I hope you're all having an awesome summer. As I mentioned in my last update, things are busy in the Cooper household, but there's always time to start work on the next Corps Justice novel. The Novels Live crew and I have begun work on Sabotage, and today I wanted to give you a chance to read the first chapter.
READ THIS -----> Before I do that I also wanted to share the news that the third installment in my series The Chronicles of Benjamin Dragon is now published. It's available to purchase for only 99-cents (for a very limited time) on Amazon >> HERE <<.
If you haven't gotten into Benjamin's tales yet, you can download a free copy of Book 1 >> HERE <<.
The stories are great for kids and adults, so pick up a copy for your littlest monkeys, send a couple to your grandkids or download one for your wife. Trust me, they'll thank you and so will I for supporting this whole writing thing :)
And now, without further ado, I give you the first chapter of Sabotage...
(CAUTION: The following contains unedited material that may be unsuitable for the grammatically inclined. )
At the moment, Vince Sweeney looked like anything but an army colonel from the First Special Forces Operational Detachment, Delta Force. Happily reclined in a pristine white leather chair, he was wearing what he currently considered his business attire: Khaki cargo shorts, an obnoxious Hawaiian button-down, and Timberland boots. His gnarled hand moved from the glass of whiskey to scratch his scraggly white beard. He'd gone gray early, but he’d never cared. It fit in well with what he did for a living. It was a perfect disguise when needed. But now that the current “job” was almost over, the beard would have to go.
As he closed his eyes and relished the cool blowing of the vented air conditioning, he smiled at the thought of going home. How many times had he left? He'd have to go back through his military records just to see. Not that they had them all. Being part of Delta meant that most operations weren't even classified and rarely documented. They just didn't exist.
He'd just hit fifty, and because he'd refused to play the game of Army career building monopoly, instead opting to stay in the field, he'd be getting out soon. Involuntarily retired.
He didn't mind. He'd had a great career, led honest and courageous men, had saved countless lives. So as he took another sip of his much-deserved drink, Colonel Vince Sweeney was content.
"Hey, you gonna drink all that, or are you gonna save some for me?" The man sitting across from him in a nearly identical outfit growled in mock indignation.
Sweeney had known Karl Schneider for almost twenty years. They'd served together in Delta Force on and off for that entire time. While Karl looked like a washed-up bartender with one foot in the grave, he was anything but. He was one of the toughest men Vince Sweeney had ever met. He could take on a man three times his size and win. It probably had something to do with his upbringing. His father had been a coal miner in West Virginia, and before enlisting in the Army, Karl had done two hard years in the mines. That did something to a man, and as the senior enlisted soldier under his command, Karl was not only a superb fighter, he was also Colonel Sweeney's best friend.
Sweeney passed the bottle of Johnnie Walker Black across the aisle and Karl refilled his own glass.
"Did you take a look at those listings I sent you?" Karl asked, handing the bottle back to Sweeney.
"Yeah, I like that place with the little red roof. Looked like something out of a painting my grandma had handing in her guest bedroom.”
Karl nodded appreciatively, equally at the whiskey and Sweeney's choice.
"You know what, Vince? You're not much to look at, but I'd say you're a pretty good judge of real estate."
Karl was on his way out too. He had a couple years on Sweeney, and that had forced the Army to take out its big fat magnifying glass and give Carl the old up-and-down. Vince knew what the higher-ups were thinking; that they were two washed-up soldiers ready to send out to pasture. Never mind the fact that they were Delta warriors. There was always a need to make space for the up-and-comers, and while Vince understood that, he was more sad for his friend than for himself.
While the Army and Delta Force specifically had been good to Colonel Vince Sweeney, it had been the blood coursing through Karl's veins for thirty years, and now that blood transfusion was about to be taken away. So they'd made a pact. When they got out, when they retired for good, they'd leave together. Neither man was married. They both had been, Vince once and Karl twice, but neither had any prospects on the horizon, and that was okay with them.
Karl had concocted a plan. They'd do what a lot of the guys were doing; getting out and setting up shop on the civilian side. They had plenty of contacts who'd be glad to use their assistance and training, both active duty military and police forces. Besides, they both had enough money put away to last them for years. They'd been smart, and even if a single job didn't come their way, they'd be more than content with living the simple life. Hunting in the mornings, then maybe a stroll out to fish, and then growing old on rickety rocking chairs under that little red roof.
"Yeah." Vince thought, "That sounds fine. Damn fine."
This journey home was one step closer to that goal.
"You know, I bet if we wait a couple months we might be able to get that place for a steal. It's been on the market for over a year, and the agent said the owners are ready to sell. What do you think, Vince?"
Vince looked over at his friend and smiled.
"I say why wait? Let's do it."
Carl grinned and held out his glass.
“Mud in your eye, Vince."
They clinked their glasses and downed the rest of their drinks.
And just like that the conversation was over. It was back to business.
"What do you think the big man's going to say about what we saw?" Karl asked.
Vince shook his head. "I know what he'll say, but it's what he'll do that I'm worried about."
Their mission had come straight from the top. As two of the most seasoned veterans of the famed Delta Force, Karl and Vince had been given first shot. It didn't hurt that they had a personal reputation with the President of the United States. When he'd called, they'd been only too happy to help. Besides, masquerading as oil venture entrepreneurs wasn't such a bad gig. Yeah, Africa was hot as hell, but riding first class wasn't too bad and the mission was important too. Why say no?
Vince and Karl understood the consequences. They'd seen firsthand the developments that the world wasn't supposed to know about. So while he was anxious to get home and take his first hot shower in a week, Vince knew an uncomfortable conversation was coming. Decisions would have to be made, contingencies planned for, but that was still hours away, and as he and Carl had done for years, they would enjoy their time in the sun. It wasn't every day that you were the only passengers on a swank private luxury jet, and that's what made the next moment so surreal.
