Free Fiction: The Mongol’s Coffin, Chapter one

Curious about my thriller novel, Bone Guard One:  The Mongol’s Coffin?  Here’s chapter one for your enjoyment!

Bone Guard One: The Mongol’s Coffin, cover design by Jake Kerr

CHAPTER ONE

Provincial Museum

Nr Mazar i-Sharif, Afghanistan

Grant Casey dove behind the nearest statue, a huge sandstone lion with wings and curly hair surrounding a wise human face—at least, until the shots blasted its face into gravel.  Bullets and bits of stone pinged off the display cases and the concrete walls, leaving gouges and sending ricochets that stung his exposed hands and cheeks.  Grant scowled into his goggles.  He’d seen someone come this way, someone who should have been to-hell-and-gone before the shooting started, but now he didn’t dare to call out.

Along the corridor, ahead, he glimpsed a tall soldier—Nick–herding a small group of civilians out of the museum—a woman in full burka, with children, a pair of older men, looking flustered.  At the sound of gunfire, Nick placed himself between the civilians and the shots and hustled them all out of sight.  Good.

The latest barrage ended with a settling of dust, and shattered glass from museum cases glittered on the floor.  He held back a sneeze.  The statue’s head wore a mask of pock-marks .  A few other, smaller figures lay dismembered and rocking on the ground.  If they had stronger fire-power, even the stone lion couldn’t protect him.

“Chief, do you copy?”  D. A.’s voice buzzed in his ear.  Grant dare not answer

“He took off west,”  Nick replied. “Shots fired in that direction.”

“Don’t tell me the Indian’s gone cowboy on us.”  Commander Wilson, the putative leader of this supposedly joint operation.

“It’s not his first rodeo, sir.  He’s got a reason,”  D. A. answered.  “Chief, the building’s clear—team’s clear, do you copy?”

“Y’all are intel, not ops—Casey, you get your people out of here,”  Wilson barked.  “You are in defiance of orders, Lieutenant Casey, and—”

“Saving twenty-eight lives and counting, sir.”  D. A. cut in, begging to be charged with insubordination. “Chief called in the threat, you didn’t respond.  Did you expect us to sit tight while the place went up in smoke?”

“I expected you to follow orders—”

Grant snapped off his set, the argument dropping into silence.  Cautiously, he adjusted his position, settling his back to the solid stone, breathing carefully, listening.  This room sat only a corridor and a lattice-trimmed courtyard short of the entrance, where the rest of the team would be wondering, in spite of orders to the contrary, if they should come and get him now that they’d cleared the place of civilians.  Only, they hadn’t.

He caught a flicker of movement and a flash of a red heat signature in his left-hand lens, furtive, somebody slipping from the bulk of that leafy-looking column to the base of a nearby display of jewelry and tablets.  Grant tracked the movement with his rifle.

“Allahu Akbar!”  shouted a gruff voice to his right.  The shooter, seeking his compatriots.  No answer.  So the third party wasn’t his, and wasn’t Grant’s.  Civilian.

Grant jumped back to the tail of the lion, caught the flash of red, the shooter’s position.  He fired three shots and ducked away again as the shooter returned fire.

Glancing over, Grant silently urged the civilian to get the hell out while the shooter was looking for him.  Instead, the civ lunged along the display and stuck his hand over the top, snatching a jeweled diadem and pulling back, stuffing the piece into his dark tunic.  A looter, in the middle of a firefight.  Could be someone taking advantage, trying to fund a ticket out of the chaos that was Afghanistan, or maybe a museum staffer hoping to save something from the destruction.

Boots pounded up the hallway from the heart of the museum, accompanied by shouts of “Allahu Akbar!”  and a hundred other things.  Shit.  His shooter called out in reply, then the air in the room sucked dry, something boomed, and the lion exploded.  Grant dove away, toward the civ.  He ran hard, gunfire spitting in pursuit.  The civ dodged behind a wooden doorway that wouldn’t stand up to automatics, never mind the rocket they just fired.  He scooped up the civ with one arm and launched them both into the courtyard, rolling so he landed on top behind some kind of tomb. Ironic, if he bought it right then.

