Submitted by: James Gilliam

Category: Books

This is the opening chapter of my third novel: The SADM Project, that my agent is attempting to find a publisher for:

“Suitcase nukes, or atomic demolition devices (ADMs), are actually small nuclear bombs. Both the Soviets and the US had such devices during the ‘Cold War.’”
— H. Thomas Hayden

The inside of a C-130 transport in flight is noisy.
Like every man on his team, Captain Chris Holt had sworn an oath to defend the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.
The president had approved limited use of tactical nuclear weapons in Southeast Asia and in Eastern Europe in the event the Cold War became hot.
From the moment he entered the SADM Program, the Captain had never considered the possibility of a domestic deployment.
Yet, here he was.
Holt looked up from his dog-eared copy of Beau Geste. Most of his team slept. Holt shook his head. Soldiers can sleep anywhere, he thought, as he smiled and returned to the page he had bookmarked and began again to read about the brotherhood of war told in this epic tale of the French Foreign Legion, and, as he read, he marveled at the honor and courage of rugged men of war from a bygone era. He couldn’t help thinking: How many of us will survive this mission? Only one survived the siege of Fort Zinderneuf.
The red jump lights over the side exit doors and both sides of the rear ramp snapped on, signaling that the aircraft was 20 minutes out from the drop zone.
The Captain moved from man to man while his team donned equipment, followed by their parachutes. The men paired off and checked each other’s equipment.
The Air Force loadmaster tapped Holt on the shoulder.
Holt turned, and the loadmaster held up both hands, with all 10 fingers spread, signifying the plane was 10 minutes out from the drop zone.
Holt motioned to his team to follow him onto the open ramp. The view from there was almost as sharp and clear as the black-and-white aerial photographs they had memorized in the pre-mission briefing sessions.
The inertial guidance system displayed the coordinates:
N 30°22'35.4" – W 104°35'48.3"
The jump lights changed from red to green, and, as Holt fell away from the aircraft, he looked up to see a glowing green rectangle of light fading to darkness.
Then there was silence and the pressure of a 120-mile-an-hour wind against his body.
* * *
Deep inside the abandoned former Army germ-warfare laboratory high in the Trans-Pecos Mountains, a hermetically sealed, elevator-style door opened into a room that could’ve doubled as a mini-version of the mission control room at the Air Force’s NORAD facility in Colorado.
“Doctor Fleischer, we have a bogey at 27,000 feet on a reciprocal heading with Dyess Air Force Base.”
Fleischer looked over the man’s shoulder at the blip on the RADAR screen. You fools — you've come to kill me, but you've been betrayed by the very ones who sent you, and one should die rather than be betrayed. There is no deceit in death — it delivers exactly what it promises, and death is my promise to you.
The doctor depressed the button on a handheld microphone.
“Captain O’Bannon, please prepare a warm welcome for our guests. They should be dropping in on your position in a few minutes, and it would be most helpful if you reached out to them before they land.”
“Roger that, Doctor. We’re ready. Not one mother’s son of the team will land alive.”
“On second thought, O’Bannon, spare one or two for interrogation if you can. It would be helpful to know what our friends in Washington know about us.”
The time spent under an open canopy was the Captain’s favorite part of the jump, and, as he looked down, the darkness erupted into multiple flashes of light, as bullets from automatic weapons reached up for Holt and his team, killing eight of the twelve, as they swayed under their parachutes.
Holt hit the ground, shed his parachute harness, and took cover behind a boulder. As he returned fire in the direction of the muzzle flashes, three members of his team crawled to his position. All of them were wounded.
One by one, the guns of the four surviving team members went silent, as the last round was fired, and Holt and his men were surrounded.
Holt seethed with rage as the ambushers executed two of the more seriously wounded. Minutes later, two Huey helicopters landed to pick up O’Bannon, his team, and the two prisoners.
The brutal ambush lasted less than five minutes.
The helicopters touched down inside the hangar, and the pilots shut down their engines. O’Bannon pointed at two of his men.
“Garcia, you and Peters bring the device and follow me. The rest of you grab some chow and stand down.”
O’Bannon motioned for the two prisoners to precede him.
* * *
Fleischer looked up from his seat at the head of the conference table when the elevator doors opened.
“Ahh, Captain O’Bannon. Who do you have there?”