The concussive blast rocked the small airplane that had barely been in the air for thirty minutes. It was years of reflexive action, physical memory that had been imprinted on his DNA now that saved Vince. He wasn't buckled, but he clutched onto his chair for dear life. He felt the sucking wind. When he looked towards the tail, he saw a gaping hole four rows back. He saw something fly through the hole, and for the briefest instance thought it was Karl, but when he looked across the aisle Karl was still where he'd been, clutching in the same way Vince was.
The plane was veering now as the wind tore through the passenger compartment. Vince could barely hear the blaring of emergency sirens overhead. No one came out of the cockpit, and that was probably for the best. It was sealed, and the best place for the pilots was driving the doomed bus. They didn't have parachutes or even weapons this time, so jumping wasn't an option. Instead, with grim nods, the two men climbed their way back into their chairs and strapped themselves in. It was going to be one hell of a bumpy ride.
+ + +
The pilot was good. Really good. He'd somehow manhandled the diving aircraft just beyond the edge of some storm-engorged lake. Vince smelled leaking fuel as soon as he stepped outside, shielding his eyes from the scorching sun. Luckily there weren't any flames, and when he did a quick inspection of the exterior of the hull, the only real damage he saw was the jagged tear along the aircraft's left side.
Both pilots climbed out next, one man holding onto Karl's arm as they stepped out into the light. Neither man looked injured, but both were visibly shaken.
"Well that's number three for you," Karl said, pointing a finger at Vince. "Remind me to get another flight home without you on it."
Karl smirked, but the joke was lost on the two pilots, who were looking around like they'd just landed on the moon.
"You two okay?" Vince asked.
One pilot nodded, and then the other.
"That was some amazing flying," Vince said. "Thank you both. You saved our lives."
The comment did little to soothe each man's stupor. They were in some kind of mild shock, and Vince had seen it many times before, but not the debilitating type, just the type that needed a couple minutes.
“Karl, why don't you go see if the stewardess can get us some water. For the gentlemen first please."
Karl shook his head. "She's not in there, Vince. I think she got sucked out. I'll go get some water."
One dead. That poor girl. She'd probably been on her way up to see if they needed anything when it all happened. Couldn't do anything about that now.
"Did you call for help?" Vince asked the lead pilot.
The man looked confused, but then shook his head.
"It was the strangest thing," he said. "Right when it happened…well, not right when, but the seconds before, all our comms went out. Then when we started going down, we tried to call in mayday but we couldn't get anyone. I've been flying for a long time, but I've never seen that happen before."
Vince figured it probably wasn't the first time that it ever happened. They were over Africa at all. But when he pulled out his satellite phone and tried to get a signal, he couldn't. That was a first for him too.
Karl was outside again handing water bottles to the two pilots.
"Hey Karl, you ever had one of these sat phones go out on you?" Vince said.
"Just the one that got shot out of my hand. You know, the one right outside Jalalabad."
Vince hadn't been there, but he knew the story. Karl had been calling in for close air support when an enemy sniper missed Karl's head and hit his sat phone instead. Bam.
Vince was about to ask the pilot if he knew where they were when a crackle of gunfire erupted from some distance away.
At least a klick, maybe two, Vince thought as he dove to the ground.
When he hit the dirt he went to see if the lead pilot, who was also laying on the ground, was okay. Vince winced. Half the man's face was gone and blood poured onto the ground, inching its way towards Vince.
"Get down," Karl hissed at the second pilot, who was crouched next to the cockpit.
The man looked back furtively and then back towards where the gunfire was coming from.
"Maybe if we surrender," the man said, "maybe if we tell them who we are. It could just be all a mista- "
He never finished the word. A flurry of bullets hit his body in rapid succession, metal tearing through simple flesh. Vince knew he was dead before he hit the ground. He looked at Karl who gave him one of those "what should we do next" kind of looks. Their options were limited. The terrain was wide open, and if they moved away from the plane they were sitting ducks. Hell, they already were sitting ducks. He could feel the invisible force moving closer. He saw the rounds tearing the sky overhead. A rough estimate told him at least twenty men, maybe more. Plenty of firepower.
Then, to his complete surprise, something horribly wonderful happened. He hadn't noticed the sky go black, but it had obviously noticed him. It started as a couple raindrops, and in seconds sheet after sheet of heavy rain poured down like a bucket tipping over and over and over again. He could barely see Karl, who was a mere ten feet away, but Karl found him and was now yelling in his ear.
"We need to go. We need to go now!”
That's when Vince remembered. He had something that might help, but not if he waited. It had been a gift from a friend. A new friend, but a good one. One that he'd helped in the recent past, and one who Vince knew without a doubt would help he and Karl if he could. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
Karl looked at him like he was nuts, but Vince ignored him, tearing through the packet, the already soaked tobacco sticks falling to the ground and washing away in the raging streams. Tucked inside the cigarette pack was something that looked like a credit card, but when Vince held down his finger on the bottom right corner, a screen lit up. He'd been told he'd get one shot at it. Once it was used, it was done. “One shot, one kill,” his friend had said. It was completely encrypted and would send a signal up to a private satellite and then relay its message to Vince's friend.
He typed out the message quickly, pressed send, and waited for the green light to know that it had gone through. Even though its burst battery power was now expended, Vince snapped the card in half and shoved it in his pocket. No sense leaving evidence.
Now came the hard part; to somehow make their way through the blinding rain and hope that the heavens gave them more than a few minutes of cover.