With Ralph Pezzullo
By Don Mann
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When a senator’s wife and teenage daughter are kidnapped, Thomas Crocker and SEAL Team Six are sent to Mexico’s lawless countryside, where federal agents protect violent narcotics kingpins instead of hunting them down. The two women have been taken by the Jackal, a drug lord drunk on power and influence. He also happens to be a self-styled modern Che Guevara, having undergone plastic surgery to disguise his looks and justifying his brutal methods and Machiavellian drug empire with the politics of social revolution. The Jackal is as ruthless as he is colorful, and he must be stopped.
Crocker and the SEALs have only a matter of hours to track down and rescue the two innocent civilians held at the mercy of this madman. With dirty cops, dangerous cartels, lavish tropical estates, double-crosses and plenty of bullets, Hunt the Jackal places the team in perilous new territory and demonstrates how elite warriors can adapt to and fight in any situation.
With insight into sensitive intelligence so top secret it can only be hinted at in fiction, Mann and Pezzullo have, over several books, used their extensive knowledge to offer a look behind the curtain at the life-or-death black-ops missions executed by a select handful of the bravest soldiers. Now, with Hunt the Jackal, the authors focus their lens even closer to home upon the dangers that lurk just across the U.S. border in a pulse-pounding thriller that ups the ante even as it sheds light on the real-life heroes and villains of the fight against narcoterrorism.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
—Philip K. Dick
Forty-two-year-old Lisa Clark sat in the pearl-white Jacuzzi spa bath with the red monoliths of Sedona shining through the floor-to-ceiling window, reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Sandalwood candles burned on the rough slate border as she reached for the glass of La Crema Russian River Valley Chardonnay. A senator’s wife and mother of two children who worked hard to maintain her long dancer’s body, she was indulging in a rare moment of relaxation and guilty pleasure. Usually she wore her hair pulled back or tied in a French braid, but now she wore it loose to her shoulders.
As she read, real guilt started to spread through her body. The relationship between college student Ana and überbusinessman Christian Grey brought back memories of her own one-year affair with a worldly restaurant owner she met while working as a waitress in Washington, D.C.
Twenty-four years ago she was a tall, blond, fresh-faced eighteen-year-old girl from the little town of Boykins, Virginia, perky in every way, taking courses at American U when she met Henri Gaudier. The world-famous chef-restaurateur represented everything she thought she wanted—worldliness, sophistication, and high-society status among a network of rich and powerful friends. Her sole claim to fame at the time was having placed as runner-up in the Miss Southampton High beauty pageant. Unlike the character of Ana in the book, Lisa wasn’t a virgin when they met—but at least she was uninitiated to hard drugs, S&M, and group sex.
Henri quickly changed that. He also introduced her to senators, generals, cabinet members, sports stars, mobsters, movie stars, and other celebrities. Along the way she learned that sex and drugs formed a dark, illicit river that many famous and highly esteemed people in Washington waded into when they thought they were safe.
For the past twenty-three years, since the night she met Jesse Abrams Clark at a Bastille Day party at the French embassy in Washington, she had tried her best to erase the interlude with Henri from her memory. Clark was a young navy lieutenant working as an aide at the White House then. Now he was the senior Republican senator from Virginia, but still straightlaced, aggressive, self-confident, and solidly Christian.
She’d never told him about the wild, sexually adventurous year she’d spent with Henri, or her cocaine habit, or the night it ended. She had never fessed up to anyone, including herself, how her time with Henri had affected her and made her wary of losing control.
She considered that now as warm sandalwood-scented water churned around her, softening her skin and relaxing her muscles. The past was a burden, and being a senator’s wife wasn’t easy, despite its many rewards. Maybe that explained the weariness and ennui she’d been experiencing lately. In addition to the several weekly appearances she was required to make with her husband on the Washington social circuit, she had to attend political and charity events and run two households—one in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and one a farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia. She also served as her husband’s cheerleader and political advisor.
