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The Sandman Cometh. (Handguns in Service).

"SON OF A B ----" SSG GERALDO SALAZAR WHISPERED TO HIS TEAM LEADER. "THIS PLACE IS A REAL PIECE OF WORK, BOSS. HOTTER 'N H--- IN THE DAYTIME AND COLDER'N H--- AT NIGHT. AN' THESE D----- SCORPIONS...THEY'RE EVERYWHERE. GOOD THING WE'VE BEEN ISSUED THAT ANTIDOTE. I BET I'VE BEEN STUNG A HALF DOZEN TIMES TODAY!"

CAPTAIN DAVID KORBIN, HIS TEAM COMMANDER, SMILED BACK, THEN REPLIED IN A LOW VOICE. "YOU'VE SURE GOT THAT RIGHT, SALAZAR. BUT, WHAT THE H---? LIKE THEY SAY, 'IT'S THE ONLY WAR WE'VE GOT!'"

Salazar checked the silenced Beretta M9 in his hand, making sure that it was in fact loaded, that its magazine was fully seated and that the sound suppressor attached to its muzzle was screwed on tightly. It wouldn't do to have a stoppage in the middle of his big chance--he'd really look like a fool--but his concerns were baseless--all was well with the weapon. "Boss," he whispered again. "We know there are Al Queda terrorists in there. For a change, the intel weenies were right. Why're we waiting? Why don't we get in there and whack 'em while we have the chance?"

"Take it easy, Gerry, you know why." Korbin breathed. "Like every other team in Afghanistan, our mission is to try and find that m-----f----- bin Laden if we can. And even though we haven't seen him or any of the other Al Queda honchos around here, we're playing wait and see. No one knows we're here and we've got good position, even though we're only twenty meters away from the entrance. Those creeps may be savage, mean and nasty, but they're not very professional by any standards we recognize." Korbin scratched his face absently, looked at the cave entrance again and added, "We'll wait a bit longer, just in case. Then, we'll hit 'em, just like we planned. Just be patient a while longer, OK?"

Salazar nodded minutely to indicate his understanding, but didn't respond verbally. Captain Korbin was a first-rate guy; a truly competent professional Special Forces officer of the old breed and the team was lucky to have him as their CO. He'd proven his mettle back during Operation Desert Storm as a young lieutenant, earning a Distinguished Service Cross for almost single-handedly destroying a half-dozen Iraqi SCUD missile sites. He'd crawled up on them, lit them up with a ground laser designator and "painted" them for the F16 strikes, even with GBU-21 "smart bombs" impacting within 150 meters of him. That took real cojones there was no doubt about it. For that, Korbin had become nearly a legend in the SF community, earning the nickname of The Sandman somewhere along the way as the story was told and retold.

After that, he'd served on various drug interdiction ops in Columbia with the 7th Group, further enhancing his reputation as being muy hombre, even saving a DEA agent's life when he got too close during a raid on a cocaine lab and had nearly gotten greased over it.

Yeah, Salazar thought to himself as he lay there in the rocks. Korbin knows what he's doing.

470 meters across the canyon, SGT Charles "Chuck" Allison and his observer, SGT William "Wild Willy" Parsons, waited patiently, periodically checking the Leupold l0x40mm scope on his M24 sniper rifle to keep the dust off its objective and ocular lenses. Afghanistan was a dry, miserable place and dust seemed to get onto and into everything. His job was to "neutralize" anyone approaching the cave entrance once Salazar and Korbin went inside, thus keeping any Taliban or Al Queda personnel who might be nearby from coming to their comrade's aid.

To further assist in this, the rest of the team lay hidden in the rocky jumble, 100 meters above the cave entrance, their SF-AGOG equipped M4 carbines and M148 grenade launchers ready. All that was needed now was for Captain Korbin to give the word and the op would begin.

Back at the cave entrance, Salazar glanced over at Korbin, who had just checked his watch. It would be dark in an hour and they needed the precious darkness to get away. Since it would take a while to take out the guys inside the cave and grab all the Intel they could, they'd have to make their move soon.

