn’t help tensing up while watching the faces of the guys in the compound, hoping they wouldn’t spot the overhead hazard before it shat on them.
Sweat threaded through the grade-two stubble over Regan’s temple, trickling maddeningly down his cheek.
The bomb screamed in from the clear blue sky and slammed into a building at the far north-eastern edge of the compound. The noise of the explosion merged with that from the exhausts of the two F16s as they
streaked overhead. Despite their distance from the target, Regan and Lucas still jerked a little downhill at the shockwave as the building was pulverised, along with a large section of the compound wall. Regan waited for the reverberations to stop before trying to line his sight up again. The
cluster of men around Kabir looked stunned, but unharmed. And the F16s couldn’t return for another run.
‘Shit,’ Regan muttered, seeing Kabir wrenching open the door of the truck. ‘He’s getting his arse out of there—tell the CO I’m taking the shot.’
Lucas jabbed the transmit button. ‘Chalky, the attack missed and the target’s on the move. Paddy’s taking the shot.’
‘The CO heard that, Dave, and he’s giving you the thumbs up.’ ‘Okay Paddy, the CO says shoot.’
‘Got it!’ Regan snapped, then had a moment’s regret for biting Lucas’s
head off, but seriously—they needed a thumbs-up for this? He homed in on Kabir, who was now standing on the top step of the white Mercedes truck, shouting orders to the men still clustered around him. Regan gently
squeezed the trigger, taking up the backlash in the firing mechanism. The
gun fired, sending its 300-grain .338 Lapua-Mag bullet hurtling towards the target, striking Kabir just above his left eye some two seconds later. The back of Kabir’s head split open like an overstuffed suitcase, spewing much of its contents over the fighters standing just below. At the sight of their leader’s head exploding, the Taliban fighters, still dusting themselves off from the explosion, dived for cover under trucks and up against some of the large rocks dotted about in the compound.
‘That’s confirmed,’ Lucas said into the radio. ‘Scratch one more Taliban shit-stirrer.’
A bullet ricocheted off the rocks twenty yards in front and ten yards to the right of their position. A smattering of small arms and heavier machinegun fire followed the impact of the first bullet as the Taliban
adopted a spray-and-pray policy, hoping they’d get lucky and hit something.
Lucas snatched up the radio with one hand and the rest of their shit with the other.
They eased themselves back from the edge of the rocky outcrop, slid into the gulley a few yards behind the firing position, and hefted their Bergens before legging it back towards the extraction point, where they were to be
evacuated by helicopter. As they ran, Lucas punched the transmit key.
‘Chalky, situation critical—we have incoming. We need air support and evac, over.’
‘Roger your last, Dave. Ground suppression and evac helos inbound your location. ETA seventeen minutes, over.’
‘Confirmed, evac helo seventeen minutes—roger and out.’
Regan kept up with Lucas as they zigzagged their way across the rock-
strewn plain, their boots kicking up small dust clouds with each step as they headed towards the extraction point. They stuck to ground that was too rough to drive over, forcing their pursuers to give chase on foot.
Five minutes passed, then ten. The pair kept running, knowing the
chasing Taliban would be on them if they slackened their punishing pace. A bullet pinged off the rocks thirty feet to their left, spurring them on.
As they approached the extraction point, they could hear the steady beat of the incoming helicopter’s rotor blades. The speed with which the Apache gunship appeared overhead made both men duck. They reached the cover of scrubby bushes and stunted trees as the Apache opened covering fire on the pursuing Taliban fighters. Rounds from its 30-mil chain-gun caught two of them, tearing their bodies apart with the force of impact. Their comrades dived for cover, but continued to fire after the retreating sniper team, though some of them redirected their fire towards the Apache.