Together they had two children, whose upbringing was primarily her responsibility. Fifteen-year-old Jesse Abrams Clark, Jr., was the apple of Lisa’s eye. Jesse Jr. was not only handsome and athletic, with a magical smile, but he and she had had a natural rapport from the day he was born.
Seventeen-year-old Olivia was more like her father—strong-willed and reserved. She was tall and blond and had her father’s strong jaw and steady blue eyes. Olivia was always respectful to her mother, but Lisa hadn’t felt close to her since Olivia entered puberty and started directing most of her attention to horseback riding and the Presbyterian Church.
Lisa had planned this trip to Sedona, Arizona, as an opportunity for the two of them to spend time together before Olivia entered Duke University in the fall.
Now her daughter sat in the adjoining bedroom of the Enchantment Resort casita ostensibly studying the Bible, but really posting pictures on Facebook of herself and her mom standing outside the casita in their climbing apparel.
As Lisa read further, lascivious memories rose to the surface of her consciousness and burst like bubbles. One of them involved a cocaine-fueled night with Henri and an NFL star in Henri’s suite at the Watergate Hotel. One moment they were laughing and drinking champagne with dinner, the next she was naked on Henri’s king-sized bed with her ankles and wrists tied to the bedposts.
She quickly stopped and put down the book. Almost simultaneously, the chimes rang at the front door of the casita. Craning her long neck toward the iPhone on the counter, Lisa saw that it was 6:13 p.m. One of the maids had probably come to turn down the beds, or maybe Olivia had requested something from room service.
She thought about the dinner reservation she had made for seven thirty and what she wanted to wear. In the background she heard footsteps and muffled voices.
“Olivia,” she called, her voice bouncing off the tile floor. “Darling.”
Deciding to call the concierge to ask him to send someone to wash and blow out her hair, she stood and started to reach for the courtesy phone on the wall.
Just then the door opened and a young Hispanic woman appeared in the doorway.
She was dressed in black pants and a white polo and wore a silver crucifix around her neck. “Good evening, Señora,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Lisa answered, covering her breasts with her left arm. “Did my daughter call you?”
“No, Señora,” the girl responded, moving her right arm in front of her; it held a dark pistol equipped with a silencer. “But if you step out of there and come with me, there won’t be a problem.”
Coldness spread through Lisa’s body. She couldn’t imagine this was anything more than a routine robbery, or that the girl, who seemed to be no more than sixteen, was capable of real violence. She turned and started to reach again for the phone.
The girl stepped forward quickly, slapped Lisa’s hand away, and aimed the pistol at her head. “You make one sound and I’ll shoot you!”
Lisa nodded and swallowed hard. Blood burned her temples, and her knees shook. She remembered Olivia in the next room and hoped she’d run or called for help.
Two young men stepped inside the bathroom dressed in matching white polo shirts and black pants. They also looked like teenagers—smart and alert and with silver crucifixes around their necks.
One of them—a boy with black hair and a scar across his lip—held something over Lisa’s nose and mouth. She inhaled the smell of chloroform as she heard the boy say, “We’re here, Señora, in the name of La Santísima Muerte. She wants you to come with us.”
Her legs started to melt. The two men held her naked body and lifted her out of the water. She felt a tingle between her legs, then lost consciousness.
SEAL Team Six (a.k.a. DEVGRU) Chief Warrant Officer Tom Crocker held on to the overhead bar that stretched between the twin side doors of the Black Hawk as the helicopter banked right over parched terrain in northwest Syria. The helo was hit by a headwind, which jerked it sharply right and kicked up a big cloud of dust.
“Hold on,” he shouted to his teammates behind him. The darkening sky ahead turned eerie shades of orange and purple.
Like a bruise, he said to himself. The whole country was more like an open wound now, with over seventy thousand civilian dead and a strange alliance of Sunni rebels and terrorists, including the al-Qaeda–linked Al Nusrah, pitted against the repressive and stubborn Assad regime, supported by Iran, Russia, China, and Hezbollah.
