The Dogs of War

The following material represents the first chapter in the fourth book in the Sleeping Dogs series, The Dogs of War. If you enjoy it and want to read more of the book, the complete novel can be purchased in print or eBook formats here


Excerpted from The Dogs of War © 2017 by John Wayne Falbey. All rights reserved.

The following first three chapters are excerpted from The Dogs of War, A Sleeping Dogs Thriller.

PART ONE: A GATHERING OF WOLVES

For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

—Rudyard Kipling

Chapter 1—The Lodge, Tidewater Virginia

Brendan Whelan was still in the United States. To his amazement, Cliff Levell actually had begged him, not merely asked him, to remain involved with SAS in its efforts to defend America, at least until they could drain the swamp in Washington. Though he owed much to his old mentor, Whelan could make a compelling argument that all debts had long ago been paid. But there was another consideration. If and when America fell, Ireland and the rest of the free world would come plunging down right behind it. And Ireland was home. It’s where his wife, Caitlin, and sons were, along with friends and relatives he truly cared about. Whelan struggled with the dilemma, but eventually agreed to stay. But only until he could determine if SAS’s efforts were making a meaningful difference. The problem was…now he had to break the news to Caitlin.

   Although she tried to conceal it during their phone conversation, he could tell by her voice that she didn’t agree with his decision. “Have you forgotten about Maksym? And his threats to murder our whole family? He’s a monster, even if he is your brother.” 

   Whelan closed his eyes and took a long breath. “Cait, you know I haven’t forgotten. I’ve taken precautions to protect you and the boys.”

   “And what are they? If it’s Paddy and the townsfolk, I can’t say I’m comforted, even though Paddy is my brother.”

   “It’s much more than that. Sven Larsen is on his way back to Dingle in hopes Maksym does show up.”

   There was a moment of silence before Caitlin said, “Sven does have your genetic gifts, but he isn’t you.”

   “Sven may be the most dangerous sonofabitch on the planet. Your level of protection couldn’t get any higher.”

   “I disagree. And at the risk of casting aspersions on your late mum, anyone who knows you believes that you’re the most dangerous SOB on the planet. I…we all feel safest when you’re here, Bren.”

   Whelan felt a heart pang. Caitlin was more than his wife. She was his best friend, business partner, playmate, and co-conspirator in adventure. Their love story had a fairytale quality to it. Except for Maksym. Whelan never wanted to disappoint Caitlin or cause her concern in any way. Yet Levell, the SAS, and the survival of individual liberties, as well as Western culture, were on the brink of something dire. He hadn’t asked for it, but the capriciousness of genetics had gifted him and a handful of others with extraordinary skills, abilities that set them above and apart from the rest of humanity in terms of strength, speed, ferocity, and perception. Together they formed the deadliest, most frighteningly capable hunter-killer group on the planet. So far, there had been only one bad one in the bunch. Whelan’s brother, Maksym.

   Whelan said, “Cait, I promise you I’ll be home just as soon as I’m convinced that Cliff, the SAS, and the other Dogs can hold things together without me. We’re having that discussion this afternoon. If I think they can get by without me, I’ll be on a plane to Ireland tonight.”

   “But why does it always have to be you? There are five others like you, including Sven. Why can’t they handle this without you?”

   “Because, according to Cliff, three of them currently are in various prisons around the world, and another has taken to drowning his sorrows in a whiskey bottle.”

   “So you’re in this…whatever it is…alone?” 

   He could hear the alarm in her voice, and more than a trace of anger. “For the moment. But Cliff and I are working on a plan to change that.”

*     *     * 

Later, Levell asked Whelan to join him in his office. It was a sunny, well-appointed room just off the huge atrium that served as the Lodge’s reception and social area. When Whelan arrived, Levell was sitting on a leather-covered triple sofa, staring pensively at the thickly wooded area beyond the oversized window. Whelan wasn’t used to seeing his old boss seated in anything other than the ubiquitous wheelchair. Although Levell’s bodyguard/driver/personal assistant Nando wasn’t in the room, Whelan knew he was close by.

