Under the Radar

Read a Chapter from Army Vet Sean Parnell's Killer First Novel 'Man of War'

Sean Parnell during his Army service (courtesy Sean Parnell)

Sean Parnell's fiction debut "Man of War: An Eric Steele Novel" is a thriller that should appeal to fans fo Lee Child or Brad Thor, but there's a difference: Sean's a guy who lived the life that inspired his lead character.

Sean previous wrote the best-selling memoir "Outlaw Platoon" about his service in Afghanistan as an U.S. Army airborne ranger in the legendary 10th Mountain Division. Captain Parnell retired with two Bronze Stars (one for valor) and the Purple Heart.

"Man of War" shows a lot of promise. Parnell isn't just resting on his combat cred to carry him through. He's developed some serious thriller-writing chops as well. Check out the excerpt below. It's chapter 2 from the book and might just suck you in.

BEIRUT

Four thousand miles to the east, Eric Steele turned into the alley, the headlights of the stolen Mercedes playing across the cinder- block wall. He cut the lights, and before stepping out of the car made sure the dome light was disengaged.

Steele was an Alpha—a clandestine operative assigned to a unit known simply as "the Program." It traced its lineage to World War II and existed because there were enemies that the President of the United States couldn't handle with diplomacy or all-out war. In these events the Commander in Chief needed a third option, and that was why Steele was in Beirut.

Eric gingerly reached back and touched the throbbing lump at the back of his skull. It felt like someone had embedded a golf ball beneath the skin and even the lightest of touches sent a shard of pain radiating along his jaw.

The blood staining his fingers looked black in the dark. "That sucker-punching bastard," he muttered while wiping his hands on the leather upholstery. The center console rattled when it hinged open, and after futilely pawing around for a bottle of aspirin, Steele settled on the FN Five-seven instead.

Most of the time Steele carried a modified Colt 1911. The .45 was an old gun, and the only thing his father left at the house before he disappeared. It was Steele's most cherished possession, but not the right weapon for what he had planned.

The FN, on the other hand, was designed in Belgium around the SS190 5.7×28mm round; hence the name. Its sole purpose was to punch through body armor, and it was the cartel favorite. Steele press-checked the pistol and after ensuring it was loaded, screwed a suppressor onto the threaded barrel. When it was snug, he pressed a wireless earpiece into his ear, stepped out of the vehicle, and eased the door shut behind him.

In the darkness the only sound came from the raindrops on the roof and the gentle swishing of traffic that drifted from the high- way. Steele let his eyes adjust to the darkness.

"Radio check," he said, stepping around the car and angling for the building to his right. At six foot two, he moved with a predatory grace that seemed impossible for a man of his build. Steele hadn't seen the inside of a gym in years. His physique, like his light, measured step, had come from the mountains of Afghanistan, where he had hunted terrorists as a Green Beret.

"Took you long enough," came the response.

The voice on the radio belonged to Demo, Steele's handler. They had been together since Eric became an Alpha and it was a tight bond, forged by countless operations.

"Traffic," Steele replied.

It was the understatement of the year. The ride over had been a white-knuckle nightmare. Rain in Beirut is like snow in Florida, and it didn't matter if it was an inch or a foot—it made the locals drive like maniacs.

Steele paused at the door and tested the knob. It was locked. He had the picks ready in his shirt pocket and went to work. Sweat beaded up on his forehead—it was hot, and the rain had made it worse.

Lock picking was a perishable skill, one that Steele knew he had neglected. During phase two of the Program's selection course it would have taken him thirty seconds.

"Damn you, lock," he hissed through gritted teeth.

"Take forever, mano," Demo quipped.

Steele gritted his teeth and fought the urge to just kick the door in, but a second later the last tumbler clicked into place and he was able to turn the knob.

"I'm in."

He cleared the house, fully aware that he could be walking into a trap. He took his time, slipping from room to room. The street side of the structure had a row of windows, and now and then a passing car cast its oblong shadow across the wall. Most of the buildings in Beirut had been built in a rush after the civil war ended in 1990. The fighting had been close and personal and the city had taken a beating. Steele had seen the same damage in Fallujah, and he knew that tanks and artillery had destroyed eighty percent of the structures in Beirut.

