Compassion International

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Stealth Ops: The History of Romeo Seven

From the pages of WRAITH

     Merlin upturned the shaker, dumping a stream of red powder onto his popcorn. “You should be proud of your work tonight. You flew sharp and your presence of mind saved us from a potential second Roswell, not to mention your near suicidal effort to save the B-2. You did the Triple Seven proud, kid.” He popped a handful of reddened popcorn into his mouth, chewed it thoughtfully for a moment, and then nodded as if the seasoning had transformed the bowl of stale kernels into a culinary masterpiece. “Tonight’s events are water under the bridge,” he said, pulling the Triple Seven patch off of his shoulder and placing it on the table between them. “Let’s talk about something else. The Colonel tells me you want to know what all of this means.”

     For the first time since the accident, Nick smiled. “Yes, sir. I surely do.”

     “As well you should. As any young officer should want to know the history of his unit.” The older pilot settled back into his seat.  “Very well then, in 1972, before you were born if I remember your file correctly, the powers-that-be decided to create a covert chase unit for test missions, and the Seventh Chase Squadron was born, with four pilots and two shiny new T-38 aircraft.”

     Nick raised an eyebrow.

     “I see you noticed that I said ‘the Seventh Chase’ instead of ‘the Triple Seven Chase. Merlin narrowed one eye. “Keep that in mind for later. As I was saying, four pilots, under the command of Michael ‘Rat’ Shaw, were based at Holloman under various cover assignments. Every day they took off with the dawn patrol in their T-38s and practiced test maneuvers that pushed the edge of sanity.” He paused a moment and then cocked his head to one side. “Have you ever seen the movie Top Gun, where Tom Cruise flies inverted directly over the top of a MiG?”

     “Yeah, everyone knows that scene.”

     “True. Well, Rat and his band of misfits were flying that maneuver long before Tom Cruise was playing beach volleyball and showering with other guys. Anyway, one of the Seventh’s objectives was to test the new laser-guided bombs, and Rat discovered that the easiest method for following a bomb through its parabolic flight path was from above while inverted.” Merlin demonstrated the maneuver with the flying hands that most pilots use when they tell a story, holding one inverted over the other.

     “Rat and his guys practiced the move on each other, with one T-38 playing the bomb, and one acting as chase. It wasn’t long before the boys were ready for their first test mission—not a bomb, but a new top secret drone.” 

   The lieutenant colonel scooped another handful of popcorn into his mouth, and Nick gathered from the dramatic pause that Rat’s boys were not, in fact, as ready as he supposed.

     “Rat sent Frank Eubanks up to chase the drone,” said the lieutenant colonel, wiping red seasoning from his lips. “Half way through the test, Frank slid his jet underneath to check controls. Stupid drone picked that exact moment to go nuts. It made an abrupt pitch down, right on top of his jet. Both went down in flames in the desert. The resulting cover-up was a pain in the proverbial neck, but the Seventh survived.”

     “You still haven’t explained how you added two more sevens,” interrupted Nick.

     “Patience, kid. Man, you Generation-X people have no attention span.” Merlin pressed his lips together and glanced down at his bowl, as if suddenly feeling the kick in the red seasoning. He stood and headed for the coffee machine. “So anyway, they buried what was left of Frank and carried on. The next test involved a laser-guided bomb, the kind they had practiced for. Rat flew the test himself, chasing the bomb through its parabolic profile, and just as they’d practiced, he entered an inverted dive above the weapon. This time there was no malfunction. The bomb was following its normal guidance sequence. Rat simply got too close. It was the early days. We knew laser-guided bombs made big corrections, but we didn't know just how big.”

     “You mean the system they call ‘bang-bang guidance’,”  offered Nick.

     “Yeah, it went bang alright. Merlin returned with his coffee, pausing before he sat down to take a long, pepper-quenching swallow.  The weapon made a pitch correction and slammed into Rat’s canopy. Boom. This time, there was nothing left to bury.” He set his coffee down and pointed at the ribbons on the patch. “That’s why the names are written in blood red. They are a memoriam to Sideshow Eubanks and Rat Shaw.” 

