Hello, friends! I know you've probably been wondering what the heck I've been up to. Well, I had grand plans to get started on the new Patriot Protocol book, but Corps Justice pulled me back in. Not that that's a bad thing!
So here we are again, standing on the trailhead, ready to step off on another adventure. This book I'm tentatively calling Sins Of The Father (no book cover yet). If you remember from the end of Liberty Down, we now know that Nick Ponder (dead bad guy from Prime Asset) was the illegitimate son of a former U.S. Senator. Yikes! And what's worse, this senator now knows about Cal and the gang's involvement in his beloved son's death.
And that's where we start out. That's all we know up until this point. So what do you say? Are you ready to make this the best Corps Justice novel we've done so far? I won't make you wait any longer. Here are the short opening chapters in all their rough-hewn beauty. Enjoy and let me know what you think...
(CAUTION: The following contains unedited material that may be unsuitable for the grammatically inclined. Keep in mind that I don’t review what I write until after the first draft of the whole novel is done, so please keep your spelling and grammar fixes until the Beta Reader rounds.)
“You want another?”
The question shook Tommy Quinn from his thoughts. "Sorry?"
"I said, do you want another?" The bartender pointed at his guest's nearly empty glass.
"Yeah, and make it a double."
"So, the same as the last?"
Tommy just nodded and resumed staring at his swirling ice cubes. How had it all come to this? You would have thought that once you got to a certain point in your life you had money, you had power, prestige in your own way, that you would have had it figured out.
Tommy remembered his high school track coach. The sadistic old bastard had always said, "Eyes on the prize, Tommy, eyes on the prize.”
That's what he'd done. He'd run hard from that first day on the track. It didn't matter what race his coach put him in, the 100, the 400, the mile. He was one of those freaks that just knew how to win. "Eyes on the prize, Tommy, eyes on the prize." He'd taken those words and cut his own jagged seam on the world. But had it made him happy? No.
Happy, what was happy? The only thing that truly made him happy these days was his occasional visit to his parents. They were so proud. They thought he had made something of himself. For a while he had. The money was good, the missions were better, but now, how had it all gone so wrong?
Eyes on the prize, Tommy, eyes on the prize.
"Here you go," the bartender said, setting a white napkin on the bar and then the glass half full of dark liquid. Tommy nodded his thanks, but got no reply. It was early for drinking and the veteran bartender knew it. He'd had a wary eye on Tommy since stepping in. He was still the only patron in the joint.
He replaced his now empty glass with the new and then glanced down at his gold Rolex. It was almost time. Rather than sip this drink, he downed this one in one wince less gulp, the taste barely registering on his now numbed tongue.
"Hey, are you okay?" The bartender asked, the first signs of concern in his voice.
"Never better, my good man, never better. But if you would be so kind as to give me my tab, I think I'll close it out now."
Tommy handed over his company card, the bartender did his thing, probably relieved that the stranger was finally leaving. While he went about his task of running the credit card, Tommy reached into his pocket, pulled out three $100 bills and then wrapped them in single dollar. When the bartender returned with the receipt, Tommy exed out the tip portion and he could almost feel a scowl from the bartender who was definitely watching. He slid the receipt back across the bar and then set what look like a couple of dollar bills on the bar. "For your trouble, good man, for your trouble."
Then he rose, gave the proprietor one more nod and was gone.
The Maserati's engine purred as Tommy's mind kept repeating that damned phrase over and over, "Eyes on the prize. Eyes on the prize." Another glance at his watch, an old present for a job well done. It was almost time. Getting closer now. So close. One tear dropped from his left eye, followed by one from his right. Tommy laughed. It was the first time he'd cried in years. A man in his line of work didn't have time to cry. Pain was nothing, sadness an afterthought, but this time he let the tears flow. They fed his need for something to hold onto. Closer now, so close, He thought to himself, Don't die a sinner, Tommy.
And then there it was, up ahead, his target. Tommy pressed on the gas and the Maserati leapt at the touch. He barely registered the pedestrians glance his way. He was just a blur of a blacked out sports car zooming by with the roar of its mighty engine. Despite his extreme speed, the onlookers were safe. Even with his veins pumping a healthy percentage of alcohol, his hands were steady on the wheel, eyes straight ahead, his target looming.
Do it now, Tommy, don't be the sinner.
