Russia had learned the hard way the extremes these fanatics would go to…

Ten years ago, Captain Yuri Shakirov stood in horror as young children were butchered by a hail of bullets from a group of Islamic extremists. As blood spattered the walls of this small Beslan school, Yuri’s greatest fear was that this tragedy would someday be repeated.

Now America would encounter these same crazed murderers…

All the terrorists needed was a place where they could descend, like the cowards they were, and strike terror into the heart of every American. An average middle school in California seemed the perfect soft target. The terrorists saw it and pounced. And Yuri was once again thrust into the line of fire.

It would take strong determination and courage to stop what had happened in Russia from happening here. The Americans need his help, but can Yuri find the strength to go through this nightmare again?

TAYLOR JONE SAYS: In Soft Target by John R. Beyer, Islamic terrorists storm a middle school in California. Yuri Shakirov, ex-Russian Special Purposes Team member, is in the US when the same terrorist, who fought against Yuri in the takeover of a Russian school ten years before, attempts the same thing at the school in California. Yuri and a retired FBI agent, Thomas Ware, become the on-scene experts at the school takeover. Yuri tries to tell the authorities that you cannot negotiate with terrorists, but they don’t want to listen.

Soft Target has the feel of a Die Hard movie, and if you like action, this book has plenty. It is a little violent for my tastes, but that just makes it feel more authentic. I thought the characters were well-developed and three dimensional, even the terrorists. And the book is a page-turner. Once you pick it up, it is very hard to put down.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Soft Target by John R. Beyer is a hard-hitting, fast-paced, gritty, and down-to-earth thriller about a group of terrorists who target a middle school in California as a means of getting US forces out of the Middle East. The main character, Yuri, has dealt with this particular terrorist before and he knows that there really is no way to negotiate with him—and the people at the school must be considered already dead. Yuri urges the US authorities to take immediate action against the terrorists at the school, but they are reluctant to do so, since they are afraid of civilian casualties. Yuri, drawing on his first experience with the terrorists, knows that there will be fewer casualties the sooner they act.

The plot is strong, with lots of twists and turns, and the characters well developed. The book has a ring of truth that is all too realistic. Unfortunately, terrorism is a fact of life that we have to deal with, and Beyer seems to have a good handle on both the motivations of the terrorists as well as the problems inherent in dealing with them.


September 3, 2004, North Ossetia:

The 7.62 mm bullet tore through his right shoulder just above the Kevlar chest protector throwing him awkwardly and painfully into the plaster wall. A second round from the AK47 smashed a mere fraction of an inch below his left ear, shattering the wall and throwing hunks of plaster into the air.

A trickle of blood ran freely down his neck as Captain Yuri Shakirov realized he was in dire straits. His right arm was bleeding and hung uselessly at his side. He collapsed onto the hard concrete floor, staring down the long hallway toward the gymnasium. That was where he needed to be. It was there that the majority of hostages were being held.

Yuri’s immediate problem was the gunman standing thirty feet in front of him. There would be no help since Yuri’s second in command, Lieutenant Borys had been killed by a bullet to his forehead from the gun of a masked man the instant the two men had entered the long dimly lit hallway.

It was up to Yuri.

Looking to his left, Yuri saw his own Izhmash AK9 assault rifle laying just out of reach but knew there would not be time enough to retrieve the short assault rifle before the gunmen discovered and killed him as he lay on the floor.

Imo eawa owubka!” The gunman shouted through his black knit ski mask.

But that was the break Yuri needed. At that very moment the child the man had been holding in front of him as a human shield urinated on himself and the terrorist. The man holding the AK47 roughly shook the young boy and yelled at him, shifting his weight to the left to get away from the puddle of urine now growing on the floor. Yuri knew the vomit reflex would only be moments away as the thin, ashen-faced boy started shaking violently.

Yuri’s left hand instantly grabbed the butt of the Markarov PM on his right hip and withdrew it painfully across his outstretched body. As the 9 mm pistol cleared the holster, the captain from the Russian Special Purposes Unit Alfa took aim and fired two consecutive rounds at the masked man. The first caught the terrorist in his throat while the second entered the man’s head between his eyes, killing him instantly.

Yuri, barely able to move, pushed himself up against the peeling and cracked wall to a standing position and moved toward the dead terrorist.