Crocker didn’t really give a shit about the regional politics, or the civil war in Syria. He was here with his team to complete a specific mission, which in this case involved a downed MQ-1B Predator drone. He was scanning the landscape for it now as his men—Cal, Ritchie, Mancini, Akil, and Davis—discussed Ritchie’s upcoming bachelor party and wedding in the tilt-up seats as though they were back at ST-6 command or hanging at their favorite watering hole in Virginia Beach.
“I’m talking crazier than a Mötley Crüe binge,” Ritchie shouted over the engines. “A final blowout tribute to the end of my bachelor days.”
“I saw them perform in El Paso in ’02. One of the wildest shows I’ve ever seen,” Davis commented, which was somewhat surprising since he was the mildest, most soft-spoken guy on the team.
“You into Mötley Crüe?” Ritchie asked.
“I wouldn’t say I’m into them,” Davis replied, screaming over the engine and rotors. “I mean, I don’t have any of their tunes on my iPod. I’m just saying they put on a hell of a show.”
“Like we give a shit,” Akil shouted back. He was the team’s muscular Egyptian American logistics expert, and the lone bachelor, except for the Asian American sniper, Cal, who almost never spoke. “Let’s hear more about the bachelor party.”
“What?” Ritchie asked as the helicopter passed over the ruins of a stone structure that looked like it was centuries old.
“The bachelor party!”
“It’s gonna be so wild I’m gonna have you guys sign nondisclosure forms,” Ritchie boasted.
“Me, I’m not signing shit,” Akil growled.
Davis: “I might have to pass.”
“Your loss,” Ritchie replied, grinning from ear to ear and lighting up his roughly handsome face. Immediately likeable, with a big smile and high cheekbones, he resembled the ballplayer Johnny Damon. “Dude, I gotta swear you guys to secrecy,” he continued, “because there’s gonna be some wild shit going down, which I’m definitely partaking in. Monica can’t find out.”
Monica was his bride-to-be—a former swimsuit model and now a successful real estate developer with a killer body and expensive tastes. Crocker thought she might be out of Ritchie’s league in terms of ambition and sophistication, but he kept that to himself.
“Rich, you might not want to hear this now, but as your friend I gotta tell you: Honesty is the bedrock of marriage,” Davis shouted. He had young kids and a pretty wife and had put his wild motorcycle-riding past behind him.
“Thanks, Reverend Holier-Than-Thou Dickhead,” Ritchie shot back. “I’ll work on that… after I tie the knot.”
“You gonna have strippers?” Cal asked, holding a PSG-1 sniper rifle across his lap.
Akil turned to him and said, “Look who’s interested in strippers.”
“With special skills, man. And that’s just the start,” Ritchie answered.
Akil: “When? Where? Count me in!”
Mancini wasn’t interested in the bachelor party or the locker room banter. This was men’s work, given that they were operating in someone else’s country without permission and both Syrian Army and Hezbollah units had been spotted in the vicinity, neither of which were likely to greet them with handshakes and pats on the back. Searching the rough terrain with Steiner Commander military binoculars from the door opposite Crocker, he spotted something white against the black backdrop.
Leaning into the fuselage, he yelled, “I see something, boss. Target at nine o’clock!”
Crocker took a couple of steps toward Mancini, leaned out the door, and spotted the drone, which looked like a crumpled toy.
Cupping his hands together, he shouted at the pilot, then pointed. “The target’s on our left!”
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) pilot turned and nodded back, his wide face covered with reddish stubble. When he banked the helo over a parched wadi and some dried scrub, the MQ-1B Predator drone came into view, its wide nose pointing up like a sea lion lounging on a rock.
For some technical reason unclear to Crocker, it hadn’t self-destructed on impact like it was programmed to do. Black Cell’s job was to blow it up before the Syrian Army or their Hezbollah/Iranian partners got their dirty paws on it and purloined the advanced technical doodads and three AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
Black Cell was a badass special compartmentalized cell at SEAL Team Six—designed to conduct the most dangerous, top secret counterterrorism missions on direct orders from the White House and CIA.