Sensing Salazar watching him, Korbin calmly checked his own weapon, a SOCOM HK .45 ACP equipped with one of the new lightweight sound-suppressors. Made entirely of titanium, they were so light that they didn't prevent the weapon's tilt-lock action from functioning, allowing it to function normally. It was nearly time.

Funny how Cap'n Korbin preferred the .45 instead of the 9mm, Salazar mused silently, but no one argued the fact that he could sure shoot it well. He'd flat cleaned everyone's clock with it during training and qualification back in the states. And that 230-grain bullet it shot was already subsonic, so it didn't make much noise. His suppressed M9 needed special subsonic ammo to be that quiet, but they'd found that at reduced velocity, the standard 124-grain FMJ 9x19 NATO bullet didn't perform very well, so they'd gone to a heavier 160-grain slug to beef it up. That had helped, but it still didn't have the punch of the old .45, that was for sure.

His reflections ended abruptly as a small pebble struck his arm. He glanced up to see Korbin giving him the thumbs up sign. Korbin lifted his radio handset and "broke squelch" twice, signaling the rest of the team to ready themselves. From the rest of the team on the mountainside above and Allison across the canyon, acknowledgement came instantly. They, too, were ready.

It was time.

As though they could read each other's thoughts, the two men rose silently and moved forward, their pistols held at the ready. The cave entrance was about eight feet in diameter, so they'd be pretty close when they went in.

They stationed themselves opposite each other, to each side of the opening and waited, breathing heavily in anticipation, then made their move.

Rocking gently in unison, they silently counted together.

Five, four, three, two, one...go!

In a much practiced buttonhook maneuver, they pivoted simultaneously into the entrance and, finding no immediate resistance, continued to move deeper into the semi-gloom. The Trijicon horizontal three-dot tritium sights on both pistols would help a lot, providing much-needed sight alignment when the time came for shooting. And there was sure to be some shooting, since they could hear voices nearby, the voices of at least a half dozen men. After they'd moved 10 meters into the cave, they came to an abrupt 90-degree corner, with light showing faintly around its apex. So this was why the bombing, even with smart bombs, had not knocked this place out. Even if the weapon had detonated in the cave mouth, its blast would be minimized.

Nodding, Salazar moved silently forward, "slicing the pie" to check it, then nodded to Korbin that no one was visible. Korbin acknowledged. Their usual response with a 90-degree corner situation like this one was for the man nearest the apex of the corner to pivot and kneel as he brought his weapon up to point. Meanwhile, the "far" man would remain standing and simply step out simultaneously, also bringing his weapon to point. This way, they could concentrate their firepower without the "near" man being in the "far" man's line of fire.

Once the maneuver was completed, each man would "run the walls," that is, mentally divide the room into halves, beginning their visual check for targets at the far right and far left walls, then sweeping their eyes and weapons inward towards the center. This way, targets would be engaged in a brisk, efficient fashion, with no potential for inadvertent non-engagement of any specific adversary. Anyone detected in each man's half of the room was his responsibility.

Again, they took a deep breath, exhaled, and used a descending count, again rocking back and forth in unison. Korbin nodded.

Five...four...three...two...one...go!

In a single second, the procedure was executed with near-flawless precision, and the pistols of both men-- Korbin's low and Salazar's high-- reached point simultaneously.

Fifteen feet distant, in a small chamber, stood five men. They were crouched around a battered table, upon which stood a Coleman lantern, hissing loudly (it seemed) in the stunned silence. On each man's shoulder, an AK47 assault rifle hung loosely and on the table a map was spread out fully, indicating that some kind of conference was in progress. In that frozen second, recognition dawned. The muchfeared and hated enemy--American Special Forces--had somehow gotten into their midst undetected.

With a shout of alarm they began to respond, jumping away from the table as they turned, hands clawing for the AK47's on their shoulders.

But it was too late. The Americans were already engaging them.