   “You look like you’re lost in thought, Cliff,” Whelan said as he entered the office.

   Levell turned slowly, almost absentmindedly, and motioned to an overstuffed chair that matched the sofa. Whelan sat in it.

   Levell continued to stare out the window. He sighed and then said, “I think there’s an old saying…something to the effect that the clearer a situation seems to be, the more confusing it becomes.”

   After several moments of silence, Whelan prompted him. “I’m listening.”

   Still gazing out the window, Levell said. “I’ve asked someone to join us, someone you’ll remember well, perhaps not with pleasure. But he’s become a very important asset for us.” Levell picked up the smartphone from the seat beside him and tapped a single button.

   A moment later the door opened, and Nando ushered in a man whose face Whelan would never forget. Mitch Christie.

   Christie glanced at Whelan. Both men nodded at each other.

   Once Christie had taken a seat on the sofa next to Levell, the old man spoke. “You two have a history together. I hope there are no lingering resentments.”

   “Resentments?” Whelan said. “A couple of years ago, this guy had a global APB out on me. Later, he came to Ireland and nearly succeeded in killing me. What’s to resent?”

   Christie shifted nervously. “I was just doing my job at the Bureau. You were the prime suspect in the Harold Case murders, and I was the agent in charge. It was my job to bring you in.”

   Levell interrupted. “He has a point, Brendan. After all, you did kill Case and his hired muscle.”

   The expression on Whelan’s face was cold and humorless. “And the attempt to kill me in Ireland?”

   Christie examined his well-polished shoes. “That, ah, happened because I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.” He paused for a moment or two. “When you kidnapped my wife and kids, she developed, ah, a kind of an infatuation for you. When she left me, I blamed you.”

   Whelan grinned. “Relax, Mitch, I’m just messing with you. After your failed attempt to kill me, you met Caitlin. Why would anyone who’s met her think I would become interested in another woman?” He paused and then said, “But no, I’m not harboring any resentments.”

   Christie’s head bobbed up and down eagerly. “Nor am I. In a way, I owe you. I was devastated when Debbie left, but I’ve since met someone new, someone wonderful. I think I understand your relationship with Caitlin. I hope mine can be as good.”

   Levell now was fully in the moment. “If you two have finished your lovefest,” he said dryly, “there is a slightly more important subject to discuss—namely saving what’s left of the world’s sorry ass.” He motioned to Christie with his left hand. “Mitch, bring the Irishman up to speed on the crisis du jour.”

   Now what? Whelan crossed his left ankle onto his right knee and slowly settled back into the overstuffed chair, gazing at Christie.

   The FBI agent cleared his throat and shot a quick glance at Levell. “You may not be aware of it, but the Bureau recently transferred me from International Operations to the National Security Branch, specifically CTD, the Counterterrorism Division.”

   “Was that move your idea?” Whelan said.

   “Ah…not at the time.” Christie shot another quick glance at Levell.

   “I arranged it,” Levell said. “It was necessitated by evidence brought to the attention of the SAS by one of our members, a senior fellow in a think tank that caters to a single client—DHS. She shared information about alarming discoveries made during a joint exercise involving the Mexican army and U.S. law enforcement, in particular, CBP—the Customs and Border Patrol.” He looked at Christie and nodded for him to pick up the narrative.

   “Among other things, the CBP found a book, In Memory of Our Martyrs. It’s an homage to Islamic suicide bombers. They also found prayer rugs, Qur’ans, terrorist flags and logos of the Holy Army of the Caliphate, Iranian military uniforms, and documents written in Arabic and Urdu.”

   “These materials were found on both sides of the border,” Levell said.

   “So the logical conclusion is that there are an unknown number of terrorists already in this country,” Whelan said. “Got a ballpark on how many we’re talking about?”

   Christie shrugged. “This and other evidence indicates they number in the thousands, with more coming all the time.”

   “Shit,” Whelan said. “You’re talking about dozens, more likely hundreds, of cells established in big cities and small towns alike. Their members will be busy mapping out soft targets all over the country, stockpiling weapons and ammo, building explosive devices, and making detailed plans for the moment the word to strike is given.” 