    Merlin stared quietly down at the patch for a few seconds, as if paying his respects to the dead. Then he slowly lifted his head. “Heads began to roll. With two fatal mishaps in as many tests, the squadron was a dismal failure. Everything was shut down. In 1984, however, along comes a Major by the name of Bob Windsor. The uppity-mucks had handed Windsor an ultra-classified project. And he had nowhere to conduct his tests. So then he stumbles across the records of the Seventh Chase. Light bulb. Revive Biggs North One. Resurrect the Seventh. He met with resistance, though. A lot of people with the right clearances considered the whole idea unlucky. But Windsor is stuborn. He pestered them into submission.”

     Merlin picked up a piece of popcorn from the bottom of the bowl, almost entirely red with seasoning. He considered it a moment, then popped it into his mouth and chased it with some coffee. “Under Windsor, the squadron took on an entirely new format—an additional duty for select pilots, something you do once in a blue moon. There are six of us at any given time. Each has another flying job and only returns to Romeo Seven as the need arises.”

     “But what about the name?” asked Nick, tapping the numbers on the patch with his finger. “How did it become the Triple Seven Chase?”

      “Oh, right. I almost forgot,” said Merlin, though his smile indicated otherwise. “You know, you and Windsor should get along fine.

     The name, boss.
     Yeah, yeah. The Triple Seven Chase. Right. Windsor came up with it. He had to change the name to get around a few superstitious superiors, and what he came up with was a stroke of brilliance. Windsor melded the squadron’s history into a name and symbol that seemed the essence of luck itself. No one could argue with three sevens. By Windsor’s account, his revival represented the third iteration of the Seventh, hence the name, and hence the motto, ‘Third Time Lucky.’” 

     The older pilot leaned back in his chair. “So there you have it, kid, the whole story. How’d I do?” 

     Nick shrugged. “I don’t recommend it for younger audiences, but not bad.”

     “Thanks, I’ll take that under advisement.”

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Stealth Ops - The SHADOW MAKER Finale

Spoiler Alert: Read SHADOW MAKER before reading this or any of the forthcoming files marked Stealth Ops.

Washington, D.C.

Nick shifted into neutral and rolled to a stop next to the Andrews gatehouse. After a fleeting glance at his ID, a young guard in navy whites offered a lazy salute. The squid didn’t even bother to put down his coffee.

Nick returned the gesture and took his foot off the brake, but he left the Shelby in neutral, letting it roll slowly down the gentle slope until he saw the squid turn his back to the road and put the coffee to his lips. Then Nick red-lined the tachometer.

The deep roar of the restored seven-liter V8 shook the gatehouse windows. The squid jumped, spilling coffee down the front of his whites.

Nick chuckled and shifted the Shelby into gear, letting the angry shouts of the sailor fall behind him.

The incident at the Turkish teashop had not been the end of Saghir the imam. Hadad did not kill him. Saghir now rotted in a secure facility on Cyprus, under the care of a sandy-haired CIA man that liked to go by the name Eddie Fryers.

The Brits would not get Saghir back. Nick liked Constable Gale, but was not that generous. The little imam had information—contacts—that could lead to what remained of Masih Kattan’s Hashashin network. And Nick wanted it all.

As he turned toward the Andrews golf course and the Triple Seven HQ, Nick made a decision to quit wondering about dominoes. Every move had consequences, both good and bad. Worrying about extended outcomes would leave an operative like him frozen, unable to act at all.

He had made peace with the attack in Yemen. He and Drake had not known—could not have known—that Masih was in the house. Masih’s fate was a result of his terrorist father’s machinations, not the Triple Seven’s, and his actions in search of revenge were his own, not Nick’s. Now he would rot in a Mossad prison while the Israelis picked his brain.

The decision to take out the elder Kattan had been the right move at the time. Nick knew that now. He and Drake had stopped the terrorist’s plans for Afghanistan and prevented future operations that could have killed hundreds, even thousands of innocents. In truth, they had no other choice.

