From Tom Clancy Support and Defend
Dominic Caruso was only thirty-two years old, and by any fair measure physically fit, but still he found it difficult keeping stride with the fifty-year-old man running several paces ahead of him. In the past hour the pair had done five miles of roadwork broken up by a half-mile swim, and the conditions here weren't helping. Dom sucked as much of the fetid air as he could get into his lungs just to keep going. It was the middle of the night and still hot as hell, and the jungle path was dark save for a little hazy moonlight that filtered through the palms above.
Dom's running partner seemed to be having no trouble finding his way in the darkness, but Dom caught the toe of his shoe on the exposed root of a jacaranda tree, and he fell headlong to his hands and knees.
"Son of a bitch." He said it under labored breath.
His trainer looked back at him but kept running. Dom thought he detected a smile on the older man's face. His voice was low and heavily accented. "Do you need an ambulance?"
"No, I just—"
"Then get the fuck up." The older man chuckled, then added, "C'mon, D, soldier on." He turned away and picked up the pace.
"Right." Dom climbed back to his feet, wiped warm mud on his shorts, and took off in pursuit.
A month ago there was no way in hell the American could have run a ten-K in eighty-five-degree heat and ninety-five percent humidity, especially not in the middle of the night after a full day of training in martial arts. But since his arrival here in India he'd made advances in his physical and mental strength faster than he could have imagined, and he owed this all to Arik Yacoby, the man now forty feet ahead of him.
The muddy jungle path ended at a paved road, and Arik turned to the left and began sprinting along it. Dominic gave chase even though he thought they should have been going to the right; he was the visitor, after all, and he trusted that Yacoby knew his way around these roads better than he.
Yacoby wasn't a local, but he'd lived here a few years, and by his elite physical condition it was obvious he'd run these trails and roads hundreds of times.
Dom knew very little about Arik Yacoby's past: only that he was Israeli, an émigré to India, and he had once been a member of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. Dom had no trouble picturing Arik as an elite soldier; his fitness and discipline and the confident and determined glint in his steely eyes announced this fact to anyone who knew what to look for.
Dom had come here to India to train with the man for six weeks. Yacoby held a fourth- degree black belt in Krav Maga, a martial art developed for the Israeli military. Dom's hand-to- hand training with Arik had been intense in and of itself, but these additional nighttime PT sessions had added another facet to the grueling experience.
They'd swam, they'd run, they'd climbed—often all in the same night. It seemed to Dom as if Arik felt it his duty to impart not just the skills of hand-to-hand combat, but every physical and mental aspect of serving in the Israeli Special Forces.
Everything short of the use of firearms, that was. This was India, and although Arik Yacoby was now a permanent resident of Peravur, he was no cop, and no soldier, and he therefore could not obtain a gun legally.
But Dom didn't think Yacoby's lack of a firearm made him in any way less dangerous.
This India quest to study Krav Maga was the third evolution of five in a four-month training course for Dominic Caruso. Just before coming here, Dom had spent three weeks mountain climbing in the Yukon, led in one-on-one tutelage by a veteran Canadian alpinist. And before that, he'd spent two weeks in Reno, Nevada, studying sleight of hand and other applications of misdirection from a master magician.
After his Krav Maga training in India, Dom was slated to fly to Pennsylvania to work with a former U.S. Marine sniper on his long-distance shooting, and then from there he would go straight to Sapporo, Japan, to learn from a master in edged-weapon combat.
At each of these evolutions Dom tapped the experience of his expert trainers in the one-on- one courses and peppered them with literally thousands of questions. The trainers, on the other hand, didn't ask him much of anything. They didn't know his real name—Arik just referred to him as D—they didn't know his organization, they didn't know his background. All they knew, all they needed to know, was that Dom came with the blessing of important people connected to the U.S. intelligence community.