Phut...phut...phut! From a classic Kneeling Position, Captain David Korbin's silenced SOCOM HK spat briskly three times, slamming 230-grain FMJ bullets into the room. The three men to the right of the table staggered, hit in the chest and two thudded, facedown, in the dust. The third dropped to his knees, trying desperately to bring his AK to bear on the hated enemy, but lost consciousness before he could do so. Reeling as his blood pressure dropped below that needed for controlled actions, he pitched forward, his AK clattering dully into the dust beneath him. Total engagement time was under four seconds.

The right side of the room-- Korbin's side--was now clear and he indicated such verbally with a terse, "Clear!"

As Korbin opened fire, Salazar's suppressed M9 also found its mark--the remaining two men who had stepped to the left of the table--and quickly spoke. Phut...phut! Two sub-sonic l60-grain 9mm FMJ bullets leaped across the gloom, sending home America's response to terrorism. They, too, reeled and one collapsed ignominiously, his AK still slung on his shoulder. The other, though mortally wounded, managed to get his weapon clear and open fire, though not with any apparent degree of effect.

Crack......crack...crack...crack! The Kalashnikov boomed deafeningly in the confined space. It's first round struck the wall three feet from Salazar's head, showering him with rock fragments; the second ricocheted from the ceiling with an audible beeyyyooowww, then, with a shower of rock splinters, struck the cave wall behind him with a loud whack!

"S--!" Salazar exclaimed, bringing his weapon back to point to reengage this not quite neutralized adversary.

As he reacquired his sights, the sonic boom of the third shot, then the fourth and fifth, slapped him across the face as they sizzled past and slammed into the cave wall behind him.

Phut...phut! The Beretta spoke twice more, but with no apparent effect. Confused and shaken, he was missing his target because he was shooting faster than he could align his sights. Watch the front sight...estupido...watch the front sight!

But before he could fire again, Korbin's weapon joined the fray from across the room...

Phut!

A single 230-grain FMJ slug struck the Al Queda terrorist in the left eye, transversing through the cranial cavity and exiting behind his right ear.

He instantly went limp, his now useless hands dropping, relaxing his grip on the Kalashnikov, which then thudded into the cave's dusty floor. As though he were a marionette manipulated by some giant unseen hand that had released his strings, he collapsed backward in a cloud of dust and, with his arms outstretched, lay still.

"You alright?" Korbin's asked quietly in the deafening silence.

"Yeah, I think so, but Madre de Dios, that was close!" Salazar hissed in reply.

"You saved my a-- and I owe you one. Thanks." For a brief moment, the two men stood still and looked at each other, as the full implications of the event in which they'd beaten the odds and cheated death were realized.

Then Korbin smiled and said, "Don't mention it, amigo. Now let's grab that document case and stuff on the table and get the h--- outta here, eh?"

Though shaken by the incident, Salazar, too, was the consummate Special Forces noncom. He quickly recovered; moving first to the table, where he scooped up the map the five Al Queda terrorists had been consulting. Then he stepped quickly over to the document case lying on the floor by the cave wall. "Looks like they were trying to find a way out of the area, Captain. Guess the bombing and our operations around here had em spooked pretty good."

"That's what I thought, too, Salazar." Korbin replied, motioning him to hurry. "Check those guys real quick to make sure they're dead and for anything of intelligence value, would you please? I'll cover you." As if to punctuate his request, the silenced SOCOM HK in his hands snapped back to Ready.

Salazar did what he was told, but the five Afghanis possessed nothing of value. "They're all dead, sir. An' they have nothing we want. This is it." He waved the map and document case. Yes sir, it looks to me, too, like they were feelin' the heat and were tryin' for find a way out of these hills. But they didn't figure on one thing Captain...."

"What's that?" Korbin asked, genuinely puzzled.

Salazar grinned and said, "You, Captain! The Sandman strikes again. You are muy hombre. The way you shoot, they don't stand a chance!"
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Author:Taylor, Chuck
Publication:Handguns
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:2242
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