   “There’s proof of that too,” Levell said. “Mexican and U.S. officials recently found detailed plans of Fort Bliss, the home of the Army’s 1st Armored Division.”

   Whelan shook his head in disbelief. “How can this happen? Is your southern border that porous?”

   “‘Sieve’ would be a euphemism,” Levell said.

   “I haven’t heard about any of this; yet it’s the kind of thing the media should have jumped on,” Whelan said.

   “The media reports what the administration tells it to report. I understand that a TV station in Phoenix had a short piece on it. But their license was quickly threatened, and that shut them up.”

   “Now I understand why the SAS wanted Mitch to transfer to the CDT. You needed a reliable resource in the center of the action.”

    Levell looked at Christie. “Tell Whelan just how sophisticated the HAC operation is.” 

   “HAC is infiltrating the U.S. with the aid of transnational drug cartels, specifically the Mexican criminal gang MS-13. The gang already has a presence in more than a thousand of our cities and towns. Our sources tell us that HAC pays MS-13 upwards of fifty thousand dollars for each sleeper agent smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico. They provide them with false identification, usually bogus matricula consular ID cards. They’re virtually indistinguishable from Mexico’s official ID and are accepted in the U.S. to open bank accounts and obtain driver’s licenses.”

   “And it’s not just HAC,” Levell said. “Al-Qaeda’s ally Al-Shabaab has a presence in Mexico too. They’re all Sunni radicals, but Hezbollah, a Shiite group, also has had an established presence in Mexico for the past fifteen to twenty years.”

   “So, you’ve got both the Sunni crazies with HAC and other terrorist organizations, plus Iran’s Shia wackos to deal with,” Whelan said. 

   “Of all of them, we consider Hezbollah to be the A-team of Muslim terrorist organizations,” Christie said. “Their operators are far more skilled, at this point, than those of most other radical groups. They’re the equals of the Russian or Chinese operators.”

   “What makes them more dangerous than HAC or the multitude of other Islamic terrorist groups?” Whelan said.

   “They’re more strategy oriented, more patient. They think more long-term. For example, they’re working with the drug cartels to build smuggling tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border. Satellite images show they’re very similar to the maze of tunnels running under the border between the State of Palestine’s Gaza Strip and Israel.”

   “So much for campaign promises to build a big wall all along the Mexican border,” Whelan said.

   “Bah,” Levell said irritably. “That wall is a fucking pipe dream.”

   “Even if it got built,” Christie said, “It would be too little, too late, I’m afraid. The damage has been done. The presence of Hezbollah’s expert tunnel builders on the Mexican side of the border eliminates any benefits a wall might have provided.”

   There was a dark wood credenza on the other side of the room. Whelan rose smoothly and gracefully from the embrace of the overstuffed chair and walked over to it. A carafe of coffee sat amid an assortment of clean mugs. He picked one up, filled it half full, and returned to his seat. 

   Sitting down, Whelan said, “Based on what you’ve told me, the jihadis are planning a major coordinated offensive throughout the United States. They’ll knock out power, communications, and first-responder and military facilities. The resulting casualties will be in the hundreds of thousands, probably millions when you count those who will perish in the aftermath without the comforts and lifestyle of the twenty-first century. Yet the administration and Congress do nothing about it.”

   Whelan paused and took a sip of coffee. It was strong and hot. He had a feeling he would need the caffeine as the day wore on. “So, what are you planning to do about it?”

   Christie sat back on the couch and looked at Levell, clearly deferring to him.

   It was a long time before Levell spoke. It felt interminably long to Whelan. Among his genetic gifts was the ability to process thoughts in nanoseconds. But patience was foreign to him. Yet there was nothing he could do. The Old Man would speak only when he had gathered and vetted his thoughts.

   At last, Levell said, “Unfortunately, at this point there’s no silver bullet. As Christie said, the damage has been done.” He looked at Whelan. “Your strategy proposal—assassinate the relatively small handful of international bad guys—would be optimal, if we had time. But there is no time. The threat to the homeland is immediate and dire. The best we can hope for at this point is to slow them down, confuse them, buy more time until we can figure out how to better contain the damage.”