His target turned, a man roughly Tommy's age, good looking, holding an ice cream cone of all things.
Eyes on the prize, Tommy, eyes on the prize.
That last iteration made Tommy smile, the same smile he'd had when he'd run his first race, when he'd come home from Iraq to the loving embrace of his parents.
"Eyes on the prize,” he muttered. His smile remained as he jerked the wheel to the right in plenty of time. His true target, a huge tree, that had probably been a sampling some time in the 18th century. The smile never left him as he plowed headlong into that ancient relic.
Eight out of ten, Cal Stokes thought, as he licked the ice cream he just purchased from the new artisanal shop on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was part of his new routine. He was trying to be more adventurous. “Be more adventurous,” he’d repeat to himself every day.
If you knew what Cal Stokes did for a living, you'd laugh hearing him say this. He'd seen plenty of adventure in his lifetime, but now his new mantra had more to do with enjoying life and everything it had to offer, cherishing the friendships and the family around him, at least those who were left. The purchase of this eight out of ten vanilla ice cream cone was another step in that journey.
He'd set a goal for himself to eat at each and every one of the restaurants and shops on the Downtown Mall. The outdoor retail area had seen a resurgence in recent years. He and his girlfriend, Diane Mayer, had enjoyed many a night strolling down the brick boulevard. Cal took a sharp right and headed away from the masses, towards where he'd parked a car. He usually liked to walk the two miles from home, but there were things to do today, so he'd driven.
He was almost to the small parking lot when he heard it. It was unmistakable, the heavy revving of a luxury automobile, almost a purr to Cal’s ears. He turned and could just make out the outline of the car coming over the crest of the hill. Probably some idiot out for a joyride, Cal thought. He increased his pace to get out of the way, just in case. If the driver saw him, he didn't care, because he didn't slow. Cal thought about pulling the pistol from his waistband, but that was stupid, and only for the movies. You couldn't stop a car moving that fast with a gun, let alone a rocket launcher.
Besides, he was in Charlottesville, and this was probably just a coincidence. Maybe a college kid returning to U.Va with a fall break present from his parents. No sooner had those thoughts entered his mind, that Cal turned again, right before he planned to sprint out of the way, but he'd locked eyes on the driver, who intent on one thing, and one thing only, him. The ice cream cone slipped from his hand. Cal planted his feet, trying to decide which way he should run. He was not afraid, just calculating. With plenty of distance between them, he could probably get back across the street. He was fast enough for that. Or he could continue moving in the same direction he'd been going.
In the end, he didn't have to make the decision. For some reason, the driver made a hard right, and this kicked Cal's instincts into overdrive. He bolted the way he'd come, and turned just in time to see the Maserati plow into a massive tree. With the speed it was going, the vehicle literally wrapped itself around the tree, the lightweight metal no match for the solid oak. There were shouts from down the street now, people pointing. Cal did the only thing that came naturally, he ran to the crumpled car. Somehow he was able to pry open the driver's side door, the white powder from the airbag still lingering in the air.
There was a man inside who was about Cal’s age. His face was marked with death, gray and pallid. He half-slipped out of his chair and into Cal's arms, but when Cal pulled, he wouldn't come. His legs were pinned beneath him.
"Somebody call 911!" Cal yelled. His concern for the man still didn't keep him from scanning the front seat. There were no weapons that he could see. Other than the gold Rolex on the man's wrist, there was nothing that stood out. "Just hold on for me, okay? Help is coming,” Cal said.
The man shook his head. Cal didn't know how he was still alive. He had to have been going close to 100 miles per hour when he’d hit the tree. Now that he thought about it, what was out of place was the man had had no seatbelt on. Somehow, but by the impact, or the airbag, maybe both, he'd literally been pinned inside the car. Was it a miracle or just stupidity? Through the smell of twisted metal and blood Cal thought he detected a hint of alcohol.
"Hey, what's your name?" Cal said, trying to keep the man's fluttering eyes from closing.
It worked. The eyes popped open and locked on Cal with an intensity that Cal would later remember as almost fanatical. "Cal Stokes,” the man said, impossibly.
"What did you say?" Cal asked.
The man smiled. "Eyes on the prize, Cal Stokes. Eyes on the prize." His last words were barely above a whisper. And then, as if that last message was the only reason he’d been left alive, his body went limp in Cal’s arms, leaving Cal to wonder what the hell had just happened.
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