As he stumbled over the lifeless body of Lieutenant Borys, he felt a painful tug at his heart seeing the boyish face staring up at him through dead eyes. They had been together for the past five years in the FSB, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, and had become good comrades, not just merely working partners. The child’s whimpering brought Yuri back into focus as he edged down the hallway and put memories of his fallen friend aside, for the moment.

Yuri motioned for the boy to come toward him, but there was no movement or acknowledgement. Instead, the youngster, clad only in a dirty white T-shirt and urine stained under pants, started walking in the opposite direction back toward the interior of the gymnasium.

Het!” he commanded.

The boy still moved away down the darkened hallway from him.

Hem imom nymb,” he tried in a calm voice, as calm as his pain-wracked and exhausted body could manage.

The boy, now with his two little hands dug deeply into his mouth, suddenly turned and ran down the hallway and out of Yuri’s sight.

He xopowuu.” He sighed knowing it was going to get uglier in the next few moments when he went after the boy and into the lion’s den. He had no choice as he stumbled down the hallway using the wall as a crutch.

The continuous rifle fire coming from the direction of the sports hall moved him forward. Everything was moving too quickly and Yuri realized this battle in the school was going to be bloody.

In fact, it would be worse than he or the world would have ever guessed.


Moments later Yuri, torn and beaten by his wounds, found himself facing a vision he had never encountered nor even contemplated in his nearly twenty years in the elite special purposes unit. There were hundreds of hostages crowded and cowering on the main floor of the large sports hall while masked and desperate Islamic terrorists openly executed them in cold blood. Children as young as six or seven were crying for mercy, screaming for their lives, but were instead being shot at point blank range by the cowardly criminals in ski masks. Even though he was in extreme pain and moving at what seemed half-speed, Yuri raised his Makarov and pumped two more bullets into a man who was about to shoot a terrified, young girl in the left temple. The man did not get the chance as his own head exploded into an orgy of blood and brain tissue. Yuri kicked the dead man’s body over and grabbed the young girl pulling her away from the corpse and pushing her behind him.

Through his steel-gray eyes all Yuri could see was chaos erupting all around him. The cacophony of explosions filled the air and the smell of gunpowder and fresh blood entered his nostrils. Intense heat from overhead told the Captain the roof was on fire, probably caused by the firing of a RSHG-1 rocket propelled grenade by the Russian military forces that had set up shop across the street in a four story building. Weeks later after an exhaustive investigation, the Russian military would realize the fire had actually been one of the bombs set by the terrorists which had gone off prematurely.

The hell with the Chechen separatists who had started this war, Yuri thought, and he prayed they would soon be burning, either in this world or the next. In this gymnasium, he knew hundreds of lives were in jeopardy if they could not get the hostages out. Glancing around at the carnage he saw there was little hope of getting the situation under control.

The storming of the Beslan School had gone terribly wrong from the beginning with both the Alfa and Vympel units entering from opposite directions, having no clear instructions, and a long held resentment from leaders of both elite units. Yuri knew as he watched the pandemonium in the gym unfold that many innocents would die on this day.

It would be weeks after the event before the world truly realized how tragic this take-over of a school had been.

It was something the civilized world condemned, but Islamic terrorists applauded.

It was something Yuri hoped never to have to see again.

Day 1

10 Years Later


Chapter 1

Riverside, California:

The alarm buzzed on the nightstand in the empty room as Yuri was long up and out for his five mile early morning run. It was more than exercise for the retired special purposes officer and more like his way of trying to outpace the ghosts that seemed to haunt him day after day since Beslan. He was no coward. In fact he had received numerous medals for bravery for that horrific day in 2004, including Russia’s highest, presented by President Putin himself at a ceremony in a private villa outside of Moscow in September 2005. Yuri had sold that medal for plane fare when he left his homeland and flew across the pond to New York.

It had not been a difficult decision for Yuri to leave Russia in the summer of 2006. He had his retirement from the twenty-five years of service to his nation, as little as it might be, and that was the extent of his loyalty. No wife, no children, no parents, and in the end, no friends. That had made the decision that much easier. After Beslan, Yuri made no friends and, after he had been promoted in honor of his job at the school, it made it easier to distance himself from his fellow troops. After all, there was an inherent mistrust for high ranking officers, especially in the paranoia state created by the political leaders. Mother Russia had turned back to the Stalinist days of old and Yuri had enough of it. He retired, collected a few pats on the back, packed two suitcases, sold what he could, and flew into J.F.K. without any regrets.

