Two days until this deployment is over and I can go home. It’s been six long months in this wasteland, and I’m ready for a couple weeks off.
I look through the scope of my rifle, scanning down the road of this stagnant Afghani village. A hundred yards away, two children open the door of their tiny house and step outside. No one else dares to leave their homes—they’re terrified. The presence of American soldiers means death and destruction—at least, in the minds of the uninvolved villagers who get caught in the crossfire.
I’m a Navy SEAL sniper and part of SEAL Team Three - Alpha. I provide “overwatch” and prevent the enemy from ambushing the rest of my team while they’re concentrating on taking down the enemy targets. We’re a tight-knit bunch and trust each other with our lives.
The sweltering desert sun beats down on my back, but I don’t move a muscle.
It’s my job to protect them.
No matter what, I’ve got their backs.
My SEAL team has been tracking a terrorist responsible for a car bombing in Syria—responsible for killing innocent women and children. We’ve been right on his tail for the past two months, until he evaded us through a series of underground tunnels.
This morning, intel showed he was hiding in a building just five blocks from our location, and we set up a perimeter.
He wasn’t getting out of this town alive.
I set up overwatch on the rooftop of an abandoned building adjacent from where our target is hiding, about fifteen hundred feet away. I can see a mile in every direction—no one is sneaking up on my team. I take my eye out of the scope of my McMillan Tac-338 sniper rifle for a second and roll my neck, needing to be as loose and comfortable as my circumstances allow. I could be up here for hours.
Shaking out my shoulders, I lean back into the scope. There’s no other movement besides the two kids playing outside.
“Alpha two, this is Alpha one. Do you copy?” my commander asks me over the comm.
Reaching across my chest, I press the button to answer him back. “Alpha one, this is Alpha two. Good copy.” I keep my voice low, even though I know I’m alone.
“We’re preparing to breech the compound. Watch our sixes.”
That’s my job.
The infrared on my scope allows me to see the heat signatures of any warm bodies within the concrete building. “Three hostiles on the second floor. You’re all clear to breach.” Keeping my gaze focused on my team, they break down the door and charge through the compound. Two by two, they stalk up the stairs. “Hostiles to your left,” I inform them before they reach the top.
The teams turn the corner and approach the terrorists, checking each room as they go. I shift my gaze to the entrance, making sure no one comes in behind the guys. Seconds later, the familiar pop-pop of gunfire fills the still air. A few more gunshots, then silence.
“Alpha two, this is Alpha one. Building is secure. Target is neutralized. We’re coming out.”
This is good news.
They got down and dirty, ridding the world of another terrorist—with no casualties on our side. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it feels amazing, like a tiny brick off a ten-thousand-ton building.
We’ll rid the world of these savage, hateful beings.
One brick at a time.
“Alpha one, this is Alpha two. You’re all clear. Come on out.”
A few minutes tick by, then my team begins their exit. One by one, they emerge, safe and sound. The last of my unit appears, and I stand by as they hustle to the exfil point, making sure they get there safe. Once they’re all accounted for, I pack up my rifle, race down the stairs, and sprint across the empty warehouse to the back door. Peering out the glass, I check to make sure the coast is clear—which really isn’t necessary since I now have someone watching my exfil.
I trust my brothers with my life.
Throwing open the door, I haul ass down the few empty blocks and reach the exfil point without incident.
“Irish, it’s about time you got here,” my commander, Michael “Top” Topper chuckles, slapping me on the back. “It was a good day.”
When choosing my nickname, they didn’t get too original. Having dark hair and blue eyes with a few freckles sprinkled across my face, it wasn’t a stretch to think I’m Irish. Add my name to the mix—Ryan Kane—and you have a winner.
I smile and nod my head. “It was a great day.”
“All right, let’s move out,” Top announces to the rest of the team.
Waiting for us are two Humvees. We can fit four men in each. I ride shotgun with Top, Lenny, and Squiggy. The other vehicle holds Murph, Ace, Spider, and Boots, along with Boot’s Belgian Malinois bomb-sniffing dog, Nitro.
While Top drives, we keep an eye out for insurgents who may try to attack from the sides. As soon as we get outside the village limits, we’ll be safer. It’s the mile or so within that’s tricky.
The Humvee weaves between buildings, taking a completely different route on the way out than we did on the way in. It never hurts to be too cautious. The towering structures give way to an open dusty road, and we haul ass toward the mountains.
We get about a kilometer away from the village and start to relax a bit. It’s still dangerous, but not as bad now that we’re on the open road. It’s easy to hide in a building—it’s much harder to stay hidden when there’s nothing around you but rocks and dust.
As the sun begins to set behind us, I notice a bright light on top of a ridge just ahead. There and gone. Just like that. I turn my head toward the back. “Lenny, give me the binoculars. I think I saw something.” Reaching into a bag, he pulls out the field glasses and hands them to me. I put them to my eyes and look toward where I thought I saw the light.
It isn’t until it flashes again that I realize what it is.
The reflection off a sniper’s scope.
“Sniper!” I shout, but it’s too late. The windshield shatters, and my right shoulder explodes, an agonizing ache taking its place. Burning pain spreads across my arm and chest as if someone is sticking me with a hot poker and holding it there. Gritting my teeth, I cover the gaping hole with my left hand, trying to control the massive bleeding. Top floors it, trying to get us the hell out of there. Gunfire echoes through the vehicle, but I’m starting to feel woozy and don’t know who’s doing the shooting.
“Hang on, Irish! Stay with me,” Top pleads.
The wound is a mess—like I’ve been hit with two different kinds of weapons at once. I place my hand over the gushing hole, but it doesn’t do much good. Even pressure won’t be enough to stop the bleeding. The exit wound is much bigger.