There was certainly an assumption by the trainers that Dom was CIA or DIA or JSOC or some other acronym that meant trouble, and Caruso himself did nothing to dispel that notion. But he was none of these things, nor was he an employee of any official government agency. Instead, Dominic Caruso was an operations officer for an entity known as The Campus. It was an off-the- books intelligence organization with a direct-action arm. Only a few in the official government ranks knew of its existence, and these few made the connections to the one-on-one elite training cadre around the world, so Dom and his fellow Campus officers could learn from martial artists, mountain climbers, snipers, divers, extreme athletes, language and cultural experts, or masters in any other discipline that might be necessary for them to succeed in their black operations.
Before his time in The Campus, Dom had been a special agent in the FBI. This gave him a tremendous amount of practical training, but the FBI Training Academy at Quantico didn't send its recruits up mountains or have them skulking through tropical swamps.
Caruso had learned much at each of his stops on his extracurricular training circuit, but his time here with Arik Yacoby had been the best of the evolutions so far, thanks, in large part, to Yacoby and his family. Arik's yoga-instructor wife, Hanna, had taken him into her home like a long lost relative, and their two young boys, Moshe and Dar, aged one and three, had treated him like a human jungle gym, playfully climbing over him each night as the adults sat in the living room of Arik's rustic village farmhouse and talked over dinner and beer.
Dominic was an unreformed bachelor, and he was surprised by how much he had enjoyed this glimpse into family life.
This evening, Dom had finished dinner with Arik and his family, and then retired to his room to do his "homework," reading up on the philosophies of Krav Maga. He'd nodded off before eleven, but just after midnight Yacoby appeared at his door and told him he had three minutes to put on his swimming shorts and running shoes and to get outside.
These night ops, as he called them, were designed to help condition Caruso's body to adapt to working on command, even when he'd had little sleep or his biorhythms were telling him it was time to shut down.
Dom's body had adapted to this regimen, although reluctantly, while Arik himself seemed to genuinely enjoy the late-night runs and swims.
Three minutes after Yacoby woke Caruso up, the two men began their run. They headed away from the house and up a road that led out of the cluster of farms and bungalows in the Jewish neighborhood, and into the palm trees. They turned west toward the ocean and then north, away from the closest village and along a jungle trail that at times turned nearly impossible to negotiate due to the complete darkness of the double canopy of coconut palms and banana trees.
They reached the banks of Paravur Lake and Yacoby stepped into the water with hardly a break in stride, and then he began a relaxed but powerful breaststroke that Dom could keep up with only by pumping his arms and legs in an Australian crawl.
Dom wasn't a fan of this lake. The first time he'd swam in it he'd climbed out on the far bank only to find himself twenty-five feet from a pit of cobras. Arik had laughed at Dom's panic, and told him the cobras, like most dangerous creatures on earth, just wanted to be left alone, and they wouldn't start anything if Dom didn't.
Tonight Dom saw a massive python in the reeds near the water's edge, but he didn't bother it and, true to Arik's promise, it just slithered away, and the two men finished their swim without incident.
From here they ran on a levee along a large cassava paddy, then entered the backwater jungle, running for two miles along the second dark trail of the evening.
Now back on paved road, they reentered the village of North Paravur. A small tuk-tuk buzzed past them on the otherwise empty road, the two-stroke motor coughing as it stopped at a house to pick up a woman heading to the local bus station for an early ride to work down in Kochi. Arik and Dom waved to the woman and the driver as the tuk-tuk made a U-turn in front of them.
Finally Arik slowed to a walk. He spoke through slightly labored breaths. "Two kilometers home, we'll relax the rest of the way. I'm going light on you tonight."
Dom panted as quietly as possible; he could barely speak at all. Between gulps of air he squeezed out, "Appreciate it."
"You'll really appreciate it in the morning. We will begin with some full contact work in the dojo, and follow this with a long swim before lunch."
Dom just nodded as he walked, gulping the hot, wet air.
The lights of another vehicle appeared behind them seconds later, and the two men moved off the road as a large beige milk van passed on its way south.
Arik cocked his head at the sight of the vehicle, but he said nothing.
A minute later Dom and Arik walked by the local synagogue in the dark, and Arik said, "I have ancestors in the cemetery around back. The oldest Jewish community in India is right here, you know."