“Doctor Fleischer, meet Captain Christopher Holt of the Seventh Special Forces Group. Captain Holt and I have a long history together, dating from the Special Forces Q Course at Camp McCall on Fort Bragg.”
“Who sent you to kill me, Captain Holt, and what is this you’ve brought with you?”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Doctor. No one sent us to kill you. My men and I were on a routine training mission. We didn’t even know you were here.”
O’Bannon’s kick to the back of Holt’s knees sent him face first onto the cool stone floor.
“Answer the doctor’s questions.”
Holt lunged at O’Bannon, and the other two mercenaries dropped him to his knees with butt strokes from their assault rifles.
“Enough of this nonsense. While your actions are brave, Captain Holt, they are also foolish. I ask you again: What is this device?”
“I don’t know.”
Fleischer sneered.
“Doctor,” O’Bannon said. “Instead of wasting time on these two, I can provide you with the information you want.”
“How so, Captain?”
“The device is a small tactical nuclear device, or Special Atomic Demolition Munition or SADM, for short; the explosive yield is roughly one kiloton of TNT.”
“How interesting, Captain O’Bannon.”
Fleischer inspected the device.
“Captain O’Bannon, do you think you could arm this?”
O’Bannon moved to stand beside Fleischer and the SADM.
“It is set by means of this mechanical timer.”
“Thank you for providing this interesting weapon, Captain Holt. We’ll make good use of it, I’m sure. And Captain O’Bannon, since we no longer need Captain Holt or his comrade, why don’t you drop them somewhere in the desert?”
“No problem, Doctor. Consider it done.”
He pointed to his two men, “Leave that and bring these two along.”
The helicopter was idling, its rotor blades slowly turning. O’Bannon tapped the pilot on the shoulder and made a circling gesture with his right forefinger.
The massive hangar doors opened, the rotor speed increased, and, once the skids cleared the hangar floor, the pilot put the aircraft into a slight nose-down attitude, moving it forward and out into the night.
After the Huey cleared the peak, the desert surrounding the Trans-Pecos Mountains could be seen, 8,750 feet below.
O’Bannon tapped the pilot on the shoulder, and, when he had his attention, he pointed toward the ground.
Holt and Sergeant Ramirez exchanged glances.
When the Huey touched down, O’Bannon and the other two mercenaries dragged Holt and Ramirez from the aircraft and walked them into the desert.
O’Bannon cut the bonds securing Holt’s hands behind his back with a survival knife and without a word, turned and walked toward the helicopter. He stopped, turned, and threw the knife. It stuck in the dirt beside Holt’s right boot.
O’Bannon removed his canteen from his web belt and shook it next to his ear. The canteen landed beside the knife.
* * *
Holt picked up the knife and cut Ramirez free and then, he unscrewed the cap on the end of the survival knife’s handle and found fishhooks and nylon fishing line. These should do.
* * *
As the Captain stitched his sergeant’s belly wound closed, Ramirez said, “Where’d you learn all this medical stuff, Captain?”
“Back in the day, before OCS and the Q course, I was a medic in a grunt outfit.”
Holt tied off the last stitch and placed Ramirez’s right arm in a make-shift sling and fashioned a walking stick from a mesquite limb.
“There, that should take care of it. If you’re up to it, we ought to start out now.”
“Could I have a taste of that water first?”
“Sure, Joe. Only a little, though.”
Holt wore a watch with a small compass attached to the nylon strap. Facing the general direction of Alpine, Texas, he took a compass bearing, and the two men set out on a 65-mile do-or-die march through some of the roughest terrain in North America.
Ramirez’s wounds made for slow going, and the scorching sun rose like a colossal funeral pyre for some ancient pagan king. It wouldn’t be long until the temperature passed the 110-degree mark.
Ramirez’s abdominal wound started oozing again when he stumbled and fell against an outcropping of rock.
Holt caught him and eased him onto the ground in the shade offered by that same outcropping. Damn — the belly wound has started to bleed again.
“Okay, Joe, we’ve come far enough. We’ll rest here until nightfall and start again when it’s cooler. Meanwhile, take a couple of sips of water, and try to get some sleep.”
“Thanks, Captain. I’m so tired. I feel like I must be dead already. Too dumb to lie down is all. Look, I’m only holding you back. You should leave me and go on.”
