Who Dares Wins

PROLOGUE

Iraq. 2003.

Baghdad had fallen.

The streets were filled with troops, panic and fear. Sam Redman could taste it. The newswires buzzed with scenes of jubilation, with images of the grotesque statue of a hated dictator being toppled by the newly liberated citizens. But that was only half the story. The cobra’s head might have been cut off, but its body was still flailing dangerously. There was talk of killing squads of former Iraqi Republican Guards tearing through the streets on white trucks, brandishing AK-47s and settling old scores. Earlier they’d come across a dismembered torso lying in an alleyway. The legs, arms and head were missing and the rest was covered in flies. A witness had seen the man, a Western security guard, get pinned down during an ambush. His captors showed no mercy. In full view of the street they forced him to the ground and hacked off his limbs with a machete. The witness told them that the captors had made a mess of it; the blade wasn’t sharp enough and it took two men several minutes to hack through the bone and gristle. When they were down they peeled off his skin and beat his torso with his own limbs. Nearly an hour after they had captured him, the killing squad put a bullet through his forehead. One of the guys had filmed it on a camera; no doubt the footage was being uploaded on some dodgy Arabic website at that very minute. It was a sign of the way the country was headed: to hell in a fucking hand-cart. Only the presence of the Coalition forces held it still. If they were to leave now the city – the whole country – would be held to ransom by the looters, the rioters and the profiteers. By people like the man who sat in front of Sam now, sweat shining on his dark-skinned face and a nauseating stench of halitosis drifting from his gap-toothed mouth.

‘Miaat elf doolaar Amreekee,’ he said, before spitting on the floor and then setting his lips into an oily smile.

Sam turned to his brother. Jacob’s command of Arabic was better than anyone’s in the Regiment. He’d been over the Iraqi border more times than he could count in the past few years and he knew how to play it with these people.

‘A thousand American dollars,’ he translated flatly.

Mac Howden, the third man in their unit, sneered. His left hand wandered up to his right ear, half of which was missing – a scar from a firefight in Borneo. An inch to the left and it would have been a different story. ‘I could do with a thousand Yankee dollars myself. Difference is, this greasy little fucker’ll probably just go straight out and spend it on an RPG. He’ll be taking potshots at Chinooks in two hours.’

The Iraqi tout had said his name was Sadiq. None of them believed him, but in a situation like this one name was as good as another. Whether he knew that Sam, Jacob and Mac were SAS – or what the SAS even was – was anybody’s guess. Beyond doubt, however, he knew the value of the information he carried. Sadiq’s face remained fixed in that unpleasant smile as the three of them talked. Discuss it among yourselves, his expression said. I’m in no hurry.

‘And anyway,’ Mac continued, ‘rule of engagement number one: never trust a fucking raghead. How do we know he’s telling the truth?’

‘We don’t,’ Sam growled. He didn’t care about the money – it wasn’t like it was his – but he cared deeply about this guy