Your body enters shock when you don’t have enough blood circulating through your system to keep your organs and tissues functioning properly, and I’m hemorrhaging it.
I’m fighting to stay conscious, but I’m losing too much blood and feeling lightheaded. The crimson stain radiates outward in a spiral, and I can’t stop it. My eyes close as the motion from the vehicle stops. I’m weightless, floating to somewhere I can’t see. Voices murmur above me, but I can’t understand what they’re saying. The last thing I remember is Top’s gruff, terrified voice whispering, “I won’t let you die.”
* * *
I walk into the house with a bag under each arm. “Danny, I’m home,” I call out as I kick the door closed behind me. Stepping over an endless string of toys strewn across the floor, I mutter under my breath and manage to make it unscathed to the kitchen. The least he could have done was pick up. Is that too much to ask?
As I place the grocery bags on the counter, I notice the empty bottle of bourbon.
Make that two empty bottles.
“Danny?” I repeat, getting the same answer.
It’s not the first time I’ve come home to find my husband piss drunk, but now I have someone other than myself to worry about. My beautiful, innocent daughter, Avery. She can be trying at times, but she’s the love of my life. More so than my alcoholic husband, who’s wearing my patience thin.
Just as I’m about to search them out, a muffled curse catches my attention. He’s tripped over one of Avery’s toys, no doubt. Out the corner of my eye, I see movement from the den toward the center hallway. Turning, I notice my three-year old’s tiny fingers wrapped around my husband’s index finger. He stumbles toward the hall table, then slides the pickup truck keys across the wood top, leaving a long gash.
“Where are you going?” I shout across the house.
Avery’s tiny head spins toward my voice, but my husband says nothing. “Where are you going?” I ask with more force as I stride toward them.
He whips his head around, and glares at me. “I’m taking my little girl out for ice cream.” His words slur, and his eyes are out of focus.
“You’re not going anywhere with Avery. You’re drunk.” Moving quickly, I position myself between him and the door.
“Ice ceam!” my daughter repeats as she tugs on his finger.
“We have ice cream in the freezer,” I tell her, my voice stern.
“I no want dat ice ceam!” she insists, tears starting to roll down her cheeks.
“Now look what you’ve done.” Danny moves toward me, his jaw clenched. “Move out of my way.”
I stand my ground. “No.”
A searing pain burns across my cheek as I fall backward into the wall. It happens so fast, I didn’t see his arm fly up to strike me.
But hell, I felt it.
My vision goes from black to blurred, and I manage to see Danny lift Avery and exit the house. I’m slow to respond, and by the time I’m able to stand, the pickup’s down the driveway and out of my sight.
I cringe as I touch my chin. The side of my face throbs, his strike landing across the bottom of my jaw. A metallic taste coats my tongue.
It’s the first time he’s struck me—and it will be the last.
I’ve been contemplating leaving him, but this just sealed the deal. Leaving with our three-year-old drunk is beyond my tolerance.
Staggering to the kitchen, I find my cell phone. Pushing through the pain, I call one of my closest friends, Tanner, who happens to be an officer with the sheriff’s department. My heart twists and sinks with nerves as I dial, my fingers trembling with fear.
“Abby, to what do I owe this pleasure?” His voice is comforting and sweet—just like he is.
“He took her, Tanner.” My breath comes in sharp pants as I try to gain control, but nothing is working. The realization of what could happen burns in my chest, and I’m terrified.
A feeling of dread washes over me—an invisible demon sitting heavy on my shoulders, sharpening its claws.
“Who took her?” he asks, his words dripping in confusion.
“Danny. Danny took Avery,” I whisper. My voice cracks, and I’m not sure how much longer I can hold it together.
“You’re not making any sense, Abigail.”
“He’s drunk, and he put her in the car and took her!” I feel numb as tears gather behind my eyes.
“Shit,” he murmurs. “When?”
“Ten minutes ago, maybe? I’m not sure. He hit me, and I think I may have blacked out.”
“Son of a bitch,” he growls. “I’ll take care of this. Did he say where he was going?”
I replay the conversation in my cloudy mind, trying to think. “All he said was he’s taking Avery for ice cream.” There are only a few places he could go—this town isn’t that big.
“I’ll call you back when I hear something,” he blurts, then the line goes dead. My legs feel like they’re no longer mine and I begin to tremble. Leaning against the wall, I slide down and drop the phone to the floor. I can’t breathe. It feels like someone is choking me. My heart is racing. All I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry.
I’ve never felt such terror.
I’ve never felt so alone.
I try to pull myself together, needing to do something. I will myself to stand. I can’t just sit here and wallow in self-pity. I’ll go find the worthless piece of shit myself.
My head is pounding, but I’m able to get vertical. I shuffle into the kitchen to get my keys when my cell phone rings.
“Tanner, did you find them?” I gasp.
“Abigail, you need to sit down.” The adrenalin flows through my veins like a fish through the river, but I can’t move a single muscle, not even to scream. “Abby?”
“Just say it.” The tiny hairs on the nape of my neck bristle.
“He made it a few blocks before blowing a red light and crashing into another vehicle.”
“Avery…is she—” Fear engulfs me, knocking all other thoughts aside.
“They took her and Danny to the hospital. They should both be fine.” He pauses before adding, “Abby, the driver of the other car is in critical condition and they don’t think he’s going to make it.” My hand flies to my mouth as I inhale sharply. “He’s going to be arrested for reckless endangerment, among other charges if this guy lives, but if he dies...”
“I hope he rots in jail for what he’s done,” I blurt, not at all sorry he’s ruined his life.
He almost ruined mine.