Prince Joe

By: Suzanne Brockmann


Baghdad, January 1991

Friendly fire.

It was called friendly because it came from U.S. bombers and missile launchers, but it sure as hell didn’t feel friendly to Navy SEAL Lieutenant Joe Catalanotto, as it fell from the sky like deadly rain. Friendly or not, an American bomb was still a bomb, and it would indiscriminately destroy anything in its path. Anything, or anyone, between the U.S. Air Force bombers and their military targets was in serious danger.

And SEAL Team Ten’s seven-man Alpha Squad was definitely between the bombers and their targets. They were deep behind enemy lines, damn near sitting on top of a factory known to manufacture ammunition.

Joe Catalanotto, commander of the Alpha Squad, glanced up from the explosives he and Blue and Cowboy were rigging against the Ustanzian Embassy wall. The city was lit up all around them, fires and explosions hellishly illuminating the night sky. It seemed unnatural, unreal.

Except it was real. Damn, it was way real. It was dangerous with a capital D. Even if Alpha Squad wasn’t hit by friendly fire, Joe and his men ran the risk of bumping into a platoon of enemy soldiers. Hell, if they were captured, commando teams like the SEALs were often treated like spies and executed—after being tortured for information.

But this was their job. This was what Navy SEALs were trained to do. And all of Joe’s men in Alpha Squad performed their tasks with clockwork precision and cool confidence. This wasn’t the first time they’d had to perform a rescue mission in a hot war zone. And it sure as hell wasn’t going to be the last.

Joe started to whistle as he handled the plastic explosives, and Cowboy—otherwise known as Ensign Harlan Jones from Fort Worth, Texas—looked up in disbelief.

“Cat works better when he’s whistling,” Blue explained to Cowboy over his headset microphone. “Drove me nuts all through training—until I got used to it. You do get used to it.”

“Terrific,” Cowboy muttered, handing Joe part of the fuse.

His hands were shaking.

Joe glanced up at the younger man. Cowboy was new to the squad. He was scared, but he was fighting that fear, his jaw tight and his teeth clenched. His hands might be shaking, but the kid was doing his job—he was sticking it out.

Cowboy glared back at Joe, daring him to comment.

So of course, Joe did. “Air raids make you clausty, huh, Jones?” he said. He had to shout to be heard. Sirens were wailing and bells were ringing and anti-aircraft fire was hammering all over Baghdad. And of course there was also the brain-deafening roar of the American bombs that were vaporizing entire city blocks all around them. Yeah, they were in the middle of a damned war.

Cowboy opened his mouth to speak, but Joe didn’t let him. “I know how you’re feeling,” Joe shouted as he put the finishing touches on the explosives that would drill one mother of a hole into the embassy foundation. “Give me a chopper jump into cold water, give me a parachute drop from thirty thousand feet, give me a fourteen-mile swim, hell, give me hand-to-hand with a religious zealot. But this… I gotta tell you, kid, inserting into Baghdad with these hundred-pounders falling through the sky is making me a little clausty myself.”

Cowboy snorted. “Clausty?” he said. “You? Shoot, Mr. Cat, if there’s anything on earth you’re afraid of, they haven’t invented it yet.”

“Working with nukes,” Joe said. “That sure as hell gives me the creeps.”

“Me, too,” Blue chimed in.

The kid wasn’t impressed. “You guys know a SEAL who isn’t freaked out by disarming nuclear weapons, and I’ll show you someone too stupid to wear the trident pin.”

“All done,” Joe said, allowing himself a tight smile of satisfaction. They’d blow this hole open, go in, grab the civilians and be halfway to the extraction point before ten minutes had passed. And it wouldn’t be a moment too soon. What he’d told Ensign Jones was true. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but he hated air raids.

Blue McCoy stood and hand-signaled a message to the rest of the team, in case they’d missed hearing Joe’s announcement in the din.

The ground shook as a fifty-pound bomb landed in the neighborhood, and Blue met Joe’s eyes and grinned as Cowboy swore a blue streak.

Joe laughed and lit the fuse.

“Thirty seconds,” he told Blue, who held up the right number of fingers for the rest of the SEALs to see. The squad scrambled to the other side of the street for cover.

When a bomb is about to go off, Joe thought, there’s always a moment, sometimes just a tiny one, when everything seems to slow down and wait. He looked at the familiar faces of his men, and he could see the adrenaline that pumped through them in their eyes, in the set of their mouths and jaws. They were good men, and as always, he was going to do his damnedest to see that they got out of this city alive. Forget alive—he was going to get them out of this hellhole untouched.

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