Hostage (Bodyguard #1)

Hostage (Bodyguard #1)

Chris Bradford

The driver’s knuckles turned white as he gripped the steering wheel of the Humvee and planted his foot hard on the pedal. The immense engine roared and the armoured vehicle shot on to the bomb-blasted road.

As the Humvee tore across the potholed concrete that stretched into the distance like the cracked skin of a dead snake, the two passengers in the back could only stare at the hellish images of a war-torn Iraq whipping past their windows. Barren patches of garbage-strewn desert, burnt-out carcasses of abandoned vehicles, crumbling buildings pockmarked with bullet holes, and the haunted faces of Iraqi children scavenging among the rubble.

The younger of the two passengers, a fresh-faced female diplomatic aide with styled blonde hair, wiped away a tear with an unsteady hand. The other, a tall handsome Hispanic man with strong cheekbones and deep brown eyes as sharp as an eagle’s, was more composed. Yet his tense grip on the seat’s armrest betrayed his deeper unease.

The bodyguard alone remained impassive, strapped into the front passenger seat, his MP5 sub-machine gun across his lap. He’d survived this run many times. Not that it made the drive any easier. Less than 12 kilometres long, this sweeping bend of road was the sole artery that connected Baghdad International Airport to the Green Zone – the fortress-like military and governmental safe haven in the heart of Baghdad. This made Route Irish the most dangerous stretch of highway in the world – a ready-made shooting gallery for terrorists and insurgents. Any attempt to travel the route was little more than a suicidal dash.

And today the stakes are even  higher, thought the bodyguard, glancing over his shoulder at the newly appointed US Ambassador to Iraq. Usually the Americans arranged for a helicopter to transport senior officials between the airport and the zone, but high winds and the threat of a sandstorm had grounded all aircraft.

The bodyguard’s eyes scanned the terrain beyond the bulletproof glass. In front and behind were three more Humvees thundering down the highway, forming a formidable military escort. These vehicles were armed to the teeth with mounted M2 heavy machine guns and MK19 grenade launchers. As the convoy raced along, the lead Humvee cleared the road ahead, barging civilian vehicles to one side if they didn’t move out of the way quickly enough.

An underpass came into view and the bodyguard tensed. This was a prime spot for an attack. The bridge would have been swept for improvised explosive devices the night before. But that didn’t mean  all the IEDs had been discovered. His hand instinctively felt for the key fob in his pocket. He carried it with him everywhere. It contained a photo of his smiling eight-year-old son. Squeezing the talisman, the bodyguard vowed – as he always did – that he would survive the journey, if only for the sake of his son.

As they passed beneath the graffiti-scrawled bridge, he kept his eyes peeled for ‘dickers’ – lookouts who phoned ahead to rebel fighters lying in wait. The call might trigger a vehicle packed with explosives, a roadside IED, a suicide bomber, a drive-by shooting or even a barrage of mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. The bodyguard had witnessed all these assaults at one time or another, and they always ended in tragedy.

Emerging on the other side of the underpass, he heard the driver breathe a sigh of relief as he gunned the Humvee faster towards the Green Zone. The bodyguard resumed his surveillance sweep – scouring for threats among the surrounding traffic, the tree stumps on the central reservation, the housing estates to the south, and the approaching overpass and ramps of the next concrete-jungle intersection.

‘This isn’t good,’ muttered the driver as their convoy began to slow to a snail’s pace. In the distance the traffic had ground to a halt.

The HF radio burst into life.  ‘Tango One to Tango Three. Collision up ahead.’

From the rear vehicle, the team leader responded. ‘Tango One, this is Tango Three. Push on through. Use the central  reservation.’

The lead vehicle approached the hold-up. As it mounted the kerb, the bodyguard’s attention was drawn to a dead dog lying at the side of the road. The carcass, left to rot in the sun, appeared unnaturally bloated.

Then, as their own vehicle drew closer, the bodyguard spotted a man on the overpass, talking into his mobile phone. His instincts kicked into overdrive and he reached across to yank the steering wheel hard right. Startled, the driver gave him a furious look as their Humvee veered off the highway.

A split second later the booby-trapped dog exploded, engulfing the lead vehicle in a ball of flame.

The blast rocked their own Humvee with its intensity. The aide screamed in terror as a wave of hellfire rolled towards them. Keeping his composure, the bodyguard scanned the horizon and, out of the corner of his eye, spotted the telltale flare of a rocket-propelled grenade being fired from a nearby block of flats.

‘GO, GO, GO!’ he bawled at the driver.

The soldier floored the accelerator and the engine screamed in protest. They shot forwards, but it was too late. The RPG struck their rear end and detonated. Despite the Humvee weighing over two and a half tons, the vehicle flipped into the air like a child’s toy. Inside, the occupants were thrown around like rag dolls. The Humvee landed with a tremendous crash upon the driver’s side. Instantly the cabin filled with smoke and the acrid stench of burning paint and diesel.

The bodyguard’s ears rang as he fought to orientate himself. Wedging himself in his seat, he looked round to check on his Principal. The Humvee had been up-armoured to withstand such attacks, but a direct hit meant the damage was still devastating. The bodyguard also knew a second strike would be the end for them.

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