Dom just nodded, still too winded to talk, and he fought a smile. Arik had mentioned this fact a half-dozen times in the past month, after all. Yacoby traced his roots all the way back here, to the western shores of India, before his family had been uprooted and resettled in Israel. He had returned here to explore his past while on leave from the IDF several years ago, and as he toured the old synagogue and walked the streets of North Paravur, he decided someday he would come back here to live, to fortify the small Jewish community and raise his children on the same land his ancestors had walked generations earlier.
Dom liked this about Arik. He was strong of character and purposeful of thought.
The Yacobys' small farm was at the end of a long cul-de-sac off Temple Road, in an area near the synagogue and the local Jewish community. Thick jungle ran down both sides of the paved road, and the farm backed up to a massive Pokkali rice paddy. The neighborhood was cut off from the rest of the village, and for this reason both Arik and Dom noticed the vehicle parked off the side of the road ahead of them when they were still fifty yards away.
It was the milk truck they had seen passing them ten minutes earlier. Yacoby took Dom by the arm and slowed his walk. "That doesn't belong."
They approached from behind, more curious than concerned. They looked in the windows and saw it was empty.
Arik looked down the road in the direction of his farm.
Dom said, "I've seen it around."
Arik pulled his phone out of a waterproof case in his cargo shorts. As he did so he said, "Yes, but not here. It delivers from a farm north of town to Kochi, in the south. We are two kilometers east of its daily route."
Caruso was impressed Yacoby knew the movements of an individual local vehicle with such precision, but he didn't yet share his trainer's obvious concern.
Yacoby dialed his wife as he began walking up the road, with Dom following close behind. After a moment he looked down at his phone.
"Does that happen around here?" Dom asked.
In a whisper, Arik replied, "Occasionally. But I don't believe in coincidence. Something strange is going on."
Dom thought Arik was jumping to conclusions awfully quickly, but Arik knew the area better than he, and he also knew the threats. He said, "Let's go, then," and started walking on the road.
"Not that way," Arik countered. "We can approach my farm from the west by going through the trees." Arik turned and headed into the thick flora, and Dom followed.
Once inside the jungle, Dom realized it wasn't as thick as it appeared from the outside. Each banana or coconut or jacaranda or mango tree occupied its own space, there was just enough room to move between the trunks, and there was very little light let through to allow for much undergrowth. Arik had a tactical flashlight with him, but he left it in his pocket and instead used the glow from his cell phone to lead the way so as not to reveal his location. By the dim light the men moved quickly enough, spurred on by the desire to find out who had cut the cell service and left the van by the side of the road.
They came to the edge of the jungle behind a woodshed that sat next to the gravel driveway on Arik's farm. The two men took a knee and surveyed the property, taking advantage of their excellent night vision. They had spent the last hour and a half outside in the dark, after all, so their pupils were conditioned to take in every last vestige of available ambient light.
The little farm was only four acres, with a two-story bungalow in the center, a long single- story building that Arik had turned into his dojo and Hanna's yoga studio, and a large chicken coop next to the vegetable garden in the back. A work truck and two jeeps, all belonging to the Yacobys, were parked in the driveway on the near side of the bungalow.
Caruso reached out slowly and squeezed Yacoby's arm, and the Israeli followed the American's gaze. In the dark he could just make out movement on the far side of a small pond in front of the bungalow. It was a human form, this much was certain, but with the darkness it was impossible to tell more.
A few seconds later, both men turned to the sound of scuffling gravel. A second figure moved between Arik and Hanna's jeeps, parked next to each other on the drive, not seventy-five feet from where the two men knelt in the palms. This man stepped up to the other man by the pond, and together they seemed to peer toward the house.
Dominic had thought Arik was overreacting to the sight of the unoccupied vehicle, but now his heart started pounding and he felt the dull ache in his lower back that always accompanied danger. Something ominous was happening right here and right now, and he was painfully aware both he and his trainer were unarmed and dressed only in cargo shorts.
Arik pulled Dom back a few feet into cover and whispered to him, his eyes still searching ahead, "That's two in front. I'll try to see if they have any weapons. Make your way through the trees so you can get a look at the rear of the house. Meet me back here to report. Go."