Minus the front antenna and intact, the drone measured twenty-seven feet long and had a wingspan over fifty-five feet. The whole thing weighed 1,130 pounds. Crocker had watched one being unloaded from a C-150 Hercules in a box called a coffin and assembled in three sections.
He didn’t have the patience for highly detailed, tight little tasks like that and preferred roaming, canoeing, riding, or running in the outdoors in his spare time. Even putting together bookcases from IKEA drove him nuts.
The Black Hawk hovered about eighty feet over the site, which was the best the pilot could do, given the wind, sand, and dust. Not the ideal platform to launch from, but in their line of work conditions were rarely perfect.
Crocker gave the thumbs-up and pointed to the ground. The guys readied their gear and weapons, and Mancini and Akil dropped two special braided nylon ropes out the left door that were anchored to a hoist in the helo.
Davis and Akil fast-roped first, grabbing on to the rope with two leather-gloved hands, then stepping out of the helicopter and pinching the rope between their Salomon Quest boots to regulate their descending speed. It was like sliding down a fire pole, only a whole lot riskier. Black Cell had practiced fast-roping so many times it was as automatic as tying the laces on their shoes.
Light was right, in this case because they wanted to move quickly in and out, and a heavy load would make roping down from that height a hell of a lot more perilous than it was already, given the wind and dust. Which was why Crocker decided to stop Ritchie and Cal before they went out the door. Unlike the others, they wore big packs loaded with C-4, detonators, and other explosives gear.
“You guys wait on the bird,” Crocker yelled. “We’ll secure the site and help you unload once it lands.”
“Piece of cake,” Ritchie shouted back, pointing to the ground.
“No, Rich. You and Cal wait here!” Crocker commanded.
Ritchie nodded. Then Crocker grabbed hold of the rope and descended with Mancini beside him on the parallel rope. The SEALs were dressed in Crye Precision Desert Digital combat uniforms with Alta kneepads and duty belts packed with multiple Flyye pouches for MR141, MK18, and M67 grenades, canteens, and extra magazines. Additional Flyye pouches on their backs and chests accommodated MK124 flares, light sticks, Motorola Saber portable radios, VIP infrared strobes, energy gel, and SOG knives. On their heads, MICH 2000 helmets with SureFire strobe lights, quad-tube night-vision goggles, and bone phones, which sat on their cheekbones and allowed them to hear radio traffic through bone-conduction technology. Davis and Cal wore armored vests with ceramic plates. The others had chosen not to.
Crocker carried his favorite HK416 assault rifle with EOTech sight. Maneuverability, accuracy, and firepower all in one very deadly weapon. Others carried MP7s—German weapons chambered with 4.6x30mm rounds with a greater ability to defeat body armor. All were armed with standard SEAL-issue SIG Sauer P226 handguns. Akil and Davis also hauled single-shot, break-action M-79 grenade launchers, even though most guys on the team preferred the newer M203.
As soon as Crocker and Mancini hit the ground, Ritchie and Cal pulled the ropes back up into the helicopter body and the Black Hawk banked left over a two-hundred-yard hill. Akil, Davis, Mancini, and Crocker took cover behind rocks and established a perimeter. As Crocker surveyed the darkening landscape through his NVGs, Mancini ventured out to inspect the drone.
No one appeared in their vicinity, but a warm wind blew across the hills and through the scrub, creating an eerie hiss.
Through the headset built into his helmet, Crocker heard Mancini say, “Pred looks untouched. Must have been a technical problem, because I see no evidence of enemy fire.”
“Good,” Crocker said back into the mike.
“The Hellfires are intact. So are the multispectrum targeting system, infrared sensor, and TV camera.” Technology, food, and history were Mancini’s three big passions.
“All we’re taking are the Hellfires,” Crocker growled back in a low voice. “The rest we’re going to blow up.”
“It’s a sweet piece of technology,” Mancini continued in a low, gruff voice. “Each one of these babies runs about twenty mill without the bells and whistles.” He loved technological doodads and was the guy on the team who coordinated with DARPA, which was the branch of the Pentagon that developed new military equipment.