Regan and Lucas kept going even as wilted branches and bushes tugged at their equipment and scratched exposed areas of skin. Regan’s chest was beginning to get a little tight but he had to puff his way through it and keep his legs moving. The sound of the Apache’s gunfire gave them some
comfort, but bullets still buzzed about them as the Taliban fired blind into the scrub. They reached the clearing designated as their extraction point and saw a Lynx helicopter already on the ground, its rotor-blades revolving
slowly as the engines idled. Seeing them emerge, the pilot opened the throttles. The Lynx began to shimmy on its undercarriage as if eager to be airborne.
When they were just a hundred yards from the Lynx, a loud explosion
came from above and behind them. Regan accelerated, remaining focussed on reaching the Lynx. Fifty yards left…
50-calibre bullets from a Dushka heavy machine gun ripped through the air around them. Regan saw Lucas pitch forward and face-plant the ground, gripping the back of his leg under his right buttock. Regan skidded around and dropped down next to his fallen comrade. He got a hand under Lucas’s arm and felt his groan without even hearing it.
‘C’mon, it’s not far, can you—’ Regan’s pulse leapt as Lucas’s eyes rolled up into his head and he sagged back onto the ground. ‘Shit!’
Regan shed his Bergen and hoisted Lucas up onto his shoulders. He scooped up his equipment and staggered the rest of the way to the helicopter.
Helped by the helicopter’s crewman, Regan lowered Lucas onto the floor of the Lynx. ‘Grab him, he’s out!’
The crewman dragged Lucas further into the cabin, giving Regan the chance to roll through the doorway just as the helicopter lifted off. As it turned away, thin shafts of light suddenly appeared as if by magic,
crisscrossing inside the rear end of the fuselage and tail section, as machinegun fire ripped through the metal. Staying low the pilot used the total engine power to accelerate away from the Taliban, rather than using seventy five percent of it to climb. By doing this he deprived the Taliban
gunners of a clear shot and forced them to expose themselves to the Apache as they had to raise themselves up to depress their gun muzzles. It wasn’t long before the Lynx began to climb, levelling off at a thousand feet.
‘Is everyone okay back there?’ the pilot asked over the intercom.
‘We have one man down,’ the crewman said, ‘but he’s still with us. Apart from that we’re okay, skipper. I can’t see any signs of a problem from the hits we took. There’re a few holes here and there, nothing critical.’
‘Roger. I’ll radio base, let them know to expect wounded.’
The crewman slid the cargo door shut and turned to help Regan with Lucas as he attempted to remove the wounded marine’s Bergen. The
crewman held Lucas up by the front of his ballistic vest as Regan finally got the rucksack off him, and between them they rolled Lucas into the recovery position, injured side up.
Regan took out his combat knife and sliced open Lucas’s trouser leg. He dry heaved; a saucer-sized piece of flesh had been ripped from Lucas’ upper thigh. Blood pumped from the gaping wound and Regan could see the ends of broken bones sticking up through the hole.
He snatched a field dressing kit from his own Bergen, placed some thick gauze pads into the hole, and pressed them down and around the open fracture to stem the flow of blood. Lucas remained unconscious, his body trembling. Regan grabbed his fingers. They were chilled.
‘Shock already?’ the crewman yelled.
Regan squeezed Lucas’s shoulder. ‘It was a bad hit.’ With the air-
crewman’s help, he tied the pads tightly in place then used the drag-bag containing his rifle as a splint to keep Lucas’s leg straight. As he felt for
breathing and pulse again, he felt his ears pop, signalling the helicopter’s descent into Camp Bastion.
With only a slight jolt, the pilot landed. Through the window, Regan could see two ambulances. He glanced back at the crewman. ‘Who’s the other one for?’
The crewman shrugged. ‘Fucked if I know.’
Two army medics carrying a stretcher rushed up to the door of the Lynx as the crewman opened it. They slid the stretcher into the helicopter and
climbed in to take charge of Lucas.