“Stay down!” he barked, first in English, then in Dari, the local dialect.

“Get the fuck off,” the civ growled back in accented English, shoving at him.  A woman?  Yeah, he could tell now, in spite of her genderless tunic and trousers.  The wrap slipped back from her face, revealing sharp green eyes, dusky skin, parted lips.

Women had every reason to need the cash to fund a getaway. He couldn’t blame her for taking advantage.  “Get out of here, lady. I’ll cover you.”

For a moment, their eyes locked, and those lips gave a slight quirk, then she gave a nod, and he rolled aside, taking a knee behind the low tomb, weapon in hand.  When he popped up, peppering the stone lattice with shots, she checked her stolen diadem, tossed it aside, and ran:  straight back into the chamber.

Grant ducked down again, the shooters taking pot-shots at his head, while the crazy woman flanked them, making for the same case she’d robbed moments before.

Leaning left, aiming upward, Grant fired again and heard a shriek as a bullet struck home, then he pulled back, yanking out the magazine and slamming in another.  His last.  On the other side of the lattice, the shooters snapped at each other, loud enough to hear, too soft to make out the words.  Draw their fire, or make for home?  One last civ, and she was nuts.

When the rocket roared, Grant plunged left, rolled, and pounded down the side hall to come up next to their hide-out, already shooting, turning them away from the civ.  Three heat signatures, one of them meeting his eye as he fired into the man’s chest.  The next one brought up his automatic, then he fell forward, blood spilling from his lips.

The crazy woman pivoted out of her stance, the gun still in her hand.  Okay, not the usual civilian, not at all.

Between them, the last shooter froze, glanced behind him, then shouted a stream of fury at a woman in pants and swung his weapon toward her.

Two shots, chest and head, one from each direction, and the shooter went down.

She shoved the gun into her waistband and swung around the corner of the lattice.

“Hey!”  Grant held up his off-hand to stop her.

Too late. She slipped her hands and feet into the diamonds of the lattice surrounding the courtyard and scrambled up, climbing fast to the roof and disappearing, even the patter of her steps fading in a heartbeat.

“Chief! We should be out of here–what’re you doing?”  Nick lead with his gun around the entrance at the far end of the hall.

“Finishing the job.”  Grant released his gun and stepped back, the tether keeping it handy.  Four insurgents lay in the wreckage of the museum, bleeding onto the remnants of what should’ve been their heritage.  Maybe the crazy lady had it right, taking something away, rescuing what she could from the chaos.  “I spotted a civilian, but she took off across the rooftop.”  He gestured up.

“Up there?  Fuck. You sure about that?”  Nick came up beside him, half a head taller, maybe seventy pounds heavier, a running back compared with Grant’s track-and-field physique.  “Commander’s raising Hell on the radio—you heard?”  Behind his helmet and goggles, Nick’s dark face looked grim.  “Could be bad news back on base.”

“Twenty-nine lives and this place still standing?  I’ll take it.”  Grant swept the room, listening, watching:  no more sounds, no heat signatures he could see.

“They all down?”  Nick leaned a little closer.

Grant scanned the insurgents.  The first one to fall shifted a little, moaning, his breath hitching.  A living insurgent meant a chance to get some intel and get back to doing their job.  Would it appease the commander?  Unlikely.

“Trauma kit,”  Grant ordered as he stepped over the bodies, pausing to roll a body from the wounded man’s legs.  “Lie still.  We can help.”  The words rang a bit hollow, given he was the guy who’d shot him, but it wasn’t personal.  Nick held out the trauma kit, edging into the space on the other side. The wounded man moved again, muttering, his arm underneath him as if he were trying to sit up.  Nick’s eyes flared, then he shouted, “Chief!” and launched himself over the downed man, knocking Grant aside as the insurgent’s hidden explosive went off in a shower of blood and bone.  Grant flew backwards from the thrust of Nick’s tackle.  He tumbled past the bulk of that wise, ruined lion, the stone wings fluttering in a breeze of fire, shielding him from the worst of the blast, and the even worse anointing of Nick’s blood.

 

Want to know what happens next?  Bone Guard One:  The Mongol’s Coffin is now available in e-book and trade paperback!

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About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
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