   “Do you have a plan for that?” Whelan said.

   “That depends largely on your willingness and ability to reunite your unit.”

   “Have you forgotten how things ended in Geneva? There is no Sleeping Dogs unit anymore.”

   “Just round them up. I’ll take responsibility for getting them to play team ball.”

   “I assume you know where each of them is,” Whelan said.

   “Yes.”

   “Then why don’t you round them up yourself? I’m the only one with a family. Unless there’s some compelling reason why someone else can’t round them up, I’m going back to Dingle.”

   “Don’t you think I know your situation!” Levell said snappishly. “If there was any other way to do it, I would. But there isn’t.” He paused for a moment to contain his frustration and anger. “I’ve told you that three of your colleagues are in various brigs around the globe, and a fourth, Thomas, seems to have been imprisoned by demons of his own making.”

   Whelan said nothing.

   “It’s going to take all six of you, maybe more, if we’re going to slow down the terrorists.”

   “What does ‘maybe more’ mean? I thought the six of us were the only ones of our kind, other than Maksym.”

   “There’s a guy in Australia, name of Liam Stone, who supposedly has the same genetic gifts as you and the others. I want you to vet him, and if he works out, recruit him.”

   “In addition to springing three, or is it four, of the toughest bastards on the planet?”

   “Yes.”

   Whelan thought for a few moments before speaking. “Given our unique physical and intellectual assets along with our training and experience, why can’t they free themselves?”

   “One is in a maximum security federal prison. Another is being held as an enemy of the state under the tightest security in an ultramodern facility in the Middle East. The third…well, it’s Almeida. He’s only in a local lockup in Tennessee. While he’s like the rest of you genetically, he’s not really as…let’s say, competent.”

   “I know Rafe; I get it. What about Thomas? You said something about personal demons.”

   “According to my intelligence, Quentin developed a problem with alcohol. He seems to have it under control for the time being.”

   Whelan digested the information Levell had given him. “You’re asking the impossible. Do I get any assistance?”

   Levell shook his head. “Intel, weaponry, logistical assistance, yes. But, humanwise, there is no one else.”

   Whelan glanced at Christie. “What about Mitch?”

   “No, I need him right where he is. He’s a major source of intel on what’s happening behind the administration’s ‘Great Wall’ of bullshit and obfuscation.” He paused momentarily. “Ordinarily, I’d suggest Sven Larsen, but I’m sure you want him in Ireland watching over your family.”

   Whelan nodded.

   “Depending on how things go with the Aussie, he might prove useful.”

   Whelan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “All right, get me all the available intel and logistics on where these men are. The sooner we start, the more effective we’ll be.” As an afterthought, he said, “Are there any other surprises, or is that it?”

   Levell stared at his hands before he said, “Yes, there is one more matter, but I’m not sure of its relevance. Our old nemesis Kirill Federov is alive.”

   “What! I saw him sprawled in the hallway at your Georgetown home. Bleeding out from a big-ass gunshot wound in his chest. You told me he’d died.”

   Levell stared at his hands again. “Yes, well, I wasn’t completely truthful. Thanks to some very good medical talent, he survived the gunshot wound. We detained him as an asset, a source of information about many subjects…including Nadir Shah and the Holy Army of the Caliphate, as well as Federov’s former Russian masters, and not least, his most recent employer, the Alliance for Global Unity.”

   “So you’ve got him squirreled away somewhere, hopefully waterboarding him or worse.” Whelan remembered the visit Federov had paid to him and his colleagues when they were imprisoned in Dubai. Not only had the big Russian helped to betray them but he had taunted them viciously.

   “Ah…that’s where the problem arises.”

   Whelan knew from Levell’s hesitation that the news wasn’t going to be good.

   “Federov is a clever and capable bastard, I’ll give him that. Somehow, he managed to escape,” Levell said.

   Whelan said, “And you have no idea where he is?”

   “Not at the moment.”

© John Wayne Falbey 2016 All Rights Reserved