Nick pulled into the spot next to Drake’s Audi and shut down the engine. After a few moments of staring into the rearview mirror, he pulled the Hashashin knife out of his pocket—the same knife he had taken from the sniper in Istanbul, the key that had enabled him to get up to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He turned the ornate hilt over in his hand and over again. Then he let out a long breath, tossed it into the glove box, and shut the door. The Kattan mission was over. After nine years, he could put that demon to rest.

During the elevator ride down to Romeo Seven, Nick’s phone buzzed. He reached for it,  but
the door slid open before he could answer. Looking out at the command center, he immediately sensed trouble. Techs pounded furiously on keyboards and chattered on comm links while Walker barked into a landline receiver.

When the colonel saw Nick he covered the receiver and pointed at his team lead. “Get in here, Baron. We need all hands on deck!” Then he returned to barking into the phone.

“Another mission so soon? No rest for the weary, I gue—” Nick stopped short, staring up at Romeo Seven’s twenty-four-foot screen. At the center, surrounded by windows containing maps and rolling text, was a live drone feed showing a burning ship. There were bodies in the black water, face down amid the debris. He recognized the vessel—a floating Mossad detention center. One he had recently visited. He turned to Walker with wide, searching eyes.

The colonel lowered the receiver, locked eyes with Nick, and nodded. “They took him, Baron. Two runabouts packed with explosives rammed the ship. A third brought in an assault team. They killed every Israeli on board."

“And the prisoners?”

Walker shook his head. “Masih Kattan has escaped.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Stealth Ops - Hadad and Saghir

Spoiler Alert: Read SHADOW MAKER before reading this or any of the forthcoming epilogue files marked Stealth Ops.



Aman Saghir sighed bitterly, lowering himself into a white-painted iron chair outside a tea shop in the Grand Bazaar. He had lost everything he built in London—his mosque, his flock, and most importantly, his bank accounts. Persecution by the British police had reduced him from holy man to vagrant, a burden on his Turkish relatives. And even they were becoming less and less enthusiastic about his presence.

While he waited for his order— mint tea and halva wafers—Saghir frowned at the dress of the European tourists passing by. These western women had no shame. Far from being covered by the hijab as they should be, they wore shorts cut off at the thigh and tied off their shirts to show off their midriffs.

Saghir harbored particular ire for the midriffs. In fact, he was concentrating so hard on his disdain for one woman with an sinfully flat, tan midriff and a blue rhinestone bellybutton ring that he hardly noticed the elderly Turk sitting down next to him.

An enormous waiter in a bright red jacket and fez brought Saghir's order, then tarried to take the order of the old man, who took far too long to spit it out, fumbling with the gilded head of his cane the whole time.

Saghir ignored them. He took a sip of his tea and returned to his disdain, but he found his view of all the sinful shorts and unholy, tan midriffs had been obstructed by a two-decker rolling rack of silk clothes, creeping down the lane under the power of a teenager who could barely keep it moving.

The teenager's rolling rack also blocked the rest of the market's view of Saghir and the tea shop.
When the kid finally made it past, Saghir and the big waiter had vanished. Only the elderly Turk remained, sipping his tea and slipping a small, black cylinder back into the hidden compartment in the head of his cane.

Stealth Ops - Gale and Mercer

Spoiler Alert: Read SHADOW MAKER before reading this or any of the forthcoming epilogue files marked Stealth Ops.


A Board of Inquiry reviewed the Paternoster Square incident and found that Detective Sergeant Thomas Mercer of SO15 hindered the investigation. In particular, the board determined that Mercer wrongfully detained two American Interpol agents over a trivial question of paperwork—cleared up within days of the attack.

The board found that Mr. Mercer's mistreatment and persecution of Interpol agents Stafford and Martignetti delayed the identification of a terrorist weapons lab and resulted in a destructive vehicle chase, made famous as the Case of the Marauding MG by the Times.

On the board's recommendation, the Commissioner stripped Mercer of his detective title, reduced him
to the rank of constable, and transferred him from SO15 to the Met's traffic detail.

The board also ruled on the case of a junior member of SO15 who played a part in the events following the attack. They pronounced both a special commendation and a step promotion for one Geoffrey Gale, a constable who, oddly enough, had nothing but nice things to say about the American who tied him up, gagged him with his own sock, and left him in a closet.

