Primary Target: The Forging of Luke Stone—Book #1 (an Action Thriller)
Jack Mars is the USA Today bestselling author of the LUKE STONE thriller series, which include the suspense thrillers ANY MEANS NECESSARY (book #1), OATH OF OFFICE (book #2), SITUATION ROOM (book #3), OPPOSE ANY FOE (book #4), PRESIDENT ELECT (book #5), OUR SACRED HONOR (book #6), and HOUSE DIVIDED (book #7). He is also the author of the new FORGING OF LUKE STONE prequel series, which begins with PRIMARY TARGET.
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Copyright © 2018 by Jack Mars. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright Getmilitaryphotos, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
ANY MEANS NECESSARY (Book #1)
OATH OF OFFICE (Book #2)
SITUATION ROOM (Book #3)
OPPOSE ANY FOE (Book #4)
PRESIDENT ELECT (Book #5)
OUR SACRED HONOR (Book #6)
HOUSE DIVIDED (Book #7)
PRIMARY TARGET (Book #1)
PRIMARY COMMAND (Book #2)
AGENT ZERO (Book #1)
March 16, 2005
2:45 p.m. Afghanistan Time (5:15 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time)
Bagram Air Base
Parwan Province, Afghanistan
“Luke, you don’t have to do this,” Colonel Don Morris said.
Sergeant First Class Luke Stone stood at ease inside Don’s office. The office itself was inside a glorified corrugated metal Quonset hut, not far from where the new runway was going in.
The air base was a wonderland of constant sound—there were earth movers digging and paving, there were construction workers hammering together hundreds of plywood B-huts to replace the tents that troops stationed here had previously lived in, and if that wasn’t enough, there were Taliban rocket attacks from the surrounding mountains and suicide bombers on motorcycles blowing themselves up at the front gates.
Luke shrugged. His hair was longer than military guidance. He had a three-day growth of beard on his face. He wore a flight suit with no indication of rank on it.
“I’m just following orders, sir.”
Don shook his head. His own flattop haircut was black, shot through with gray and white. His face could have been carved from granite. Indeed, his entire body could have been. His blue eyes were deep-set and intense. The color of his hair and the lines on his face were the only signs that Don Morris had been alive on Earth for more than fifty-five years.
Don was packing the meager contents of his office into boxes. One of the legendary founders of Delta Force was retiring from the United States Army. He had been handpicked to launch and manage a small intelligence agency in Washington, DC, a semi-autonomous group within the FBI. Don was referring to it as a civilian Delta Force.
“Don’t you dare call me sir,” he said. “And if you’re following orders today, then follow this one: decline the mission.”
Luke smiled. “I’m afraid you’re no longer my commanding officer. Your orders don’t carry a lot of weight these days. Sir.”
Don’s eyes met Luke’s. He kept them there for a long moment.
“It’s a deathtrap, son. Two years after the fall of Baghdad, the war effort in Iraq is a total balls-up. Here in God’s country, we control to the perimeter of this base, the Kandahar airport, downtown Kabul, and not a whole lot else. Amnesty International and the Red Cross and the European press are all screaming about black sites and torture prisons, including right here, three hundred yards from where we’re standing. The brass just want to change the narrative. They need a win in capital letters. And Heath wants a feather in his cap. That’s all he ever wants. None of that is worth dying over.”
“Lieutenant Colonel Heath has decided to lead the raid personally,” Luke said. “I was informed less than an hour ago.”
Don’s shoulders slumped. Then he nodded.
“No surprise there,” he said. “You know what we used to call Heath? Captain Ahab. He gets fixated on something, some whale of a thing, and he will chase it to the bottom of the sea. And he’ll be happy to take all his men with him.”
Don paused. He sighed.
“Listen, Stone, you have nothing to prove to me, or to anyone. You’ve earned a free pass. You can decline this mission. Hell, in a couple of months, you could leave the Army if you want and come join me in DC. I’d like that.”
Now Luke nearly laughed. “Don, not everybody around here is middle-aged. I’m thirty-one years old. I don’t think a suit and tie, and lunch at my desk, is quite my speed just yet.”
Don held a framed photograph in his hands. It hovered above an open box. He stared down at it. Luke knew the photo well. It was a faded color snapshot of four shirtless young men, Green Berets, mugging for the camera before a mission in Vietnam. Don was the only one of those men who was still alive.
“Me neither,” Don said.
He looked at Luke again.
“Don’t die out there tonight.”
“I don’t plan to.”
Don glanced at the photo again. “No one ever does,” he said.
For a moment, he stared out the window at the snowcapped peaks of the Hindu Kush rising all around them. He shook his head. His broad chest rose and fell. “Man, I’m going to miss this place.”
“Gentlemen, this mission is suicide,” the man at the front of the room said. “And that’s why they send men like us.”
Luke sat in a folding chair in the drab cinderblock briefing room, twenty-two other men sitting in the chairs around him. They were all Delta Force operators, the best of the best. And the mission, as Luke understood it, was difficult—but not necessarily suicide.
The man giving this final briefing was Lieutenant Colonel Morgan Heath, as hands-on and gung-ho a commander as there was. Not yet forty years old, it was clear that Delta was not the end of the line for Heath. He had rocketed up to his current rank, and his ambitions seemed to point toward a higher profile. Politics, maybe a book deal, maybe a stint on TV as a military expert.
Heath was handsome, very fit, and over-the-top eager. That wasn’t unusual for a Delta operator. But he also talked a lot. And that wasn’t Delta at all.
Luke had watched him a week earlier, giving an interview to a reporter and a photographer from Rolling Stone magazine, and walking the guys through the advanced stealth and navigational capabilities of an MH-53J helicopter—not necessarily classified information, but definitely not