“Knock off that talk. We got into this together, and we’re going to get out of it together. Now, get some rest. We have a long way to go, but I do promise you all the beer you can drink when we get to Alpine — and I’m buying.”
“Right now, I would settle for a big cold glass of my abuela’s lemonade. Growing up, that was the best lemonade in the world. She used rainwater from the barrel on the shady side of the house and lemons from her own trees. It was so sweet, just like cotton candy from one of the carnivals that used to come to town.” Ramirez closed his eyes, “I close my eyes, and I can almost taste it and feel the hugs that sweet, gentle old woman used to give me.” A deep sigh, and he was asleep.
Holt wakened to Ramirez’s screams.
“Don’t leave me, abuela. Please don’t leave me.”
Holt gently shook Ramirez’s uninjured shoulder.
“Joe. Joe. You okay?”
Ramirez slowly opened his eyes.
“Yeah I’m okay. I was dreaming about my grandmother.”
Ramirez coughed and clutched his abdomen.
“While I’m still in my right mind, I want you to promise me some-thing.”
“I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
Holt started to speak.
Ramirez held up his hand.
“Shut up and let me finish.”
Ramirez grimaced.
“Like I was saying, I don’t think I’m going to make it back this time, and, if I don’t, I want your solemn promise you’ll cover my body with rocks so the buzzards and coyotes can’t get at me.”
“I promise.”
“I know you’ll make it back, Captain.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because you’re still young enough and dumb enough to pull off the 10-feet-tall and bulletproof thing.” Ramirez grinned at his Captain. “That’s how I know.”
* * *
“Okay, you slacker. Get your sorry ass up. We’ve got places to be.” Holt shook his friend’s shoulder. If he didn’t look past the smile on Ramirez’s face, Holt might’ve thought he was sleeping. But Ramirez was not there. He was with his beloved grandmother.
* * *
Holt turned for a final look at the mound of rocks — at the top, he had fashioned a crude wooden cross. He rendered a slow-motion, military-funeral salute, and, then, he began to walk in the direction of the town of Alpine, Texas, 40 miles away.
* * *
The dust-caked front door with the dirty window of Cactus Jack’s Diner and Gas Station banged open.
More dead than alive, sunburned, and covered in alkali dust mixed with sweat that formed a coat of grey mud on his clothing and skin, Holt crashed into a table in the center of the small diner and fell to the floor, exposed and unconscious. The local looky-loos occupying the diner that morning gawked at him like the geek in a carnival sideshow. These early-morning patrons crowded around, all talking at once:
“Who you suppose this fella is?”
“Don’t know. He looks military to me.”
“He’s out cold, whoever he is.”
One of them checked Holt’s vital signs, “We need to wet him down with ice water, and someone needs to get Doc Johnson over here right away.”
* * *
Doctor Sam Johnson, the town’s only doctor, entered the diner, and the patrons moved out of his way.
“Some of you boys put two tables together, and stretch him out on top. Ruben, go on out to my truck and fetch my other bag. I’ve got to start some fluids going, or we’re going to lose this ol’ boy. Any ID on this feller?”
The other patrons crowded around, shaking their heads.
“Well, he looks military to me, judging by the camouflage fatigues and parachute boots. Martha, would you put in a call for me to Brooke Army Hospital at Fort Sam Houston? They’re the closest hospital, and we need to MEDEVAC him to them as soon as we can if he’s going to have any chance at all.”
“Sure thing, Doc. I’ll get right on it. Who do I ask for?”
“Ask to speak to the MEDEVAC coordinator, and put me on the line when you get him.”
* * *
Captain Holt awakened from three days of coma to the sound of a male voice, “Captain Holt. Captain Holt.”
Holt opened his eyes.
“Captain Holt, my name is Colonel Dittmer. I’m the chief of psychiatry here at Brooke Army Medical Center. You’ve been through an ordeal not many men could’ve survived.”
“If you say so, doctor. I can’t remember any of it.”
Colonel Dittmer looked up from Holt’s medical chart.
“I see. Well, now that you’re awake, we can dispense with your IVs and catheter and start you on some solid food.”
“That’s fine with me, sir. I’m in your hands.”