Regan picked up his kit and dropped down onto the tarmac of Camp Bastion just as the Apache gunship limped in towards the landing pad, yawing from side to side and trailing black smoke. It landed hard a short
distance from the Lynx, one of its wheels buckling under from the impact. The Apache’s distinctive sensor pod was missing, along with some of the bulletproof glass on the helicopter’s port side. Bullet and shrapnel holes peppered the fuselage and smoke billowed from the cowling of its starboard engine.
Regan looked on in awe—it was a miracle the damn thing hadn’t just dropped from the sky. It was obvious now why they needed a second
ambulance; the pilot looked as wrecked as the Apache. He cut the remaining engine and then collapsed at the helicopter’s controls.
‘Mind your back, Sarge,’ one of the medics said, as they hoisted Lucas out of the Lynx. Regan stepped out of the way, unable to take his eyes off the stricken Apache gunship. A crash tender raced up to the damaged helicopter, disgorging fire-fighters as it came to a halt. A fire-fighter ran out a hose and sprayed foam into the burning engine while another two tried to get the doors open and failed. Without the Apache’s covering fire, he and Lucas would’ve both been cut down, for sure. Regan watched in a daze as they began hacking away with axes at what was left of the cockpit to get at the injured pilot and weapons operator.
The crewman stepped out alongside Regan. ‘I wouldn’t have believed it could fly either, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.’
‘It’s in a state alright, poor fuckers.’ Regan turned away from the gut- wrenching sight and they made their way towards the ambulance that the medics were loading Lucas into. ‘Can you tell your jockey we said thanks for getting us out?’
‘Yeah, okay Paddy.’
Lucas started to come round just as Regan reached the ambulance. His normally tanned complexion had turned grey, his hazel eyes glazed.
‘How’re you doing buddy?’ Regan asked.
Lucas gave a weak thumbs-up, but his arm dropped back onto the stretcher as he lost consciousness again.
Regan was about to climb up into the ambulance when a Humvee pulled up and a soldier leaned out of the driver’s window.
‘Sergeant Regan, you’re to come with me.’
Regan looked back at his friend on the stretcher, and then at the medics. ‘Take care of him, won’t you?’
‘Yeah don’t worry about him, he’ll be fine.’
Regan put his hand on Lucas’ shoulder. ‘See you later, buddy,’ he said and walked over to the waiting Humvee. He opened a rear door of the vehicle and hoisted his Bergen up onto the seat. ‘Where’re we going?’
‘Farlow’s office. I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but the Colonel wants to see you.’
Regan grunted in reply. The adrenaline in his system was beginning to taper off. An intense wave of tiredness washed over him. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the seat, images of the past half-hour floating around in his mind.
Fuck me, what a day.
He hoped Dave would be okay—that wound looked pretty gnarly. At least he’d been able to stem some of the blood loss, and give his friend a fighting chance.
He couldn’t help wondering what the old man wanted. It had to be
something serious to collar him straight off a shout. Regan scratched his itchy stubble. Perhaps something to do with his request to transfer back to Lympstone, as sniper instructor? Nah, that’d gone through his divisional officer. This was something big, or bad.
Or maybe or both big and bad.
The Humvee engine growled as it rolled slowly over the camp’s recently- laid tarmac roads. After a few minutes, the driver pulled-up outside a grey, two-storey cinder-block building.
‘Here you go, Sergeant,’ the driver said. ‘Go through the door over there, and see the lumpy-jumper in reception.’
‘Thanks for the lift.’ Regan climbed out of the vehicle, dragging his kit with him. He turned away from the Humvee, shouldered his Bergen, and walked towards the door the driver had indicated. Just inside the door, the lumpy-jumper—this one a young corporal—sat at the reception desk.
She looked up with a smile and shot a discreet glance at the rank on his shoulder. ‘Yes Sergeant, can I help you?’
‘Patrick Regan. I’ve been told to report here.’
‘Ah yes…’ Her smile seemed to falter a little. ‘Take a seat and I’ll tell the colonel you’re here.’