In the years since he had left behind his military past, Yuri had found himself a pretty sweet deal in the land of the free. Intensive English lessons strengthened his mastery of the language long used by his country’s enemy, which led him into the lucrative field of anti-terrorism. He was on the speaking circuit now, preaching and teaching to various law enforcement, as well as other governmental agencies, how to locate and defeat terrorists before they defeated you, as had been the case in a little known school in 2004.

He had written pieces for the New York Times about his experiences during the many years he had spent in the special purposes teams, in the heartland of Russia, and the types of training it took to have crack teams fighting the spreading cancer of Islamic radicals who believed in the falsehood of killing for Allah. He had written a piece entitled Justified Fear Under Fire for a military magazine out of Kentucky and even gave a lecture on understanding one’s own fear and how to utilize it when under stress. One thing led to another and, suddenly, Yuri was a recognized member of the elite lecture circuit, giving away his secrets of maintaining a vigilant and constant eye out for those who would deprive other humans of their right to live in peace.

Yuri was not a happy man. Happiness was not something he sought or even dreamed about any longer. Happiness was for children–extended tours of life brought sadness to most adults in the long run, as he had learned through the decades he had spent on this planet. But he was content with his life. He wrote pieces here and there, lectured, did some talk shows both on radio and television, and was now in the process of finishing an autobiography which he hoped would sell well. In fact, after the series of lectures he would be attending and giving this very day at the Riverside Conference Center, he planned to meet with a literary agent who seemed promising for Yuri’s publishing future. The ex-special purposes master was indeed content.

Cooling off from his early morning jaunt and heading back to the Marriott on Market Street, Yuri walked past the famous Mission Inn and marveled at the architecture created nearly a century and a half ago by Frank Miller. Surely that age was nothing compared to the age of many buildings in Moscow but still, for a relatively new country, this massive structure in the heart of downtown Riverside was beautiful. He turned as he crossed the street and saw a red brick building. Near an exterior door was a sign stating that a Frank Sanders, Private Detective, had the upstairs office. Yuri had seriously considered becoming one of those private investigators when he had first landed in the United States but fortune had shifted him in another direction. He yawned and continued down the road toward his hotel, wondering what sorts of cases a man like Mr. Sanders would take on. Probably nothing important, he thought, just messy divorce cases. One thing he had learned while living in America was how many people got married, got divorced, got remarried, and got re-divorced on a regular basis. In Russia divorce happened but not at the same alarming rate as here in The States. No, most marriages remained united under a cloud of vodka, keeping the statistics manageable and the divorce attorneys at bay.

Glancing down at his Seiko, he noticed he had just enough time to shower, change, and walk over to the convention center before the first session started. He would make it, but just barely.


Las Vegas, Nevada:

The tall, dark-skinned man stared down from his twenty-first-story hotel room at the magnificently large Pool of Dreams at the Wynn Encore Resort and marveled at the sinfulness of Americans. The tourists were already padding around the large, open pool-deck area in the early morning sun as though they had no morals at all. Afzul knew they did not. The infidels swam, paraded, and posed in the most ridiculously skimpy bathing suits he had ever seen. These heathens allowed their women to walk around with fewer garments on than even their underclothes, and it made his stomach spin. No wonder America was hated throughout the civilized world, the Arab thought as he shook his head and stared down at the debauchery below him.

“Pigs,” he mumbled, letting a long stream of cigarette smoke out of his mouth. “Your day is coming and the heavens and earth will rejoice in your total destruction!”

A tall female walked out from the second bathroom of the suite with a towel wrapped about her long blonde hair. “What did you say, sweetie?”

Afzul didn’t turn his attention away from the window but spoke over his shoulder to the prostitute he had hired the previous night. “I was remarking on what a beautiful and sunny day it is out there and all the people taking advantage of the pool.”

“If I remember correctly, honey, you took advantage of me quite a few times last night and, in fact, once or twice this morning.”

“Yes, I did.” Afzul finally turned from the window and took in the sight of the tall, very attractive woman standing naked a few feet away from him. He could feel the familiar tingle in his crotch as he first had when he found her walking along the strip looking for a bit of business. He certainly gave her a bit of business all right. “It was very satisfying.”