“Yes, you are, and, now, I’ll leave you to get some rest and eat your meal when it arrives. We’ll talk later, when you’re up to it.”
* * *
Holt was dozing when Captain Thompson, the male nurse, arrived two hours later with a wheelchair.
“The Colonel’s waiting for you.”
Hello. What happened to “We’ll talk when you’re up to it”?
“Okay. Help me into the wheelchair. I’m still shaky.”
Let them keep thinking I’m too weak to cause any problems while I figure out what is going on here. Like why am I in a locked psych wing of the hospital and not on one of the regular medical or surgical floors with regular doctors and nurses?
The Captain knocked on an unmarked door.
“Enter,” someone on the other side of the door said.
“Captain Holt, as you requested, Colonel.”
“Thank you, Captain Thompson. You may leave us alone. I’ll call you when I want you to take Captain Holt back to his room.”
As Thompson closed the door, there was an audible click as the electronic lock engaged.
Holt surveyed the room. The walls were bare, and there was a plain gray metal desk, an empty coat tree, and two gray metal filing cabinets.
There was also a small bookcase with various books on psychiatry on its dusty shelves, and two leather chairs — one empty and the other occupied by a stern-looking man in a charcoal-gray suit.
The man’s presence set off alarm bells in Holt’s brain. He had seen men like this before, and nothing good had come from the association.
“Ah, Captain Holt. Did you enjoy your meal?”
“Yes sir, I did.”
The Colonel did not introduce the man in the suit. Instead, he switched on the recorder on the desk:
“Tell me, Captain. What was your mission?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Come now, Captain. You’re a Special Forces A-Team leader with multiple skills, including proficiency in the SADM program. Also, there is no medical reason for your alleged amnesia.”
“I don’t know anything about ... what did you call it? The SADM pro-gram? I don’t have a clue about that or anything else. You say I’m sup-posed to be a part of that program, and I’ll take your word for it. Since you seem to know more about who I am than I do, why don’t you fill me in from the files you keep referring to?”
“Let’s try this again. What happened to the rest of your team, and how did you come to stumble into that diner in Alpine, Texas? Who sanctioned your mission? When and where did you pick up the device? What was your target? Was the mission successful, or did you have to abort?
“Answer my questions, and you’ll be on a plane back to Fort Bragg and returned to duty after 30 days convalescent leave at the resort of your choice.”
“Like I told you, Colonel: I’ve no idea what you’re talking about or why you’re asking me these questions. I wish I did, but I don’t.”
“Come now, Captain. We can do this all day.
“What was your mission? Who approved the mission? What was ...?”
The questions continued until the Colonel picked up the phone and punched in an extension number.
“Captain Thompson, please return Captain Holt to his room now. Yes, I’m afraid we’re going to have to shift to psychopharmacology. Bring a syringe of Haldol with you. Yes. It’s just a precaution.”
The electronic lock clicked; the door opened, and Captain Thompson entered the room.
Holt noted the syringe protruding from the top pocket of the captain’s lab coat and guessed that it contained the Haldol the Colonel had ordered.
Thompson positioned himself behind Holt’s wheelchair.
“This finishes our session for today, Captain Holt. Captain Thompson, you may take Captain Holt back to his room.”
When they were gone, the man in the suit said, “Take him to the next level with drugs. We need to find the device quickly.”
“Unless the dosage is titrated correctly, we could kill him.”
“That’s not my problem, Doctor. Just get the information.”
* * *
Captain Thompson inserted his keycard to unlock the door to Holt’s room. Then he wheeled Holt to the bed and set the brakes on the chair.
As Holt stood up, he snatched the syringe full of Haldol from the top pocket of Thompson’s lab coat and, with a swift downward thrust, plunged the needle deep into the man’s neck, emptying the full bolus into Thompson’s external jugular vein.
The Captain collapsed onto the floor, and Holt stripped off Thompson’s shoes and uniform and put them on.
He left the unconscious man restrained and gagged in bed with the covers pulled to his eyes.
Using Thompson’s keycard, Holt made his escape from the hospital.
Outside, he hailed a cruising cab.
“Where you headed, buddy?”
“Head off post into the city, and I’ll tell you where to stop.”
The cab passed a run-down store with a hand-painted sign: Prenda de Vestir — Articulos de Segunda.
“Stop here, driver.”