"Arik, if this is some kind of a test or—"
Yacoby turned to Caruso. His eyes were tight with worry and his jaw was forward and flexed. "No drill, D. This is real world."
"Understood." Dom moved off.
It took Caruso less than a minute to get line of sight on the rear of the property. At first he detected no movement other than an occasional shuffling in the chicken coop and a large lizard scurrying along the top of a wooden fence by the vegetable garden. But just as he was about to head back to the woodshed, he sensed motion in the dark closer to the house. He moved a few feet to the right and craned his neck farther to see what was there.
He saw them now in the night. One hundred feet away stood two figures; at least one of them was armed with a weapon hanging from a sling over his shoulder. They both wore dark clothing and stood close to each other in the center of the backyard, facing Arik's home.
Dom thought one of them might have been wearing a mask, because no moonlight reflected off his facial features. He couldn't tell anything about their ethnicity or their intentions, or even the make of the one weapon he saw. He tucked himself back into the palms and headed back to the Israeli, careful to move as silently as possible.
When Dom arrived back behind the woodshed he almost passed Arik without seeing him.
"Report," Arik said, revealing himself in the near total darkness.
"Two men. I saw one gun. SMG or some sort of little machine pistol. Couldn't tell what kind. They are watching the house from the far side of the chicken coop. Are the guys in front armed?"
"Micro-Uzi on one. He's got a mask. Other one might have a pistol, but can't see his hands clearly."
Dom's mind was racing. "Shit. Any chance they are Indian police?" Yacoby shook his head.
"What do you think?"
"Two-man fire teams. It's a classic fedayeen configuration." Caruso knew fedayeen meant Islamic fighter.
"Lashkar?" Dom asked. Lashkar-e-Taiba was a Pakistani-based terrorist organization that had been active in India for years.
"Maybe," replied Arik, but he didn't sound convinced. "You think they will hit the house?"
Before Arik could reply, a woman's shout cut through the hot night air. It was Hanna, Arik's wife, Dom recognized it instantly. She sounded more confrontational than afraid, but her raised voice in the otherwise silent night was bone chilling.
Yacoby lurched up, ready to run to the sound of his wife's cry, but he caught himself and knelt back down. He whispered, "They already have. These are perimeter security. There are others inside. At least two. Could be more."
Dom looked to the Israeli with horror. He noted the relevant calm in Yacoby's voice. He was intense, but there was no panic. He had to have been thinking about his wife and kids, but he somehow had the ability to push that aside and concentrate on the problem before him.
Getting past the four men outside.
Caruso asked, "How do you want to do it?"
Arik kept his eyes on the bungalow. He spoke quickly but softly. "It would take a half-hour to get the local police here, and I have no confidence they won't just make the situation worse. None of my neighbors have a landline or a firearm. I have to deal with this situation myself."
"Hanna and I have a plan in the case of trouble. If she had time, she would have put the kids in the bathroom off our bedroom. That's where I'm heading. I'm going straight for the house. Side door to the kitchen off the driveway."
"You stay here. Watch the men in the back and sound an alert if there is trouble."
Caruso shook his head. "Not happening. I'm in this with you, all the way. I can cover you better in the house."
Arik did not turn his head to look at Dom, he gave only a slight nod, his eyes still riveted on the scene in front of him. "Good. We go for the side door together. Once inside, I'll grab a kitchen knife and try to make it to my family on the second floor. You grab a knife and be ready to engage these four out here if they try to come in."
This sounded to Dom like a suicide mission, but he saw no other choice.
Yacoby stood slowly, readied himself to move forward, but then he leaned closer to Caruso. "If something happens to me, and you can get to it, I have a Tavor rifle and six mags in a locked chest under my bed. The combination is one, nine, six, six, four."
Dom knew Arik wasn't supposed to have a gun here in India, but it was no great shock he did.
"One, nine, six, six, four. Got it."
Quickly, but still in a whisper, Arik said, "There will be no time for hesitation. You must show these men no mercy."
Dom stood up. "Just get to your family."
The two men moved toward the woodshed as Hanna Yacoby cried out again, her voice cutting through the sweltering night.