A slight pout came over the woman’s mouth. “Satisfying? I believe it was a lot more than that.”

“Yes, it was.” Afzul afforded the woman a smile. “And I thank you for the pleasure.”

Bambi, her street name, coyly tilted her head to the left and gently caressed her breasts. “Do you want another go?”

Afzul knew he certainly wanted to indulge himself again but time no longer permitted it. He had to get to work. It was going to be a long day. “Sadly, I must go to work soon so I cannot partake of your pleasure troves any longer. Please get dressed and I will get what I owe you, but thank you again for all you did for me.”

Bambi laughed as she sassily spun from Afzul and headed back into the bedroom to retrieve her clothes. “It certainly seemed it was your pleasure.”


Riverside, California:

Yuri was sitting at the dais sipping on a cup of coffee and listening to retired Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, who was the first speaker for the day’s conference. Yuri had never met Grossman but instantly liked the fellow officer who had hung up his military career and now was director of Warrior Science Group, an organization which made its life mission understanding why people killed and the effects that killing had on their mental state. Yuri took another taste of the coffee and nodded as the tall but thin man from Arkansas forced the audience to imagine what it must have been like during the hostage days of Beslan. The colonel’s description was nearly perfect, Yuri thought, but one thing Grossman did not have that the former special purposes officer did was firsthand experience. Yuri had been there and, if there had been time, he would have liked to have spent some with the former West Point psychology professor and explain what it had actually been like to witness the carnage up close and personal. But clocks were not friends today since Grossman was catching a plane immediately after the conference for Canada where he was to train one of the Canadian elite fighting units and Yuri was catching the first plane for Kentucky out in the morning.

Perhaps another date and time the two men could share a cold drink, delve into the human psyche, and come up with answers to the question: why do the wolves still threaten the sheep and why are there so few sheepdogs there to protect them? Yuri felt that analogy from Grossman, who had invented the study of “killology,” was perfect for the world they had both come from. Warriors who would have killed each other when needed but, if not, could be friends. That was something the Russian would also have loved to discuss with the American.

Yuri looked into his coffee cup and shook his head. It wasn’t what he liked, but then again, Americans had never learned to brew a true cup of coffee in his opinion. He recalled the freezing cold nights out on maneuvers fighting the rebels in Afghanistan in the early ‘eighties where one truly enjoyed a steel mug of steaming, thick, black coffee. He had even tried Starbucks a few times and was more disappointed than he thought he could be over a cup of java. Too fluffy for his taste! No wonder Americans were fat with all the sugary drinks they ingested on a daily basis. He had read that some of the specialty coffees at Starbucks were nearly fifteen-hundred calories. Disgusting! Just give this old soldier a cup of black hot coffee and the stronger the better.

“Your English is very good,” whispered the man next to Yuri on the dais. His name was Thomas Ware, retired FBI, but Yuri suspected he probably still worked covertly for the agency when needed, as did many so-called retired personnel. Intelligence gathering was Thomas’s forte from what he had briefly explained to Yuri just prior to the opening remarks. Seemed like a nice enough fellow.

“Thank you.”

“Where did you learn it?”

“It was part of our training in the military and especially special purposes,” Yuri replied as he set his cup of coffee down on the table top. “We believe in knowing the language of our enemy.”

The Fed glanced at the man beside him. “We’re not your enemy, or at least we haven’t been for decades.”

“In the eyes of Mother Russia, America will always be our enemy.”

Thomas shook his head. “That’s very sad.”

“It is the truth, my friend. America has very few allies in the real world and especially fewer in these times. Your lifestyle offends many, and not just the religious fanatics around the world, but fourth world countries see you as extravagant, arrogant, and uncaring to their plights.”

“Fourth world nations?”

“Surely when your politicians refer to Mexico, Peru, and the like as third world nations, how do they describe Zimbabwe, the Congo, and the rest of Africa or other countries about the globe? They are even more poor and under-developed than the ones I mentioned. Surely they are at least fourth world. They are starving and dying and alone.”

“There’s international aid–”

“Which the warlords pocket.” Yuri smiled. “Sorry to have interrupted.”

Thomas smiled back as he heard his name being called by the current speaker at the podium. “We should finish this discussion over a drink.”

Yuri nodded. “At least one, I would think.”

© 2013 by John R. Beyer