“Not our call,” Crocker said back, continuing to eyeball the stark landscape.
“What do you mean, not our call? Who pays for this stuff?”
Mancini often complained about government waste and profligate spending. Crocker jibed back: “Since when do you pay taxes?”
“Very funny. Actually—”
Crocker cut him off. “Not now.” This wasn’t the time for a personal anecdote, or any other kind of distraction. They were in Assad territory with a job to do. The wind started blowing harder.
Akil, twenty yards to Crocker’s right, watched a little twister climb the hills to the east through a long-distance night scope. “All clear,” he said over the radio.
Crocker: “Good. Let’s get this over quick.”
Mancini: “You want me to try to disassemble the satellite dish and communication component?”
“No time. Just detach the Hellfires from the missile pylons.”
Crocker looked up at the darkening sky and realized that the helicopter hadn’t returned yet. “Where the fuck is the helo?” he asked.
“Maybe they found a falafel stand and stopped,” Akil wisecracked back. All he seemed to think about was food and willing young women, and he had an unquenchable appetite for both.
Crocker turned to the commo man, Davis, to his left and said, “Contact the pilot and tell him he’s clear to land.”
“Might want to set it on that patch over there past that clump of scrub,” he added, pointing to the spot. “Remind him to keep the engines running.”
Akil: “Tell him we plan to be out of here faster than a knife fight in a shithouse.”
Their job was to retrieve the Hellfires, then destroy the wreckage, which they’d do as soon as Ritchie (the explosives guy) landed with the C-4. Northern Syria wasn’t a location Crocker felt like hanging in. Major cities had been turned into rubble by the Assad army as the rest of the world watched. Lately, Assad had attacked his own people with chemical weapons. Still the UN had done nothing but talk. Like Somalia and Rwanda all over again, which would probably yield another anarchic state that the United States would have to deal with one way or another. Global politics made him sick.
This mission had been a last-minute emergency call as they were packing their gear and getting ready to leave the secret base in Israel for home. Lately he and his team had been spending a lot of time launching ops against Hezbollah and the Quds Force—both controlled by Iran. Dangerous, seat-of-their-pants ops in unfriendly territory.
Here they were again; friggin’ Syria this time. Crocker heard a high whining sound past the hills, followed by a loud metallic noise that echoed and faded.
“What the fuck was that?” he asked, sweat forming under his helmet from the dry desert heat.
“Didn’t sound good,” Mancini said.
An understatement, to say the least.
Akil: “Maybe it was a camel fart.”
“Or an explosion.”
Crocker asked, “Where’s the Black Hawk? Anyone see it?”
“Fuck, no. Don’t hear it, either.”
“What happened? Somebody tell me something,” he said, growing anxious.
Mancini: “No flash of light, no flames.”
Davis shouted urgently, “No response from the pilot, either.”
“You try the copilot? Cal? Ritchie?” Crocker asked, hoping it wasn’t what he thought it was.
“I did, yeah. Tried all three.”
Davis shook his head.
Crocker’s stomach sank. Grimacing, he glanced at his watch. The time-on-target (TOT) was already approaching ten minutes, which was too damn long, especially with enemy in proximity. Also, the explosion, or whatever it was, was sure to attract attention. He’d operated practically everywhere in the Middle East before, with the exception of Syria. Given the Assad regime’s longstanding support of Palestinian terrorists and friendship with Russia, it was never a place he wanted to go.
“You sure that piece-of-shit radio is working and you’re getting no signal from the helo?” Crocker asked.
“Positive, boss,” Davis answered.
Davis did with a frown and shook his blond head.
Crocker groaned. “All right, you stay here with Mancini. Akil, come with me.”
We meet our destiny on the road we take to avoid it.
The landscape had turned a thick, almost furry dark. And the moon hadn’t risen yet. All they had to navigate by was their NVGs, which proved awkward because the two SEALs were moving fast over rocky, uncertain terrain around the crest of a hill. They weren’t following a path, just picking their way over loose rock, sand, and gravel at a thirty-five-degree angle, carrying their packs and weapons.