Gale did not earn his accolades by getting tied up, but by conducting a follow-up investigation into Aman Saghir, the imam of the Ismaili Jamatkhana on Fleet Street. Through superior investigative work, Constable Gale acquired enough evidence to warrant a thorough search of the Jamatkhana. His team found residue in an upstairs storage facility that matched the explosives used in Paternoster Square as well as the bomb that destroyed the Jamatkhana basement. Unfortunately, the magistrate dragged his feet on the warrant and Saghir disappeared before he could be arrested. Gale determined that Saghir had likely fled to familiar ground in Turkey, and forwarded all of his evidence to Nick Stafford of the American Interpol.

Gale's investigation also cleared the Coptic professor who had been labeled a suicide bomber by the news services. The BBC aired a retraction and an apology. Sadly, only one American news source followed suit.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Stealth Ops - The Girl in the Bar

Spoiler Alert: Read SHADOW MAKER before reading this epilogue for the girl in the bar.



With support from the US Defense Intelligence Agency, the Hungarian Terrorelhárítási Központ—the TEK—conducted a midnight raid on the Black Dog nightclub, uncovering a human trafficking hub and a forced-prostitution ring.

The raid resulted in the arrest of seven corrupt Budapest police officers and constituted the largest blow to the Bratva yet achieved by Hungary's fledgling counterterrorism organization. As part of the joint operation, both the US and Hungary offered citizenship to the young Ukrainian and Russian women freed from the Bratva.

One Ukrainian girl with fair skin and raven hair took the offer. Her DIA case officer was a blond man who wore glasses and always spoke to her through a translator, yet she found him vaguely familiar. He set her up in a spare room at the home of a female FBI agent—on extended leave to recover from a biological attack—and got her a job as a barista at Charla's, the coffee shop on Joint Base Andrews.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Stealth Ops - Shadow Maker Epilogue 1


Spoiler: Read SHADOW MAKER before reading this or any of the forthcoming epilogue files marked Stealth Ops.

A brilliant twelve year-old boy, American born, of Arab descent, caught in the crossfire between a covert ops team and his terrorist father. 


Masih Kattan was collateral damage. 


Documented in the mission files. Accepted by the powers that be. 

Roaring up Maryland's Route 301 in his '67 Mustang a month after returning from Israel, Nick considered the cost of Amjad's revenge.

Thirty-four innocent Americans had died in the DC suicide bombing, eight hundred fifty-seven from the black pox. Nineteen Brits were killed by the bombs under Paternoster Square, and fourteen investors and executives from six nations had committed suicide in the wake of the market crash. For two straight weeks, Muslims all over the world rioted over the desecration of the Noble Sanctuary mosques. Dozens were killed, countless more were injured.

Every outcome had consequences, and every set of consequences a new set of potential outcomes. Could this all be called the extended collateral damage of Nick's own mission nine years before? He wondered how long the dominoes would continue to fall.

Nick allowed himself a rueful smile. Not all outcomes were bad. He and Walker had given a few of those dominoes a little push to make sure they fell in the right place.

Read more Stealth Ops files on this blog, coming April 2016, to learn how the final dominoes fell . . .

Story Extras from Stealth Ops - Is Nick Baron MIA?


Not long ago, we had to close down the Stealth Ops app. 


Interest at the time did not justify the cost of the app, and we are now approaching the two-year point since the first publication of SHADOW MAKER.


However, a few fans have recently pointed out that the extra story bits promised at the end of SHADOW MAKER do not appear anywhere else now that Stealth Ops is gone. 


We're going to remedy that.


For the next couple of weeks, I'll be adding the original Stealth Ops content to this blog, including character profiles of Nick, Drake, Katy, and others, as well as backstory, sidestory, and loose end wrap ups for minor characters. 



I know I've been focused on Jack Buckles and the upcoming Section 13 series (starting this fall with THE LOST PROPERTY OFFICE), but I haven't forgotten about the Triple Seven Chase squadron. If you are a Nick Baron fan, please stay tuned.