The Serbs behind them were preparing to attack, and in front of them lay open ground, flat and white as a shroud. We've run a hundred miles, Lang thought, to come up a football field short.
When a fellow Marine is kidnapped, Captain Mark Lang and his recon team, the Pepperdogs, disobey orders and cross into snowbound Serbia to rescue him. A leader who can't quit, Lang is urged on by his team members. Five New York City reservists -- a trader, a fireman, an auto mechanic, a fitness trainer and a computer geek -- set out on an impossible odyssey. Superbly fit and equipped, they employ speed, ambush and the Internet to close in on their target.
After a team member sends back e-mails describing their firefights, the Pepperdogs become front-page news. Once Weekend Warriors, by the end of their mission they are the most feared unit in Europe, fighting anyone who stands in their way. The press calls them "The Wild Bunch on technological steroids." Lang, haunted by memories of his missing buddy's dying mother, knows the horrific costs they are inflicting but won't turn back. Their rescue mission, condemned by the military, slowly escalates into a standoff between the Oval Office and NATO Europe with the world watching.
A razor-sharp storyteller and Pentagon insider, Bing West unleashes a blistering techno thriller that probes the limits of physical and mental endurance. Drawing on firsthand knowledge of combat, West fuses the grit of Blackhawk Down with the behind-the-scenes intrigue of The West Wing, showing how in the near future a squad can become wired to the White House, to the dismay of the traditional chain of command. The Pepperdogs is a gripping story about American reserves, conflicting loyalties and devotion to comrade. What price will a nation pay to save one life?
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Simon & Schuster
December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from The Pepperdogs by Bing West
If one falls down, the others will lift him up.
-- ECCLESIASTES 4:10
Mitrovica Valley, Kosovo-Serb border 11 A.M. Sunday, December 21
To the half-drunken Serb soldiers in the tan Toyota pickup, the farm looked inviting. Its orange slate roof, untouched by mortar blasts, glistened in the thin sunlight. No shells had burst against its whitewashed walls, and most windowpanes were intact, the few broken ones sealed neatly with white tape. A stocky woman in a blue mantilla was draping bright quilts over a rope strung to a nearby tree, taking advantage of the fickle winter sun to air out some bedding. The rich farm was war's joke, like a tornado that spares a single trailer home.
Holding their rifles carelessly, four soldiers hopped from the pickup, laughing back and forth like teenagers going to a party. Their leader had a full black beard and wore a shaggy black bear-fur coat with torn, floppy sleeves. His girth was so wide it looked like the bear was still inside. He didn't try the handle on the front door. Instead he raised back his foot and kicked, splintering the frame. Unhurried, he plodded up the stairs, trailed by his men.
The woman had scurried inside when the Toyota veered off the main road, but she found no place to hide. When they finished with her, she lurched out the kitchen door, stumbling through the mud toward the privy a stone's throw to the southeast, where the wind seldom blew the stench toward the house. Her skull had fractured at its base when they slammed her on the boards and threw her skirt over her head. The blood streaming from her nostrils was vivid red, and darker rivulets seeped from her ears. She lurched dizzily, everything whirling around and around her. Then she vomited and crumpled gracefully, settling down, folding her arms and hugging herself, as if she were very cold.
The soldiers paid no heed to the dying woman. They had wiped themselves, passing around a grayish towel, stiff as cardboard. Now they were wrestling onto the back of the pickup a Blutner piano with two broken ivories and several snapped strings. The woman knew several melodies that avoided the broken keys, including a little Liszt, but the men hadn't asked her to play.
Sergeant Saco Iliac, head bodyguard to the commanding general of the Tigriva division, picked up one end of the piano, smirking as his men struggled with the other end. He was thinking how he would arrive before the general's luncheon. The general would set the piano in the middle of the great room and pound Saco on the back of his thick fur coat.
Sometimes Saco intentionally lumbered like a bear to remind his men how he had won the coat. After they took Srebrenica, they had disposed of most of the vrags the first night, and blood caked their uniforms. No longer stupefied by drink, their heads splitting, the soldiers were anxious to get back home and wash up. There were fewer than a hundred to finish, but no one wanted to head back inside.
That was when the adjutant thought of the contest. Three officers held watches, and five finalists entered the barn where the last Muslims milled around like cattle. A Croat who had been a wrestler before the war did two more males than Saco. But so what? The small ones Saco went after wriggled like eels. His trick was to grab the ankles and swing their heads against the roof poles. Whack! and it was done. One girl bit his thumb, costing him several seconds. Still, the Croat did fifteen, while he, Saco, snapped eighteen necks to win the coat.