In the rush to rebuild, contractors cut corners. Steele hadn't been in a building yet that didn't swell during the day and pop and creak each night when it settled. Usually he didn't notice, but moving through the final rooms was unnerving, and by the time he got to the last one on the second floor, his shoulders were on fire.

He wiped the sweat off his forehead and bent to look out the window. It was amazing how heavy a 1.6-pound pistol could get if you weren't relaxed. He knew better and chided himself, but forgot the pain the moment he saw the target building.

The neon dragon dancing on the roof glinted off the puddles in sparks of yellow and red. Outside the Dragon's Door the line stretched back around the block. Steele set the pistol on the ledge and checked the Rolex Submariner on his wrist. It was 11:25. He pulled a magnifier from the inside pocket of his Manning and Manning jacket and pressed it to his eye.

"I'm on target," he said.

"Uploading the feed, stand by," Demo replied.

While his handler remotely connected to the magnifier's Bluetooth so he could watch the feed, Steele went over what he knew of the operation. He had received the dossier three days ago by secure courier. Known as the "target package," the mission files and oper- ations order contained in the dossier were supposed to provide him with everything he needed to plan and execute the operation. This one had the CIA's stench all over it.

There was no chain-of-custody slip on the front, so he had no idea who'd rushed it to the White House, but what made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up was the intel. Everything about the file, from the narrative explaining how the NSA had pinged the target's phone in Beirut to the exact time he was supposed to show up at the club, was too precise to be a rush. Someone had taken a great deal of time on the packet, and the first word that popped into Steele's mind was "convenient."

"Looks like we have company," Demo said as a silver Land Rover pulled up in front of the club.

Steele checked his watch. It was exactly 11:30. Right on time.

Two men got out, and the one from the front moved back and pressed his butt against the passenger door. The second man posted up on the street, hand inside his jacket. They were pros. Steele could tell that much by the way they handled the street.

Julian Burrows stepped out of the SUV without a care in the world. He popped his jacket, making a big show of the gold on his wrist. He was a small man, with stooped shoulders, and despite the half-million-dollar bounty on his head, he still dressed like a 1980s pimp with a red silk shirt open at the collar.

"You'd think a guy like that would try to keep a low profile," Demo said.

Burrows had started out as a Ukrainian pimp before graduating to trafficking cocaine and heroin from Afghanistan. He'd been a pissant before the dope, not even a blip on Steele's radar, but then he started moving weapons.

Should have brought the rifle up with me, Steele thought as he waited for Demo to run the man's face through the facial recogni- tion program. I could hit him right here, and by the time the check cleared I'd be in Ibiza, sipping mai tais on the beach.

"It's him," Demo said.

That was all Steele needed to hear. He returned to the Mercedes, moved to the rear bumper, and popped the trunk. It bounced open an inch, the light revealing a man with duct tape over his mouth.

"Easy there, Hamid," Steele said in Arabic, making sure the owner of the Mercedes saw the pistol before opening the trunk all the way. "If I take the tape off are you going to play by the rules this time?"

The man cursed at him through the tape, but changed his tune when Steele looked like he was going to shut the trunk.

"Well, what's it gonna be?"

Hamid shook his head up and down, an awkward movement considering the size of the trunk. It reminded Steele of a dog ham- ming it up for a treat. "You sure?"

The Arab tried to talk, but it sounded like a string of vowels because of the tape. Steele reached in and ripped it free so he could understand what the Arab was saying.

"I couldn't understand you," he said, shaking the duct tape by way of explanation.

"I said," Hamid began a bit too forcefully. He paused, taking the hint from the ice in Steele's jade eyes, and adjusted his tone. "I apologize for hitting you with the lamp."

"Fair enough."

Steele lifted the man out of the trunk with one hand and set him on the bumper. At his height, Steele was careful to appear unimposing. It was a skill drilled into him during training. He had his tailor cut his jackets wide in the shoulders to hide his bulk and keep his gun from printing. But the camouflage was only skin deep, and wouldn't hold up to the trained eye. No matter how he walked or what he wore, there was no hiding the fact that he was a hunter.