Holt paid the driver from the cash in Thompson’s wallet and entered the cluttered shop.
Fifteen minutes later, he exited wearing jeans, well-broken-in hiking boots, chambray shirt, navy blue windbreaker, and a black baseball cap. Wearing this disguise, he could pass as just another day laborer.
* * *
The office door in the back section of the Blood on the Risers Bar was unlocked, and Holt entered without knocking.
Sitting behind the teakwood desk and brandishing a loaded .45 Caliber automatic sat retired Sergeant-Major Jake Gilmartin.
“Dammit, Chris. Didn’t I teach you better than to sneak up on an old soldier? I could’ve killed you.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t. So I guess it’s true what I heard — that you’re getting old, fat, and slow.”
Gilmartin put the pistol down and got up and gave Holt a bear hug.
“Let me look at you, boy. You look like you’ve been stomped by a bull.”
“Almost.” Holt, grinned at this old comrade.
“I heard that you and your team disappeared off the radar on some ultra-secret mission that nobody’s talking about. Speculation is you and your people are dead or prisoners in some backwater shithole of a country. But I knew that was a bald-faced lie when some serious-looking dudes in suits showed up here yesterday asking questions about you.”
Gilmartin put ice in two rocks glasses and poured three fingers of Johnny Walker Blue Label into each.
He handed one to Holt.
“Sit down and take a load off. What are you into, and how can I help?”
Holt sat down in an overstuffed chair and raised his glass. “Absent friends.”
“Absent friends.” Gilmartin, held his glass high.
“Well, Jake, it looks like I’ve gotten myself in a whole bunch of deep shit this time. I lost my team on some bullshit mission supposedly sanctioned by the President.”
He took another sip from his drink.
“I don’t think the President knew a damn thing about it, and, now, the SADM my team and I deployed with has disappeared, and whoever orchestrated this snafu has gone into cover-your-ass mode and is trying to tie up loose ends. I’m the remaining loose end, and I’m only alive because I managed to escape before they could make me tell them where the damn thing is.”
“Damn, boy, I’ll say this about you: You never do anything half-assed. How can I help?”
“The Army thinks I’m MIA, and they’re not looking hard for me. The people who know I’m temporarily alive want to terminate me with extreme prejudice, and that’s a problem. You still know that ex-Company document forger ‘Miguel-something’ here in San Antonio?”
“Miguel Chavez. He left the Company about eight years ago, and he turns out the best green cards in the world. You can’t tell ’em from the real thing.”
“Good. I need him to do a complete ID makeover: Birth certificate, social security card, passport, and driver’s license. Give me the name ‘Ian Stone.’ And, Jake — I don’t have any cash.”
“Did I say any damn thing about cash? We go back a ways, you and me. You were one of my best students. So don’t go insulting me by bringing up the subject of cash. I oughta’ kick your ass. Anyways, ol’ Chavez owes me more than an ID makeover, and I’ll take care of it. Meanwhile you can hole up in the safe room in my cellar until I bring the documents back.”
* * *
Captain Holt’s uncle Dave Holt owned a small place in the country between Port Isabel and Los Fresnos. It had been in his family for years. There were no livestock to tend anymore, and the small fields adjacent to the ranch house had overgrown with weeds, assorted cacti, and mesquite trees. However, the barn, bunkhouse, and main house were all in good repair, and, whenever Dave wanted to think, he came here.
The house was not visible from the road. As he drove through the gate, Dave could see smoke rising from the direction of the main house.
He parked his truck out of sight and, with gun in hand, cautiously approached the building.
He burst into the room, his pistol cocked and ready.
“Hello, Uncle Dave. Had breakfast yet?”
“Chris, what are you doing here?”
“Some real bad people are after me, and I need your help.”
“You’ve got it, Chris. Anything. You know that.”
“Thanks, Uncle Dave. And by the way, for a while at least, get used to the name ‘Ian Stone.’”
“Whoever you call yourself, I’m glad you’re here, nephew.”

About the author:

Jim Gilliam ran away from home just before his 14th birthday, lying about his age, he joined the Coast Guard. He renounced his medical retirement to become an Army airborne combat physician assistant going on to retire from the U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command in 2010 with 28 years of service to our country. He lives in Warwick, NY where he continues to write novels with a military and law enforcement theme.

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