Crocker hoped they’d find the helo intact with maybe some minor mechanical problem, or hear over the radio that for one reason or another, the pilot had had to turn the helo around and had returned to Israel.
Even if that meant he and the other four SEALs were marooned in Syria for the time being, he’d take that outcome over the more ominous alternative. He was already planning how they could hunker down and defend themselves until relief arrived.
“You see anything?” he whispered back at Akil.
“No, but I smell fuel.”
Not a good sign, but Crocker saw nothing burning. And no lights.
He sniffed the air. “Fuel?” he asked. “You sure you’re not smelling your cheap-ass Egyptian cologne?”
“I’m a Ralph Lauren man all the way. Classy shit.”
“Shit is right,” Crocker said. “Your big nose must be better than mine. Which way is the smell coming from?”
Akil licked his index finger and held it up to determine the direction of the wind. He pointed up the far side of hill. “This way.”
The next gust of desert wind carried the unmistakable scent, which sickened Crocker even further. Richie and Cal had recently healed from injuries sustained chasing some Quds Force operatives in South America. Ritchie, in particular, had suffered a nasty bullet wound to his jaw, which required extensive plastic surgery. He was scheduled to get married at the end of the month. All the guys on Crocker’s team were like brothers. He didn’t have the stomach for more wounds and broken bones.
The higher they climbed, the stronger the stench of fuel.
He slapped his headset and addressed Davis. “Alpha Two, Alpha One here. You hear anything from the guys on the helo?”
“Negative, Alpha One.”
Squelching the fears running through his brain, he focused on the uneven ground ahead. Then he heard Davis’s voice through the headset, more urgent this time: “Alpha One, looks like we’ve got something approaching.”
Another unwelcome complication. “What’s that?”
“Vehicles,” Davis reported from near the Predator. “Still too far away to ID them. All we see are headlights. What’s your status?”
“We smell fuel but haven’t established visuals.”
“Possibly,” Crocker answered. “You got anything in terms of number of vehicles or whether they’re armed or not?”
“Negative. But I’ll update you when we have more info. Over and out.”
Crocker stepped around Akil, who had paused to take a swig of Powerade. Akil was a beast and a former marine sergeant who spoke multiple Middle Eastern languages. If Mancini was Crocker’s right arm, he used Akil like his right leg. In fact, he depended on them all, completely, which was why they made an especially lethal and useful team. Six of the best warriors on the planet acting as one.
JSOC, SOCOM, the CIA, and the White House requested the services of Black Cell so often, they had them operating overseas up to three hundred days out of the year. Not that Crocker was complaining. It was good to be appreciated, and to be doing the work you were born to do with men you admired and respected.
He climbed another three yards, stopped, held on to a gnarled branch poking through some slatelike rock, looked back at Akil, and asked, “You coming?”
“It’s that friggin’ plantar fasciitis acting up again,” Akil said, holding his right foot. He’d injured it during an op inside Iran.
- "Gives real insight into the hurdles, practices and experiences of the elite band of warriors."—Guns.com
- "The pace is relentless, and the inside knowledge of how the SEALs operate agains gives this series its appeal...For action fans, Crocker continues to deliver."—Jeff Ayers, Booklist
- "Exciting...Crocker and his men go about their dangerous mission, which involves a boatload of Special Forces military action."—Publishers Weekly
- "Pulse-pounding reads filled with the kind of knowing, immersive detail that can only come from someone with real-life experience in the field. A great series."—Howard E. Wasdin, New York Times best-selling author of SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper
- "An amazing, timely, and very accurate thriller. Mann and Pezzullo's depiction of today's world of transnational crime and U.S. clandestine operations is frightening, balanced, and on the mark. I literally couldn't put it down."—Joel Vargas, Assistant Director of Law Enforcement, InterPort Police
- On Sale
- May 13, 2014
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Mulholland Books