"So Burrows and Ronna in the same place, that's a thousand to one odds. Tell me what I'm not seeing, Hamid."

"I told you what I know."

Steele believed him and pushed the pistol into the front of his pants, cholo style. He slipped a blade from his pocket and held it up, looking into Hamid's eyes for any sign of deceit. It didn't matter if the man was lying or not, Steele realized as he cut his bonds, because he already had his orders.

He slipped the knife away, and when his hand came back into view there was a roll of cash. Hamid might be a piece of crap, but the man had a wife and a kid on the way. Steele knew firsthand what it was like to grow up without a father. His dad had walked out when he was nine, forcing his mom to work two jobs just to keep a roof over his head. It wasn't a life he would wish on his worst enemy.

"Get your wife the hell out of Beirut before that baby is born," Steele hissed.

Hamid obviously hadn't expected to be let go, and the relief was evident on his face, but the fact that Steele was helping him was too much for the man to bear. Tears formed at the edges of his eyes and his voice broke with emotion.

"I thought you were going to kill me," he said, taking the money.

"Give me a break. If I killed everyone who hit me with a lamp, I wouldn't have any friends left."

"That's for damn sure," Demo remarked.

Steele muted the earpiece and grabbed a duffel bag from the trunk. He tossed Hamid the keys and walked back to the build- ing to get ready. He took off his jacket, unbuttoned his shirt, and pulled an ultra-thin Kevlar vest over his well-muscled torso. He cinched it tight, hearing the Mercedes start up outside.

Steele was under no illusions about what was waiting for him inside the bar. Men like Ronna and Julian Burrows were killers, and Jean-Luc, the man who owned the club, would do whatever it took to protect his clients. Steele knew that if he wasn't on his game there was a good chance he wouldn't make it out alive.

He stuck his left arm through the loop of a bungee sling and stretched it across his back. At one end there was a magazine pouch; on the other hung a Brügger & Thomet MP9. The machine pistol weighed less than three pounds and even with the built-in sup- pressor was only ten inches in length. It fit perfectly beneath his arm, but Steele knew that it wouldn't slip the notice of the security guards at the door.

Finally he put his blazer back on and stuffed a can of CS, the military's name for tear gas, and two Belgian mini grenades into the hidden pockets sewn inside. He took the wireless headset controller out of his pocket and unmuted it. The device was built to look like a key fob, complete with a silver Toyota emblem on the back. Using the fob, Steele unmuted the earpiece and stepped outside.

"Loop the security channel onto frequency two," he said. There was a moment of silence.

"You're hot," Demo replied.

The secondary channel was "listen only," which meant that Steele could hear the guards' conversation through the earpiece but it would disappear anytime he or Demo transmitted over channel one.

"Got it. Here we go," he said.

Steele skipped the line, angling for the guards at the top of the stairs. One was patting down a man in a tuxedo with an ease borne of thousands of repetitions. But Steele was fixated on the second guard, a bald man standing next to the red door. The golden em- blazoned dragon winked from the lights above.

The guard's name was Felix, and the bald ex-Legionnaire watched Eric's approach with a flat expression. Steele knew he was committed now. There was no turning back.

Time to play the game, he told himself.

When Felix waved him forward, Steele stepped up, hands raised and painfully aware of the MP9 under his arm.

"I'm with the band," he said in French, flashing the second guard a toothy grin.

The man grunted. Steele kept his eyes on Felix, tensing when the second guard ran his hands over his sport coat. He felt Steele's weapon and took a tiny step back, his hand reaching for the pistol inside his own jacket.

"Easy," Steele warned, his jade eyes cutting and cold.

There was no doubt in his mind what would happen if Felix didn't step in very soon. He might get some of them, but in the end Steele knew he'd lose.

"Hey, baldy, you going to put a leash on your mutt?" he asked Felix.

The second guard snarled, and Steele saw the pistol coming out. It was now or never.

Excerpt courtesy of William Morrow. For more information about Sean Parnell, visit www.officialseanparnell.com

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